Saturday, December 30, 2023

Jack And The Sonorama

 Christmastime was just here, and for us here at Let's Anime, Santa Claus, or Mandarake's mail order service, was kinda busy. One of the presents under the tree this year was a Sonorama single for the 1967 Toei film Jack And The Witch! 


If you've never seen this film, well, it's kind of nuts. It's a movie about a kid named Jack who loads up his junker car with his animal friends and drives it straight through a house and into a nightmare world of witches and castles and devils and machines that turn little boys and little animals into little demons. 

There are motorcycles made of bones, menacing giant mushrooms, and generally a hallucinatory vibe that seems more at home in a Roger Corman hippie exploitation picture than what's ostensibly a children's film. We wrote about Jack And The Witch a while back, but the movie remains frustratingly unreleased in the West.

At least we can still enjoy the trimmed-down story of the movie as it's condensed into two sides of a 33rpm Sonorama single. You can too, we made a video out of it and it's up at the Mister Kitty dot Net YouTube channel right now for your entertainment!

From us here at Let's Anime (that's Dave Merrill and Shaindle Minuk, for whom this single was purchased) please accept our heartiest wishes for a happy holiday season and a bountiful New Year!

-Dave Merrill

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

When The Rings Of Time Come Together, We Will Meet Again

In the fall of 1979 I was a cartoon-addicted elementary school student, spending my Saturdays with Scooby-Doo and old Warner Brothers shorts on network TV. Weekdays the UHF stations gave us Tom & Jerry, the Super Friends, Speed Racer and Battle Of The Planets. That autumn the elementary school playground gossip was all about a new cartoon that had just started airing on channel 46. This new show was kind of like our favorite film Star Wars, in that it involved outer space battles between zooming fighter-plane starships; but this had something different. Apparently it involved a submarine or a battleship that for some reason was now in outer space. I scoffed. Certainly this was going to be terrible. But the next afternoon I found myself over at a friend’s house and the TV was on and there it was, Star Blazers.

I'd seen other Japanese cartoons before; this one was different. This was a heartfelt, melodramatic space opera whose characters struggled through tears and anger as they travelled one hundred and forty eight thousand light years and back to save everything they cared about, a cartoon that didn't hide its Asian origins as Space Battleship Yamato, but put them right there in the credits. I don't want to underplay the work of Yamato's producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, but without Leiji Matsumoto we wouldn't have Star Blazers. We wouldn't have those hazy, dark-blue starscapes or the ethereal cosmic goddesses bringing a spark of mystery to the warplanes and battleships of this outer-space World War Two. Without Matsumoto we wouldn't have Yamato, but without Yamato Leiji Matsumoto would still be a titan of the manga world, if just for his melancholy space-train fantasies or  his instantly iconic space pirates or his cynical, tragic war comics or his comedies set in hardscrabble down-and-out-in-Tokyo, all drawn with that lush, descriptive brush line,  equally at home depicting dinosaurs, cavemen, Type-30 Arisaka rifles, or cosmic super-constructions. Leiji Matsumoto created futures filled with relics and ruins, where myth and legend coexist with science and technology, and where the only constant anyone could rely on was the strength of the human spirit. Sometimes we try to bury history, sometimes we try repeat it, but his world, our world, is everywhere an uncanny, turbulent mix of the past and present, and like Matsumoto's heroes, we can only try to hold fast to our ideals.

Early this year the world lost Leiji Matsumoto. As part of the North American anime fandom that grew around his work, I joined with other fans in presenting various memorial panels at this year's anime festivals. For me it was an opportunity not only to honor his memory and to show off some of my favorite Matsumoto works, but to dig around a little in his back catalog and uncover some things I'd never seen and some facts I might not have known.

I learned he'd been born Akira Matsumoto in Kurume, which is in Fukuoka, down on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. Even today it's a six hour bullet-train ride from Tokyo. In elementary school his class library had copies of Tezuka's New Treasure Island and Dr. Mars, turning a young Akira into a manga fanatic. He'd be a published manga author while still in school, and when Tezuka was in Kyushu with one of his perpetual looming deadlines, Matsumoto was recruited to be a local assistant.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw Matsumoto begin a career in shoujo manga, marry fellow manga-ka and sometime collaborator Miyako "Licca-chan" Maki, adopt his pen name Leiji, and move into both science fiction and WWII manga with strips like Burning Southern Cross, Black Zero, Submarine Super 99 and Lightning Ozma, which coincidentally features a space battleship named Yamato.

In mid-1960s issues of Shonen Book, Matsumoto would draw Light Speed Esper, a story about young Hikaru who battles the alien Giron with the super suit created by Professor Asakawa and the help of his adoptive alien parents. Esper is perhaps the most involved SF manga series based on an electronics company mascot, and would also become a pioneering live-action tokusatsu TV show.

Matsumoto's art followed the culture into a more adult-oriented late 1960s as his Sexaroid and Mystery Eve pushed the mature-audiences envelope along with a wider cultural shift towards nudity and adult situations, and his Wheel of Time aesthetic first saw light in Tezuka's COM magazine as the "Fourth Dimensional World" series.


But it was the down-and-out-in-Tokyo loser of Otoko Oidon that gave Matsumoto his first iconic anti-hero, surviving in a four and a half tatami mat room on cheap ramen and home grown mushrooms. The antihero themes would continue in his war comics, beginning with "The Cockpit" and continuing under various names for the rest of his career.


When Nishizaki's Office Academy began preproduction of Space Battleship Yamato, there were several directions open to them. The idea of reviving the Yamato as an outer space warship wasn't a new one, having shown up in pulp fiction, model kits, and even Matsumoto's own Lightning Ozma. But honestly, if you're going to merge WWII and SF then you need to get the guy who's good at both, and that guy is Leiji Matsumoto. Bringing his signature aesthetic to a project that desperately needed a strong visual style, Matsumoto found himself knee-deep in the production of the TV series and its sequels, working on the show and a manga adaptation for Akita Shoten.

His attempt to insert a space pirate into Yamato understandably denied, Matsumoto would make Captain Harlock an important part of 1975's Diver Zero, a story about abandoned Moon androids rebelling against the people of Earth. His mid-70s manga would wander between the high school comedy of Oyashirazu Sanka, the SF of Time Travel Boy Millizer Ban, and in Princess, the feline adventures of Torajima no Mime.

Captain Harlock would get his own manga adventures in Play Comic in 1977. The same year he'd begin Galaxy Express 999 in Shonen King and Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace in Adventure King. This is what the rest of the 1970s would look like, a parade of Leiji-themed TV anime, feature films, radio plays, novelizations, toys, games, and merchandising, seemingly stretching to the Andromeda Galaxy and back. Leiji Matsumoto was busier than ever, yet still found time to take a safari trip to Kenya.

Part of this Matsumotoverse explosion was the premiere of the Westchester Films version of the 1974 and 1978 Space Battleship Yamato TV series. Retitled Star Blazers, this series would air in syndication across America where it would convince not only myself but an entire generation that Japanese animation was an exciting and innovative medium, and we needed to fill our lives with as much of it as humanly possible.

The "Yamato boom", fed by Matsumoto's visual style, would fade away as the 1980s anime world switched gears towards idol singers, transforming robots, and obnoxious aliens. SSX and the Queen Millennia anime series would both have truncated seasons, the Yamato herself would have its final voyage in 1983, but Matsumoto's manga kept right on, continuing his Battlefield series with Hard Metal in Big Comic and giving Japan a third Black Ship Crisis in Fuji Evening Paper. 


Never one to abandon icons, Matsumoto would throw Harlock and his crew into Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelungen in, of all places, the pages of "Used Car Fanatic," while his Battlefield series continued with "Case Hard" and the mysteries of Leonardo Da Vinci's genius were explored in "The Angel's Space-Time Ship."

The mid 1990s meant Yamato-boom kids were now adults, inspired by Matsumoto to work in his style and produce new animated versions of his works. One of the best of these later-period adaptations is the three-part OVA series The Cockpit, delivering three punchy antiwar stories from his Battlefield series.

A new Galaxy Express film and a home video adaptation of his Queen Emeraldas manga arrived in 1998, while Matsumoto produced the historical epic manga Shadow Warrior. Captain Harlock's Wagner cycle would make the anime transition in 1999, Cosmo Warrior Zero would fly through the same universe in 2001, and Harlock would revert to the "Herlock" spelling for a Rin Taro-directed video series in 2002.

An entire new generation of eyeballs would see Leiji Matsumoto's style as French electronic music robots Daft Punk built an entire album around a Matsumotoverse theme with their 2003 album/film Interstella 5555. At both Anime North and AWA I met audience members for whom 5555 was their first exposure to Leiji Matsumoto's work.

The oughts would see a parade of new Matsumoto anime that included versions of Gun Frontier and Submarine Super 99, the lengthy Galaxy Express side series Galaxy Railways, and an abortive attempt to rework Space Battleship Yamato into Dai Yamato Zero-go, which found its greatest success in the medium of Pachislot. In 2006 Matsumoto would bring his manga career full circle with Firefly Yokai, a new take on his first published manga, 1954's Honey-Bee Adventures.

Prepping for these panels, I conferred with several friends in Japan who'd met Matsumoto and were familiar with his studio, and I gathered some interesting facts from their experiences. For instance, Patrick Ijima-Washburn told me that he'd asked Matsumoto about his favorite comic from the West. Matsumoto thought he was talking about Westerns, meaning cowboy movies, and replied that his favorite Western was the 1954 Joan Crawford film "Johnny Guitar." 

Dan Kanemitsu, The Man from I.O.E.A. (the International Otaku Expo Association) related to me how former Matsumoto assistant, Yattaran inspiration and Area 88 artist Kaoru Shintani was working with fellow Studio Leiji-sha employees one day when a taxi pulled up and Matsumoto hustled in with a big mysterious bundle he'd just spent all his cash on, a bundle that turned out to be an actual Revi C 12/D gunsight from a Messerschmitt, you know, the star of several Matsumoto Battlefield manga stories, a key element in the film Arcadia Of My Youth, and an object Leiji had just spent every bit of ready cash on, could someone please pay the taxi? 

Speaking of youths and Arcadias, anime journalist Darius Washington made sure I knew that Matsumoto's model for his mysterious, aristocratic blonde characters was the German Heimatfilm actress Marianne Hold, the star of dozens of films including 1955's "Marianne Of My Youth." 

I also spent a little time assembling an online mixtape of music from various Leiji Matsumoto projects, which you can listen to over at Mister Kitty dot Net.

As for myself, my interest in Star Blazers led me to join one of the American anime clubs that grew out of the show's success on American TV, and soon I found myself running an anime club in my home town, writing fanfic, drawing fan art, publishing anime zines, attending one of the first anime conventions, and writing professionally about Japanese animation for a variety of print and online media. Eventually I'd help start our own anime convention, still going strong 28 years later, and along the way I'd make thousands of friends. Without that anime fandom, without Leiji Matsumoto,  I and many like me would have had a very different path.


“(Leiji) Matsumoto used to say, ‘At the faraway point where the rings of time come together, we shall meet again,’” Studio Leiji-sha director Makiko Matsumoto said in their statement. Leiji Matsumoto was the author of thousands of pages of manga, countless adaptations, characters, and adventures, recognized with the Japanese Medal of Honor With Purple Ribbon and the Order Of The Rising Sun as well as the Knight Of The Order Of Arts And Letters from France, and on February 13, 2023, he succumbed to acute heart failure in a Tokyo hospital.

Eulogizing Tochiro Oyama's passing in the film Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro Hoshino says "being human means you also have to face death... whether you've fulfilled your dreams or not." Leiji Matsumoto's dreams were right there in the pages of his manga, dreams of romance, struggle, honor, violence, eroticism, humor, and the human spirit's ability to transcend time and space itself. He may be gone, but those dreams will remain with us, always.

-Dave Merrill

thanks to Patrick Ijima-Washburn, Dan Kanemitsu, Darius Washington, and L. Matsumoto.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Anime Weekend Atlanta 2023

It's October and that means it's time for another annual convocation of Atlanta's premier Japanese animation festival, Anime Weekend Atlanta! Every AWA is special, it seems every show's had their own specific vibe. 2023 is no exception; this is the third AWA after the 2020 cancellations, overall the 28th AWA, and this is the twentieth- and final - convention in its present location, the Cobb Galleria Centre and Renaissance Waverly. Yes, that's right, a combination of factors have led the convention to pack it up and head out on the road, Beverly Hillbillies style. 

But first - AWA 2023! Maybe you'll be joining the thirty or thirty-five thousand fellow anime fans at the show, enjoying the full spectrum of anime-con events waiting for you - vendors, guests, concerts, panels, video games, anime screenings, cosplay, raves, maid cafes, gaming, you name it. My advice is to show up early, be prepared for lines, check the Guidebook app for events you're interested in, and maybe check out some of the events I'm doing this year. 

The SUPER HAPPY FUN SELL is AWA's yard-sale-garage-sale-swap-meet event where closets and crawlspaces and spare rooms and storage units and second homes filled with previously loved, unwanted anime merch is resold to new homes, continuing the cycle of consumerism that, ultimately, is what keeps anime spinning. Thursday at 6! 


ANIME HELL remains the most confusing two hours of any anime con experience, as a variety of Japanese cartoon whack-a-doodlery springs forth to amuse and entertain. It's a clip show. Friday at 10pm!


CLASSIC ANIME COPRODUCTIONS is a look into the world of Japanese animation productions that were conceived and financed by American studios. Find out which of your beloved childhood memories was actually animated in Japan, and thrill as I ignore your lifelong favorites! That's Saturday at 4:45pm. 


THE WORLD OF LEIJI MATSUMOTO hops on the Galaxy Express to tour the myriad worlds of this recently departed manga legend. From Legend Of A Honeybee to Interstella 5555, we'll visit just about every stop on the track of this man's groundbreaking, influential career. Sunday at 10:45! 


And of course we can't forget Neil Nadelman's TOTALLY LAME ANIME Friday at 8pm and Ryan Gavigan's MIDNIGHT MADNESS, midnight Friday! 

Anime Weekend Atlanta had a long road to the Galleria. AWA had its first year in 1995 in the now-demolished Castlegate Hotel, a unique Atlanta landmark known for events of every stripe, interiors and exteriors untouched since the 1970s, and a staff with whimsical ideas about cleanliness, security, and contracts. From there the show bounced around Atlanta from the north to the south side and back again, spending two years in Decatur and another two down by Hartsfield Airport, a year in Gwinnett and a year in Perimeter Mall. 


When AWA moved to the Galleria it was liberating: finally the convention had room to grow, space to move, and a location convenient for parking, shopping, hotels, and all the other benefits of suburbia while remaining (barely) within Atlanta's interstate 285, which marks the unofficial boundary between "Atlanta" proper and the hinterlands "Outside The Perimeter."

The Galleria itself was a northside Atlanta landmark, a peak 1980s upscale shopping mall full of boutique shops, luxury goods, an 8-screen AMC theater, and a space station themed arcade complete with hissing airlock doors and Apple II's for rent. If you were an 80s teen in the area you likely found yourself there on a Friday or Saturday night meeting friends to catch a movie or play some video games. 


The outward shock wave of suburban development moved through and passed beyond the area and the 1990s found the shine rubbing off many of the neighborhood's 80s dreams. The Galleria started to lose tenants; without an anchor store there really wasn't a reason to go there if you didn't happen to be catching a movie. Who opens a ski shop in Atlanta, anyways? In 1994 the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority completed the Cobb Galleria Centre, a complex of convention halls and meeting rooms adjacent to and integrated with the Galleria shopping mall, which was purchased outright by the Authority in 2000. Connected to the Renaissance Waverly, this became one of Atlanta's best destinations for mid-sized expos and conferences. Which, as the new century dawned, turned out to be a category that included anime conventions. Over the next two decades AWA watched the area rebound as malls were revitalized, new developments arose, and a new generation of metro Atlantans moved from the outer exurbs back towards and into the city. AWA's growth paralleled that of the city itself, bustling, traffic-choked, always angling for new alternatives for everything. 


One of those new alternatives came in 2017 when the Atlanta Braves moved from downtown's Turner Field - yes, named for Braves owner Ted Turner - to the new Truist Park, located in Cobb less than a mile from the Galleria. What was once a pleasant if sometimes overlooked backwater became a hot new zip code as new hotels, retail, and restaurants surrounded the ball field, connected to the Galleria by a pedestrian bridge across I-285. 


As a fall convention, AWA found itself competing for parking and hotel space with legions of late-season playoff Braves fans; suddenly AWA was in the big leagues, in more ways than one. Braves traffic and parking woes were a fact of life for the post-COVID Anime Weekends. Convention organizers weren't sure if fans would be returning to in-person conventions after the pandemic, but as it turned out returning to conventions was number one on everybody's list, and it seems like they brought their friends. What was once a cavernous empty hall now teemed with fans, what was once acres of free parking started to fill up Thursday afternoon at $10 a day. Increasingly AWA's attendees and staff began to wonder how long the Galleria and the Waverly could sustain this pressure. Would the convention finally join the ranks of other conventions and move to downtown Atlanta? Yes it would and yes it did. The convention is moving downtown. Partially because of space issues, but also because AWA has no choice. 


Next year the Cobb Galleria Centre is undergoing a makeover; the remaining retail space will be demolished and converted to more convention space and a new hotel will be going up in the northwest corner of the parking lot. Unless you enjoy cosplaying in a construction site (and you may! No shame!) the place to be in 2024 for AWA will be the World Congress Center downtown. 

I'm going to miss the Galleria. It's close to where I grew up and it looms large in my adolescent memories of goofing off on weekends wandering between malls and shopping centers, getting carded trying to get into R rated films, spending my allowance in the 2001 arcade. Little did I suspect eventually I'd help to wrangle twenty or thirty thousand anime nerds through the food court where I used to kill time before wandering over to Midnight Movies at the Akers Mill General Cinema (also demolished). Not that downtown Atlanta doesn't hold its share of memories for me, because it definitely does. Maybe we'll get to make some new ones there next year. See you in 2024! 

-Dave Merrill

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Nobody Knows The Party Rules

You can hear it as you get off the elevator. Somewhere down the otherwise quiet hotel hallway is the muffled rumble and chatter of a crowd. Sometimes you can even smell it, the distinct odors of red wine, tonic water, off-brand tequila, lime wedges, and the occasional spilled beer. There’s a kooky flyer taped to the door, wedged open a crack with that hinged bar lock. Or maybe it’s closed and you have to knock and say “is this the place?” Either way you’re in, you’re in that milling, noisy, probably drunk crowd, it’s part of you and you’re part of it. What you can’t do is see it, because this is an anime con room party, and room parties are, as a rule, pretty dimly lit.

When anime conventions began, a lot of traditions were ported over from the culture of the SF and comic conventions that had been abusing unsuspecting hotels for decades. Nerd con standards like costume contests, vendor halls, panel discussions, badges, sometimes even entire staff departments were rebranded with new anime con colors. One such traditional if unofficial function was the room party. While at your local Chattacon, Boskone, NorWesCon or Ad Astra, you might have noticed flyers advertising various hotel room parties being thrown by various groups of fans promoting a Worldcon bid, a fanzine launch, or a new convention they were trying to get started across town. Maybe the local British SF club wanted to invite people over to watch Blake’s 7 or Adam Adamant, or the Star Trek club wanted to find out if their version of Romulan Ale was dilithium crystallized enough. Any excuse for a party, really.

I don’t want to come right out and say we just copy-pasted our room party culture wholesale from the nerd con room parties we attended as underage fans because they were reliable sources of cheap beer and weak rum & cokes, but we kinda did.


And thus was born the anime con room party, a mutant hybrid of frat bash, cocktail mixer, hospitality suite, and private movie screening. An event that, once launched, could careen off into any one of fifty different directions - transforming into a room full of drunks hollering at each other about cartoons, or  a full-on birthday party complete with cake, candles, and blindfolded party games. There might be a girl weeping quietly next to the sofa or there might be a girl cheerfully singing along to the boom box as she strips down to her underwear. Maybe a few consenting adults are consensually groping each other in the attached bedroom behind the door you thought you locked. Or maybe someone’s taken it upon themselves to “entertain” the room with a VHS tape of hilarious anime music videos, which they are showing on the VCR they brought, which they have wired up to the hotel room TV, which has turned a room full of people that used to be a party but is now merely a bunch of people watching something. Party disaster is always right around the corner.

Eventually, crews started setting up party dynasties around the country, and an anime con Saturday night might find you in a party crowd in Cincinnati or Chicago, in Atlanta or Austin, in Denver or Dallas, crammed like sardines into somebody’s hotel room or comfortably perched on a Presidential Suite sofa, socializing with guests, staff, vendors, fansubbers, artists, zine publishers, cosplayers or gate-crashers. And then, as quickly as it arose, the anime con party scene melted away, as organizers aged out of and were overwhelmed by the new, swelling anime-con demographic, which was not as interested in sequestering itself away from the crowds. The ephemeral nature of a party scene is no surprise; hosting a party is an art, not a science. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of constantly shifting variables, a lot of trial and error involving the annexation of suitable spaces, the acquisition of food & beverage, and the likelihood of anyone actually showing up.

 My own con room party-throwing experience came out of necessity, more or less; our local crowd of anime nerds was at our local Fantasy Fair and we wanted to screen some anime, and the convention proper didn’t have an anime room, didn’t have anime on the schedule, and generally didn’t want to be bothered with it. So we just imitated what we’d seen others do; we brought some junk food and Cokes, we filled a cooler with ice filled one bucket at a time from the ice machine in the hallway, and we spent a good forty minutes trying to unscrew the RF cable from inside its protective, anti-theft cover on the back of the TV. Soon we were showing “Star Dipwads” and “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” to an audience of friends and strangers crammed into our hotel room.

At some point these SF/comic cons saw we were jamming the halls with people trying to get into our impromptu, unsupervised events, and we were grudgingly allowed to program official anime video rooms. Eventually we started our own anime conventions. But we still threw parties; sometimes to promote a new fan parody dub, sometimes to promote our local anime club or local con, sometimes just… just because we’re in a space with a bunch of friends we might not have seen in a while, and the innate need of humans to socialize is a powerful force indeed..

The first step on the Party Path is finding that physical space. Sure, you can just host the thing in your own hotel room. Maybe your room-mates will be OK with this, but perhaps they won’t be thrilled with the idea of a bunch of strangers hanging out where they keep their clothes and all the stuff they’ve bought in the dealers room, strangers who will be there until the wee hours, spilling drinks and Doritos all over the place. So your best bet is to somehow get a suite, or maybe two adjoining rooms with a connecting door, so that your social gathering is in one space and your valuables are in the other.

Anime 54

Jan Scott-Frazier managed the “Anime 54” blowouts, which appeared over the course of four years at a dozen or so early 00’s conventions including Ohayocon, Anime Festival Orlando, Animefest, Onicon, Katsucon and Nekocon. Their plan was to convince the convention to give them the use of the green room, con suite or other function room, which couldn’t have been too difficult as Jan was frequently a guest at those conventions. A lot of the larger, more connected parties either managed to rent hotel suites the convention hadn’t already requisitioned, or talked their way into borrowing one for the night. Project A-Kon was home to the late 1990s “Da Bar” party crew, notable for a liquor bill in the five figures and an ultra-swank two-level suite. Anime Weekend Atlanta’s Dessloktoberfest was held yearly from 1998 until the mid 2010s in everything from top floor function rooms to suites in satellite hotels, while the jacket-and-tie martini-afternoon “Let’s Classy” commandeered con suites and green rooms for a few short years. Big Fire’s Midwestern anime con parties remain Anime Central hotel suite legends decades after the fact.

Who’s going to come to this thing? Is it a private invite-only affair, or is it open to all? Back in the day when anime con attendance was in the high hundreds or low thousands, you could throw a party and be pretty sure you wouldn’t get overcrowded. Once anime con attendance crept into the twenty thousands, the old days of simply posting flyers became a bad idea. This is why this is an art, not a science, you want to hit that sweet spot of a good crowd that’s lively but not “somebody call security” lively, crowded but not too crowded. You don’t want to run out of drinks in the first hour.


When Space Battleship Yamato fans Carol Hutchings, Mike Horne and Kathy Clarkson came from Boston to Atlanta and threw the first Star Blazers themed “Dessloktoberfest” party at the third AWA, the only admission qualification was that all attendees had to swear allegiance to Leader Desslok of Gamilon. This evolved into custom invites and laminated party badges, but entry generally wasn’t too difficult, denied to only the obviously underage or the obviously sketchy. Anime 54 was always invite-only to avoid overcrowding and noise. Eventually 54’s party invites were numbered to foil counterfeiters. Frazier says, “The main line of defense was the door and I made sure to always have good people on door. (...)We stole stanchions and red ropes from the lobby a couple times(.) “ My experience is that flashing a convention staff or guest badge will get you into pretty much every anime con room party, one of the few benefits of being an anime con lifer. 

Liven up that party with an autopsy

Which brings us to decor. Let’s jazz that boring old hotel room up a little! Switch out the light bulbs with colored party store lights. String up some patio lights or dollar store disco balls, grab your painter’s tape and temporarily hang some posters. Borrow a video projector and splash confusing imagery on the ceiling, Carl Horn style. Wire up your thrift-store stereo or MP3 boom box or blue-tooth speaker and jam out with your custom party mix. Think up a theme and let that dictate the decorations - anything that evokes fun and frivolity, whether it’s suggestive of a backyard tiki party or the hallucinogen-soaked gonzo Vegas of Hunter S. Thompson, the theme of an Animazement party that prominently featured a suitcase full of prop narcotics. And remember, either cover that hotel room TV with wax paper for an impromptu lightshow, or unplug it entirely. You’re at a convention for people whose main activity is watching TV, and if that TV’s showing something they’re going to watch it instead of chatting or singing or laughing or eating or drinking.


That’s right, people want eats and drinks at these social engagements. Could be this anime con room party is in your home town and you make a run to your local grocery store or Wal-Mart or Party City or wherever it is you get bags of ice and styrofoam coolers and 2-liters of soda and chips and snacks. Paper towels. Disposable plates. Solo cups. Maybe an electric fan to keep the room breezy. Some Hefty bags for after-party cleanup. On the other hand, this convention might be in a strange city where you lack a convenient vehicle and/or knowledge of the nearest shopping center, a situation sadly prevalent in the pre-wifi days of the early 00s, requiring you to  scout up a local guide to point you in the right direction. For extra excitement perhaps you and a confederate take your cooler (and your staff badges - this is an advanced level activity) onto a trip into the hotel’s kitchen and fill up with ice from their industrial ice maker, instead of relying on the dying hallway ice machines.  

And then there’s the question of alcohol. How much? And what kind? How elaborate do you want your mixology?  Frazier says “My party drink was the Bahama Mama. I didn’t pre-mix because those were always gross to me. We free poured everything. Occasionally had Zima if someone brought it but no beer. Beer is really smelly.“ Carl Horn limited his party bartending to one signature mixed drink, preferably one involving tonic water, which, fun fact, glows under UV light. Dessloktoberfest involved everything from German lagers to the boxed wine preferred by Star Blazers voice actress Amy Howard. I always like to bring something out of the ordinary to a gathering, and this might mean a six pack of Tsingtao or one of those two-liter Sapporo cans or vodka packaged in an artillery shell. I’ll admit a soft spot for the classic, old-fashioned bathtub full of beer, ingredients consisting of (1) bathtub, preferably clean, (2) assorted cans and bottles of beer and soft drinks, and of course (3) don’t forget the bottle opener! Mixed drinks are always a logistical challenge and it’s best to keep it simple, stupid - rum and Coke, Jack and Coke, gin and tonic, tequila and somebody else, I am not touching that stuff again.

This means one thing - you’re going to need a liquor store. Yes, here’s where the fun really begins, where the wide-eyed innocence of a festival devoted to what are largely cartoons for children gets smushed up against the sleazy, degenerate reality of the adult beverage industry. Liquor stores come in two types: the modern, shiny Beverage Expo, and the harsh, stuttering fluorescent lights of the old-school strip-mall package store, where decades of mysterious stains merge with the ghosts of last century’s cigarettes and the desperate sweat of the confirmed alcoholic who can barely keep his hands from shaking as he empties his pockets for a handle of vodka and a sixer of Busch. No matter the time of day, it’s always late at night in those liquor stores. Here’s a tip, if anyone in your crew is underage, leave them in the car! Don’t let them in the door or even on the sidewalk. Laws vary from state to state so you don’t want to delay your liquor run. Those stores might close super early, they might be in distant locations across the county line, they might even be disguised with red dots or the mysterious letters ABC, as in the Carolinas.

So when a hundred lives are shoved inside and nobody knows the party rules, who’s to blame when parties get out of hand? Usually alcohol. Sometimes somebody’s had a little too much and gravity becomes unstoppable as they slide down into that negative zone between the side of the hotel bed and the wall. Scott-Frazier remembers Anime 54’s doormen and bouncers became good at bouncing problem people before they became problems, with the exception of one drunk who got into the suite bedroom, took off his pants, and fell fast asleep on the bed. Party crowds and noise might earn a visit from con security or hotel security and you’d better do what they say, because they can and will eject you from the premises. AWA’s Dessloktoberfest could go ‘til the wee hours for two or three years without a warning and then the very next year see the hammer come down at 11pm. Frazier remembers 54 “... usually got one warning then went quiet, but there were times they shut us down. There were a number of times the cops showed up. About half the time we could bribe them and I had a bartender who was a first responder who knew how to talk with them. The worst was when people lined up outside the door even though I told them not to (...) Hotel tried to shut me down twice over that.”  Ed Hill recalls a Project A-Kon “Da Bar” bacchanal in the late 90s involving an unplanned yet wildly popular amateur striptease contest. “I was probably second out the door before the cops showed up…she did strip to Du Hast by Rammstein. There were actually two ‘contestants’. The second one didn’t go very far.” I myself was in Carl Horn’s less raucous room party on another floor and heard about the impromptu burlesque when a bunch of guys burst into the room to show us evidence on their flip camera phones, a harbinger of the digital-panopticon age that now surrounds us like horny A-Kon nerds around an undressing party girl.

Chinese New Year crashes Anime 54

Eventually the music winds down, the last guests say their goodnights, and that total stranger who’s been passed out on the couch for the past two hours comes to life and shambles away. Suddenly it’s two or three in the morning and you’re surveying a room full of empty cans, half-eaten snacks, melted ice, and a few unidentifiable stains. It’s time to start filling that garbage bag, to dump that cooler out into the sink, to start drinking water you should have been drinking all along, to take the first of the Advil you’ll be never far from tomorrow. This is the Minneapolis police, the party is over. Are the parties over throughout the anime con world?

Look at anime con growth in North America and you’ll see that sharp curve upwards as the things went from regional gatherings of a few hundred to five, ten, twenty, fifty, sometimes a hundred thousand unique individuals all jammed into one confused convention center. Throwing a room party in the midst of this crowd seems…well, it’s a bad idea. Anime cons have ditched other old-school SF convention staples like con suites and program books and judging by the “no parties” rules hotels are posting lately, it seems the anime con room party is also marching into oblivion. It’s not a surprise, really; the party crews of 1998-2008 have aged into semi-responsible middle aged nerds for whom a serious hangover lasts days, not hours, and who learned committing to serious room party action is itself serious. That party is your whole weekend; you can’t be distracted by paneling or running events or staff duties - which is why we’re at these conventions to begin with. Ever try moderating an anime con panel after a night of serious drinking? It’s not nearly as glamorous as it sounds.

wild shore leave for the Yamato crew

Room parties have lost any grass-roots marketing power they may have had. Your club or convention doesn’t need to promote itself by entertaining fifty people in a hotel suite. The potential party-goers themselves are a new generation, one that drinks less and is less interested in making small talk in a dark room full of strangers. Anyway, they’re busy at one of the myriad 24-hour programming tracks and late-night official supervised activities that the modern anime con provides. Why sequester yourself in a room when you could hit the rave? After seeing the chaotic damage that unsupervised, disengaged, maybe inebriated anime fans can cause, many shows partnered with their host hotels to host adults-only cash-bar mixers in convention function spaces, giving attendees that private party, alcohol-fueled, meet & greet & make new friends opportunity without having to ride the elevator up to the tenth floor and enter a room full of potential weirdos.

Of course, people will still gather in their hotel rooms to shoot the breeze and listen to some tunes while knocking back a few brewskis. But full-fledged con room parties aren’t the public displays of drunken revelry they once were. Like every other aspect of anime fandom, the late night socializing has become organized, supervised, and commodified; part of a weekend package deal of entertainment that might be less wild and more focused, but perhaps less harmful as well. Once the reputation of being a “party con” spreads, the actual anime con itself becomes overwhelmed by stumbling fight-hungry dudes tripping over themselves while sniffing out their latest assault victims. Convention organizers suddenly have to deal with cops, liability issues, safety concerns, and all the other problems that seemed far, far away from anything they expected to have to deal with when they said “hey, let’s have a convention about them Japanese cartoons we like.”


Aim For The Ace-themed AWA event

The heyday of the anime con room party may have passed. And that’s OK. We can spend less time in liquor stores and more time at, you know, the convention we traveled hours to, that we booked time off work for, the convention about the thing we’re supposedly fans of, which is anime. Not worrying about cleaning deposits while we mop spilled margaritas off hotel upholstery… there aren’t many fans of that.

 thanks to Jan Scott-Frazier, Carol Hutchings, Kathy Clarkson, Carl Gustav Horn, Ed Hill, and the brave members of all the party planning committees throughout anime fandom!

-Dave Merrill


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