Evolution of a Reviewer, and other stuff

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It’s been about three and a half years since I started this blog, and lately I’ve been committing to a lot of stuff outside of it. Looking back at some of what I used to do, a lot has changed, and my ideas have changed. Unfortunately that’s not always apparent to the reader and I’m too lazy to go back and fix my mistakes. But even then, I don’t think that changing every last bit of content will fix this blog or anything else for that matter.

In the anime fandom realm, I’ve scaled back on what I watch this season, just as I did back in Winter. And while I would love to find time to add a few more things before summer ends, I have been meaning to take time to reflect back on what I have done before I continue to move forward. Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been spinning my proverbial wheels, so this is probably a good time to start thinking about those things. Here are a few things that I am reflecting on.

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A letter to my father

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Hey Dad,

I know that as your son, I have probably let you down in more ways than I can imagine. Every time you hear about your friends’ kids moving on to become doctors, lawyers, and successful entrepreneurs, or getting married and having children, I know you’ve been saving face and say that you’re still proud of me. But even in the back of your mind, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself, “What has my kid been doing?”

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God is Like a Tritium (Day5)

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[Form: Prose]

God is like a Tritium:

Centrally positive,

Negative outer perspective,

And a radiating influence.


God is an isotope

Based on an essential element

That makes up the universe,

A component to everything.


God is a particle found in us all.

Jack Merridew Helped Me Through High School

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I have a confession to make. While I love writing and I enjoy expressing myself in that medium (and love it even more when other folks actually read it), I myself was not much of a reader. This is a huge problem for me since most writers also enjoy reading (or at the very least, are good at it). I end up writing a lot, enough to a point that many of my readers probably stop halfway through due to the length.

The truth is, I do actually like to read; except that when it comes to reading, I don’t do very much of it. When I was growing up, I was always reading something that was what seemed to be “beyond” what my peers were reading. I mean, I read the first five books of the Bible (613 laws and I still can’t remember all of them) in the 6th grade, Stephen King’s Carrie (still surprised that his publishers never edit his work) in the 8th grade, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (that’s pronounced GAHD-oh, by the way) in 9th grade, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (the bourgeoisie is evil) in 10th grade, and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (may the proletariat rise) in 11th grade. Did I mention that I read all of these things on my own time without instruction from any of my teachers?

When I was in high school, the Accelerated Reader program was in its foundation stages, and I took the assessment test for it in 9th grade. Despite my peers being at or below their grade level in reading, I was one of the rare cases that hit 12.9 overall in comprehension and vocabulary. I honestly believe that the program must’ve been broken, because that meant there was no level for me to “accelerate” to because 12.9 was the highest level they went to at the time.

There was no way in hell I was going to read college-level material in high school. My friends are reading all the fun stuff like Harry Potter and I got stuck with some of the highest-level books that I’m sure even college students had trouble reading if they didn’t have instruction. Needless to say, I tried picking up Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I believe was assessed as a 10th grade level of reading. After 50 pages and 100 distractions later, I gave up. Reading was not my forte.

And that became a problem for me once I got into college. I was amazing enough to get by in high school with my abilities and things, but I never truly enjoyed the work that was involved in getting through all of it. By the time I got to college, my assumptions of success without trying very hard became a farce. Over time, I had to leave one college to transfer to another, hoping that somehow I’d be able to find my niche and squeeze by. Three colleges later, I graduated, and yet I wonder how I actually made it. I still don’t have a regular stable job, I still want to improve myself, and I still don’t really read a whole lot, like I would like to.

When I was in a real slump in my life, I decided to take another reading assessment test. This time it was the Nelson-Denny, an assessment that specifically tests for reading ability. It turns out that I am perfectly normal in both vocabulary and comprehension in reading, but I was below average in “speed” (yes, there is a time assessment in reading); far below, if I can recall. What this means is that the time it takes me to read and analyze what I am reading takes a significantly longer time for me to do than that of an average person. So despite being the amazing person I was in high school, it became clear to me in college that I was in fact just as human as everyone else!

I occasionally contemplate on what I did right back then and why I am not doing it now in the present. That’s when I remembered William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, and how a certain character helped me in high school.

Jack Merridew is the leader of the choir boys in Golding’s classic, and eventually becomes the antagonist to the main character Ralph. Despite being a villainous bastard, he is a natural-born leader. He’s charismatic, he already has a group of followers, and when the circumstances asked for one to rise and lead the boys to survival, he took the chance with both feet forward. Sure, he had a mean-streak and only cared about sustenance on a deserted island by any means necessary (even if it meant killing his own), but he was, in my opinion, a great leader. When I took the California High School Exit Exam, the essay question asked who I thought was a great leader and why; the choice was clear: Jack Merridew.

As a result, I earned a perfect score on that essay, and therefore passing the exam. And throughout high school, I, like Jack, was the driving force to take initiative in leadership; whether it was being an editor for the school newspaper or piloting my high school’s pending International Baccalaureate program.

And yet, even in the novel, Jack was not in full control. As many readers may imply, the Lord of the Flies had enticed Jack, and made him a naive boy leader who only sought bloodlust, regardless of his background as a former choir boy. It turns out that in the novel, it is Ralph who finds a way to return home from the island and, despite his differences, would allow Jack and his gang to also return (or at least that’s what’s implied). Ralph was elected the leader of the boys early on under circumstances that allowed him to do so (since he was in the most neutral position amongst all the survivors). He was never very confident with his leadership role or ability, and yet he wholeheartedly focused on the main objective (finding a way out) and protecting the weakest boys while he was at it. Truly Ralph was the ideal leader in this novel, but lacked the confidence and charisma that Jack had.

I’ve come to realize that I must learn from the leadership styles of both Jack and Ralph to help me out in life. I must learn from Ralph, the idealist, because his heart was always in the right place, while also taking from Jack, the realist, who had no fear in taking on responsibilities that others may have otherwise neglected.

Such is the way life itself is in many ways. We must learn to take examples from one source, its opposition, and find a balance between them that works for us as individuals. Jack may have helped me in high school, but now it’s time that I learn from Ralph as well.

Top 10 Memories from Anime Expo 2013

AX 2013
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AX 2013

After a great 4-day event (5 days, if you count preregistration day), Anime Expo 2013 finally comes to a close for fans and now it’s time to return to the real world. On the other hand, we should remember the fond memories we had while we were there. These were ten memories of my own, ranked, from the convention. Enjoy!

10) That’s a Lot of Bags

Maid Cafe bags

Stuffed bags for Maid Cafe at AX 2013

It was my second shift volunteering for Day 0: registration day. Rather than standing in a long ass line for five hours, I decided to get some volunteer hours out of the way, so I don’t have to stress myself out in the days to come. My first shift that day, of course, happened to be with registration before even the registration people were ready, so four of us got to stand around doing nothing (that was boring!)

So for my second shift, twelve of us were sent to Maid Café to stuff swag bags for the guests. The swag bag was basically just a reusable supermarket bag that advertised AX and Maid Café plus a mug, but we had to stuff them nonetheless. Seeing that I had no patience for putting mugs in bags, I had nine of the volunteers do that. One other volunteer collapsed the boxes they were in while two of us, including myself, placed the finished bags in a closed off corner for use of the staff to pass out to guests for Maid Café events. That’s when my supervisory skills kicked in.

As the guy who stacked the mount of over 10,000 bags in a tiny ten-by-ten space, I committed myself to the result of our production very seriously. We worked quickly; so quickly, that when one group had finished their stack of bags and mugs, I told the other group to hand them some of theirs so that no one was sitting around doing nothing. “Nobody stops until everyone is finished!” I exclaimed while running yet another set of about ten completed bags to the corner.

We finished our job in an hour and were sent back to volunteer headquarters. So I guess we earned half the time necessary for that shift, but it was very productive!

9) The Line That Did Not Move

Mari Okada

Me with Mari Okada

So I’m standing in the line on Day 1 (July 4) to meet Mari Okada, an anime storyboard writer for many works including Ano Hana, Toradora, Hourou Musuko, and (as seen in the picture above) Hana Saku Iroha. I was also excited to see Nobuhiro Kikuchi there as well, an executive producer for PA Works, the company that gave us Angel Beats or my favorite: Tari Tari. Too bad not a lot of the other fans in line were as excited to see him as they were of seeing her, but that’s besides the point.

Usually for these autograph signing things, it is best to keep the flow going. There are a lot of fans eager to have their books, DVDs, shirts, whatever they have on them for the said celebrities to sign. Having said that, there’s a general courtesy that the signers often do: Sign and Go. I guess neither Mari Okada nor Nobuhiro Kikuchi got that memo…

I was No. 58 in that line, which in terms of how many people they could serve in an hour block, was probably only a fourth way into the line of fans. Needless to say, I may as well have been in front. I still had to wait at least 30 minutes, which was half of the time the signers were supposed to be there.

So why the hold-up? Because the fans in front (and quite possibly the guests of honor as well) wanted to chitchat with each other! They were serving guests at about 1 or 2 per minute. But as I stood there, I didn’t notice that we were actually making any progression because I stood in the same spot for at least 20 minutes. Apparently the line was not very organized to begin with, because fans were clustered together very tightly from the beginning; and as people walked up to get their coveted autographs, the remaining folks decided to give themselves elbow room while the rest of us continued to stay in place!

Thank goodness a staff member finally convinced the folks at the front to bundle up again so that us folks in the relative “back of the line” could feel that we actually moved up somehow. Of course, I took my time to say a few things to the guests of honor and how awesome their works are and whatnot. Why? Because if everyone else can do that, so can I.

8) There’s a Manga in My Pocket!

Uzumaki

Uzumaki complete series

So I’m on my first shift of Day 2 (July 5) in the evening, since I had spent most of Day 2 doing a bunch of other things, like checking out panels or buying lots of stuff. I come into Volunteer HQ and ask for a shift. I grab volume 1 of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki out of my bag, thinking I have some downtime to actually read it. And, what do you know? They call me for my next shift immediately!

They were sending me off to the Gaming Room, where there are consoles, computers, arcade games, and tables for fans to let loose and play whatever for free (except the arcade games, of course). Needless to say, there is no space for me to really read a book, even if I had downtime during my shift (and believe me, there’s a lot of downtime during a Game Room shift).

Well crap! Where the hell am I going to put my manga now? I didn’t have time to put it in my bag which had already been in storage for volunteering. Good thing I was wearing cargo shorts that day, so I opened up one of the big pockets and slipped it inside. Wow! I don’t think I was ever more glad to have cargo shorts on in any other day of my life! Not only did I conceal the book so I didn’t have to carry it, I could have my hands free to sit there, watch folks play video games, and occasionally, join in and beat some folks from time to time.

7) …Because It’s on 35mm Film!

Ashitaka and San

Ashitaka and San cosplayers at AX 2013

Earlier on Day 2, I had lunch with some woman that bought a crap ton of DVDs and Blu-Rays from the exhibit hall. She asked me what I was doing next, so I told her truthfully: “I’m going to the Princess Mononoke screening.” She then shook her head disappointingly, asking me why I was going to Princess Mononoke, an old classic film instead of the premiere of the Blue Exorcist movie, a new film, at the same time.

Why am I going to see Princess Mononoke? Because it’s on 35mm film, that’s why! People don’t seem to understand that there is a nostalgia to watch classic films in their original format (yes, Mononoke-hime was in Japanese with English subtitles) with hundreds of fans; six hundred, to be exact. I was glad I got in line early for the film, because the room was packed and I’m pretty sure there were fans who were turned away once everyone was seated.

I don’t really go to the video rooms at Anime Expo to watch a series for the first time. I watch the series and movies I like there instead so that I can experience the classics with a very large audience of others who absolutely love it! Never was it more amazing to watch as Ashitaka pierces samurais’ heads off as the crowd jeered; or better yet, have everyone applaud when the old fashioned title screen pops up at the very beginning with the ominous title “Mononoke-hime” posted in Japanese. Tell me if you get that same effect watching it by yourself at home on your Blu-Ray! I sincerely doubt it!

I don’t really remember crying in Princess Mononoke in the many times I have seen it; but I was shedding waterworks during the movie and coming out. There is definitely a power coming from that movie, yes, and that power is exemplified when you watch it with so many others who love it just the same!

6) They Had Him at Danny Choo

Kaya T-shirt

T-shirt, signed by Kaya, which I had bid on at the Charity Auction

My last shift for volunteering on Day 4 (July 7) took me to the Charity Auction, where I basically stood there and made sure nobody tried to touch the lots to be auctioned, let alone steal them. I, of course, got a chance to bid also, and I won a signed t-shirt by guest of honor Kaya for 20 dollars (guess the item wasn’t very popular).

A lot of memories from the auction could have been on this list, because people do some outrageous things at auctions like this one; including buying the auctioneer’s socks for 50, a canvas of the AX 2013 poster signed by all the guests of honor for 750, or the coveted signed red vest of the Access Control staff for 300 (that’s a scandal in and of itself, because they use it every year)!

But in my opinion, the greatest memory was for a paper poster signed by Danny Choo. The auctioneer is busy unrolling a poster on the table, waiting to figure out the details before announcing that the lot was to be auctioned. He carefully looks at it, saying that it’s signed by Danny Choo, the acclaimed anime critic of North America who shows up to Anime Expo practically every year. Nobody really knew what the poster was of yet, but the moment the auctioneer said “Danny Choo,” a guy in the front of the audience gladly shouts “Fifty!”

Wow, that was quick! The opening bids for paper posters at this event were usually ten, but this guy was gutsy! Dude, what if you don’t even like what’s on the poster? Well, I stand corrected, because Danny Choo’s signature is on that paper poster and this guy wanted it!

Unfortunately, the guy was outbid by some other fan and it went for 100, double the opening bid. Either way, that’s pretty awesome!

5) The Sailor Moon Spangled Banner

Sailor Moon crossplay

Sailor moon crossplay

Don’t get me wrong, I did do more than just volunteer at Anime Expo. One of the events I did manage to get into was Uncle Yo’s Otaku Comedy Hour thing on Day 1. That dude was hilarious, and many of his jokes within his act could’ve easily made this list also. But the most memorable was his bit on Sailor Moon.

May I remind you that Day 1 landed on the 4th of July, which is Independence Day in the United States. And what better way to celebrate it than by singing the Star Spangled Banner?

Dude, we’re a bunch of geeks. That can’t be right. So Uncle Yo sings his own version of the Star Spangled Banner: using the lyrics of the opening theme to Sailor Moon! Now, I don’t actually know the Sailor Moon theme song, but I was amazed at how he through that all into the tune of our national anthem. They say that the United States’ National Anthem is actually the tune of an old tavern song. Well, if you’re drunk enough and you’re a fan of Sailor Moon, now I believe it!

4) Scholar Fan Meets Scholar Reference

Manga Anime Studies Symposium

Panelists speak on Ateji at the Manga/Anime Studies Symposium

One of my favorite panels to attend at Anime Expo is the Manga/Anime Studies Symposiums that are scattered throughout the schedule. In the three years they have organized it, I’m pleased to say this year’s series was more successful than ever before! In the first year, not a lot of folks attended due to it being a “first” for the events, and in the second year, the series was a word-of-mouth event not even on the schedule! When I have to stand in a line for an academic event on a weekend, I’m not sure if I should be proud that there is a demand or sad because now I have to ensure that I’m in line for this event too!

But the best panel of this series had to have been the panel on Lettering in Japanese Comics on Day 3 (July 6). Scholar Mia Lewis spoke on her three-year-old paper “Painting Words and Worlds,” discussing the unique lettering style of ateji, which makes commentary of definitions or even hidden meanings within the print of a manga. I never really knew there was a form to that style of writing, even though I knew it had existed, let alone that the form has a name!

But what was most excited about this panel was the second speaker (whose name I unfortunately had forgotten). While Lewis presented her paper on linguistics in CLAMP manga, he spoke on ateji for Spanish and German found in Bleach. Coincidentally, he had done his paper long before he ever met Mia Lewis, but he had interestingly enough made reference to her paper: “Painting Words and Worlds!”

In the academic world, it’s amazing to get to meet the scholars that wrote the books or papers that you referenced in papers of your own. Then again, the feeling must be even more amazing when you get to sit on a scholarly panel alongside them! That was very exciting for me to learn about and witness.

3) You’re That Guy!

Blast of Tempest

Blast of Tempest cosplayers

I was pretty sad to know that even though I was in costume as Taichi Tanaka from Tari Tari, no one actually recognized me, let alone even realized I was cosplaying! Then again, it didn’t help that I walked by a guy with a giant spear and a trench coat and noted that he was from a certain series I watched. I got excited and said “You’re that guy from Blast of Tempest!” Which at that point, another guy he was with smiled and said, “We’re all from Blast of Tempest!”

Yes, Yoshino, Aika, Mahiro, and the guy whose name I had forgotten, Natsumura were all there, and they were all from the same series! Totally embarrassing! Not only did I not recognize that they had all gathered in one spot, but the guy I did recognize out of the group I had forgotten his character name! Ironically, I recognized the others by name; and only his by face. Well, that was a awkward moment.

Either way, I got their picture.

2) I [Won] the Game!

AX Volunteers

Me and other volunteers at Anime Expo 2013

So at the very end of the Expo, the volunteers have their awards ceremony, congratulating the volunteers, recognizing very specific volunteers, and of course, getting our free stuff because they didn’t do refunds this year (and probably not next year either). Now of course, since I’m such a loud-mouthed rabble-rousing bastard, I was pretty certain that I would never actually get an award for volunteering, so I was there just to cheer on the other amazing volunteers and of course, get my free stuff.

After 17 hours of volunteering over the 5 days, I got a chance to enter my name in the volunteer raffle (yes, there’s a raffle!) This year, 10 badges for Anime Expo 2014 were up for grabs, of which the tenth badge was a Premium Fan pass. I didn’t care too much whether or not I won any prize that day, since I did volunteering out of the kindness of my heart, but having a free badge for next year (and therefore not having to pay for one) would’ve been really cool.

So the first 9 winners were announced and they came up to the table to sign off for their free badges. Then came the Grand Prize drawing of the tenth badge: the Premium Fan pass. All the staff members in the room had reverently shook the bag that all the tickets were in as the volunteers got impatient over how long taking ONE ticket would be from that bag. And then, as the staff manager took the ticket out and shouted the name, oh my goodness…

I stood up and cheered as loud as I could! Yes, I won the grand prize! I am going to Anime Expo 2014 with a Premium Fan pass! Doing good seems to have finally paid off in more than just the kindness of my heart. I no longer have to stand in the back of the line and I also get other privileges like extra swag; not to mention, I don’t have to pay for my badge next year. This is probably the first time I’ve ever won a grand prize for one of these raffle things. I may not look it right now, but I’m still excited! I’m going to Anime Expo 2014, fools!

1) Through Hell and Back

Four Links

Link genderbenders from Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure

So you’re probably asking yourself: what can be more memorable than winning a premium pass for next year? Well, that’s easy: navigating through a sea of nothing but people, that’s definitely more memorable!

If you can’t tell from the picture above, Anime Expo is crowded these days. Statistics I’ve heard said that over 60,000 people showed up for the convention: at least 10,000 more guests than last year’s attendance! And boy, did it show on Day 1.

So I’m coming back from a volunteer shift at the registration booths for artist alley and media/industry passes. By this time, a lot of people have gathered in Los Angeles Convention Center’s South Hall because the Exhibit Hall was to open, well, soon. I watched as a sea of guests crowded the hall, and thought to myself: thank goodness I don’t have to be there right now! People were squished in so tightly that it was possible that one could suffocate if it weren’t for the super tall ceiling! And then, our blue-vested staff member who guided us said the worst thing ever: “I have to get some volunteers out of the Exhibit Hall.”

Apparently two volunteers had been sent to the Exhibit Hall, where all the merchandise is, to help assist folks set up in Artist Alley. I knew this, of course, because that was my original shift before they took me away and transferred me to the registration department. The staff member could have easily went around and toward the backstage areas upstairs to get to the Exhibit Hall with more ease than to squeeze into the sea of anticipating customers; but no, we had to do things the hard way.

One by one, the blue vest walked ever so slowly into the crowd as five volunteers in yellow vests followed him, also ever so slowly. The heat was already unbearable, and the noon sweat had already made quite a stench on all the fans in the lobby. We waddled through the crowd and finally got to the breaking point, where Access Control had already roped off the area to keep people from getting into the Exhibit Hall before it was open to the public. The blue vest explained the situation and Access Control had let us through the barrier. Slowly we walked up the stairs where we could finally breathe; and of course, the guy in front of me had to be obnoxious and turn around and bow to the uneasy crowd of followers. But I couldn’t think or see in front of me as I walked up the stairs, so I “accidentally” headbutted him! Good times…

After all that, we got a chance to browse the Exhibit Hall before any of the other public guests (premium pass holders, of course, were already checking things out). The blue vest staff member had even got a handful of free Hi-Chews and realized he didn’t know what to do with all of them, so he gave a handful to me (jerk, now what am I going to do with them?) Then of course, he found out that there was no volunteers in Artist Alley because we had already been withdrawn for a different event! We went through that giant crowd for nothing! Except maybe to check out merchandise, of course.

And finally, we got ourselves all accounted for and had to return to Volunteer HQ. Yes, we had to cross the crowd threshold one more time, just to get to HQ! And once again, we could have gone through the backstage stairways and stuff with ease; but no, the blue vest decided to lead us into the crowd yet again! So one more time, he guided us into the sea of sweaty bodies and folks trying to get into the Exhibit Hall, who were by now slowly allowed to enter this area. After fifteen minutes of walking from one room to another and then back, we eventually made it out of the crowd and back to Volunteer HQ.

As we caught our breaths and took one last water break before checking in, our staff member guide exclaimed cheerfully: “we’ve gone through hell and back!” Yes, we did. As unbearable as it was, it was memorable, and I have mixed feelings as to why we did it in the first place. Well, it certainly set a great mood for the days to come at Anime Expo 2013.

I’m definitely looking forward to next year. See you there!