A-Kon is the largest and oldest anime convention in Texas, and this year celebrates its 25th show. As we all know, bigger isn’t necessarily better and older not necessarily higher quality, so how does this year’s A-Kon rank?
For many years, A-Kon called the Sheraton in downtown Dallas its home. Last year, they made the bold move to upgrade to a larger venue at the Hilton Anatole, the same venue Quakecon occupies. With this move came some growing pains, namely getting the layout adjusted to suit everyone’s needs. Last year’s show saw half hour waits to get in to the dealer’s room, confusingly roped off sections and seemingly nonsensical placing of panels, main halls, and gaming sections.
This year was slightly better. I only had to wait to get in to the dealer’s room once and though the line was considerably long, I was in the doors in ten minutes, a third of my typical wait from last year. The layout is still quite strange. The con consists of two towers and a large pavilion area connected by a hallway that also leads to a large courtyard. You’d think so much space would allow an organized flow of rooms, but panels were split between two different floors and two buildings and console gaming was the only event on the third floor of the tower, which had limited access.
The other thing that bugged the hell out of me was that you needed a badge to get in to Artists’ Alley. At other conventions, and even at past A-Kons, this area was left free to the public. Err, as free as you can get. See, though the area usually requires a badge, it’s also generally in a wide open area in which most con staff won’t check for badges. A-Kon’s decision to make Artists’ Alley more closed off could be caused by the space availability of the venue (you had to go through Artists’ Alley to get to the Dealers’ Room), or to try and increase badge sales by devaluing the con from the perspective of a non-badge holder. Either way, it was annoying to not be able to get in to Artists’ Alley with my badgeless friends, something I can do at most every other con.
We all know food is weird at a con. You’re either eating coffee pot ramen, cold, crumbly poptarts, or trying to fill up on pocky. Precious few cons offer food choices, but A-Kon is one of them. Since moving to the Anatole, A-Kon has changed its pre-made Ghengis Grill and Pizza Hut/Food Truck combo for something I loathe — a ticket-style food court. If you’re unfamiliar with this paragon of nonsense, you’re presented with a bevy of mediocre to unattractive food of a wide variety. From greasy, tiny pizza to wee tacos and oops-al dente pasta, you can select from a cornucopia of meh. So you pick the tiny pizza because how can you screw up cheese, right? You wait in the line and after getting the pizza, instead of asking you for six bucks, they ask for two food tickets. And before you check Google Maps to make sure you’re still in America, you look toward the entrance and notice a small booth selling these magical food tickets.
Here’s the thing, only the dessert food trucks are present during the day. So you can get all the snowcones you want, but nary a bahn mi taco can be found. That is until 9PM. At 9PM, the food court is no longer open and it’s time for late night snacker’s paradise of greasy calzones and noodles. Just lovely.
So you’re now craving cheese and since that tiger’s blood snowcone you had didn’t fill you up, you decide to hit up the restaurants in the hotel for food. You try Media Grill, the legit restaurant, only to find everything is full including the bar. The bar isn’t actually full, it’s just full of people with their cosplay across three seats claiming their friends are upstairs and will be down in a second. But I’m on to you, Sailor Jupiter. I’ve got my eye on you. So you go to the only obstinate asshole joint left to plumb for food. This son of a bitch right here:
And let me tell you, now you’re desperate. You see the pizza and it looks okay. Cheese is sliding off the crust, but whatever, pizza is pizza. You look desperately for a price and find absolutely nothing. Fine. Two slices of cheese. Your vegan friend wants something too and sees a veggie roll hanging out with the sandwiches that are marked $6. When you get to the counter, surprise, you’re paying $12 for your two slices of pizza. And double surprise, your vegan friend is paying $12 for their one rock-hard, grocery store-quality sushi roll, which is actually nothing more than rice, a sliced carrot, nori, and seaweed salad. Gotta love being gouged. And good luck finding any seating at their open seating area. Since it’s open to everyone, there are many groups of cosplayers resting with their props, friends just playing Mario Kart with each other, or tables with no chairs because 12 people wanted to hang out together.
In short, there are options, but they’re all turd sandwiches compared to bringing your own stuff.
Holy crap, A-Kon stepped up their game this year. Or should I say the artists in Artists’ Alley stepped up their game. From surprisingly large amounts of fan art from the latest series like Kill la Kill to amazingly high quality prints, this year’s Artists’ Alley was a significant step up in quality not only from other cons, but from last year’s A-Kon as well. Though this abrupt surge in quality is fantastic, I’m only sad that the badgeless couldn’t enjoy it.
Tabletop gaming also had a step up in quality, offering a wider selection, more live demos of games, and excellent deals.
But here’s the kicker, how was the Dealers’ Room?
The answer: a monumental “eeeeeh, maybe good?”
It felt like all the other Dealers’ Rooms at every other con. Giant booth of wall scrolls, a few sword booths, many shirt booths and knick knack corners. Also Funimation, because why wouldn’t you go to a gigantic convention in Dallas when your headquarters is half an hour away?
That’s not to say all the booths were a bust. I saw a model booth selling all manner of minatures from Gundam kits to Godzilla. The most impressive builds were displayed in glass cases in the front, with the actual products on tables behind them. I’m not ashamed to admit I stared at small plastic robots for fifteen minutes saying “oh wooooow” at least as many times. Shark Robot had their nerd shirts out in at maximum power, pandering to the masses with Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, and yes, even Kill La Kill shirts. And at one booth, I found not only an adorable FFVI-era moogle plush, but a gigantic moogle pillow pal. Excellent choice, nameless business man.
I’d go to A-Kon again. The dealer’s room isn’t really spectacular and their food situation make me want to wear shoes made of nail bats, but the cosplay was top tier, the Artists’ Alley was phenomenal, and I spent more than five minutes in tabletop gaming, which is a feat in and of itself. If they could only work on getting some more unique vendors and having a food plan that made the least bit of god damned sense, A-Kon would be a must-go instead of a probably-go.
Happy Summer! It’s time for the first of my Summer Film Showcases! These are things that make me happy; and I want to share them with you!
Mid-20th Century French film director and actor Jacques Tati is one of my favorite movie makers ever and his offbeat, often nostalgic but also critical approach to cinema and the summer-y and idealistic atmosphere in at least 3 of his films makes his work a perfect summer film showcase. If you’re a film enthusiast and know of Tati, you’ll know what I mean. If not, I’m so excited to introduce you to him and his films as well as his continued legacy.
Tati, born Jacques Tatischeff (his family was of Russian nobility descent, go figure) is known for his ridiculously short filmography; he directed 9 films, only 6 of them feature films. He has more writing credits to his name as well, but he’s mostly known as being the writer/director/actor to his films. At first a writer and comedic actor specializing in sporty mime in the 1930’s, he later fell into directing and Tati gained attention for his short film “L’Ecole des facteurs” (“The School for Postmen”) in 1947.
Tati’s films are unique in that they are mostly dependent on visual comedy and sight gags. They’re not silent films per se, as there is often a little dialogue, but it’s often only background chatter and atmospheric sounds. And music of course. Often comical. In a way his films more accurately continue the tradition of silent cinema comedy, whilst being neither a silent nor an actual dialogue laden film. 2/3rds of the Disney/Pixar film Wall-E (2008), sans the later involvement of the speaking human characters and computer, actually fits into this category of visual comedy. It’s the genre of non-silent, silent film.
Jour de fete, filmed in 1947 and released in 1949 was his first feature film. Starring Tati himself as a bumbling and easily distracted postman in rural France, the film shows the postman’s daily routine as he gets distracted, particularly by the local traveling country fair and his later crusade to emulate the (then efficient) United States postal service. The film was meant to be in color; in fact intended to be the first French film to be in color; but due to issues all over the board it wasn’t to be, ultimately. The released black-and-white version actually has bursts of color hand painted by Tati himself in the film, but there is also a restored color version, which is charming (and the version I watched). This film starts to set up themes and conventions you see in later films; namely warm affection for rural or “old” pre-war France, and how individuals are struggling to keep up with modernity. This one has more dialogue than his later films.
The big part of this showcase are my two favorite films of his; Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday) (1953) and Mon Oncle (My Uncle) (1958)
Les Vacances, his second feature film,is the breeziest of Tati’s works; droll and effervescent, it’s summer personified. I had the pleasure of actually watching this for the first time while I was at the beach myself and so watched it with lingering smells of actual sunscreen and salt about the place; so dab on sunscreen while watching this! (btw there’s actually a perfume based on this film! It smells like petrol, sun lotion and sea salt.)
Shot in black and white, this is a beautiful on location depiction of the French Saint-Marc-sur-Mer region in the Loire Atlantique. This film introduces Tati’s alter ego, the naive and socially awkward, pipe smoking gentlemen Mr. Hulot as he takes an August holiday to the beach. The film is just, so lovely. Full of sight gags, wonderfully composed shots and a chill jazz score by Alain Romans, the film is nostalgic, sweet and yet a little biting. There is some social class parody and criticism here, particularly making fun of capitalists, young Marxist-type intellects and stuffy upper class people all of whom can’t seem to ever relax. It definitely fits within Tati’s preoccupation to criticize the shift from “old” France and enjoying simple things to the Post-War “work” consumerism. The masquerade party scene in particular is striking in it’s gentleness and yet bittersweet criticism of people. It’s one of my favorite films.
His next one, Mon Oncle is in glorious color. I’ve written about it before, but it stands as my favorite. Monsieur Hulot returns, this time with his family. Hulot is the odd ball bachelor and favored uncle to nine-year-old Gérard (Alain Becourt), who lives with his parents, M. and Mme. Arpel (Jean-Pierre Zolla, Adrienne Servantie) in a new Americanized, modernized and completely sterile monstrosity of a neighborhood. Hulot lives in a small apartment in the older more run down (and at the time being torn down) section of town; which clings to a more rustic and old fashioned way of life. Tati continues his “fish out of water” in regards to Hulot trying to exist (and failing) within modern sterile materialism and dealing with how impersonal his family has become.
There is a slightly more enforced plot here than the loosely structured Vacances; Gérard, bored with his life, adores and hangs out with his uncle as much as possible, accompanying him in various outings and pulling pranks on adults with his school friends. Meanwhile Mme. Arpel is bent on getting her “wayward” brother Hulot a job and make him more appropriate for their social sphere so they strive to get him a position at M. Arpel’s plastic hose factory. Mayhem ensues. A lot of this humor and criticisms of impersonality, especially when raising children, can be still applied to today. To get a taste for the film check out the infamous “kitchen scene” here. There’s a lot of heart in this film, and it too is one of my favorites. The movie is visually beautiful and unique, dogs pepper the film as they run about the neighborhoods.
The character of Monsieur Hulot returns in two more Tati films; Play Time (1967) and Trafic (1971). Play Time itself a force to be reckoned with so I will feature them in their own feature later in the summer.
Mr. Hulot additionally lives on in other mediums; an unproduced script was turned into the animated film The Illusionist (2010) with the lead based on Tati himself.
Additionally, french artist David Merveille with perennial favorite NorthSouth books has additionally released just last summer the amazing picturebook Hello Mr. Hulot a book full of gorgeous illustrations featuring the clumsy Mr. Hulot as we view different visual scenarios, often with a touch of the whimsical or outlandish and continue the tradition of Tati’s physical comedy quite well. And it’s great to see such a legacy be kept alive through a medium that can fully embrace what Tati did in his films. Snappy, bright colors and a fine balance between modernism and Tati’s mid-century work. I think the book deserves a place on any film buff’s shelf, and for anyone who appreciates good design.
You can buy these films and Hello Mr. Hulot! on Amazon or Netflix or check your local bookstores!
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- Publisher: NorthSouth; First American Edition edition (September 1, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0735841357
- ISBN-13: 978-0735841352
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 10.9 x 0.4 inches
When things are cute I want to squish them. Usually the amount of squishing is directly proportionate to how cute I find the thing. For instance: I started watching Supernatural recently (yeah I know) and season one Sammy is so squishable that if I got my hands on his face it would probably leave bruises.
That all being said. Squids Odyssey is so damn cute that if I ever put my Wii U gamepad down to stop playing, I will squish it until there’s nothing left. Squids Odyssey is so cute and so fun that it was three hours of playing before I even checked the time. It reminds me an awful lot of The Legendary Starfy, except cuter, more complex, and way more addictive.
You start playing as the little squid Steev, who is helping his mentor defeat the infectious ooze and its minions who have returned to the good squids’ land. As the game unfolds you unlock more and more adorable squiddy companions, each with special skills on their own and as part of the team. The battle mechanics are fairly standard–squids are either shooters, troopers, scouts or healers–and the items can upgrade health, stamina, attack, defense, and “special”. If this were all introduced at the very beginning, it would have been overwhelming. However, Squids Odyssey paces things out perfectly, which makes the learning curve just steep enough to marathon through level after level.
(Sidebar: I just picked up the game again to check something, and got distracted for 40 minutes easy. If nothing else about this review convinces you to download Squids Odyssey, keep in mind how long it’s taking me to write this simply by virtue of how distracting the game has become.)
Each level introduces more obstacles, different baddies, or a more complicated map. Wave currents, sea urchins, and the edges of coral reefs all pose delightfully varied challenges. You collect pearls by defeating enemies and cracking open treasure chests and clam shells, among other little surprises. The pearls are then used to buy items, upgrade squids, and purchase unlocked gear.
Squids Odyssey is a best case scenario downloadable game. It’s fully-functional. It’s fully customizable, from the members of your party to the silly hats they wear. No two levels play the same, and with so much to customize the levels have tons of replay value. In fact, I went back and played a couple levels with different party members just to see if the options make a difference; and when they did I went back to the very beginning and aimed to 100% each world. I’m still working on it.
The ONLY complaint I have is that the storyline was not greatly important to the gameplay. There’s a little bit of story-based reasoning behind the shakeup of the party members. Each new party member gives us a little of their backstory, but it all sort of blends together after a while. It doesn’t stall my enjoyment of this near perfect surprise of a game, but a little more story would have plumped that enjoyment up to eleven.
I would say more, but there are Squids that need my attention.
Squids Odyssey can be downloaded in the eShop, and I recommend you make some time for cute little squid squishing.
“If we’re gonna date, you may have to defeat my seven evil exes…”
Do you know this one girl with hair like this? Think it’s Ramona Flowers? Nice try, but it’s actually this fantastic Ramona Flowers cosplay from the movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World by Mia Moore! You can find her on Facebook to check out her other costumes (Hint: she really likes variants of Ramona Flowers, and who can blame her!) or visit her website at XO Mia, where you can find awesome tutorials and convention recaps galore! All photos by Aperture Ashley.
We mentioned that we were attending Reedpop’s new comic-focused comic-con (it hurts physically to write that nonsense). Was it a successful edition to the east coast convention scene or should you just wait for the big booming NYCC in October? Check out our coverage and the best cosplay we saw below!
Any one who has been to NYCC knows the war that is navigating the fucking thing. It’ll take you an half an hour to get to the panel area, but just kidding, the line for whatever you want to see is already at capacity an hour and a half before it even starts. No such problems at New York Special Edition. The con wasn’t sold out, and while the line to buy a pass at the event was large, picking up passes was quick and easy. The spirit of the weekend was a lot calmer than the four day cluster-fuck that is NYCC. Every creator that I spoke to, including Anthony Del Col of Kill Shakespeare, liked the vibe of the weekend.
There was a graduation going on
The Javits Center is huge, and while NYCC takes over the entire convention hall, Special Edition took place in the small area that usually hosts the artist alley of the big con. You’ll never be as tickled as seeing a bunch of grads and family in fancy dress share a space with comic nerds and cosplayers.
I’m not entirely sure how limiting the number of panels facilitates an “intimate event that is focused solely on the art, creation and culture of comic books,” but with only 12 panels scheduled for Saturday, this was one of several programmatic features that turned Special Edition in to a con with not a lot going on. The one panel that I attempted to go to was a feature on Marvel’s “Young Guns” or their new roster of artists, and it the sound was terrible. I will say that a limited number of panels meant there was only two happening at a time, which means that there was little chance of missing something that you wanted to see.
Limited “Big Two” Presence
Marvel had a tiny booth and DC decided to stay home. This may be because there were TWO other cons in the NYC area going on this weekend that are more established. Now, while I’m sure some comic fans might be okay with this or even think it was a good thing, there was a lot less sponsored free swag and a lot less creator presence. Though I was able to pick up a few free titles and an Original Sin bouncy eyeball (stay tuned for giveaway). Also, I cant definitively say that this meant there was room for indies and smaller companies. NYCC is just so stupidly large, that there is usually space for tons of content.
Very Few Cosplayers
The growth of con-culture can be attributed to or closely tied with cosplaying, which was why it was so puzzling to attend a comic convention that did not include a parade or competition of any kind. Seeing cosplayers of all talents and designs are a big draw for many attendees, plain clothes or otherwise. Without a programed event, there was scarce costumed presence (though the few that I did see were all pretty much on point). This added to a general lack of much to do that I think defined the con.
General Lack of Stuff to Do
Ok, I’m prejudiced and used to the big con, but for 30 bucks a day(similarly priced to NYCC), programmers should have offered attendees more to do than a few panels and a show floor that was not even a tenth of the size of the one in October. Yes there was an excellent amount of creator access, but I’d argue the con could be “done” in under three hours, because after you talked to your favorite writers and artists, there was not much else to do besides spend your money and then spend some more money. There was one draw-off type event that was fun to watch for a bit, but other than that, this was a con with not much to cover. Now, big events like NYCC and SDCC are still spaces for people to hock shit, the difference is that Hollywood is trying to earn your dollar later.
The problem with the lack of programming wasn’t that there was no big name stars or game presence, it was just that there wasn’t enough to do. One of the draws of any convention should be a social aspect of getting together with people with like-interests. Free events like speed dating or gaming rooms allow for this kind of socialization There just wasn’t space to do that at Special Edition: NYC. It made sense to see people bounce from the con after a few hours and time spent just kind of chilling away from the show floor. Ultimately vendors lose out when people don’t pop back onto the show floor between things they want to do or see.
After my coverage, I can’t say that Special Edition: NYC has the content and programming to make it an entirely fun and worthwhile con. I’d like to see it develop and expand while still remaining comic-focused and intimate. Cross-purposes? Maybe.
Or maybe just don’t plan your con on Father’s Day Weekend during New York Comic Fest and Long Island’s Eternal Con. Maybe.