Con Report: BearKon, Best Kon – Akumakon 2014


For the past four years, I have began the ‘con season’ with a quick plane trip and…not so quick coach journey to a city on the Western coast of Ireland called Galway and quite possibly one of the best cons I’ve ever been to. Not just in terms of things to do but in the people behind it and the memories.

Akumakon is ran by the Anime and Manga Society of NUIG in Galway and this year has seen its fourth iteration and the fourth time I’ve visited. I remember the first event in 2011 [see pictures below] and even though it was their first time hosting an event, I felt there was massive potential in the staff and attendees present. It had one hundred and fifty people through the doors; not bad for a first event. However that didn’t matter to me at all. The people made the con and the people were vocal, kind, talkative and awesome. Akumakon hosts a really good maid cafe, dealer’s room as well as novel and interesting plays and musical performances to go alongside the traditional anime fayre. Now in 2014, the con had over a thousand visitors and is seen as a jewel of western Ireland’s anime world.

[Akumakon 2011 – Reception]
[The Kaiba Dollar Box – Akumakon 2011]
 This year was the same kind, warm and exciting atmosphere as had graced me before, but this year everything felt all the more professional and polished. The dealer’s room had doubled in size, the main panel room could now fit over two hundred people and the student bar had become a secondary haven for con goers, being open far more than it had been in previous years. The con space is relatively small than at other events, but the space is used well and in a manner well suited for anime cons. The dealer’s room is front and centre, the maid cafe and bar are nearby and everything else is self contained. Perfect if you’ve bought a lot of merch/swag!

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Akumakon 2014 – The Dealer’s Room. Doubled up!

The con starts on Friday and ends on Sunday, but myself, xthedarkone, Lady Nanaki [my friends and also guests] and my girlfriend arrived super late on the Friday and were in no condition to join festivities [a three hour coach drive does that to you!] so we resolved to start proceedings on the Saturday – fresh, bright-eyed and bushy tailed! Saturday was a busy day despite us all having our panels late at night. We had loads of pictures taken, signed lots of things for people, chatted to fans and followers about anime and other things – it was all a grand time. That is one of the main parts of conventions I enjoy; chatting to the fans and chilling out with them. It makes it all real – not just an internet whim. It’s rather touching and humbling.

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Akumakon 2014 – xthedarkone, Lady Nanaki and I conducting an interview for the convention’s podcast.

One highlight was taking part in the convention’s own podcast, the AkumaKast. Using the university’s own radio studio [Flirt FM] myself, xthedarkone and Lady Nanaki were interviewed for twenty-five minutes about our experiences at the con, ourselves and the intense lightning round of questions at the end when we nearly ran out of time! It was fun to think off the top of my head. After that, we went to a two-hour panel with some of the Japanese guests that had come to show special videos and talk about their works. Michiko Suwa, Hirokatsu Kihara and Kaoru Wada had flown all the way from Japan to be there and had a translator at hand as well as prizes to be won in a special raffle. It was an interesting panel and I did win something – a really cool Roshi figurine!

Saturday night saw me, X, Lady Nanaki and Niall [the con director] take on the audience in a round of Cards Against Humanity which went down a storm and nearly filled the room despite it being an 18+ panel. We had four audience members come up in order to win the chance of being crowned king or queen of Akumakon. After two hours, we had a winner in Andrew who had marvellous luck and skill to win ten cards with Niamh coming a close second with seven. The ‘pros’ were resoundingly beaten but that was OK – we had some corking answers and the night was made. After that I stuck around on stage for the hentai panel…oh my. I had been on it last year and I remember it being both fun and traumatising. This year, the latter was more prevalent in the content shown at the panel…but what do you expect at a hentai panel?! Fionne and Adrian who were running it were great at hosting and relishing in the audience’s horror. Let’s just I can’t look at body pillows the same way again…or vacuum cleaners. I remember taking my girlfriend to it last year [that was her first convention experience by the way] and…it made an impression, let’s say.

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Akumakon 2014 – My morning panel]

Sunday began with my panel – Jazz and Jellybeans. The reason being that I usually hold livestreams with jazz music in the background in order to convey a relaxed and chilled out vibe to the room and the jelly beans come from an in-joke formed at Akumakon 2013. It was a very personal and unique format for a conventional type of panel. I had a small turnout [this being Sunday morning and Ireland – the previous night was taking its toll on most of the con-goers I’d imagine] but the people that were there were interested in what I had to say and took part with enthusiasm and jollity. That’s what matters at panels, audience participation. So I’d say my panel was a success! X then did his panel later on and that went down well too for his first appearance at the con which made me happy. Speaking of happy, we were filming a short music video during the con to the styles of Pharell Williams’ song ‘Happy’ using the con goers as extras as well as locales around Galway and the university, it was a lot of fun!

In all, I love Akumakon. I love the people, I love the staff and I love the place. Galway is a beautiful city and I don’t care about the long coach ride from Dublin airport – it’s totally worth it. I wouldn’t miss this con for the world. I’ve seen it grow and mature into Ireland’s third convention [Eirtakon and Nom-con being the largest in Ireland] and the country’s best convention according to The Arcade site. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to see this con grow and flourish and hope to be there for as long as they’ll have me! If you can make it to Ireland, I’d seriously consider going. It’s a great way to start off your year and the craic is to die for!

Major thanks to everyone who took care of me during the weekend especially Shane, Kira, Becky, Sharon, James, Chloe, Mikey, Fi and of course Niall. I love you guys!

To cap things off, I received an Irish flag signed by the attendees as well as a committee shirt to commemorate me becoming an honorary member of the Akumakon committee. It was such a touching gesture and I love the shirt and not only because it’s purple; but because of what it represents. Friendship, growth, prosperity, fun and strength. BearKon, Best Con.

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[DVD Extras – the folks at the Geek Eire podcast drew this cool drawing of DBZ Abridged Goku with his trusty bacon and muffin]

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[Goku with Bacon Muffin accessories] [Courtesy of Geek Eire]
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[Winter 2014] Noragami


Audio Recording of the Review: 

So you’re a god, but you’re no Zeus. You’re not even a Hercules. You’re a god who has to pay the bills, one five-yen coin at a time; and your marketing strategies are abysmal. That’s Yato, our protagonist in the series Noragami.

Noragami - 01 - Large 07After being ditched by his latest partner/weapon/girlfriend, Yato is trying to find ways to make money and become the god he deserves to be…or at least what he THINKS he should be. He is essentially the god of oddjobs. Then one day he crosses paths with a young girl named Hiyori whilst on a mission to find Milord…the cat. After Hiyori saves Yato’s life, her own life is thrown into jeopardy and she is blessed with powers [she survives being slammed by a bus and kicks a giant phantom frog’s ass!]. Instead of being a blessing though, she wants to get rid of these powers and she prays to Yato to help her. He’ll do it. For a price. Five yen. That’s pretty much it when it comes to basic plot but that doesn’t mean that Noragami is empty of content. It keeps you entertained from start to finish and at not one moment would you feel like you’re wasting your time or that a particular scene is dragging.

Noragami is a story created by Adachitoka and published in 2011 for Kodansha’s Monthly Shonen Magazine and is in its ninth tankobon [manga volume] as of January 2014. It has also been picked up by Funimation for Western syndication; which is always a telltale sign that this show will be a standout title worldwide or at least has potential to be so. What gives it this potential is that the character is at first presented to have skills and a skilled partner but then things start to unravel and we see that this god is like us in that he needs a job and that he feels under-valued. His quest to build a shrine after himself is one of the facets of Yato that endears him to the audience and makes his character all the more relatable; he may be a god but he’s not infallible.

Another factor in what makes Noragami’s existence even more necessary is that it balances action with comedy quite superbly. There are cool action scenes but there are also moments in which the comedy seeps in and eases the tension for the viewer and the other characters. The narrative gives off a relaxed feeling in that there are no pauses for exposition or to explain something and that the action is super intense and death is not around the corner. You can sit back and have a good time whilst also being reassured that what you’re watching isn’t mindless, moronic or sometimes with anime these days both.

Noragami - 01 - Large 35Yato and Hiyori make a good team and there could be a romantic subplot later on but for now their dynamic has a buddy comedy vibe about it and that’s perfectly fine by me. Hiyori has a need to be normal again; Yato can help do that or at least help her control her newfound skills. I’m looking forward to see how they get to know one another and find out more about their situation as they both have something to gain from the other. There’s a mutual benefit for them breathing the same air. That is if gods breath air or else that figure of speech is no good!

Noragami is one of the most notable shows of the Winter 2014 lineup and should definitely be given a chance by anime fans. It has comedy, action, believable characters, great animation and a simple storyline which is not bogged down by mythology and overly complex sub-stories. There’s something for everyone here. It may be considered a ‘shonen’ anime but it’s not THAT male-focused so don’t think it’s a Naruto or Bleach in that regard. It’s more rounded than that.

Noragami is available to stream on Funimation.com

RATING: CONTINUE [really, do!]

[Winter 2014] Z/X Ignition


[Review Audio] 

Umm, I’m not quite sure what this show is supposed to be. Is it an original tale? Is it some kind of tie-in with an already existing project? Is it a convoluted and disappointing mess of an introductory episode? The answer is – all three! Oh yeah; and it has one of the stupidest names I’ve heard – Z/X: Zillions of enemy X. Really? I can think of a better name. Yu-Gi-Ohhhhwait.

ZX2It is a future Earth and interdimensional energy bowls sprout up across the world which are known as Black Points and out from them appear not swarms of generic demons, oh no. We get all sorts – animals, humanoids, random objects…you name it! There’s no coherence or consistent theme to the monsters…they’re just there. Causing havoc for no reason. Cut to three years later and we see two of these monsters being controlled by humans…so did these monsters destroy humanity or not? It gave that idea earlier on in the episode but now it’s not clear. It’s not until later that we find out that there were different factions [which are rivals themselves!] from said dimensions and they popped up in key locations across the world with everything focusing in Japan, nowhere else. [OK, there’s token snapshots from other countries but that’s it!]

Z/X Ignition is actually based off a card game of the same name and the anime is meant to be an adaptation of the game universe with some of the core characters, monsters and premises being represented. Is it meant to entice new people into the universe or is it merely a vehicle for already existing players and potentially alienating anyone who isn’t clued into the game mechanics. Yu-Gi-Oh and the like gave a good explanation in their first episodes about what the game was about and what the world built around it was like. This show doesn’t. I spent the first ten minutes frantically trying to think what the heck was going on! That’s not good if you want to sell your card game.

Then we’ve got the characters. Five main characters; but who are we supposed to be backing the most? Asuka? Sera? Chitose? That one dude…over there? I don’t know for sure. There is a slight leaning to Asuka when it comes to electing this show’s Yugi Moto though; but I’m not liking that. Asuka is a bit of a thankless jerk [but he loves his mum though.]. His brother pays for his classes and apartment but he still complains that he doesn’t get enough allowance and his mother replies with that he has to work for it [Never! I wouldn’t have guessed!]. I understand that this might be to illustrate a great change in his personality over the course of the anime but it’s so uninspired. The way he gets his powers is not through merit but through a random encounter with a shrine maiden who presents him with a Card Device [this universe’s Pokeball/Rare Card/Morpher/Expensive Kid’s Toy/McGuffin] and says that he must save the world and then leaves him to it. He then stumbles upon a hot angel Z/X [monster] called Fierte whom is targeted by another user [all of this is said in a flashback which is awkwardly placed in between the action]. The pacing of this episode is messed up and jarring in the extreme.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 20.34.13Z/X Ignition COULD be a decent show if things even themselves out over the next few episodes, but as an introduction to a world and mechanic, it fails to impress or intrigue. It only succeeds in infuriating, puzzling and facepalming. One moment happens between Asuka and one of the baddies in front of hundreds of soldiers and samurai [yes, I said samurai!] in where they fight and spout overly corny dramatic dialogue. The soldiers could easily gun Asuka down – I imagine Fierte is powerful, but against several hundred armed militia? I don’t think so. But back to the anime itself – it’s bland, confusing and unmemorable. Some nice monster designs save it from being described as a bad show; but it’s a mess everywhere else. It needed a stronger start and it failed to deliver.

Z/X Ignition is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: PROCEED WITH CAUTION [Episode 2 will determine if it’s worth a CANCEL]

[Winter 2014] SoniAni: Super Sonico The Animation


[Audio Version of the Review]

If you’re looking for something profound or an ironic commentary on the present state of anime and the idea of female models of anime, you’ll be very disappointed. This anime is merely a gimmicky vehicle for an internet darling icon – move along.

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Sonico [Nico-chan by her friends] is your average gir…what am I talking about? Of course she isn’t! Sonico is the mascot for the Japanese game company Nitroplus and was first introduced in 2006 and ever since has become one of the more recognised anthro-anime characters out there on the internet…as well as one of the bustiest. You can’t ignore her and the anime makes no bones about who she is. She is a model, guitarist and all round brainbox with a ‘nice body’. The thought of her having her own anime is both puzzling and logical; puzzling in what you can do with the character and logical in that it makes perfect sense to pop out an anime to tie in with Nitroplus’ games and media related to Sonico. Genius…marketing-wise. In terms of overall creative integrity, not so much.

You get the feeling that there’s not much going on with the anime and that’s the case when you spend the first 20% of the opening episode with Sonico trying to get up and getting started with becoming a crazy cat lady with 5 cats sharing a small studio apartment. Then the rest of the episode chronicles Sonico’s day at school, at a modelling shoot and then jamming out with her band. The show is trying to portray her as being a capable, attractive, intelligent and talented young girl but it all feels somewhat staged and false. Not only that, it’s also a little dry.

There’s a scene in the second half of the episode which pretty much summed up the show’s purpose for existence for me – breathing life into a mascot and cashing in on her good looks which were tailored to simply entice young men into buying a particular company’s games. It’s like what Yamaha did with Hatsune Miku [but at least Yamaha produced a very compelling and innovative piece of musical technology with their mascot at the helm.] That scene felt really disheartening to me and made me ask why I was watching this. My spirit was only somewhat lifted when Sonico’s manager appeared. Her manager wears a traditional Japanese mask and looks a total badass which kept me going for the rest of the episode.

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It’s not like I thought SoniAni [the title of the anime] was terrible. It’s not. But it’s certainly not good. It invokes a resounding…meh. It’s not bad, but it’s predictable. One-dimensional. Eye-roll inducing. Mediocre, at best. It feels like it has no real grounding behind it or over-riding arc. You get the feeling that each episode will be Sonico encountering a new job, song, school project and having to at first struggle with it and then prevail in some contrived and obvious manner. There are far better anime out there if you want something with a much more stimulating plot and character spread. The only stimulating thing about SoniAni is…well, I’ll leave it for you to figure out. The only thing I’m figuring out is this. Are those headphones surgically attached or does she have very ugly ears?

SoniAni is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

RATING: CANCEL

[Winter 2014] Space Dandy


Audio Transcription of the Review:

Space Dandy is a modern, slapstick interpretation of the legendary anime Cowboy Bebop. I’ll get that out there right now. They both follow a rag-tag team of misfits, involve the pursuit of money and have the same director at the helm [Shinichiro Watanabe].

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Once we get that out of the way, we get into the show proper. Instead of the usual premise of destroying aliens and getting stronger in order to fight somebody – Space Dandy is actually in the much tamer field of discoverer of new alien species. He is partnered by a smart-alec robot [QT] and later in the first episode a Betelguesian Not-Cat whom they call Meow [because they can’t be bothered to find out how to pronounce his real name…]. That simple plot facet sums up the team’s attitude – reluctant action. In an ideal world, they’d much rather bum through space and pick up their pay cheques. Despite the more relaxed approach, its similarities to Cowboy Bebop do stand out in the group dynamic; they’re not the best of friends but they get on just fine with a common goal. Money…and boobies. The space restaurant chain. Like an intergalactic bar crawl, Dandy’s ultimate dream is to visit every single Boobies! outlet in the galaxy…and find new aliens on the side.

From the outset, the visuals and dialogue prepare you for a cavalcade of slapstick, entertainment and a less-than-serious plot. You know this is going to be silly fun across space and it fills you with glee and giggles. It’s going to be a hoot; and the show delivers. The series has been one of the most hyped in quite a while and its almost immediate acquisition by Funimation is a telling twist in proceedings. Space Dandy, QT and Meow muddle their way across space after Meow tips the main pair off about a new species he knows about and the team somehow traverse hyperspace whilst unknowingly being chased by space pirates piloting…

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The SS STATUE OF LIBERTY…with optional ballgag. Wow. That was an extreme double-take and that pattern continues throughout the entire show. Somehow our heroes are able to outrun an ENTIRE battalion of bad guys and get to their destination; as well as distorting the fabric of space-time. I won’t spoil how the episode ends but it’s pretty funny and I get the feeling that it’s going to be a running gag throughout.

In all, Space Dandy has a lazy feeling about it. Not in its presentation, oh no! The narrative seems a little lazy as do the characters; but it’s totally intentional and a refreshing pastiche of the space adventure genre. It feels like the staff behind it have travelled from the 1970s and taken their ideas, values and [sadly sexism] with them. Women in Space Dandy are not held in high regard and quite clearly paraded in skimpy and bouncy ‘clothing’. That part of the show is not something I really agree but the rest is. It has that ambitious sense of grandeur and optimism despite its comedic composition. It has what makes vintage Lupin III so great – charm, confidence and yet no payoff. The main characters don’t necessarily get what they were after and that makes them imperfect…and all the more endearing.

Space Dandy is available to stream at Funimation.com

RATING: CONTINUE