Ten Events You Might Have Missed at Katsucon (But Shouldn’t Have)

Gallifrey One wasn’t the only major convention held over the holiday weekend: Katsucon, in National Harbor, Maryland, was a cacophony of sights and sounds, with press liaison Chad Diederichs expecting over fifteen thousand attendees to visit the Gaylord Hotel over the span of the weekend.

Certain events like screenings, panels, dealer’s rooms and video game halls are commonplace at anime cons of all sizes, but as fun and entertaining as these things are, this year’s Katsucon featured some unique events and activities that might have been overlooked for some of the more popular events. That’s where I come in, to tell you about the ten events you shouldn’t have missed at this year’s Katsucon. And if you did? they should certainly be on your list – along with a return trip – next year.

10. What would Spike Spiegel Drink? Cocktail and beverage pairings for your favorite anime

I’ve found, particularly as I’ve gotten older, more mature and less interested in anime, that a good buzz can make anime a hell of a lot more fun. Little did I know that there are some pretty kick ass drinks inspired by anime. This year, a rogue bartending team known as Bad Bad Cake brought their “spiritual” stylings to Katsucon in a twenty-one and older event (which implies to me that people got to get their drink on). Any event that lets one combine anime and alcohol sounds good already, but this troupe apparently instructed attendees in the proper pairings of anime and alcohol. While I didn’t get to see this one first hand, I will certainly be in line for it next year.

9. It Gets Better – Anime Con Edition

One of the largest epidemics terrorizing the youth of this country, particularly kids of the “nerdier” persuasion, is bullying. Over the past few years we’ve seen such stars as George Takei and others taking a stand against bullying with the “It Gets Better” campaign. This year at Katsucon, veteran voice actors Crispin Freeman and Greg Ayers reached out to youth with their own personal stories and lent their support to fans of all ages that have been made to feel like they don’t belong. The lecture/Q&A session should be on the list of things to attend for any con goer, particularly one with children, as, sadly, bullying is something which one in four children will have to face in their lives.

8. Dub Your Own Hentai

I’m sure all of us at one time have thought that we could have a career in porn. Then we had sex and got laughed at, banishing all hopes of work in the erotica industry. The fact is, 99.9% of the population could not control our “outbursts” enough to succeed in that line of work. But there’s good news for you, budding purveyor of smut! Welcome to the wonderful world of hentai – animated porn. You don’t have to perform on camera; you just have to pretend to.

Of course, if you weren’t quite ready to quit your day job, at the “Dub Your Own Hentai” panel you had the opportunity to try your hand at voicing some of the most infamous scenes in tentacle porn history, often with hysterical results. It’s doubtful that anyone at this year’s event found a new calling, but you never know who might just be the next cartoon Jenna Jameson. At least the clean-up on hentai sets is easier.

Note: The video above is from Anime Boston in 2009

7. Video Game Hall Charities

Most anime conventions feature video gaming, and at first look one wouldn’t consider Katsucon’s to be impressive. Sure, there was the obligatory rows of TVs and game consoles, the wall of dance machines and a handful of arcade machines. The things that made this game room stand out were its works of charity.

As important as video games are to Japanese entertainment, there is something that has entertained the island nation for far longer: Pachinko. Most Americans will never have the chance to mechanically hurl hundreds of metal balls on a vertical playfield, as the game has never taken off on American shores. Meanwhile, in Japan, the Pachinko industry accounts for over almost four hundred billion dollars a year in revenue. There is little doubt of the game’s popularity there. But if you want to play Pachinko in the states, one of the few places is at Katsucon, where about a dozen machines of various eras and styles were available to play for just a small donation to the American Cancer Society. While not quite up to par with the parlors of Japan, the lines of anime fans to play this Japanese pastime were pretty impressive.

In addition to the fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, there was also an impressive display from an organization called Able Gamer. The group, which works with developers, hardware manufacturers and medical facilities, had on display a wide array of alternative control sets for gamers of varying levels of disabilities. Their goal is to open video gaming to all people, no matter what physical challenges they may face. The most impressive device they had on display was a control which allowed a completely paralyzed person to be able to play video games like anyone else by using strictly facial controls.

While most people take gaming for granted, it was fascinating to see able-bodied people playing games on these modified controllers, and on a personal level, as a parent of a child with physical disabilities, I found it wonderful to see that my son will be able to play games like anyone else with just some minor accommodation.

Between the Able Gamer Foundation and the Pachinko fundraiser, the video game room at Katsucon was truly something special.

6. Taiko Lessons

Any fan of Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica soundtracks is already familiar with Taiko, traditional Japanese drumming. McCreary used it frequently, and it’s been featured in such films as The Hunted. While popular in Japan, there is practically no place to learn the ancient art, though the basics could be picked up at Katsucon. A demonstration and instructional session by the Chin Hamaya Culture Center gave con attendees a chance to get hands-on with Japanese drums for the first and quite possibly the only time. Men, women and children drummed and danced in time, and while they were mere amateurs, it was obvious that they had learned much in their one hour lesson and had an experience others couldn’t beat.

The video above is from their performance at Nekocon.

5. Symphonic Anime Orchestra

Anime and video game soundtracks have always been a niche market, but that hasn’t stopped events like Play! A Video Game Symphony from cashing in. While certainly not on the same level as Play!, the all volunteer Symphonic Anime Orchestra shows a side of anime music that isn’t the typical J-pop fare. Meeting for the first time at the start of the con, and having had only three rehearsals before a Sunday performance, the orchestra which consists mostly of student musicians must have felt intense pressure. By Sunday, the rag-tag musical group became a fully functional, performing orchestra. It wasn’t the Baltimore Symphony, but for a team of amateurs with limited time, the results were magnificent.

4. Samurai Sword Class

I know what you are thinking: it’s a pretty bad idea to take a bunch of nerdy wanna-be Ninja types, and teach them how to do ninja type stuff. Hear me out. Frankly, if you were to put a katana in the hands of your average con-goer the result would be catastrophic. They might think their kenjutsu is on par with Michonne, while in reality they are a deadly version of the Star Wars kid. Enter the husband and wife team of Samurai Dan and Jillian Coglan, whose class at the con introduced many a novice to what the Bride would refer to as the “exquisite art of the samurai sword”.

Attendees got to learn some of the basic techniques and concepts of the katana (though without all of those pesky lacerations), all under the instruction of full time martial arts instructors. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to sling steel like a MacLeod, make plans to attend this one if offered next year.

3. “No Means No! A Defense Against Fanboys and Fangirls” panel

As much fun as anime conventions are, there are also negative connotations associated with them. Things like the con funk will always be associated with the anime community, even if those people less likely to bathe are in the minority. But one thing that never seems to change is the eternal presence of the bane of the average con goer: The Fanatical Fanboy.

Thankfully, people are taking a stand against those who wish to random GLOMP total strangers, obsessively recant their list of favorite Pokemon to some poor fool who asks why they are dressed up, and relentlessly try to woo that girl in the sexy Pikachu costume. The panel “No Means No! A Defense Against Fanboys and Fangirls” happily taught not only how to avoid or escape the unwelcome attention of a fanboy, but also educated people who may participate in that behavior how to adjust their actions so that they come off as less creepy.

Hosted by incredibly sexy cosplay and burlesque star Stella Chuu, a woman who has undoubtedly been on the receiving end of unwanted uber-nerd attention, it should be required attendance for any young girl planning on attending a convention alone – or her protective father.

2. Charity Auction

Katsucon has done much for charity over the years, with this year’s charity auction being the biggest and best ever. Again benefiting the American Cancer Society, this year’s charity auction had quite the lineup. The top two items were particularly drool-worthy: a Street Fighter II slot machine and a signed script from the English adaptation of the Cowboy Bebop movie. As of this writing, the results have not come in for the auction, but it’s safe to say that with all of the items up for auction, cancer research just got a Power-Up.

1. The Sound Bee HD Concert

There isn’t a musical experience quite like a Japanese rock concert. Not only are they generally as loud and boisterous as you would expect from a rock concert, they are also a visual spectacle with impressive lighting, pyrotechnics and costumes that would give GWAR boners. While a place like the Gaylord National Hotel is not quite equipped for the theatrical spectacle that would be a Visual Kei concert, bands like this year’s main event, The Sound Bee HD, sure put on a hell of a show.

The Sound Bee HD isn’t as visual a band as such classic acts like Malice Mizer, Psycho le Cemu and X Japan, but their sound is similar, with hard industrial rhythms and an orchestral flavor. It’s an interesting sound; one that is not often heard in American music. Fan or not, a J-Rock concert is something that should be experienced at least once, but with Asian bands not often touring in the states, events like Katsucon are among your only opportunities to blast your eyes and ears in style.