By Manny Nolasco
Words can't describe the amount of hype I had for Anime St. Louis (ASTL) 2014, held in Collinsville, IL. It was around this time last year, when my best friend, Cory Smith, brought up the idea of visiting last year's ASTL event. At the time, we were playing electro-house music on his brother's Pioneer DJ equipment, and I thought his idea was just a "spur-of-the-moment" suggestion. But as soon as he told me that we would split gas and the hotel fees, I was immediately sold. The first time I even heard of anime conventions, was in my high school Japanese class back in 2005. Back then, my focus was on getting into a good college and then obtaining a job after graduating. Little did I know, 8 years later and ASTL 2013 would be my FIRST anime/cosplay convention to ever attend! So with all the excitement, wonderful memories, and friends gained along the way, ASTL 2014 was easily my most anticipated convention for this year. Let's hope I don't try to introduce too much bias.
First Arrival and Impressions
With an ever growing, but already massive attendance, ASTL 2014 was no exception. Upon my arrival, were two lengthy, but well organized lines: one for pre-registration, and the other for regular. Just like the previous year, the staff at ASTL never cease to amaze me by their coordination, experience, and friendly personalities. Typically, regular registration is often thought as nightmarish and tiresome when considering the long lines and crowded hallways; however, I'm pleased to announce that this was not the case at ASTL 2014. Directions were announced by staff members through megaphones/loud PA systems, and attendees would gladly cooperate. In fact, they even had a separate booth for press like myself to pickup badges, when normally I would have to stand in the preregistration line at other conventions. Its comforting to know when you can count on consistent quality service, which means everyone gets to start the fun a lot sooner. Below is my buddy Jeff, who I met and befriended from last year's Natsucon (he was also part of ASTL's staff this year):
Armor with Zelda Master
As someone who's currently in the works of making his own custom samurai armor with polyurethane foam and other store bought materials, this panel caught my attention. I was even more joyed when I saw the familiar face of one of the cosplayers who entered and won her division in the 2013 Natsucon Cosplay Contest (see picture below). Unfortunately, I just caught the last half of her panel, which means that I didn't catch her name or the information she provided at the beginning. But I did have the opportunity to ask the question, "What tips do you have for sealing paint on EVA or polyurethane foam from chipping over time or when armor bends?" Her response was that paint sealant or Gesso should do the trick. She did forewarn me that I should wear a respirator or be outside when using chemicals with strong fumes, and that the armor may harden substantially in the process. Mobility may become an issue when armor hardens. This is especially important to know for those wanting to paint flexible armor, like the space suit "Commander Shepard" wears in Mass Effect, the video game. Otherwise, I also learned that putting on armor is a separate issue in itself, one that may require the assistance of your friends/family if possible. It's also a good idea to bring either some black duct tape, or a hot glue gun, in case pieces come off and you need to make some repairs back to the hotel room.
Normally, I would say that all the fun at an autograph signing only occurs at the moment of receiving the autograph, which is short lived in itself. Waiting in line for Matt Mercer's autograph (voice actor for "Leon S. Kennedy" from the Resident Evil video games and animated movies), was the exception to this rule. It's not everyday you get to stand next to a cosplay of an Iron Man suit, fused with colors and parts from Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine van (see picture below). Behind me were also some fans of the Fire Emblem series for the Nintendo 3DS (me being one myself). As we got to talking, I revealed to the others in line, that my goal was to get Matt's autograph for Cory, who could not attend ASTL 2014 due to a conflicting Russian class held on Saturdays. It was my way of saying "thanks" again for bringing me to my first anime convention a year ago. To my surprise, Matt was just as animated as his character, Leon, as he eagerly shook my hand and said that he was glad that I stopped by. After asking him the favor of addressing his signature to Cory, he then jokingly said to me to tell Cory to drop the Russian class and see him next time! Checkout Matt's autograph for my friend in the picture below:
Having attended the "18+ edition" of this panel at Natuscon last year, I honestly didn't know what to expect at ASTL 2014. So let me say this: "What happens at Anime Hypnosis, stays at Anime Hypnosis." Just joking, but seriously, the adult version was a "unique" experience. I even thought this year's panel was going to be for older audiences only, but to my appreciation, it was family oriented and everyone could be part of the fun! Now to those new or inexperienced to hypnosis, in order for it to work, you have to be open-minded (this is coming from myself, having been doubtful, but tried as a participant of Anime Hypnonsis). The "Great and Powerful Brando", leads this exercise by introducing himself and his credentials, and then proceeds to select 20 or more volunteers to undergo live hypnosis (see YouTube video link below - *this was uploaded by a volunteer from Brando's group, not MSP). Brando then proceeds the initiation, by speaking in a slowed, softer voice that is both soothing to hear, and easy to follow. The volunteers then undergo a repetitious group of varied, calming exercises, broth breathing in slowly and counting to 10. As instructed, they cotinue to imagine that they're sitting on a cloud made of their most precious memories. After awhile, even to those not yet convinced, this does sound like trippy stuff. But if you follow along and remain relaxed, your body will start feeling lighter, and more responsive to Brando's commands. It's an experience that is truly unique in itself, and one that requires more than seeing to believe, but experiencing the moment as well. If you ever have the chance to attend Natsucon or ASTL in Collinsville, IL, definitely checkout the Great and Powerful Brando, and see what his hypnotic experience has to offer.
Saturday Morning Cartroons with Kevin Bolk
Of all the panels held at ASTL 2014, this was by far my most favored/anticipated event! Having attended this panel last year, I was pleased to see the familiar Saturday morning cartoons I grew up with a kid, or learned about for the first time. The funny thing about last year's event, was that Kevin originally thought he only had an an hour and thirty minutes reserved for his panel. After some technical difficulties, he proceeded with his presentation under the idea that he only had an hour left and was going to have to cut his panel short. It wasn't until an attendee brought to everyone's attention that he actually had 2 hours reserved, and the party continued. Having all this said, this year was no exception-minor issue with needing audio cables-but only in "tradition" like fashion, as we still had ample time to cover the same shows and we all knew Kevin had 2 hours. Unfortunately, it was too dark for me to take adequate pictures or video, but here are some shows you can look up on YouTube from his panel: Silverhawks, Potato Head Kids, Dino Riders, Ghost Busters (the Scooby Doo-like, non-traditional version), Thunder Cats, S.W.A.T. Cats, Little Rosie, and many more!
Little Kuriboh Unabridged
Prior to attending his panel, I was only familiar with Little Kuriboh's work with Team Four Star, as he voiced both the narrator and the character "Freeza" from Dragon Ball Z: Abridged. Little did I know, that his greatest work is actually Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, as he voiced characters "Yugi", "Joey", and "Tristan". As a kid, I was more of a Pokemon follower than Yu-Gi-Oh!, which sorta explains why I was out of the loop on this abridged series. But after watching several episodes now, I'm thoroughly impressed with the variations and method to Little Kuriboh's voice acting. The greatest statement by Little Kuriboh during his panel, was that the original series of Yu-Gi-Oh! is quite comedic in itself. Having that said, this gave him the inspiration to build off this quirky humor, and expose the potential for harder laughs from both himself, and the audience of Yu-Gi-OhI The Abridged Series. Overall, I'd say Little Kuriboh as a person-Martin Billany is his actual name-seemed like a cool guy to get to know. He was very humble in his response to his audience, and constantly reminded us that if it weren't for the fans, he wouldn't be hosting a panel today. Without going into detail, Kuriboh also revealed that shortly before his show, he was personally going through "dark times", and the show gave him an outlet to focus on something positive. Eventually, his show opened more doors for him, as one opportunity led to another. I'm just glad to have been part of his panel, and in a way, you can too by watching this video below:
This was my first cosplay masquerade, and frankly, I didn't know what the difference would be when compared to a cosplay "contest". Unfortunately for me, this was more like a "baptism by fire" than a gentle initiation. Cosplayers would appear randomly and quickly on stage, coming from either the left or right side with little to no indication in advance. Some cosplayers took time to pose, and would even walk to the far end of the stage, which was closer to the audience. This is the kind of routine that I'm used to; however, some cosplayers would dart out from either side of the stage, do a little twirl or body action, and then quickly go behind the curtains for the next contestant. As I did not expect this kind of spontaneity, I have fewer pictures than usual as some came out blurred or had bad composition. By all means, this isn't a criticism of the coordination of the masquerade or the cosplayers themselves, but rather an observation, but more importantly, a learning experience for me. I wasn't prepared for some cosplayers to pose, while others actually conducted a 1 - 2 minute skit. If anything, next time I'll be more prepared and hopefully have more to offer you in terms of pictures and video. I would say that I was impressed with the turnout of cosplays at this event and here is a taste of the gallery that will be posted soon:
Okashi Fashion Show
At last year's ASTL, I just captured the last bit of the fashion show, and didn't have a camera on hand. I was not going to make the same mistake again. So this year, not only did I attend the entire show, but I came prepared with a Tamron 70-300mm lens. This means that I could take long distance photos without getting in the view of other audience members. I'm personally impressed with the turnout of this year's models, both in the variety in outfits, and with the overall presentation. Some of the newer additions to this year's show, was that fashion varied from melancholy Lolita, to street clothes of Shibuya or Tokyo. We even have one guy in the show! I feel that the pictures can say the most, so here's a brief selection of the models themselves (a full gallery on the way):
Q&A with Matthew Mercer and Marisha Ray (Voice Actors)
Matt and Marisha were a blast to talk to. I opened up the audience Q & A with the first question addressed to Matt, "How do you go from the 'Guns blazing, Leon S. Kennedy (a main character from the Resident Evil video game series in which Matt does the voice of), to the humble but chivalrous Chrom?" Matt's response was that he believed that there was overlap between the two characters; although, he openly admitted that Chrom has better success with the ladies, but also with people in general when compared to Leon. Leon also has a darker sense of humor and tends to travel alone, causing Matt to slightly vary the tone and approach to when voicing between the two characters. I immediately added a follow up question, asking if Matt was contacted first for Chrom's role, or if he tried out for the part. It turns out that he did audition for the role; however, he provided some insight on the audition process itself. Apparently, sometimes when applying for a role, the title of the project isn't announced, so as the voice actor, you're told that you're applying for a role in "project 269X", or something like that. Then based on your performance, you'll either be assigned or asked to voice a certain character within that project, which later the actual name of the show or video game is released. If you'd like to hear a sample of Matt's voice, click on the video below:
Here's Matt's intro to Anime St. Louis 2014!
I was less familiar with Marisha as a voice actress; however, I did remember her from her role in "1,000 Ways to Die" on Spike TV. It's a tough to act to follow when you're sitting next to the jovial and comedic Mattew Mercer, but she certainly held her own and had added interesting insight to herself as a person, and as a voice actor. As a hobby and part of her daily regiment for acting, she currently takes martial arts from a retired Marine instructor - whose name escapes me at the moment. Based strictly on her physical appearance, she said that she is often confused for "Avril Lavigne" or sometimes "Felicia Day". Aside from her hair style/color, I can only vaguely see the resemblance with Felicia, but Avril definitely. In addition to martial arts, she also plays D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) - which Matt does as well. As a fan of the fantasy genre, she struck me as someone who is well versed in the lore and can relate to her fans on an intimate level - more than just someone who does the voice of the characters. For me, she was definitely a treat to listen to and get to know about her as a person, and a voice actress. Here's a picture of Marisha:
Star Wars Costume Group (The 501st , Rebel Legion, and More!)
The first time I was introduced to the 501st and the Star Wars costumers, was at last year's ASTL. I was overwhelmed by the detail in the costumes, to the hum of the lightsabers. Even more so, I was impressed with the "family-like" relationship that the members have, and the charity work the troop does, aside from social appearances. For specific details, click here to read my blog/interview with group representative, William Homes ("Bill"), as we discuss the finer points of what it means to hang with this group:
This year's panel really focused on the detail put into wearing the costumes, and tips/tricks when it comes to costume safety. For example, you might think it's cool to wear an all white "Stormtrooper (TK329) armor"; however, did you know about the amount of bruising, limited eye vision, and overheating issues associated with the costume? Richard Heffernan, friend to Bill and representative of the local Rebel Legion costuming troop, discusses the lesser known aches and burdens of wearing the infamous gloss-white armor (see picture below). Apparently, it's not uncommon to experiencing bruising at the joints of the armor. Your vision is limited to two small oval shaped slots covering where your eyes would be. And then there's the issue of overheating, which as Bill revealed that he almost had an issue of passing out at an event and had to temporarily excuse himself from. I was glad to see the group again for another year and excitement for years to come. For links on how to contact the different Star Wars costuming factions, please see my article/blog link above as all of this is included.
Interview with Happy Badger Studio (Indie Game Developers)
My relations with Happy Badger Studio started last year when Cory introduced me to them at ASTL. I saw them again at Natsucon 2013, but this time had the opportunity to ask questions at their panel. Because I was among the first to ask questions, I was awarded this awesome swag for a t-shirt, which I consistently wear to my work on Mondays and Fridays - if you get what I mean (let's be happy!). This year was no exception in seeing the entire group and what looked like a couple newer members? As listed in the title, Happy Badger Studios is a group of Indie game developers, that consistently crank out quick, but fun mini games that you can download on Steam and through other venues. Mobile gaming has started to become a trend with them as well, as some of their games can be found on the iPhone App store and Android. Below is our interview with Happy Badger Studio, but you can also check them out directly at their website: http://happybadgers.com/
There's this unwritten rule about conventions: "No matter how great the biggest convention you'll ever attend, it will never match that of your first con." Some con-goers might not believe this, but I for one do, and Anime St. Louis 2014 was another reminder for me to why this holds true. The funny thing is, I'm not sure of even any future experience at ASTL can top my first time with them. But for me, in the end it's not about how grandiose the panels or guests are. It's the experience, memories, and making new friends, while catching up with others, is why I go to conventions. Yeah, I didn't have time to go to the "Maid Cafe'" or try my luck at the "Doki Doki" speed dating, and Cory wasn't with me. But I did run into another close high school friend, Nathaniel Stepney - we used to do Karate together. I also got to meet voice actor Matt Mercer and pickup his autograph for a friend. So overall, if I had to rate this convention, I'd give it "two thumbs WAY up" and my seal of approval. I think by now, ya'll know I don't like to give number scores, because I believe this is subjective and can sometimes be misinterpreted upon evaluation. I like how the overall experience was family oriented, and yet there were some "18+" panels for those like myself, require mature audiences. I think the spirit of ASTL, can be summed up in this group chant of the Pokemon theme song, led by none other than our friend, Rodney, (lead coordinator and liaison to Cosplacon, held in Jefferson City, MO.)
Thanks for reading this in-depth review of Anime St. Louis (ASTL) 2014! I had a great time returning to my first convention, but for the second time, while meeting new faces and seeing familiar ones. I will be posting the complete gallery of both the cosplay masquerade and fashion show. I will also upload the full interview with our friends at Happy Badger Studios on both our MSP YouTube channel, and embedded within this article - stay happy!
Again, huge SHOUT OUT to the amazing guests, staff, and panels at ASTL! I hope to see everyone again, including YOU, at next year's ASTL. Until next time, this is Manny or "ThatCosplayGuy" signing off!
^^As for my cosplay in the picture above, I decided to change things up from "Kirito" (from S.AO.) to being a jet fighter pilot.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can interact with me and other cosplayers at thatcosplayguy.com.