Tempest’s Downpour – Anime USA and the Best Birthday Present

Posted on Nov 27 2011

Anime USA fell on the weekend of my birthday and so my goal was to treat myself to the best birthday gift ever: courage. Nah, that’s corny – I really just wanted to have lunch with J. Michael Tatum and wear a cosplay I was pretty proud of. It went on to be so much more.

There is this person of the male persuasion who makes the most gorgeous, unbelievable Disney costumes I have ever laid eyes on. Three years ago, when I first attended Anime USA, I took dance lessons for the formal ball the convention holds on Friday. Due to my cosplay choice (Fai from Tsubasa Chronicle) I decided to learn to waltz as a man and I got to dance with this beautiful person swathed in Belle’s gorgeous golden dress from Beauty and the Beast.

This picture of myself dancing with Alex went up on the home page of Anime USA 3 years ago. (Note: I’m holding him wrong, but LOOK AT THAT DRESS!)

I daresay he gathered a bit of a cult following amongst my peers and as our bus pulled away from the convention three years ago, we caught sight of him and all of us started cheering and waving. We dubbed him “Man-Belle” for lack of a better term, but at this year’s convention I finally learned his name: Alex. That was Thursday.

Friday, there was a line to see Wendee Lee’s panel and that line roped its way to a little corner where the photo studio sat. And who happened to be getting his photo taken? Alex. I gave him crackers and he looked at me like I was a saint. That was the first idol I met at this convention.

I also had the joy of sitting in on a J. Michael Tatum panel in person. I became a big fan of his by watching his panels on youtube. As talented as he is at voice acting, writing and directing, I was drawn in by how genial and polite the guy is. When talking to room filled to capacity with crazy otaku, he somehow manages to make the listeners feel like they are privy to a one-on-one conversation. Even sitting all the way across the Internet, watching a video made weeks ago, I felt as though he were addressing me in a conversation in a coffee shop – and it’s even better in person. He also shows incredible patience towards fangirls – something that never even occurred to me to do as it’s so easy to view the more intense fans as lesser beings.

My goal for this convention was to get Tatum as my birthday present. By that, I meant to ask him out to lunch and my expectation was to have body guards drag me away while he laughs. “The short answer is no. The long answer is f*** no,” said Stephen Fry in an episode of QI, and that was honestly where my expectations were laid because I’m but a lowly reporter who hasn’t even met this guy in person before.

I tried to be as professional as possible, as voice actors are skittish creatures, prone to dealing with more crazy than my friend who works at Greystone Asylum. I was eventually turned down for lunch, but Tatum offered for us to get drinks instead.

The next part of the story needs more context, so I’ll back up a bit. I’m a fan of a webcomic called Homestuck that has taken over anime conventions much in the way Hetalia has for the past few years. I cosplayed a grey-skinned alien troll by the name of Karkat.

It’s the first cosplay I’ve ever been 100% satisfied by where I had minimal help from friends. (My dear friend Asterose did most of the work trimming and styling the wig, which I am physically incapable of doing on my own as the wig sits on my head.) I built and painted the horns, made my own props, cut out the stencil to spray the shirt paint on and brushed up on everything I ever knew about professional makeup.

My friends and my own parents didn’t recognize me in this cosplay.

My makeup still managed to fall off me in clumps and I somehow got baby powder all over my shirt, but I’ve never been more proud to be in cosplay before in my life. People not only recognized me: they interacted with me. Some of the photoshoot pictures were absolutely priceless.

Speaking of the photoshoot, there were probably about 500 of us. Let me put this in context: Homestuck’s Saturday photoshoot was supposed to meet in a very large lobby-like area on the second floor of the hotel. Our sheer numbers caused a fire hazard and we were asked to leave. We took over the second-floor deck and the two people running the shoot managed to keep us the most polite, quiet and well-mannered unruly mob I have ever seen. All of us took the turns we were meant to, everyone was polite to one another and the pictures turned out amazing. When a maid! Gamzee went up to get a group shot taken, her horn immediately fell off. The group shot was held off until the horn could be repaired which took two more tries, and no Gamzee picture was taken without her. Like I said: best unruly mob ever.

Just a tiny slice of the “unruly mob” pie.

In the midst of this 3-hour-long shoot, I had to disappear to interview J. Michael Tatum. I had no time to remove my grey skin and I honestly didn’t want to have to coat myself in two-hours’-worth of makeup again. The wonderful thing about Anime USA is that it is really helpful to its reporters and treats us with a lot of respect: I was given a one-on-one interview with Tatum even while I sat there with horns, a wig and grey skin (sorry Kibs!).

We had a totally professional and wonderful interview that’s going to go up in a couple of weeks. Following that, we went our separate ways, intending to meet up for drinks at 9. I dashed around searching for my friends – new and old alike – and made it in time to get great seats for the Homestuck panel. Due to setup issues, the panel didn’t get started until I was just getting up to leave. I got to see the panel streamed live later on and it’s perhaps the most brilliant piece of fanwork I have ever been privy to.

In the meantime, Tatum brought his partner and the cast of the Unofficial Onepiece Podcast to meet with me at the bar. We had drinks (well, I had one drink because I’m a pansy regarding alcohol and partially because I was star-struck. See, I was completely professional for the interview, but when actually sitting down and hanging out in person, I spent the first third of it silently watching everyone talk. Creepy.)

I assumed drinks would be maybe a half hour long and then Tatum would fly off to whatever important thing he had to deal with next. I didn’t expect to be part of a wonderful conversational experience with my favorite voice actor and a group of really nice guys for THREE HOURS. BEST birthday present ever.

Keep in mind, I was still a grey-skinned alien. I took off the wig – thank goodness I kept my brain for that – but Tatum’s partner brought a camera and I’m certain my strangely-colored self made it into a few pictures that will live in infamy for the rest of my Internet life.

The conversation hopped topics from certifiably insane fans, to Hetalia, to how the English language is not flawed and is related to French, to proper grammar in text messages (and here I thought I was the only one who did that), to swing dancing and professional wrestling.

Come midnight, I bid the fellows adieu and dragged my sorry ass upstairs to say goodbye to the lingering Homestuck fans at the draw party. I attempted to catch a glimpse of Anime Parliament 18+ – one of my favorite panels – but was reminded that I don’t have the cognitive power to pay attention to it when I’m falling asleep from a day crammed with awesome.

On my way up from the convention, my friends and I stopped in D.C. to look at the WWII memorial. As historical and important as that is, I’m afraid my mind was still at the convention, going over every glorious detail of that weekend. Happy birthday to me.

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  • Kayarath November 28, 2011 at 10:39 PM

    Being at a Convention is walking a fine line between awesome and crazy and when you fall off you’re not sure which side you land on…

  • Asterose November 29, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Ahh styling that wig~

    Oh man I had no idea the Tatum interview session was so amazing XD You in cosplay, him and a couple other people chilling with you for /three hours/, just having a grand old time? Best birthday present ever indeed, I’m so glad you got that <3

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