Wednesday, September 29, 2004

AWA Panel Report

Anime Weekend Atlanta has come and gone, and as always it was the best con I attended all year. No other con has attendees who sing aloud the opening to Great Mazinger when it plays in the video rooms. For that matter, no other con plays Great Mazinger in the video rooms. Even after six years, it was a con of firsts: the first con without my car, the first con I got stranded at due to not having my car, and the first con for which I had panels every day.

My first time being part of Dave and Neil's Totally Lame Anime went great. I wasn't sure whether my selections would fit the vibe at first--after all, my clips tend to be heavy with violence, profanity, nudity, and other R-rated things--but when I looked over at Neil partway through my set to find him rendered speechless by Angel Cop as the crowd laughed on, I knew I'd hit the mark. One attendee later came up to me and noted how immediately following my panel, he went straight to the dealer's room and bought himself a copy of Apocalypse Zero. That is not the first time that has happened. Despite being held in the middle of the day on Friday--traditionally a time where most would-be attendees are still at work or in class--the room was at capacity, with many standing in the back.

Saturday night was the real test: the Panel OF DOOM. Considering it’s a panel that’s essentially a clone of Anime Hell being held at the home of Anime Hell, while running what was for the most part the same set of footage I had run at AFO last month and being scheduled opposite the costume contest, I wasn't sure what sort of crowd I'd draw if any. I still ended up packing the room to the point where people opted to sit on the floor. I started things off with an excerpt from "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," which reminds me that GoofyRobo—whose infant daughter luckily did not beat me senseless over the weekend—noted to me how Dave could never get away with running that stuff at Hell. I ended up running stuff like that for three hours, which is no small task considering that the individual clips I’d show tend to be VERY short.

The only sort of snafu I encountered was when what I presume to be a mother and daughter came straight up to me around 10:15 PM or so wondering why karaoke wasn’t going on in the room even though it was printed in the schedule. I told them the truth: that I was told I could run as long as I wanted, and that even if I did tell the still-packed room full of people to get out so that less than ten people could use the room for karaoke, there wasn’t anyone on staff present to watch the room anyway. Shortly afterwards, there was a group of people just outside the panel room that burst into a very loud, VERY off-key rendition of “Sobakasu,” the first OP to Rurouni Kenshin. Whether these two incidents are connected I can’t say, but I simply had the doors closed so that we could no longer hear them quite as much. Boy, those karaoke folks sure showed me!

By the time I ended, the room was still at about 50-75% capacity. A friend informed me that a mother in the crowd quickly left along with her two children during the point where I was showing the clip from “It’s Wonderful Being a Girl.” That is not the first time that has happened, proving once again that 1968 Johnson & Johnson educational films that prominently feature their own products are far more offensive than BIG JIM SLADE. I did a good enough job that one fan came up to me afterwards and noted that she liked my panel so much that she opted to delay going to the yaoi room until I was done. Now THAT’S the mark of quality.

With any luck, I’ll be able to assemble enough new footage for Totally Lame Anime (which isn’t THAT hard) and the Panel OF DOOM (this IS pretty tough) for next year. First things first: rebuild the computer. The $1000 I spent better be worth it…

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


I'd like to thank all the people who came out to see the shows. I didn't get to make it to Daryl Surat's PANEL OF DOOM or ANIME OFF THE BEATEN PATH or even Dave's DUBS THAT TIME FORGOT but I'm sure those rooms were packed to the fire exits. Daryl, Dave and Neil Nadelman's TOTALLY LAME ANIME was a hit, as usual. Mari Iijima signed autographs on the main stage and gave Dave Merrill a few moments to fine tune the playlist for JAPANESE ANIMATION HELL, and I hear that Ryan Gavigan did a four hour set for MIDNIGHT MADNESS. All in all, I enjoyed the shows that I watched and participated in and I hope you did too.

With any luck we'll have some con reports posted in the next couple of days. And I hope Surat finally gets a flight home....

Monday, September 20, 2004

When it rains, it pours.

And I'm not just talking about the two hurricanes that hit Florida within the last few weeks.

From Dave's rules for Anime Hell: ". . . what makes Hell Hell is the real-time selection of material and the mystery of what might happen next . . . I'm not going to convert it all to computer files and play it all out of a computer, because the computer would fuck up, and don't tell me it won't."

And of course, that's exactly what happened.

On Thursday, I noticed I was getting errors when trying to copy files on my brand-new, less than three weeks old 250 GB hard drive, purchased to replace my old 60 GB hard drive that was on the verge of death. I ran the Windows diagnostic program chkdsk, and it found several megs worth of bad sectors: physically damaged sections of the hard drive. Several megs worth is quite a lot, but I still had to cut the clips together for the Panel OF DOOM plus two other panels for Anime Weekend Atlanta ( Still possible, since none of the sectors corrupted anything critical and it was mostly going to be identical to what I ran at Anime Festival Orlando.

Or so I thought. Within a few short moments, those few corrupt megabytes (ha, "few"; you return a HD if you start seeing a couple KB of corrupt sectors) of data turned into the entire 250 GB hard drive, wiping away my operating system, programs, stored documents, you name it. Fortunately, I am not completely stupid, and nearly all of my relevant clips for the panels were either on a different hard drive or burned to disc. Of course, now I had no bootable computer on which to edit them.

Solution: I bought one of those external drive enclosures from CompUSA. If you've never seen one, these things basically let you plug in any regular hard drive (or CD drive or anything else that you connect via IDE cable) and then connect it to any computer via a USB port. They cost $40 online, so naturally they charged me $80. I'll bring it to AWA just in case. With it and the drives in tow, I drove an hour south to Orlando, where I then proceeded to hijack a friend's computer for about a day and a half and use it to edit together my three panels. Of course, the evil computer deities were still out to get me, so they tried to stop my plans by cutting off the power for six hours, but I got everything done AND I was able to recover a decent amount of my critical data from the dead drive.

Still, even though I can get the drive replaced for free, my computer's still dead and I'll probably have to spend something absurd like $750-$1050 after all is said and done, since that's how the PC hardware industry is. If your motherboard goes bad--which is what I *believe* happened to me--you can't just buy a new board. Nope, because the new processors are shaped different from the old ones, so you have to buy a new processor. Oh, and you have to replace all your RAM. And by then, you're talking about a lot of money. Especially since the reason I suspect the motherboard is because I already spend $300 replacing OTHER parts prior to this happening. Good thing I don't have bills to pay or anything actually important to spend money on.

The Panel OF DOOM cannot be derailed! Everything's right on schedule for the weekend, even if some Walker, Texas Ranger segments were lost.

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Jack Chick Movie

When I first read about The Jack Chick Movie in The Imp #2 I knew I had to get it. It was gonna be a fully animated feature length film that would be the alpha and omega of Jack Chick. Well, it finally came out about a year ago and it's more like the ultimate Jack Chick film strip/powerpoint presentation.

Not that it's a bad thing. Fred Carter, the uncredited cartoonist who's done the art for most of the Jack Chick tracts relating Bible stories and the Crusader comics series, gets his long overdue credit here. Carter created 360 paintings for the movie and it's pure Chick imagery. Demons are horrible bruise colored figures, Angels are unblemished and dazzling white robes, and the lake of fire is, well, a garishly firey red and orange and yellow. Dispite these fantastic images THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD takes it's editing cues from Ken Burn's PBS Civil War series, and like Ken Burn's documentary it lulls you to sleep.

Still, the highlight of the film has to be the "THIS WAS YOUR LIFE" segment which covers the same ground as the imfamous tract. Seeing Carter and Chick's interpretation of TWYL only makes me wish Jack had approached Rodney Ascher and Michael Garon to make LOTW. Rodney and Syd's short "Somebody Goofed" used images from the Chick tract and combined it with other found images "taken from drawings, magazines, encyclopedias, record covers and personal photographs" and animated them in After Effects on a home computer. "Somebody Goofed" is more emotionally moving because it is moving. LOTW, by comparison, is as involving as an illuminated manuscript.

A couple people asked about The Jack Chick movie at OtakuHELL and I'm happy to report that it is available to buy from Jack himself. A steal at only $19.95!


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

OtakuHELL tech/gear

This year's OtakuHELL has been another reminder of the limitations of Audio/Video from a VHS tapedeck and a DVD player. Yeah, I spent alot of time cueing up tapes to just the part I wanted to show and editing and burning clips to disk of specific HELLtype material to show. A whole lot of time. In fact, I spent the week leading up to the show cueing, editing and burning. Of course when I was running the set and I needed to cue up another part of a tape I was S.O.L.

Last year I brought a dual VCR/DVD player with me, just in case I needed it. It never came out of the box. I wouldn't have been able to hook it up, anyway. This year I brought my Disc Master 3 portable DVD player with and hooked it straight into the con's VHS player. It created a crude video editing setup. I could cue up DVD/SVCDs and pause them while tapes played on the VCR, blocking the signal from the DVD player. When the tape stopped playing the DVD signal would go through and play. And that worked pretty good.

The other day I picked up an Audiovox portable VCP at Target for $49.95, list price $199.95, not a bad deal. I intend to use it to cue up tapes on it's 5 inch TFT built in screen at the next OtakuHELL. the only limitation of the Audiovox is it dosen't have any standard outputs. It's got 2 headphone plugins and a DIN plugin in the back. So it looks like I'll need to get a headphone to RCA and a DIN to RCA/S-Video set-up. I just found out that a Mini-DIN is called a S-Video/S-VHS. Interesting.

What I really want is a Video mixing deck to put between the DVD and the VCR, and it looks like my options are pretty thin. So, I'm looking and waiting for a deal to come along and reading about what kind of deck I'll need. I was watching a Panasonic WJ-AVE7 Digital Video Mixer on ebay, the winning bid was $450. Way too rich for my little hobby. There are a couple listings for VIDEONICS MX-1 decks that I'm watching, too. We'll see what happens. If anybody sees any Video Mixers on the cheap post it here, please!

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Central Report

the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of any of the other Anime Hell participants or organizations.

Last May in Chicago we were at ANIME CENTRAL and on Friday night we ran the CENTRAL HELLFEST for the, what, fifth year now? I had a big list of stuff to show and lots of tapes and DVDs and stuff, and it pretty much all went out the window, because the whole thing started so late.

Apparently the Japanese band showed up late for their sound check, and that made the other events in the room late, and that made the Japanese band's gig late, and they played their entire set, and then SWEK, a band made up of American anime fans, played THEIR entire set, and by the time they were off the stage and the equipment had been moved off the stage and the chairs had been set back up and the projector had been put back in place and all the VCRs and soundboards had been rewired, well, it was time for people to start asking me when MIDNIGHT MADNESS was going to start. Literally, I was supposed to go on at 9 and instead I went on after 11.

Three times during their "performance" I went to SWEK, or people lounging around the stage fingering their instruments anyway, asking when their set was going to end. Three times nobody could tell me. THAT'S PROFESSIONALISM, GUYS. Not only was there nobody -no events director, no room manager, no MC - with the authority to get these people off the stage, there was no desire on the part of SWEK to do anything but play their entire set, including encores, to a thinning audience of their friends and roommates. This may have something to do with the fact that SWEK is made up of people on Anime Central staff, and henceforth with the power to play as long as they damn well please. This may also have something to do with the fact that at the 2003 Central, when SWEK ALSO went over their time slot, I was hollering at them to get their untalented asses off the stage, so they probably have every incentive to make things as difficult for me as possible.

The real problem is, of course, that you have 100 people INSIDE the room listening to SWEK, and you have 1000 (count 'em, one thousand) people OUTSIDE the room standing around for two solid hours waiting for Hell to start. Now, do the math, what's larger, 100 or 1000?

Regardless of their ability to stall Hell, I'd like at this juncture to just come right out and say it. SWEK stinks. I can't say whether the band itself is untalented or the sound reproduction in the main events room is bad, but for whatever reason, they are not an entertaining listening experience, and I speak as someone who has seen arena rock shows, club venues, outdoor festivals, house parties, and bands set up and play entertaining sets in hotel lobbies. SWEK is a lousy act. They sound like vegetable soup. Either they don't have the talent to supercede inferior equipment, or they don't know what they sound like, or they know what they sound like and don't care. Whatever; they aren't entertaining.

It's a waste of Central's time and resources to allow SWEK access to the room, the equipment, and the booking time slot. They're not worth it. It's an even BIGGER slap in the face when SWEK is allowed to noodle on and on while hundreds of cash-paying badge-holding Anime Central customers cool their heels waiting for the next event. I saw a constant stream of people wander into the main events room, stand with their fingers in their ears, shouting questions to each other as to when this lousy band was going to get off the stage, and then ultimately give up and go outside again, where it wasn't so noisy.

It's easy enough for me to bitch and complain on my own account; I hauled most of my crap 800 miles, I scheduled my entire Friday at Central around the fact that I needed to be in the main events room at 8:30 so I could be ready to do Hell on time, and all this went out the window because musicians won't dare trim a moment from their vitally important musical endeavours (I blame both the Japanese band and SWEK for this). But I was invited to Central and knew that this sort of thing is endemic to conventions, and I can handle it. What really pisses me off was seeing the lobby jam-packed with people who were essentially being told "We don't care what you want, we're going to ROCK AND ROLL ALL NIGHT, BADLY."

What's even worse is that Ryan has to go on after me, and he really DOES have an all-night slot. Every hour I delay means an hour Ryan delays, which means an hour Ryan doesn't get to sleep because unlike you or me, Ryan actually has to get up on Saturday morning and do Acen work. Not to mention the hundreds of people who will also stay up all night for Midnight Madness. It's disrespect to all of us, is what it is.

I don't mean to criticize Central or any of the people who were so helpful and instrumental in getting me there, like Issac and Ryan. But you need to have somebody in that room with the authority to start kicking people off the stage when they run long, and that includes Japanese bands, American bands, anybody. I'm a guest at Central (meaning they asked me to come, not that I have "guest" status. Nobody ever paid to come to a con because they heard "Dave Merrill" was going to be there) and I didn't feel I had the right to go backstage and start yanking plugs. Next year will be different; I make no promises as to my behavior. I played the nice guy this year and it turned out to be a bad decision, so look out. There are one thousand people waiting in the hall who will back my shit up.

So Hell finally got started, and then we had more equipment problems, and out of a three-hour slot I managed to show maybe 90 mintues worth of material, to an audience that was increasingly clamoring for Midnight Madness, since it was long past midnight. Ryan got to start around 1:30 and I hauled my stuff upstairs and tried to go to sleep, and then around 3:00 I realized that I'd left my Heino autobiography in the main events room, so I had to go back down there and secure it. Ryan's DVDs went well and made things a lot simpler, even though the time lag involved in hitting stop, ejecting DVD, inserting DVD 2, watching it spin up, selecting menu, selecting feature tends to eat away at the rhythm. And you have to be very careful to not let the menu show on the main screen, because then everybody knows what they're about to see, and that's just not good. I guess the wave of the future is 2 DVD decks along with the 2 VHS machines and the cuing deck.

Some of the material went over well, some of it didn't, and a lot of stuff I didn't even get to show, so we'll find out at AWA whether it's crowd-pleasing or not.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

OtakuHELL: 4th year, 5 hours

Last year we did AnimeHELL on Friday night at AnimeFEST. This year OtakuHELL was scheduled for Sunday night from 9pm until 2am. I knew I had enough material to fill 5 hours, but I wasn't sure how lucid I'd be by 2am. Luckily I had an excellent support crew to help me out. I gotta give a shoutout to Ed, Bruce, Mundee, Doug Smith and the AnimeFEST AV crew who got me hooked up and running with minimal bumps.

I had alot of new material this year. Thanks to Gavv I had the AnimeHELL Archive DVDRs and could show HEINO for the first time (THANKS GAVV!!! You Roxxor!!!) and I'd just picked up JAPANARAMA Volumes 1,2 and 3 for some japanese commercials and gameshow hyjinks, and I'd spent the last week converting over the region 2 GRASSHOPPA! DVDs and downloading new stuff from The Prelinger Archives.

The older stuff went over well, too. In My Merry Oldsmobile had everybody singing along with the bouncing ball and we got through about two thirds of My Japan "TO WIN THE WAR!" and had a visit with The Cautious Twins who really need to move to a better part of town. Are You Listening and Toothache of a Clown horrified everybody and we got our Hitler fix with In Der Fuerhrer's Face.

My favorite point of the evening was Newport Ninja Squad! I'd mixed a SVCD alternating Newport Cigarette Commercials with the Ninja segments of Ninja Squad. I figured I'd only get to show a couple of the Newport commercials and maybe one sequence of the day-glo Nin-ja but ended up showing the whole thing right to the final duel between Ninja Master Gordon and Ivan the Red!

We had Panel Room One packed most of the night. In fact Security almost shut us down because we had people in the hallway blocking the doors. Maybe next year we'll get a bigger room.

I'd like to thank everybody who came out to see my wacky clip collection and hope you'll be there next year!