• Krystal Stoner

☆ KatsuCon 2012 ☆


After much anticipation (probably the longest-feeling two-and-a-half weeks of my life) KatsuCon has come and gone, and may I just say... wow. the experience is one I won't soon forget, and to make sure of that, it's time to jot down all the little details. This was my first year attending KatsuCon, and hopefully it will not be my last. This was also my first East-Coast convention!

This is pretty long, so you might want to grab a snack!

☆ THURSDAY ☆

Since this was all so very last minute, I made every effort possible to take as little time off from work as I could. I got Friday cleared, and booked a Red-Eye for Thursday night. Thursday was probably one of the best days I have had in a long time. Somehow, I managed to get completely caught up on work, and I finally received my annual review, which came with a pay raise! I was stoked, and it set me in a good mood for the rest of the night. I got home from work at 5:30PM, and called my friend Lizzie to see if she could give me a ride to the transit station, so that I wouldn't have to deal with dick-head bus drivers. Luckily she agreed, and so I finished packing my make-up, and may I just say I am EXTREMELY proud that I was able to pack four costumes, shoes, wigs and all, into one carry-on suitcase and a very small backpack.

Around 7:50, I caught the MAX red-line to the airport. Because it was so late on a Thursday night, I had the train car pretty much to myself, except for maybe 3 or 4 other people who all got off somewhere along the line. Somewhere on the ride, I also got a call from my dear old friend Kelsey, and chatted with her for a while, which made the ride go a lot faster. When I arrived at the airport, I was surprised to find that there was, literally, NO line for security. I literally walked right up, dumped my stuff through the machine, and walked on through. The biggest surprise though, came when the guy on the other side of the scanner took a look at my t-shirt (my WCS shirt) and asked what I wore for the World Cosplay Summit. I gave one of my usual vague answers that I always give when questioned in passing about cosplay, and collected my things from the scanner belt. "You didn't answer my question" he said, and I asked "would you know what I was talking about? You know anime and manga?" Turns out he did, and recognized two of my three chosen characters. In hindsight, I should have given him one of my brand new contact cards that had just arrived in the mail that morning!

I almost went back to give him one, but there was an actual line by then, and the last thing I wanted was to be seen as suspicious, like I was attempting to distract TSA. So, I just turned around and walked back to sit at my gate and charge my phone. My first flight of the night began boarding at 10:30, left at 11, and flew 4.5 hours to Atlanta, Georgia. I slept most of the way, though it was difficult considering my middle-seat, and the lady on the aisle being quite chatty with her family across the way. Ugh. Right as we were getting ready to land, the guy across the aisle even took a flash photo in the dark plane. I was Not Pleased.

☆ FRIDAY ☆

My flight landed in Atlanta at 6:15 AM -- 3:15AM according to my internal clock, thanks to time-zone changes. I have to say, I've never been in an airport that was so BRIGHT and CLEAN looking. I felt more like I was in a mall than an airport. Luckily, I didn't have too long of a wait for my next flight, and it was significantly more empty than my first. I got a window seat, with no one sitting next to me, so I was able to snooze comfortably for a good hour and a half. My flight landed at DCA around 9AM, and the airport was very quiet. I took the long walk down through baggage claim to the Super Shuttle booth, booked my shuttle, and then I was off to the hotel. I had never been through this part of the country, so looking at all of the brick buildings, the streets, it all had so much character, I was a mad tweeting fiend for the 20 minute shuttle ride.

I ended up striking up a nice conversation with the guy I shared the shuttle with, since it turns out he was going to be going to Seattle the next week, and seeing as I grew up there...

We chatted for a little while, until we got inside the hotel. He went to check in, and I waited for Rynn to come downstairs and collect me. Big hugs were had, and we went up to the room so that I could drop off my suitcase. Sonnya was still asleep in bed, but she woke up long enough for brief introductions, and to enthusiastically accept our offer to bring her back some breakfast. I gave Rynn her Christmas present, and then we were off to wait for the others in the lobby. In the end, it was just Rynn, Chris, Megan and I, and we were later joined by James, one of Rynn's Canadian friends. Initially we had planned to go to Potbelly, only to arrive and find they did not open until 11AM. We didn't have time for that, since Rynn had to meet up with the Idolmaster group at noon, and I was hungry NOW. So instead, we ended up going to Freshii, this place that was an extension of Baja Fresh, where I got a yogurt parfait with oatmeal, strawberries and blueberries. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but we all started laughing, and I was so sleep deprived, I couldn't stop laughing. My friends broke out their cameras to document my 'pterodactyl laugh'. I'm just sooo glad I can provide my friends with such entertainment. ^^;

After we were finished eating, I took the other half of my parfait back to the hotel and stuck it in our mini-fridge, and Rynn and I got dressed, and gave Sonnya her sandwich. Rynn put on her Idolm@ster costume, and I took a shower and got into my newest costume (Utena Tenjou from Revolutionary Girl Utena), and then we were off. I spent most of Friday afternoon tailing around after the Idolm@ster girls, which meant a good couple hours were spent watching them practice a dance in an empty ballroom. Eventually, we ventured out into the main halls, where I got to finally meet Tiff and Cass (Starlight Honey + Breathless Aire, respectively), who I attempted to treat gently in their gorgeous costumes, only to have the tiny bundle that was Cass flinging herself at me with enthusiasm. I applaud her, I could never be so brave in a costume with as much fabric as she was wearing! While the Idolm@ster girls got some group photos, Chris and I staked our claim on the ever-coveted Gazebo, and did a shoot of my Utena costume.

I am so pleased with the end results, I can't even describe it. This photo is my favorite one, though I do love all of them! I didn't bother to get very many pictures of any of my other costumes, since I already have plenty of them; this con was a little bit different for me in that sense.

After the Idolm@ster girls got all their pictures (and I got a few w/ EBK), Rynn and I ran off to change costumes, and head off to what we were there for in the first place; WCS Judging! This was for the craftsmanship portion, so Rynn changed into Rise from Persona 4, and I put on Homura (school version), and off we went, with Chris in tow. Chris had been somewhat drafted into Press and Assistant work for WCS Prelims, so we spent the vast majority of our con together. I don't remember for sure, but I think this may have been the first time all con that I got to see Ed again, and it was like we'd just left Japan. I was incredibly stupid though (a common occurrence), and forgot to take more ibuprofen, so about half way through our 5 hour judging session, I got a terrible headache that made it very hard to concentrate. We ended up ordering Baja Fresh for dinner, which we had to wolf down WHILE judging people, which I felt really bad about because I couldn't give a few of them the attention that they probably deserved, and I also couldn't just enjoy my friggin' food.

I could go on about some of the teams we judged, but for the sake of confidentiality, and being a professional, I'll refrain. I'll just say, there were a lot of really good entries, a handful of less-than-stellar entries, and some who went completely under my radar because they did not stand out in a negative or positive way. After we got booted from our scheduled room, all of us judges reconvened in Rynn/Sonnya/My Hotel room, including Renee (who had just gotten in about half-way through judging) and Ashe (who was not a judge, but was there to be part of the festivities anyway!). We spent about half the time deliberating over each group's craftsmanship, and half the time just bonding. We all learned that Renee has an absolutely gorgeous opera voice, and we all compared our various experiences with WCS.

After a while, we determined we were ready to go out and have some fun, so we all shuffled downstairs in civvies. The rest of that night is actually a bit of a blur to me -- I met and talked to so many people, I can't keep it all straight. I finally met Dia, the last of our numbers to arrive, as well as Greg (a guy who has done voices for our skits in the past), Anna Fischer (a photographer from NY), This guy named Jeff who basically flipped out when he found out I was a part of Ninja of the Night, and so many other people whose names I didn't catch, it was insane. Rynn, Renee, Sonnya, Jo (who I got to meet for the first time during craftsmanship judging), Chris and I ended up sprawled on some couches and chairs near one of the elevators, and Leonard passed out assorted Madoka Magica goodies he had apparently won in a series of drawings. Sonnya got the best one hands down -- a Kyubey iPhone case. I got what looks like a knock-off nendoroid (sp?) of Moe-Mura. Eventually, we all decided it was best to head off to bed, because Saturday was going to be a LONG DAY.

☆ SATURDAY ☆

Saturday was The Big Day -- World Cosplay Summit preliminaries! For the special occasion, Rynn and I brought Miaka and Yui to KatsuCon, in hopes of doing one last good photoshoot with them, before we retired them permanently. Seeing as it was the World Cosplay Summit preliminaries, it only seemed appropriate that we bring our own Preliminary costumes! The day didn't start off well-- I really didn't want to get out of bed -- something about our room was so dry I woke up sounding like a 40-year-old chain smoker, and it was so cold that I made Rynn bring me the leftover half of my yogurt parfait, which I ate in bed. After that, I was a bit more awake, and my throat was soothed, so it was time to get changed. I met with a rude surprise-- apparently the combination of air-pressure changing from flying on multiple planes, and the stress of travel had made my body decided that it was Lady Time a few days early. At first, I was worried that we weren't going to be able to wear our Fushigi Yuugi costumes because of this, since normally I just wear body tights under Yui, and nothing else. A bit of experimenting proved me wrong, and so with that delay taken care of, we got into costume. I was reminded, once again, of what a bitch it is to get all of my head-gear on, and poor Rynn had to futz with her wig a lot; her hair had grown significantly since she'd styled it-- it had always been a little snug to begin with, and now it didn't fit properly! With some clever re-working, however, she got it to work, and soon we were headed out the door, though about an hour later than we had hoped. We headed downstairs with Chris, and Rynn texted Anna about getting some photos as well, since she'd had a shoot scheduled for 11:30. While we waited and looked for places to shoot, I was surprised how much busier the space was as compared to Friday. I was also surprised at how often we were stopped for photos. It actually was a really nice reminder to me that these costumes are still beautiful, and even though they have taken a beating and seen better days, they still are enough to grab attention and draw a small crowd.

Ultimately, we got pictures with both Chris and Anna, in just the right amount of time for all of us to run upstairs for the WCS pre-meeting. There, almost all the contestants were in normal clothes, some even still in PJs, as Laura went over how the program was going to run, where and when to meet prior to the show, and eventually, what order everyone would be performing in. Special-Access wrist-bands were handed out, and we all dispersed, until we were to meet up again later that night; I don't remember the exact hows and why's of things, but I remember that we gave Sonnya our room key so that she could go upstairs, and I think we decided to grab a few more pictures at the Gazebo. Somewhere in here, Chris realized he'd forgotten his camera bag back in the meeting room, so he ran off to get it, and we puttered around a bit.

More photos were taken, and Rynn and I shuffled upstairs... only to find Sonnya had gone to her Fiancee's room, rather than our own, and we were stuck out in the hall for quite some time, just waiting for someone with a key. We spent a good deal of this time just discussing and comparing our own work to that of the entrants we had seen, and making notes of things we wanted to learn, and how we wanted to grow. Eventually we got in, though I don't remember how, and Rynn and I both changed into jeans and t-shirts. Together with Sonnya, Megan, and Chris, we went out in search of food. This was quite the quest, since originally we'd planned on going to Potbelly. When we got there, the line was woven back and forth inside, and out the door. It was insane! We tried almost every restaurant in the area (including an Italian place where Rynn, Sonnya and I were all pumped to share a Margherita pizza), only to find out that basically EVERYWHERE had an hour-long wait. So, it was off to Baja Fresh/Freshii again, where I got probably the healthiest teriyaki bowl I've ever eaten -- all organic, with brown rice. O.o For a con, I actually ate pretty well. Except for those Taquitos and Quesadilla on Friday Night >.> Somewhere in here, were phone-calls with Laura to find out when we needed to show up in costume.

After we'd finished eating, we split -- Rynn and Chris went to get her changed and take some pics of Rosette, while Sonnya, Megan, and I wandered off to CVS for some supplies, Godiva for some chocolate, and then back to the hotel room where I once again dropped off my leftovers. Sonnya and I then headed down to wander around the dealers room for a little bit, and she got some contacts for her Sheryl costume. After that, we headed back upstairs, where Sonnya took a shower, and I went next door to see Laura and Lyn. I told Laura there was NO WAY I was getting fully dressed so early before the Prelims, because 8 hours in binding did not sound like a fun time. She understood. XD

After that, I decided Sonnya had the right idea, so I hopped into the shower as well, and got out feeling a lot more human. We both proceeded to put on our makeup -- I helped Sonnya with her glittery fabulous eyelashes, and then managed to injure myself for the second time that weekend -- bashing my elbow into the door-frame hurt like heck, but we were both REALLY surprised when I looked down later and saw a big-old bubble of blood on my elbow! It was actually really sweet how concerned Sonnya was, handing me tissues, calling Laura to see if she had a bandaid, while I just sat there holding my elbow and laughing at what a klutz I am. Laura DID have a bandaid, and she came next door to my rescue! Hooray!

☆ SATURDAY NIGHT - PRELIMINARIES AND BEYOND ☆

Now, I need to backtrack a little. There were approximately three teams who, due to circumstances beyond their control, couldn't be at craftsmanship judging on Friday. So, we needed to go evaluate them a little before the show. We showed up early, only to find most of them having ADDITIONAL issues, and no one there for us to judge. At 6:30, I decided I was done waiting, so Rynn (who was still wearing Rosette) and I, went back to our room with Chris and James in tow, to change into Thage and Mytho, respectively. We ended up staying in the room longer than intended, but I think we needed the wind-down. I chowed down on some pretzels, and drank some water, before finally getting out my tunic. Finally dressed, we made it down to the green room around 8:10pm, and fluttered around being social, and looking at those entries who hadn't made it for craftsmanship before. Finally, they ushered us judges out front to find our table, where press took some pictures, asked some questions, and then we all waited for the show to start. Kayla sent Rynn and text message and let her know that we were sitting right in front of the UStream Camera; So, we turned around, and blew a kiss, just for her.

The Roller Coaster ride was reaching it's first drop. Rynn and I were already aware of this, but Laura had taken the music played during finals in 2010, and adopted it as the official music for the United States Preliminaries. As soon as it started playing, both Rynn and I -- despite our best efforts -- started to tear up. I had goosebumps, and grabbed her hand and gave it a tight squeeze, telling her not to cry or she'd wreck her makeup. All weekend we'd been climbing, climbing, climbing, and now the real ride had started. The first entry -- some friends of mine from the NorthWest -- came on stage, and it was Go Time.

In general, I was really impressed with the number of entries, and the over-all improvement in quality of entries from previous years. For the first time, WCS really seemed to be developing into a legitimate event in the United States, and it was extremely emotional for all of the judges. We were all in complete agreement of our top 3 favorites, but the deliberation from there took a look longer that I had hoped. Going into things, I had really hoped that there would just be one really stand-out team, and our lives would be easy. It wasn't at all. Although in the end, I would have been happy with sending any of our top three teams, I feel like my attempts to have my fellow judges consider all the factors was brushed aside. Let me emphasize, I am happy with the end decision, and I could not have been happier if any of our top three were chosen, but at times I felt dismissed for being critical, when all I was attempting to do was to bring as many factors into consideration as possible -- I feel like, in a situation where your top runners are all so close, details are what you have to turn to. For me, it was extremely difficult to chose, because unlike in a regular masquerade, where you can give awards for craftsmanship, awards for performance, judges awards... When it comes to the World Cosplay Summit, there could only be ONE entry who walked away with the coveted prize, and among all these varying strengths, a choice has to be made as to what is More Important.

It is because of this personal attachment, this extremely difficult and emotional choice, that I will not judge for the World Cosplay Summit in the future. At least, not for my home country. I do not regret participating, and I wouldn't change my decision to be involved, for all that I gained from it... but it's more pressure than I want to feel again. I will always be here to support the future US Teams, but I don't want to have a hand in choosing them; I've been where all those competitors are, and I feel like what binds us together is our common experience, and I just don't think that I, personally, am comfortable being a part of choosing who gets to have this experience. Even more than choosing who GETS it, is having to deny it to so many others.

Once the decision had been made, we all filed back out into the main events room. Most of the audience had cleared out, which is pretty common even in normal masquerades -- people come for the show, but don't care who wins in the end. All of the judges went up on the stage, and lined up to one side, as they called up our Top Ten. I don't know about all of the judges, but I know that Rynn and I at least gauged the reaction of our remaining audience as each team was called on stage; it helped me feel a little more at ease about our choice. Even so, I was on pins and needles. I KNEW the end results, but you could feel the anticipation from all of the teams on stage. I reached for Rynn's hand and gave it a tight squeeze. Then, since India was to my other side, I reached and took hers as well. It started a ripple effect; the rest of the judges grasped hands, forming a chain.

I couldn't keep myself from letting my gaze wander. I looked down the line of teams on the stage, and I don't know how or when it happened, but they were doing it too; every single one of them linking hands, even the girls holding swords had found a way to keep the chain going.

When the 3rd and 2nd place teams were called out, my heart ached for them just a little. When I tried out for the World Cosplay Summit, I was extremely fortunate. I can only imagine how it must feel, so be so close, and have it just out of reach. I could tell that every single team put their heart and soul into this competition, and I think it's this sort of thing that really brings everyone involved so close together. When Laura announced the winners, and I looked over to see Katie burst into tears, and Diana both excited and attempting to ease her partner's emotional outburst, it reminded me so much of Rynn and I -- Back in 2010, Rynn had burst into tears almost instantly, and my response had been to turn to her, and urge her not to cry. That this competition produces this kind of response from it's competitors, really shows me how amazing an event it is.

Lots of group pictures were taken after this, including some of my favorites from the weekend. We got a picture with all of the US Teams, and looking at it, the only thing wrong with it, is that I wish Ali and Liz could have been there too.

Afterwards, the judges dispersed for a while; Laura and Lyn (who, it was announced, was joining up as Laura's assistant organizer) went with Katie and Diana to take care of the paperwork side of things, I chatted briefly with Ashe in the green-room, and then I followed Rynn, Chris, and James out into the hallway. One of the teams trying out this year, was a friend of mine. Over the course of the weekend, everything that could have gone wrong for them, DID go wrong. We passed them in the hallway, and Rynn pointed out how dejected they looked (I'll admit, I almost missed them, with the way she was kneeling close to the wall). It only took a moment of thought, and turned back to go talk to her. I've been in her shoes before, where no matter what we did, things just went Wrong. We commended her for, despite everything, pushing through to the end. Sometimes, that's all you can do. By the time we'd finished, I was happy to see a smile on her face, and hope she'll consider trying out again next year.

By the time we got back to the room, I considered saying "eff it", and not going back out. Luckily for me, my room-mates wouldn't have any of that. I cleaned up, put on the only cute clothes I'd brought, and off we went to Leonard's "WCS Party". It was really late when we arrived, and sadly, I didn't do all that much socializing -- I was so far past over-stimulated, I just indulged in the free food, chatted with James a bit, and eventually we all ended up around the table, so far gone, but none of us really wanting to leave. Leaving meant the night, and thus the weekend, was nearly over. The next morning, most of us would be packing up, and flying or driving home.

Laying in bed at 4:30 in the morning, my walls were all down. I told Rynn how thankful I am to have her in my life, and I apologized if at all during the weekend I said or did anything to made me seem like a bitch. I worry about these things, especially when my opinion doesn't seem well received in any given situation. I don't remember what she said, but I remember feeling relieved as we finally drifted off to sleep around 5AM.

☆ SUNDAY ☆

On Sunday morning, I reluctantly woke up when Rynn and I both had alarms that went off at 10AM. I called for a late checkout, and we all shuffled around the room, packing the last of our things and getting ready to leave. None of us were really ready for the weekend to be over, but I had a flight to catch at 2:45. We looked at some of the photos on Chris' laptop, and finally, we all headed downstairs. We were on the 7th floor, and the elevators were packed, so I embarked on the expedition of getting down via the stairs. The stairways in the Gaylord are extremely confusing, and I nearly got LOST on my way down. It took me a while to reconnect with my friends, and I got to chat with Katie, Rosabella, and Meredith for a bit. I went outside to check on a shuttle to the airport, only to find they wanted to load my things into the van. Flustered, I ran back in to find Rynn and Chris, and drag them out after me so I could say goodbye. I was so upset that I couldn't say goodbye to everyone, so I settled for my two friends, and started crying. I haven't cried when saying goodbye in a long time. I haven't cried at the end of a CON in a long time, and I felt a bit embarrassed when I climbed into the shuttle still trying to control my tears. Laura boarded the shuttle before we left, and so we spent the ride to the airport together, chatting about WCS. I told her that, maybe in a few years, I'd be interested in joining the organizer side of things. Like, maybe someday when she can set up a Northwest Preliminary round. Until then though, I still have too many plans of my own that I want to see through, before I devote to much of my time to this (wonderful) event.

Finally, we said our goodbyes at the check-in -- she was in one terminal, and I was in the other. Feeling tired, and just a little bit empty, I checked myself into the airline, went through security, and then waited at my gate. I took a short flight to New York, where I waited for nearly two hours, stuffing my face with a salami sandwich and WAY too many chocolate cookies. I was lucky that, on my flight home, I had a middle seat again, but I was placed between two very nice women, and somehow managed not to lean in either of their directions as I slept. Kayla picked me up at the airport, and we started working on Plan B for Fanime, since our original skit idea had been done by another group during the KatsuCon Masq. I wouldn't be fully recovered from this con for a few more days, at least. Thank Goodness I had Monday off from work.

☆ FINAL THOUGHTS ☆

In the end, I am VERY glad that I made the decision to go to KatsuCon. I think it was an experience that I would have regretted not attending. For the first time, I was able to meet all the other US teams that came before us (at least, most of them, since Liz was unable to attend) and I have to tell you, meeting someone in person can really give you a much fuller scope of that person. Throughout the whole weekend, I really felt as though it MATTERED that I was there, and that these people wanted to meet me just as much as I had wanted to meet them. Which, I'll be honest, has been something I'd been concerned about; I didn't want to just be a tag-along.

I thought, that I would never feel anything like I did at WCS Finals, ever again. I was wrong. Lightning CAN strike twice, and even if this was different, it had that same feeling. We all just bonded together from this common experience, and even watching all of the teams that competed this year, and from what I've heard talking to some of them, it was like a tiny encapsulation of the experience I had in Japan; people brought together by a common goal, and a common passion, so that in the end, sure, there's disappointment from not winning, but the experience has brought you closer to so many others, in a way you don't often experience in a normal masquerade environment. I hope that many of the teams who tried out this year, will come back next year.

KatsuCon, I'll see you again in 2013!

#KatsuCon #ConReport

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