• Krystal Stoner

☆ Connichi 2012 ☆


Connichi is a bit hard to write about, because really, it happened in the middle of something much larger. I think the most challenging bit is going to be neatly slicing it out of the middle of the pie, because I don't think you all want to hear about my long (although incredible) journey to Germany. Even so, before I can talk about Connichi, I need to give you a little back-story. Going to another country for a convention was something I had never dreamed I would EVER do. I thought that going to Japan for for the World Cosplay Summit in 2010 was a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-relived experience. Then, one day, sometime around June of 2011, I was talking to some of my international friends, doing something on Facebook, I don't remember exactly, but I got a bug in my ear -- I realized that I knew enough people in Germany (and not just one or two) and enough people from surrounding countries who had been to Germany BEFORE -- to completely justify going to a convention there. That's what started it. I knew it was something I wanted to do, something I HAD to do. The idea of getting to see some of my friends again, and meet some of them for the first time, was just so exciting, I couldn't ignore it. And without my friends, their aid, their generosity, their hospitality, there's no way I could have managed it, or afforded it.

But now I'm getting ahead of myself. So maybe I should just tell you how things went down. My apologies ahead of time -- this is probably going to get a bit long!

☆ THURSDAY ☆

We got an early start to the convention weekend; Rynn and I had arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday afternoon, and spent the night at Pat and Iris' flat. The two of them had to be at the convention a day early, so that they could set up the WCS booth in time for the opening on Friday. So, Thursday morning, we all woke up (a bit later than we had hoped), packed up the car, and headed to Kassel. It's a good thing Rynn and I are as close as we are, because the car was so full, between booth stuff, cosplay stuff, and Patrick's computer stuff, that we spent the majority of the trip cuddled up right next to each other. On the way, we made a quick stop to the Haribo candy outlet, which was like putting a coupe of kids in... well, a candy store. I ended up buying a big bag of chocolate bars for about 13 Euro, and then it was back in the car for the rest of the drive. Rynn and I were still pretty jet-lagged, so she fell asleep, and I was snoozing soon after. Once we arrived, our first stop was the Ramada, to get Pat and Iris checked in, and help them unload their stuff since it was all on top. The Ramada is conveniently connected to the convention center itself, but Rynn and I (along with most of our friends) would be staying at a different hotel. While we were unloading, Iris got a text from Dani, saying that she was at the convention center if we were available, so we made a point to stop by and say hello before we continued on to our hotel. Backstory Time: I've been internet-friends with Dani (known online as Kairi_Heartless) since about 2005. We met through Cosplay.com, because we had both cosplayed as Kairi from Kingdom Hearts. From there, we also developed mutual interest in Princess Tutu. When she found out I was planning to visit Germany, she got so excited, she insisted that we come to stay with her for a few days. So, when I finally met her face-to-face, it was so surreal, I don't think either of us really knew what to do, except hug and smile, and act awkwardly shy. We didn't stick around for very long, since there were still a few things to take care of, but we knew we'd see each other over the weekend, and of course, the following week when we went to Munich. From there, we got back in the car, and continued on to our hotel. The thing about Connichi, and I don't know if this is common for all German conventions or just this one, but the hotels are fairly spread out from the convention center itself, minus the Ramada. Our hotel in particular was a good 20 minute walk away. Luckily, there is a street car that runs from the convention center to our hotel, and during Connichi weekend, anyone who has a convention pass gets to ride the car for free! So, it was only about a 5-minute ride away, which was great. When we got to the hotel, Patrick got us all checked in, and then we went up to the room. This hotel was really old; there were actually KEYS to open the doors, and the elevator (or Lift, as they called it) was ...almost manual. The door had to be opened and shut by hand, and the inside was so small we barely fit in it all together. But, it was clean and functional, and luckily for us we were only on the second floor, so we decided we would just be using the stairs for the weekend. We decided to split up for a while, so Rynn and I could settle in and unwind a bit, and the two of them could take care of some convention business. We may or may not have wound up taking another nap, I don't remember entirely, but I know we unloaded our stuff, got an iron and ironing board from the front desk, and later on we met up for dinner at this little restaurant right on the corner by our hotel. Turns out Pat and Iris had never been there before, so we all made the pleasant discovery of a place with good prices, and big portions! YAY! After that, it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep!

☆ FRIDAY ☆

Jetlag is a pain in the butt, yet it seemed to work to our advantage -- Rynn and I were both awake around 7AM, and couldn't get back to sleep. Unfortunately, there was zero actual benefit to this, because it turns out that the convention itself wouldn't be open until 3PM, and none of our other friends had even arrived yet! We laid around for a little bit, then decided we'd go out and hunt for food. I, however, was really stupid. I wore a new pair of shoes, with no socks, thinking "they're ballet flats, what could go wrong?". Well, within half an hour of walking around the area, looking at buildings and hunting for a place to get food, I had painful blisters on my heels and pinky-toes, and had to hobble back to the hotel. I told Rynn to go on and continue the hunt without me, and I curled up on the bed, thinking, "what'm I gonna do now?" ...and then I promptly fell asleep. The beauty of Jetlag. Rynn came back sometime later, and I assumed she'd wake me up when she did, but instead I rolled over around 2PM and found that she had actually curled up in bed for a nap too. Oops! I got up, ate the sandwich she had so thoughtfully brought me, and then sent a message to Pat to see if our friends had arrived at the hotel yet. They were supposed to arrive around 1PM, so they were just on their way over. We said to text us when they got there. I don't remember the exact details of how we found out which rooms our friends were in, I think Patrick stopped by our room to let us know. That's the only way I can explain the way we met halfway in the hall. All I remember, is that at the time, Line and Louise were in a room just around the corner from ours (There was a lot of room-shuffling later, but that's not important right now), on the same floor. So, we walked down the hall, and there they came, walking out of their room. That's when the walking stopped, and turned into running. We just couldn't even contain ourselves anymore. I was smiling so wide my face hurt, and Line and I practically threw ourselves at each other in a big hug, while Rynn and Louise did the same. Then we swapped. There was a lot of hugging, and a lot of smiling, and all of us commenting on how surreal it was, to be standing face-to-face again. In a weird way, it felt as though no time at all had passed. I couldn't stop hugging both of them, it was just so amazing to see them again. I think that of all the teams we befriended in Japan, Line and Louise were some of the people we became closest to. I was so, so glad that the two of them would be joining us after the convention for a couple of days before they headed back to Denmark, and Rynn and I moved on to Munich. After we finished saying our hellos, wondering where everyone else had gone off to, we made plans for the girls to come over to our room when they were ready, and Rynn and I shuffled back to our room to get dressed as well! Since the day was going to be pretty short, we elected to go with our simpler costumes -- Rynn wore her school-uniform version of Rue, and I put on Magica-Form Homura. I was, as usual, the last to be ready, as Line and Louise showed up before I was entirely finished. This time, they brought with them their friends, the lovely ladies from Team Denmark 2012, Maria and Josephine! Line and Maria were dressed as Mako and Asami from Legend of Korra, Louise as Daenerys from Game of Thrones, and Josephine as a character from Elfquest (the character's name escapes me at the moment). Just when I was about done, I realized a terrible fact -- in the midst of re-packing my things into one bag for the trip to Kassel, I had left my headband at Pat and Iris', in my other suitcase. Of course, at this point, the day was over half over, and after being mad at myself for a few minutes, Rynn let me use a thin headband she had brought with her. It was actually a black and brown ...giraffe print? But we figured, whatever, it's about the same size, no one will notice. With that minor-crisis settled, we all made our way downstairs, caught the street car, and were off to the con!

I have to tell you, I absolutely LOVED the convention center. The outside reminded me of an old court house, with beautiful brick and pillars. Inside was HUGE, and while there was a big open space in the front of the building (where they had set up the WCS booth, and a few others) you had to show your badge to go up a small flight of stairs and gain access to the rest of the convention. This was kind of nice, because it meant that once you had shown your badge to get in, you pretty much had free reign and didn't need to show it again. The main area was set up primarily with industry booths, advertising games and new series, but not really selling merchandise. A little further up the way, up another smaller staircase, was the space they had turned into the Dealers Hall. It was very open, with large aisles that made it very easy to move around without feeling too crowded, or bumping into people unless you were trying to get really close to a booth. Even then, there tended to be plenty of space (at least on Friday). We wandered around there for a little while, Line found a figure she really loved but couldn't afford (200 Euros!), and then we circled back out towards the front. Along the way, we ran into Dani, who was working at a booth along with a few others, to promote their Sailor Moon Fan-Movie project. We stopped and talked for a little while, but then decided to keep going, since we still hadn't met up with the rest of our friends! Luckily, that changed pretty quickly. We came down the stairs, back into the entrance hall where the WCS booth was, and were met with Al from Mexico, his friend Alondra, and Desi (who was in casual clothes). This started the second round of enthusiastic hugs, and we started taking pictures. Shortly after, without the chance for the initial excitement to wear off, Gabrielle (from Brazil) showed up, and the greetings, hugs, and pictures started all over again! It was so exciting to see all of them again, I couldn't stop smiling! At that point, the only one of us missing (at least, in terms of people who were expected to be at Connichi) was Sami; due to the Lufthansa Airline strike that week, his flight had been canceled, and he'd had to scramble to book a new flight, and wouldn't be able to join us until that evening.

Once we'd finished our initial hellos, we all headed outside to get a few photos. We'd all stuck pretty close together, and we'd only been out for a couple of hours, at the most, but it was getting towards dinner time and we all decided we wanted to head back and change into our normal clothes before dinner. Just as we were leaving the convention center, I got stopped by a girl who wanted my picture (I assume, she was speaking German, and holding up her camera). I posed politely, and after she took the picture, she started to talk very enthusiastically (and I assume by her facial expression and hand gestures, flatteringly), and I had to sadly inform her I didn't speak German. She replied in German, I assume saying she didn't speak English! I knew, realistically, going to Germany, that German was the native tongue, but all my encounters thus far had been with people who COULD speak English, even if they didn't at first. It was very different than being in Japan, because in Japan, I stuck out like a sore thumb; it was OBVIOUS I wasn't Japanese, and logically, I probably wouldn't speak Japanese. In Germany, I look generally European, so until they learned otherwise, everyone assumed I spoke German. It was quite a switch! I felt really bad for not being able to fully appreciate what that girl was saying to me, but I hope she understood how happy I was that she admired my costume. <3 After that, we all headed back to the Hotel. On the way back, we had a couple of cosplayers on the train asking us where we were from. It was so fun, to see their reactions when they found out four of our group were from Denmark, and that Rynn and I had come all the way from the USA. It wasn't the last time that happened during the weekend (must be the predominate use of English in our conversations), and it was always fun when it came up. Once back at the hotel, we got changed, and then went down to the restaurant together. At first, we thought we had beaten everyone else there, so we waited outside for a bit, before someone came out and grabbed us. Patrick had reserved several tables, all right next to each other in the back part of the restaurant.

The cluster of us claimed one table all to ourselves, and I can't even remember what we all talked about, but we were having a fantastic time. I know at one point, we were all passing around different pieces of our home currency, which was a lot of fun. The people at the dinner consisted of all of us international cosplayers, as well as staff members, and Yaya Han, who was a guest this year. Finally, our group was complete when Sami, hauling all of his luggage, arrived at the restaurant. There was more hugging, and smiling, and I swear,I didn't know how it was possible to be in the same place with these old friends again -- it was as if no time at all had passed. Even though a few of us had only just met, we all clicked, and it was as if we had always been friends. When it came time to order dinner, Rynn and I knew from the previous night that the portion sizes at this place were HUGE, so we warned everyone, and split a dish. ...Turns out I was hungrier than I thought, and no one listened to our warning, so I ended up eating off of a lot of other people's plates. Mostly Line's, because she was the closest to me. As the dinner festivities wound down, Patrick discretely informed us that the next day was Desi's birthday, and so while the Danish girls (completely exhausted from their very long day) went back to switch their rooms around and get some sleep, Rynn, Sami, Pat, Iris, Myself, and quite a few others, went up to one of the rooms in our hotel and had a mini-birthday party for Desi, waiting for midnight so that we could all sing to her. I don't remember a lot of what happened, except for all of us passing around ONE drink (because it's all we could get so late that night), and chatting it up until everyone dispersed back to their own rooms/hotels. Rynn, Sami and I decided to follow the crowd, even though we weren't very tired (thanks again to Jet-lag), and turned in for the night.

☆ SATURDAY ☆

As is usually the case with most conventions, Saturday was the Big Day. Once again, Jetlag was kinda kicking our butts. The night before, there had been discussion that, whoever was ready first, should just go to the other's room. Apparently when they came knocking at our door, we were still asleep; Rynn told me she heard knocking, but we were both still in bed. I was apparently so dead asleep I didn't hear it at all. Once we'd finally pulled ourselves out from under the covers (and eaten more chocolate) we started getting ready. Rynn took first turn at the shower, while I went ahead and got to the task of ironing the several yards of fabric that made up my skirts. Both of us were debuting new costumes at this convention; Rynn had finished her Diao Chan from Dynasty Warrior's 7, and I -- in an unusually early fashion! -- had finished my "Fire Festival" Rue a week prior to leaving for Connichi. I didn't have too much trouble getting into it, thankfully, but Rynn wasn't quite as lucky. The layers of skirts that her costume had was very thick, and very heavy, and she had been attempting to secure a pin-backed piece to the front. Unfortunately, something about the glue, and the paint on the pin-decoration, it just wasn't staying attached. We figured it must be something to do with the glue and the acrylic paint not reacting properly to one-another. We spent quite a bit of time in the room trying different ways to get it to work, even temporarily. I think I maybe wanted it to work even more than Rynn did; I could see she was bummed, and that if she couldn't get it to work, she'd just wear something else. I would have felt just awful if I had been successful, but something wasn't working for her, especially after she'd brought it all that way! In the end, she got it to work, at least very temporarily. It was going to have to be good enough to get a few pictures, and then she could fix it up for a later con when we got back to the states. So, much later than expected (I think it was around 1PM?) we finally left the hotel in our fancy get-ups. We managed to just barely miss the train, and so we had to wait another 15 minutes for the next one to show up. In that time, we had several people (non-convention-attendees) who stopped us to compliment our outfits, ask if we had made them ourselves, and in a couple of instances, take pictures with us. It's always really nice when strangers look at the stuff we're wearing and, rather than thinking we're weird, actually admire the work that goes into it. As a cosplayer, you don't always see that kind of respect.

By the time we'd arrived at the convention center, I was starting to get the hang of maneuvering in my giant skirt. We also determined within a few minutes that it was ROASTING HOT outside, and we would be staying indoors as much as possible. We went over to one of the side walls to take a few pictures of each other, and were soon joined by Sami and his fancy camera, so he joined in with getting shots of us, and we took some for him, too. Afterwards, we ducked inside out of the heat, and started to look for our friends. Along the way, we snapped photos on the stairways (gorgeous spot!), circled around to the front hall again, and ran into Desi in her Sailor Germany costume, and got to meet the girls from Rainbow Riders (Team Germany 2012) at the WCS Booth. Additionally, we met up with one of the lovely girls from Team Netherlands 2011, who graciously let me use her eyelash glue since my lashes were coming off and it was bugging me like CRAZY. From there, she stuck with us, and the four of us wandered up, out through the back of the building, and discovered the GIANT PARK out back of the convention center! There were cosplayers EVERYWHERE, and this is where we really started to get a taste for the difference between the American cosplay scene, and the German one. In the United States, you see a lot of cosplayers hanging out too, but the key difference at Connichi was the lack in the distinctly dedicated photographers. It seemed like it wasn't uncommon for other cosplayers to just take pictures of each other, many of them owned nice cameras, and several people I know personally from Europe are just as handy with a Camera as they are with the sewing and crafting! We also found that whenever we were stopped for photos, no one cared, or noticed, that our characters didn't belong together, and would take group pictures rather than breaking us down individually. In that sense, there seemed to be a greater interest in just capturing as many cool costumes as possible.

We looped around again, and after realizing what time it was, decided to head inside again; Rynn and I wanted to go to Yaya's "Sociology of Cosplay" Panel, and it was getting close to time for that. On the way down the stairs, we ran into Dani for the second time that weekend. She was wearing her Yuna costume (one of my favorites) and I was really excited to show her my Rue costume; Originally, she had been making Mytho's Fire Festival costume to go along with mine, but in the end she couldn't quite finish it before Connichi, because WCS stuff had taken up so much of her time. I totally understood, and I still hope that someday we'll get those pictures together. <3 We took pictures of each other, then had to part ways again, as we made our way inside again. We had to find a map, because as it turns out the convention center was a lot larger than we had initially realized, and the panel was being held in a room we didn't even know existed. Once we got there, the room was full, and we actually had to wait for a couple of people to leave before we could go in. By this time, we were starving, since we hadn't really eaten all day. We only stayed for a bit of the panel, because we quickly realized that everything she was talking about, was stuff that simply made us nod to ourselves, thinking "I already knew that". I'm not saying it wasn't a good panel, with good subject-matter, just that we have apparently been in the community and doing this long enough, that it wasn't anything new or undiscovered to us. We quietly-as-possible got up and walked out, intent on heading back to the room to change out of our large costumes, and come back in casual clothes. It was kind of disappointing that we hadn't been able to find any of our friends yet, but we were hungry, and the costumes were starting to get cumbersome (poor Rynn's pin had given up the good fight and wouldn't stay on at all). We rode the streetcar back to the hotel, washed up a little (I threw on a wig to cover my terrible wig-hair), and changed into our WCS T-shirts, before heading back to the convention center. Still STARVING and having missed our streetcar back to the convention center, we elected to walk back instead, so that we could look for somewhere to eat. It was actually a nice break, since it gave us time to talk about our experience thus far, what we'd been observing in this new and unusual setting, how we compared it to home, and what we could talk with us for future reference. We ended up at a little shop where Rynn got a cheese sandwich, I got a muffin, and we split a Coca Cola Lite. After that, we continued our walk up to the convention center. All in all, the walk took about 25 minutes combined, which was good to know for future reference (We would have waited about 20 minutes for the next car to come along).

When we arrived back at the convention center, we ran into our friends almost immediately! The Danish girls were all done up in their Twisted Princess costumes, which was really awesome to see. We took a couple of fun pictures with them 'scaring' us, and then agreed that we all wanted to do something for dinner. The girls had a lot of cleaning up to do (Louise was covered in full-bodypaint!), but we decided everyone could just come to our room when they were ready. So, our short trip back to the convention center ended, and we rode back to the hotel all together.

Gabrielle ended up in our room with us, and we spent a good couple of hours just hanging out and talking. It was really great to spend some extra time with her, since we had seen so little of her so far, and she hadn't made it to dinner with us the night before. When she told me that she still had the One Piece figure I had traded to her from WCS, it made me smile, because I felt like that was kind of the time that she and I had bonded in Japan. We ended up somehow talking about WCS, and she told us about her experience with Gabriel when they were preparing for the 2011 preliminaries. Rynn and I were aware that, in Brazil, when you win the final preliminaries and go to Japan for WCS, it also secured you a spot in the final preliminary round for the following year -- that means that Gabriel and Gabrielle, as Team Brazil 2010, were also automatically guaranteed a spot in the final selection round for 2011. We thought it was optional. The way Gabrielle described it though, she says you don't have a choice -- you HAVE to compete again. Rynn and I couldn't believe it! The very idea of doing that was just stressful to THINK about. Gabrielle also gave us a lot of insight into how things worked on the local level in Brazil, and it's so different from the United States, and Germany, and most of the other countries that we've had the opportunity to learn about. For those of you who followed any of the skits from WCS 2010 (the year that Rynn and I were there) -- do you remember the Valkyrie Profile skit, where they made a girl FLY, with wings that spread open? That was Gabrielle. For the first time, we really got insight on everything that went into that performance, including the many failures along the way, how many tries it took them to get it to work right, and the fact that the first time they had tried at a preliminary round, they experienced a terrible malfunction with the lift, lost the round, and had to try again at another one later in the year. In the end, she said that even when they were chosen as Team Brazil 2010, the Brazillian cosplay community wasn't supportive of them at all; they wanted another team to go. Rynn and I were completely floored! We couldn't understand how anyone could possibly NOT support a team with a performance like that! There performance was the one that all of the other 2010 teams, mere weeks before finals, collectively saying "Well, we're screwed" -- and we told Gabrielle this. It just goes to show, you really can't judge, and you can't know all the details of someone else's experience, not until you've had a good long heart-to-heart. I feel so incredibly lucky to say I am FRIENDS with such amazing cosplayers, and at the same time, find it incredibly humbling to know that even as amazing as they are, they have the same issues and experiences that many of us can relate to. On the outside, it may seem like they're at the top of the heap, but on the inside, it's not that simple.

Shortly after we'd moved onto other topics, Al and Alondra showed up in our room, and the four of us chatted for a while, wondering what we should get for dinner. I sent messages to Iris and Pat to see what they were up to and if we had any plans, and then waited for the rest of our companions to turn up. I wish I could remember the details of what happened next, but I just know that eventually we all congregated together, and attempted to find somewhere to eat. Bell ended up being our guide, I think Pat and Iris were tied up with preparations for WCS Preliminaries the next morning. Gabrielle had to go back to her Hotel and meet up with her parents, and unfortunately we didn't get in touch with her again for the rest of the night. Ultimately we ended up at a cheap little Asian restaurant up the road, where flies were buzzing around everywhere, it seemed like we couldn't even get the attention of any of the staff to PAY THEM. Not the best food, and Bell apologized profusely, but none of us really cared of blamed her at all; it was really very nice of her to take care of the lot of us foreigners! Haha! The biggest adventure of the night was running to catch the last street-car that would take us back to our hotel. God, what a sight we must have been. We all ended up having to go to bed eventually though... half of us had to be up early the next morning for the WCS Preliminary judging! Those of us who had to leave in the morning (Sami, Maria, Al, and Myself) agreed to meet in the lobby at 7:30, to go together to the convention center and be there by 8.

☆ SUNDAY ☆

I got a grand total of about 5 and a half hours sleep before I had to get up and get ready the next morning. For judging I'd decided to wear King, from "King of Fighters", for it's simplicity and comfort. It only took me about half an hour to put on my makeup, wig, and the pieces of my costume (half of which were borrowed from my friend Lizzie). Rynn wouldn't be judging, so I let her sleep, and only woke her very breifly to remind her not to sleep too late, and make sure she had an alarm set. I was right on time, so I grabbed my convention badge and headed downstairs. Al and Maria joined me shortly after, and we shifted around anxiously, wondering where Sami was. Eventually, we determined we couldn't wait any longer, so I ran up to his room to see if he was still there. He was, and the hold up had been because he had had to gather all of his luggage, because he wouldn't be returning to his hotel room later that day -- he had a flight to catch in the early afternoon, before Closing Ceremonies. We ran downstairs, but it turned out that we had missed our 7:40 street car. Judging was set to begin at 8, and the next streetcar wouldn't be around until after that; we'd just have to go on foot. Al helped Sami with his luggage, and Maria and I ended up quite a ways ahead of them. I figured it would be good even if we didn't all get there together, so we could at least let them know the others were on their way. On the walk, Maria and I talked quite a lot; we talked about our individual experiences with WCS, both in preliminaries and finals. We compared our schedules, and it was really a rather unique experience, since Line and I are such good friends and were there in the same year, and Line and Maria are such good friends, she had already heard a lot from the sisters. Apparently, she had also heard a lot about me, and I have to admit, it made me feel really wonderful, knowing that people thought so highly of me, and Rynn, and that even two years later, our team has continued to leave an impression in the WCS community. Maria and I really bonded on that walk, and I'm glad I had that opportunity, even if we WERE going to be a little bit late.

In the end, it turns out we weren't that late. Well, technically we were about 10 minutes late, but when we arrived, it turns out that our other two judges (Yaya, and Kamui, a well-known German cosplayers) had not arrived yet, and it didn't matter anyway, since the room we would be using hadn't been unlocked yet, and we had no way to get in. I looked around outside the building, and already the teams had begun lining up for judging. Did I mention it was only a little past 8 AM? Because that's how early it was. Soon enough, Al and Sami arrived, and we were ushered inside along with Kamui and Yaya, and taken upstairs to the room we'd be using for judging. There, we were debriefed; Iris handed each of us a stack of papers, and proceeded to explain them. There was a set of sheets laying out boxes for score and note-writing for the performances, and then each team had their own, individual sheet with similar boxes and references images, already pre-filled with things like the group name, their series and characters, etc, to be used during craftsmanship judging. We each had our own copy, and could write all over it if we so desired. We arranged the papers in the order we would be seeing the teams, and took out the sheets for teams who had dropped out last-minute. Then, the teams started to file in, one by one. Every team had shown up at the beginning of Judging (8AM) and would patiently wait for their turn.

We were given approximately five minutes with each team, plus a moment between teams to regroup, switch papers, etc. Now, you might be thinking "Only 5 minutes? That's not very long at all!" Well, let me tell you, it's longer than you think. I learned a lot about the relative lengths of time and what can be accomplished in them from years of doing skits in under 4 minutes, and going to animation school and seeing people produce 30 second animation projects. There were 6 of us judges, and from the moment the team stepped in the room, we got up and started to look at their costumes. They talked while we looked, usually in sets of 3 for each person, then swapping. Five Minutes is really plenty of time, especially when it comes to WCS, where costumes are IMPORTANT, but it's not a CRAFTSMANSHIP contest. In five minutes, you can easily tell if a costume looks good from several feet away. Harsh as this sounds, if if doesn't look good from far away, like it would on a stage from the audience's perspective, then it's not going to get better being close up. For the costumes that looked good at a glance, 5 minutes was enough to check things like hems, stitch work, and a few details here and there, to get an idea of their skill-level. Luckily for us judges, Iris and Patrick were on hand to keep things running smoothly; Iris would let us know when our time was up, and would go to retrieve the next team -- it was never on us to watch the clock, or to dismiss a team when we were 'done with them'.

There were 16 teams in total, and we finished with them only a bit later than scheduled. After that, we had a few minutes to gather ourselves, before we were lead down a series of hallways, and up stairs into Main Events. The whole room was pretty much PACKED already by the time we arrived, and we were seated at a table at the very front of the stage. Rynn, Josephine, Gabrielle, Line, Louise, and Alondra were all sitting almost directly behind us, and were already there when we got there. We had time to chat a bit, and I was able to run to the restroom before I had to get back. On the way back, I was stopped by a Japanese man shouting "Kingu! Kingu!" and holding up his Camera, I stopped and let him take a quick picture, and then rushed back into main events. I learned later that he was one of the Convention Guests, which made it really cool.

When the main show got started, I started to feel really excited. Unexpectedly, Patrick asked each of us to stand up, and say a little something to the audience. I was first on the roster board, so I was the first to stand up, and I tell you, it is a stupid, hilarious rush to ask everyone how they're doing, and hear a response of roaring cheers. Now I get why everyone asks that at the opening of live shows. Thank goodness most of them spoke English!

I LOVE what Germany does with their show; it's traditional for them to bring back the team from the previous year, and have them perform the skit they took to finals that summer, as the opening for the show! This works out great for Germany since they're one of the first teams selected every WCS year, and they have almost an entire year to work out a new performance for Japan. After the reigning team has performed, they also take over the MC duties for the rest of the show. I have to tell you, I don't speak a word of German, but I still found the Rainbow Riders girls exceptionally entertaining, just by their body language and facial expressions. The stage setup at Connichi is really nice, it reminds me a lot of the setup at Fanime, except I'm pretty sure the stage is bigger. It was interesting to note that, of the skits with dialogue, half of the skits were performed in German, and the others were performed in English. I think in some cases the English was actually a bit distracting to me because of accents or poor choice of vocal inflection for conveying emotion, due to the fact that English is obviously not the native langauge. It was surprising, the style of skits we saw, since there was a very dominant number of skits that I could only describe as "It was... cute." Cute isn't bad, but none of them really gripped me, or struck me as obvious winners. The fact that so many of them were similar actually made it harder to appreciate them. I go into judging with the mindset that there may not BE one skit that just completely blows me away, and so I try to treat each and every performance with a certain level of respect, and make notes that I can reference later. Even so, the fact that I have to look down and write notes, to me is a tell-tale sign that I'm not entertained as much as I could be. Maria and I wound up sitting next to each other, and between each performance we would turn to each other and compare our opinions on the performance we had just watched. It was kind of nice to get instant feedback like that. I think there were maybe only 3 or 4 skits that held my attention all the way through, and really made me think "Ok, this is a top contender". Though to be honest, by the end of things, I knew who my favorites were without a doubt. After the last team performed, everyone (including the judges) was called up on stage for a few big group photos.

In Germany, this is the end of the show -- the judges are given several hours between the end of this show, and Closing Ceremonies later that day, to make their decision. While I know this would never fly at an American convention, I thought it was GREAT; realistically, the only people in the audience that really care who wins, are the contestants, and their friends. I think ti's pretty common for Masquerade attendees to come, watch the skits, and leave before awards. This also alleviates the need to find any form of 'halftime' entertainment, while also allowing the judges as much time as needed to really work out how they feel about their top contenders. So, once they were done with pictures, everyone started to disburse, and Iris lead us back to her and Patrick's hotel room, for a secure place for us to deliberate. By the time Patrick got back to the room around half an hour later, we had already decided. It was a really great feeling, knowing that all of us judges were pretty much on the same page with everything. It was also rather BAFFLING, considering we were all from different countries (Two Americans, One Finnish, One Mexican, One Danish, One German), and yet we agreed on what made something good. I think something that really helped us make our decisions was also that fact that, in addition to the top prize, we had 4 additional prizes to hand out; The Runner Up, Best Costumes, Best Audio, and Patrick gave out an award for Best Resume. So, our work was done, and we all dispersed. Sami, Maria and I kinda hung out with Yaya for a while, as we attempted to find Rynn, which we did, eventually! There was a lot of meandering around the dealers room, and we attempted to find the rest of our people, because this was also the day we had all dressed in our King of Fighters costumes! eventually we all came together, except Al. Turns out, he had retreated back to the hotel to change, because his wig was bothering him. >.< So, no pictures with him. It ended up being just the 4 of us -- myself as King, Rynn as Athena, Gabrielle as Mature, and Sami as Kyo. Even still, it was a lot of fun, and we got a couple of really good pictures, and a handful of goofy, fun pictures.

Words really can't describe how much I love these people. I mean, really. Generally speaking, I love my friends. Really. But the intense love I have for these people is something I can't really describe. So much, that even when the weekend was just beginning, I remember feeling how awful it was that we only had a few days. It took TWO YEARS to see them again, and in a matter of short days, I was going to have to say goodbye again. Slowly, our numbers began to dwindle. Sami had to catch and early flight, and wouldn't be able to stay for closing ceremonies. The same for Marie and Josephine. We said our goodbyes reluctantly, with many rounds of hugs and promises that this wouldn't be the last we saw of each other. Sami very emphatically promised me that one day he'd come to the USA, and I routinely remind him that he has to keep that promise. The only thing that softened the blow of saying goodbye to some of my old and new friends, was knowing that I would still get more time with some of them before the trip was over -- Most of us weren't leaving until the next day, and Line and Louise would be coming to join us in Cologne for a couple more days!

We ended up congregating on the steps in front of the convention center, and I unbuttoned the top couple buttons on my shirt, and took off my gloves. We ate messy food, and socialized, waiting for Closing Ceremonies to begin. I wanted to tell Rynn the decisions we had made in judging, but I knew I couldn't discuss it in public, or it would ruin everything. Still, we tried working around it, with Rynn asking if certain skits had been DISCUSSED, and me saying yes or no. It was all very vague, and realy difficult not to just blurt it out. It was even harder when Dani came over to sit and hang out with us. I had to SERIOUSLY bite my tongue, and I wonder if it was at all noticeable. XD We spent some time outside, socializing with people, until we finally had to run inside for closing ceremonies. By the time we got there, it was Standing Room Only, but I wasn't about to miss it, and I know everyone else was curious about the final results for WCS. I could barely contain myself. By the time it got down to the last prize -- the Team that would be representing Germany for 2013 -- I leaned over Rynn's shoulder, and asked if she could guess who the winner was. It was pretty easy. Once they had announced the Cherry Sky girls, we stayed long enough to watch them get up on stage and have a few photos taken.

As much as I wanted to go up and congratulate them, we ultimately decided it would be best if we did that later, especially since I was one of the judges. Instead, we slipped out ahead of the crowds and headed back to our room to clean up ourselves, the room, and enjoy the rest of our day. Later that night, the whole bunch of us met up for dinner, and we went to a Sushi place up the road, where we all spent several hours socializing, eating, and feeling sad that it was the last night.

☆ FINAL THOUGHTS ☆

Connichi was the most unique convention experience I've ever had, purely for the reason that it was in a different country. The crowd of people I surrounded myself with were no less familiar to me than my usual companions at home, but they were different in that I haven't seen most of them in two years, and some of them I had never met in person before, but every single one of them was as dear to me as my friends here in the states. It was so surreal, to feel a part of something like that, and like I belonged even when I was so much an 'outsider'. I was given opportunities that I wouldn't have had in normal circumstances in the states (like spending time with most of these people, meeting old/new friends, getting to interact with Yaya in an environment where I wouldn't be perceived as just another hanger-on), and in the end it was all over much too fast. I miss everyone so much, I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to share this experience with my best friend, and I'm counting the days until I can see all of them again. Al got this Fortune on our last night together:

"You will meet Ancient Friends". I hope it's true. <3

#ConReport #Connichi

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