Friday begat the headache, a piercing, screaming thing birthed from the caverns of Video Room One.
Ayacon was showing He Is My Master, a Gainax anime which should have been the Evangelion of maid-fetish shows. Two young girls -- thirteen and fourteen, barely more than little children -- run away from home and end up on the estate of an equally tiny orphan boy. At first charming and sweet, the boy hires the two girls on as maids. It turns out that the boy views his parents' tragic death as an opportunity to act out reprehensibly, and so begins to demonstrate an alarmingly lecherous streak. It does not help that the girls carry with them an alligator who exists mainly to jump the fourteen-year-old girl and tear at her clothes. "Oh, that's Pochi," says the younger girl. "He gets like that whenever he sees her."
This show is meant to be a comedy. I had hoped for subversion -- the self-insertion target is selfish and slavering? Bring it on! -- but no such luck. Gainax had used up all of their year's mojo on Re:Cutie Honey, leaving us to simply feel unclean.
At roughly the third screech, the four-day headache began. An ill-advised attempt to drink away the pain of He Is My Master begat a hangover, which compounded the problem. By Saturday afternoon, con flu had firmly taken hold instead, and the headache persisted.
By Saturday night, my back joined my head and stomach on the picket line. I would spend much of the convention holed up in my room, wrapped around a laptop, swaddled in masses of blankets. The scabs and reruns of CBC Radio One were cold comfort, but I felt too out of sorts to position myself so as to watch Teen Titans episodes or my copy of The Incredibles.
Periodically, I would leave the room for a couple of hours, trying to enjoy the con, or spend time with friends, or find food. Passing through the crowds of costumed eighteen-year-olds, I felt out of place. Here, a catgirl. There, a goth Moogle. Beyond, a passel of elegant gothic Lolitas. While some of the worst excesses of American anime fandom were thankfully missing (for example, no one carried signage soliciting sexual favours in exchange for Pocky), the event was set about an octave and a half above my comfort levels. Once again, I did not speak the language anymore.
I gingerly made my way through the dealer's rooms, eyeing a wallet of shoujo-themed Letraset Trias, but only buying a small set of ProMarkers (thinking all the while: "What am I doing? I can't even draw in this state"). Five years ago, I would have walked through the room and been wracked with tchotchke desire; now, the plushies and knickknacks were quaint. I barely even glanced at the DVDs; I knew that there was next to nothing that I would want to watch.
It took two Nurofen Plus and a Luna bar to get to sleep that night. Everything hurt.
By Sunday, little had improved. I moderated the anti-piracy panel, by which I mean that I stood at a podium and looked menacing, then took questions from the audience and continued to look menacing. (I suspect that I looked less menacing than exhausted, but either will do for the purposes of cutting people off when they ramble.) Occasionally, I would sling the panelists a question, or give them a two-minute warning, but that was about it. It went relatively smoothly, although we had limited time for questions.
A nervous, wild-eyed young man circled a small group of us -- panelists, friends, audience members -- afterwards, then approached to ask if I worked in the anime industry. This perplexed me. I'd helped out at a distributor's booth the year before, at another event, but my badge plainly labeled me as a regular congoer. I'm not particularly remarkable.
"You seem so knowledgeable, and you have such a strong American accent..."
Politely explaining no set off a bit of a panicked screed. "I want to work in the industry," he told me, "but I can't seem to make any connections." And so on, and so forth, with the undertone obvious: can you tell me how to make them? I couldn't. So he began to pace. Around us, around the panelists, around the people around the panelists. Waving his hands, lecturing the air.
I'd seen that look and that stance a few times in my life. At charismatic Baptist prayer meetings, from the purpotedly demonized. In a hospital, from schizophrenics who'd been led down from the wards to the cafeteria. One night in a shelter, on the faces of some ongoing residents. You don't forget it. You just learn to huddle in, then slink away when you have your chance.
What could I tell him?
On went the headache, through another pass by hucksters, through the dwindling crowds, through an escape into Coventry for lunch and books. Disconnected, pained and alarmed, the last day was a fog. When the Blood concert ran long, and the closing ceremonies were postponed for another hour, it didn't seem like such a bad thing to just go home.