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Thursday, February 11, 2010

San Antonio Attacks Phoenix with OVA!! Beware the Animation Cel with Teeth!!

CactusCon '87 (or "That Wicked City Con")

By the winter of 1987, C/FO-San Antonio was smack dab in the middle of organized anime fandom and I was right in the middle of C/FO-San.  Basically, I was a really busy guy.  In addition to being the center of the tape-trading part of the operation, I was in charge of most of the correspondence that didn't have to do with higher muckity-muck political stuff.  Which is just how I liked it, thankyouverymuch.  By that time, I had somewhat of a reputation as someone who was willing to bring a large part of my vidtape collection with me when I travelled to club meetings and conventions, which made for some interesting hotel stays. Sometimes I'd handle all that taping myself, sometimes I'd just hand off the tapes to whoever wanted them and I wouldn't see them again for days.  But, for conventions, I usually kept them with me because I'd developed somewhat of a rep because of my all-night vidrooms. 

I was a night owl back then (still true) who thrived on lack of sleep (definitely still NOT true), so, combined with the fact that I had a relatively huge anime vidtape collection, it made me the natural person to handle the overnight portions of the convention video rooms.  During the '80s, most of the comic book conventions in Texas were run by Larry Lankford's Bulldog Productions and he let the Earth Defense Command run the video rooms. Usually during this time period, that still meant one room that showed general fantasy/sf films and one that showed nothing but anime.  Sometimes, if the con was small, it would only have one video room that ran a combination of the two.  Generally, one room would shut down about midnight or early in the morning and I'd haul my box of tapes into the anime room and basically show pretty much whatever the majority of people wanted to see.  That allowed us to show newer stuff that wasn't available when the schedule was made, plus things that the con staff might not have (ahem) approved of.  Now, hentai vids had just started coming out in Japan a few years earlier, but I made it a point never to actually show them in the vidrooms proper because that would've been stretching things a bit more than would've been prudent.  Plus, I didn't want some parent complaining to the con staff about something Little Timmy saw even though it was five fucking hours past Little Timmy's bedtime.  I think I may have broken that rule once for Pop Chaser, but  it was only 'cause she asked really, really nicely.

Normally, there were very few souls strong enough to stay awake all night, so most of the time my programming consisted of things that would help keep me awake.  Or things fellow members of the con staff or EDC wanted to see.  Generally, that meant several hours of newer Hokuto no Ken episodes Jeff Blend hadn't seen yet, or episodes of Dirty Pair or more obscure OVAs like Birth or Greed or Legend of Fabulous Battle Windaria - stuff that wasn't popular enough to make the regular video schedules.  Because I was basically the boss, I could choose to simply step in and change programs if no one was watching. 

Mitsuyoshi the cel salesman!

Also about this time, I was itching to finally get out of Texas and actually go about actually MEETING some of these people I wrote letters to and spent hour talking to on the phone.  Mitsuyoshi had decided that he'd like to maybe make money selling animation cels and was likewise itching to, as they say, come to America, it only for a visit. So we started looking at the upcoming convention schedule to see what might work best for both of us, since San Antonio would never be mistaken for a major sf/comic book convention kind of destination.  About this time, Randy Stukey was thinking along the same lines because he was also developing some long-distance friendships, and being an sf fan first and foremost, his first thought was a Worldcon.  I'd never attended a Worldcon per se, but Ray Elliot was nice enough to let me use his Nasfic '85 membership for the con in Austin when he couldn't make it, so I wasn't exactly unfamiliar with it either.  It just so happened that year's Worldcon was in England, so Phoenix, Arizona was awarded the Nasfic for '87. This seemed pretty doable for all of us, so I sat down and shot off a letter to the con staff and asked about the availability for volunteer positions on the videoroom staff, not realizing I was ALREADY in contact with the guy who was in charge of the videoroom via my tape trading networking.

Just the way things seem to work back then.  It was like a Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing, with letters and phone calls instead of movie credits.

A few months go by and we all make necessary arrangements to meet up in Phoenix in September for the con.  Mitsuyoshi sends me an absolutely gorgeous Misa Hayase cel from Macross: DYRL that I manage to auction off and it pays for my flight.  There and back.  God Bless Carl Macek.  Yeah, I'm easy.  Turns out I get put in charge of the overnight shift in the vidroom and they'll let me pretty much run it however I want to, except with equipment that I've never ever had access to before and probably never will again.  Life is sweet.

So the weekend of the con finally rolls around and Randy and I head for the airport.  We get on the plane and THEN he informs me he hates flying.  Is absolutely scared to death of airplanes. Great. I'm not so keen on flying myself, not having flown in about a decade, but I end up having to be the rational one, which (if you knew either of us) happened maybe once a year.  The armrest between us somehow manages to survive the flight to Dallas and then there's enough downtime in Dallas to recuperate before flying to Phoenix. I pass the time pointing out all of the landforms between Texas and Arizona 'cause I lived half my life in West Texas and New Mexico and it's a cheaper way of staying sane than drinking airplane booze.  White Sands looks absolutely fabulous from 20,000 feet, btw.

By the time we get to the hotel, it's almost time to go BACK to the airport to get Mitsuyoshi, who was flying America West.  Luckily for me, my con staff contact whom I'm staying with (and I'm really blanking on his name, here and it really bothers me) agrees to take me to go pick him up while Randy checks into his room.  We get back to the airport and I finally meet Mitsuyoshi face to face.  He's tall.  As in, really, really tall.  As in, over six foot tall. And distracted.  In general, it's true that the Japanese I've met have been reserved when compared to Americans, but you could tell immediately that something was bothering him.  Turns out, the airline had misplaces his luggage. Including the suitcase full of animation cels he was hoping to sell at the convention.  Now, I'd later have a career in the hospitality industry, so I would become accustomed to airlines and lost luggage, but it's still hard to imagine what goes through someone's head when they're in a foreign country and at the mercy of  baggage handlers.  Considering the flight had originated in Japan, even if he got it all back, he couldn't even be certain it would be in time (or condition) to do him much good. All in all, the airline was lucky he was so "reserved." I think I'd have been yelling and screaming. But that's just me.

Have absolutely no clue what show this is from.  I just needed a pic of one of his cels.

We convinced him that sticking around the airport wouldn't be productive, so he agreed to come back to the hotel with us and check in.  To make a long story short, the bags showed up later that night (they'd just missed the connecting flight in LA), and he was happily showing his wares to interested customers in his hotel room the next day.  Unfortunately for him, this WAS a Nasfic and not a comic book or anime convention, so there wasn't nearly the audience or money there could've been but word eventually got out and he managed to sell enough to pay for most of his trip.  Or that was the impression I got.  You know, that "reserved" thing again.

In any case, the con started that next day.  Randy and I split up - he went off with Pat Munson-Siter and his sf/anime friends and I palled around with Mitsuyoshi and a few guys I'd met through Phoenix anime fandom.  There was only one anime fandom panel scheduled during the entire con, but I finally met Fred Patten in person, among various other people I'd only read about through newsletters.  We went out for lunch and stopped by a Church's Fried Chicken and bought a box to go.  Mitsuyoshi's eyes went wide and he kept repeating something like "It's so cheap" over and over again, which reminded me to cut back on my meat consumption if I ever decided to visit Japan. 

Back at the con, I stopped by the video room to see what I'd be dealing with later that night.  I'd never seen anything like it.  One of the local Phoenix anime buffs had lent his equipment to the room for the con and it was an absolutely amazing experience for this low-budget anime bum.  A box of commercial vids and laser discs straight from Japan - full of really good stuff, mixed together with turkeys not worth it at a quarter of the price.  The place was set up like a home video theater, except with cheap hotel chairs.  Six speakers.  A projected screen television.  Someone certainly had a lot of money to spend on his hobby.  For 1987, it was quite a sight.

Mentally, I'm thinking all through the day about what I'm gonna show.  When I see the arrangements, half of the possibilities go straight out the window - hell, I'm not going to insult all this nice equipment by showing third generation, tracking-challenged TV episodes of anything, no matter how rare the material is.  Luckily, I'd brought a good number of the tapes Mitsuyoshi'd sent me that he'd copied right off his television set, so there wasn't any chance of running out of material, just that it was rather limited.  As fate would have it, he'd also brought a few more new ones with him to give me and some of them had OVAs he'd managed to record just recently. I dunno if they still have this service currently in Japan, but back in the day, there were apparently video stores that would copy videos for you and charge you a fee depending on the number of minutes in the productions.  I always assumed that they were set up this way legally, but never really asked.

In any case, among the videos that he'd copied for us was one labelled "Yoju Toshi" and all I knew about it was that Mitsuyoshi said it was just released and that it was good.  I'd neither heard nor read anything about it, which wasn't unusual in the least.  OVAs were coming out right and left during that time period and unless we got a certain recommendation from someone who knew what they were talking about or it got heavy play in the monthly anime mags, we were flying blind. Such it was with this one.  What the hell, I figured, it was new, so at least it wasn't gonna ruin the equipment.   If it turned out to be boring, I could always stop the sucker and pop in something else before too many people evacuated the room.

Not that clearing the room would've been difficult.  I took over about midnight and there were, by my count, a whole seven people in the room, five of whom seemed to be using it as a place to crash.  That probably wasn't all that unusual for the time period - it was a sf convention, after all.  So I turned the lights up a bit, introduced myself and spelled out the way I liked to do things, gave them the usual speech about if they wanted to see anything in particular to come up and talk to me, then mangled the name of the new video I was gonna pop in, turned down the lights and started the show.

Now, I'd looked over the schedule up to that point and they'd shown nothing more lethal than the Macross: Do You Remember Love up to that point in the day, so if you've seen Wicked City, you might guess what's coming next. I certainly couldn't, having absolutely no clue about what I was popping into the VCR.  I went about rummaging through the laser disks, marvelling at how much money these guys had to spend on cartoon stuff and when I finally looked up at the nice projection screen, the first thing I saw was the part where Taki's getting attacked by the spider demon and suddenly NO ONE in the room is sleeping anymore. The fanboys are too busy making sure their respective favorite organs are where they're supposed to be, if you know what I mean.  Me, I'm wondering what in the hell I've done and whether or not I'm gonna get in trouble for it. It's not exactly Cream Lemon Rall or Urotsukidoji material here, but about as close as these geeks have probably seen.  As soon as the scene is over, two of the seven guys get up and zip out of the room, so I figure, what the hell, there's only five left and they're probably too scared to complain anyway, 'cause they'd have to admit they were there to sleep - not that they're snoozing after THAT particular scene. And, besides, I'm actually kinda digging this thing.  And I'll NEVER get to see it on such a nice screen ever again.

This gal might just put you off puttin' it in...like forever.

Anyway, five to ten minutes go by and the two guys who high-tailed it out of the room come BACK - bringing five or six more guys with them.  They all gang up at the front of the room and start mumbling to each other. Finally, one of them comes up to me and asks me if I can start the movie over.  I tell 'em if it were just us, I'd have no problem with it, but there are the other five guys in the room who might have a problem with it.  So this guy goes to each and every one of 'em until they all say they'd LOVE to see some animated siren turn into a spider with teeth where her hoochie should be all over again.  Hey, who am I to argue?  So, while I'm rewinding the tape, two or three of the guys run straight out of the room and ask me if I can hold off for about five more minutes, so they can go wake up their buddies. 

By the time the film is through, there are no less than twenty people in this video room at 2am, watching this semi-porn animated horror film that no one can understand a word of.  I think there may have even been one gal there, though I doubt she'd ever admit it.  It's the damndest thing that's ever happened to me in 15 years of anime vidrooms. I like to think that I ruined the lives of at least five people that night. If nothing else, they didn't get a whole lot of sleep.

The rest of the con went by fairly uneventfully and if anyone else showed up overnight expecting an escallation of the experience from the night before, they were disappointed.  I just wasn't gonna take that chance.  I did give out my address to a few people who definitely wanted copies of "that video," and I made sure to let the Phoenix guys know it was something that they just HAD to get on laserdisk.  Heh.

So I still have a soft spot in my heart for Yoju Toshi, even after all these years.  I've just learned to never, NEVER stick anything in that I haven't screened first.  Uh, video and otherwise.


  1. I saw the dubbed Streamline Wicked City at a midnite theater thing back in the day. I was a yungun who also didn't expect the sucker to contain what it did, either, so it was kind of awkward bringing certain nameless close acquaintances to the screening. But we did dig it, for some reason. I think it's the whole "not taking itself seriously" genre of horror such as Army of Darkness and Brain-dead which tends to be more fun than the other stuff, since you're not waiting to be scared shit-less as much. It's weird that the anime's never had as big a following here as Ninja Scroll, since I always thought the latter title lacked fun elements to it. It was more polished than Wicked City, but the only character you really care about is Kagero. BTW, the novel finally came out after only 25 years. Kikuchi's stuff seems to work better as anime, than novelizations, though. [At least for me.]

  2. Just to show how my brain works, one of the things that stuck with me after first seeing the spider demon transformation is how in the fuck does she keep her stockings together through all that?!!!

    It was until the plane trip home when I figured that maybe, just maybe, she spun the demon silk herself.

    RWG (honestly, what kind of insane mind worries about crazy crap like that?)

  3. I was thinking to myself where his power to "pull out" came from. The book sort of answers that question.

  4. Cool story, bro. Also, that unknown cel is from the Swan Lake movie, if anyone was wondering.

  5. Hey, thanks for the heads up on the Swan Lake cel. It's an oversized cel that I've had for almost twenty-five years now. Nice to know what it's actually a cel of :-) I have a good number of cels from anime I've either never seen nor ever want to. Most are generic cute girl cels without any real uniforms or whatever to give me any sort of clue as to the origins.

    If anyone reading this hasn't yet listened to the AWO podcast - with Surat and the gang summing up Wicked City - I linked to in the blog article above; do so ASAP, especially if you've been drinking heavily. It's one of the funniest things I've heard in years.

    It almost makes me want to go back and relive the experience...

    RWG (almost :-)

  6. "God Bless Carl Macek"

    Indeed! Methinks Carl might've turned around and sold that one to me at AnimeAmerica '93!

    Good times ; )

  7. I actually was applauding Macek 'cause he made Macross popular enough over here that I could eventually get someone to way overpay for a cel :-) Not that he actually bought it. In the biz he was in, he had access to cels guys like us could only dream of...

    But I'm fairly happy with the HnK cels I managed to get while I was still firmly into the fandom. I can't imagine trying to collect '80s cels if you weren't actually around when they were still being produced. Talk about incredibly expensive (if you can find them at all).

    With modern animation being produced largely via computer, I wonder if the days of collectable cartoon cels are gone forever?

    RWG (would be a shame IMO)

  8. According to his interview on the ANNcast (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/anncast/2010-01-14) he used to sell a lot of cels back in the day.

    A friend of mine buys a lot of cels off of yahoo japan auctions and ebay still.

  9. Yeah, before he got heavily into Harmony Gold, Macek had an art gallery.

    I'm glad to hear that there are cel auctions still, but man, I bet they can get pretty expensive.

    RWG (I've only seen a very few HnK cels for sale or auction)