Monday, April 9, 2018

Tekko 2018

Something smelled off at Tekko this year - and it wasn’t the ramen bar. Pittsburgh’s premiere convention for anime and Japanese pop culture has been, for the past 4 years, one of the highlights of my year and the best weekends of my life. This year? Eh. I just can’t put my finger on it, but I just didn’t have the life-changing experience that I usually get out of Tekko. That being said, I did still enjoy myself. Hit the jump to find out what I was up to this year.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided complimentary admission to the Tekko. Opinions are my own.


The first day of Tekko is called a preview night. It’s usually just a way to pick up your badge and avoid the long lines on Friday morning. This year, however, they actually had panels! Only a couple panel rooms were open on Thursday night but one of them included the best panel ever: Yu-Gi-Oh! A to Zexal, a trivia and fun facts panel about the most awesomely stupid anime of all time. I had no idea it got moved to Thursday and it was already underway when we arrived. But it was still fun. The final round takes the two attendees with the most Star Chips and has them go head to head in a game of “Name something that is related to Yu-Gi-Oh! that begins with a letter and then keep taking turns until someone can’t name something.” Usually, they loop from Z back to A at least once. This year they didn’t even make it to J. That may have been the first sign that this year’s Tekko wasn’t going to be what I hoped for.

The other main attraction on Thursday is the game room. It used to just be a small room filled with Playstations, but the past few years has seen it expand into a massive space filled with cool arcade machines from Japan provided by a group called Tokyo Attack and pachinko machines from Pachinko Fever. There's also board games and card games with plenty of table space to play. I love games… but for some reason, I never once sat down at a console and only played one song in a rhythm game. After Thursday I never stepped foot in the game room again. As I’ve said, I can’t put my finger on it, but Tekko seemed off this year. Maybe these specific kinds of games aren’t my thing. I used to stay on Thursday nights right up until close, but this year we left early and played Zelda at home.


We raced to the con early so I could catch Yu-Gi-Oh! 5VDXAL!, a panel about all of the weirder sequels and spin-offs to the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime series. It was presented by the same person as the A to Zexal panel we missed most of, so this was kind of to make up for that. I can attribute the bad mood I was in for most of the first day of Tekko to the rest of the audience at this panel. Some male audience members insisted on talking over the female panelist. They attempted to correct her by over-explaining concepts and ensuring that they had the attention of the room. One of them is a Tekko friend, meaning someone I only ever see at Tekko, who usually does panels but didn’t do one this year. Hey, dude, if you’re just going to talk over someone else at their panel you should’ve submitted your own.

After that, we went to Vampires Go To Japan, a panel about… vampires in Japan. We missed the first half where the panelist - another Tekko friend - went into Japanese folklore and myths about vampires, so we instead caught the back half where she went into some well known and lesser known anime and manga that feature different kinds of vampires. It was a lot of fun and interesting and no one but the panelist talked unless she asked the audience a question.

After we got out of there, the exhibition hall opened. This was probably, for me, the biggest source of disappointment this year. It seems like every year I have the same problem with the vendors and every year that problem gets worse, not better. Pretty much every single vendor was the same. Plushies, figures, model kits, statues, blind boxes, DVDs, and manga. Other than a few offbeats that sold stuff like leather or engraved glasses, the same stuff was at every booth. And none of that stuff really interested me at all. If anything did catch my eye it was usually way overpriced. I actually had a bunch of money saved up for this year’s Tekko, but I didn’t see anthing worth buying. Everything was super expensive, very few things were under $35 except for manga and call me crazy but 20% off cover price for a 15-year-old book is still kinda too much. A bigger issue for me was that everything was brand new, hot office the presses, mainstream merch that was mostly for anime from the past few years. I like old, retro stuff. Would it kill to have one vendor who sells old stuff from the 80s or 90s? Not everybody who comes to Tekko loves My Hero Academia.

I do want to stress that the artist alley this year was totally fine. Artist stuff has never really been my thing and the walls of my apartment are already crowded with prints and posters. However! It really seemed like a lot of the art was focused on pairing up boys from the latest anime. Like I am all about poking fun at the weird bromance between Tai and Matt, but I wouldn’t want to hang up a poster of them cuddling in bed. I’m not saying yaoi fanart was the only thing the artists had, but they had a lot of it.

The first of my two panels was on Friday. Power Rangers: 25 Years of American Tokusatsu brought a big crowd and everyone seemed to have a good time. I rushed through my panel last year in 15 minutes, but this year I ended up skipping things so we’d have time for trivia. Afterward, a few people stopped me throughout the con to compliment the panel and tell me that it reignited their interest in Power Rangers. That was pretty much the whole reason I did it, so I’d call it a success!

Later that night was an improv show featuring Pop Ramen, a comedy improv group that evolved from Tekko’s old improv show. I saw the improv show at Tekko 2015 and it was one of the best parts of the weekend. Since then it’s always been way too late, but this show was at 6 PM so I was finally able to check it out again. But something was off. The show in 2015 had me laughing off my seat, but most of the comedy at this year felt like airline food jokes. It was funny but not hilarious. Steve Rudzinski was great though and easily the highlight of the show. Every time he took the stage the show perked it. I’m glad I went since that was the only thing he did besides judging the cosplay contest. I figured they’d at least do a screening and Q&A session for Super Task Force One - such a missed opportunity.


Pretty much the best panels at Tekko are “whatever Charles is doing.” Charles Dunbar is a scholar of Japanese culture and his panels are always packed. I try to get to every single one of his panels every year, which of course means I only make it to one. This year’s was about the apocalypse and how the idea of “the end” is seen in anime, manga, and Japanese culture as a whole. Apparently, a previous con asked for this topic specifically and he wasn’t sure how it would work. But when you realized that Japan is the only country that has tasted atomic fury you’ll instantly realize that Japan has some of the most interesting views on the end of the world.

My second panel of the weekend was Star Wars & Japan. This was something I knew would be an interesting topic, but I may not have been the best panelist for the job. I know there is a rich connection between Star Wars and Japan, but building an hour-long lecture around it wasn’t my strong suit. A big crowd showed up - of course they did, it’s Star Wars - but I am pretty sure a lot of them were disappointed. I know I was.


Honestly, the only reason we went in on Sunday was to drop off books to the Accio Books book drive. It’s a wonderful project from the Harry Potter Alliance that collects books of all kind and delivers them to libraries and after-school projects. It’s been so impactful that a local library didn’t even have a manga section until after they got their first delivery from Accio Books. That’s awesome!

After that we got some lunch - Katrina says the ramen was really good - and then did one last spin around the dealer room. I probably would’ve eventually bought something if I stuck around until it closed, but I honestly wasn’t feeling it so we left.


I used to race to Tekko every morning. I’d get there so early that there’d be nothing going on yet. On Saturday I was giving my second panel at 4. I considered getting there in time for that and then leaving afterward. I just wasn’t feeling it. But as I sat on my couch playing Zelda and the clock struck “Tekko time” I felt weird not being there. Even if it wasn’t the best time I still felt like I had to be there.

I used to be able to spend all my money at Tekko. I used to spend as much time as I could in the vendor’s room. I could’ve done big haul videos every year. The only thing I bought this time was some chocolate covered snacks from the fudge booth and a Digimon plushie from a vendor who said that they open up blind boxes and sells them loose - as it should be, God bless their soul. In any case, I’ll have more money for the rest of con season.

As I write this I am realizing that this is my first con since New York Comic Con. I hear a lot of people think Tekko is the best thing ever until they go to a bigger con. It’s wrong to compare an anime con to a con with a broader focus, but it just feels like Tekko is… different. Big cons have big companies setting up booths and giving away swag and hosting their own signings with celebrities. Tekko has had Funimation in the past and I am pretty sure Viz was supposed to be there at one point. This year? Nothing, instead that space went to more vendors selling the same plushies, figures, model kits, statues, blind boxes, DVDs, and manga.

I am starting to wonder if this is just a problem with me. I don’t watch most mainstream shows, I don’t really care about any celebrity guest of any kind, and the only Japanese musician I would want to see in concert is dead. While I have seen a lot more criticism of Tekko than I have in the past, I still see lots of people saying they had the best time of their lives. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this was the best Tekko ever and I’m just not a Tekko person. Not anymore.

I always see “Probably my last Tekko” posts from people every year and this year I’m kinda feeling it too. But considering it’s so close to me and I can get in free either as press or as a panelist I think I’ll continue to go for as long as I live in Pittsburgh. I may try to present and attend more panels next year. Tekko might not have been the amazing time it used to be, but I still had some good times and I would definitely still recommend it.