That’s me in the above picture dressed as a character from Bioshock Infinite; my friends and I were exhausted after an afternoon spent scouting the various Las Vegas locales for decent spots for cosplay photos. We were already tired, frustrated, spent, and far too eager to hop in the car and head for home.
Otakon Vegas is an interesting idea. Otakon, one of the largest conventions in the US, decided to literally roll the die and spread its tendrils from the East Coast to the Mojave desert, setting up shop on the Mezzanine level of the Planet Hollywood (formerly the Aladdin) hotel. I hadn’t been to Las Vegas as a proper adult in my life – I went to the strip as a 17-year-old lad on a class trip, which is decidedly not the proper way to potentially enjoy a city as firmly rooted in the sins of man as Vegas.
To Otakon Vegas I went. After my girlfriend bribed the guy at the checkout booth for a “complimentary upgrade,” I saw some cool things but experienced a lot of pain. So here are 3 cool things I did at Otakon Vegas! Plus 6 awful things I now realize I hate about Las Vegas!
First, the good…
1) Cool Guests and Fun Panels
The plight of many a first-year convention is a lack of strong resources, which makes it difficult to attract top-tier guests. ‘Course, Otakon Vegas has the massive war chest of Otakon proper behind it, so they were able to amass cool folks like Masahiro Ando (director of the insanely violent and super-cool Sword of the Stranger), Kaworu Kurosaki (the novelist wife of Rurouni Kenshin creator Nobuhiro Watsuki), and famed anime and manga historian Frederik Schodt. They also flew over TR’s own Mike Toole, who entertained crowds of drunk yokels with panels like The Worst Anime of All Time, and his evergreen chronicle of insanity, Dubs that Time Forgot.
Two highlights: getting drunk in the green room with Masahiro Ando and drawing him a crappy doodle that praised his amazing animation skills, and a Mike Toole-presented clip of a woodenly-acted bishounen version of Zorro saying “BEFORE I LEAVE, I’D LIKE TO THANK THE DOG.”
2) The Dub Premiere of Space Dandy
It’s always cool to see things before the rest of the world! Although in the case of Space Dandy, the rest of the world had already seen the subtitled version of the first episode since it got leaked a day before the convention. Also the dubbed version aired mere hours later on Adult Swim. No matter. Still cool to see one of the bigger anime releases of the new year in a crowded room with a bunch of like-minded dorks.
On that note! Space Dandy is equal parts infuriating and revolutionary. It’s an amazing show with a psychedelic, tripped-out visual style that takes its cues from pulp ’60s comics like Barbarella instead of decades of worn-out Star Wars and Star Trek tropes! And on the other hand, half of the episode was dulled to the point of irritation with a flat repetition of toothless, crass boob jokes. And then the final fifteen minutes or so was a fever dream of insanely creative animation from some of the best in the industry.
3) The Only Time In Recorded History When a Convention Was Less Annoying Than the City Outside It
I’ll get to the annoyances later, but I will say that this was the very first time in my ignominious life where I vehemently dreaded leaving the convention hall for any reason. Hunting for food filled me with dread. Being stuck with any downtime for any reason meant that I’d head for the gaming room for a few rounds of Smash Bros. instead of braving the ballyhooed VEGAS EXPERIENCE.
Say what you or I will about anime conventions, or cons in general, I guess. They are stacked to the gills with socially awkward teenagers and obnoxious behavior, sure. Yeah, Homestuck cosplayers leave their patented grey greasepaint on the public toilets. But as the weekend slowly crept onward, I’d often find myself making any sort of excuse possible to stick to the convention floor, with all of its writhing mass of a few hundred nerds spouting terrible memes, rather than descend to the casino floor. Or worse.
Click onward for all the bad stuff.
6) Rot-Filled Pain Pits, A.K.A.: Casinos
One of our friends, a Vegas neophyte, looked around the neon-barf facade of the Planet Hollywood casino and made the most potent observation: “This is like Downtown Disney, except in Hell.”
Right she was. Armies of confused tourists, drunk off of sixteen-dollar cocktails, plunking their hard-earned savings, one penny at a time, into constantly beeping nonsense machines. Push-up bras with human faces and glazed eyes collecting five-dollar chips from sunken-faced, smog-choked skeletons. It’s like being on the River Styx, with a soundtrack by Phil Collins.
This wasn’t exclusive to just Planet Hollywood, either. Our personal Dante’s Inferno took us to New York New York, a place which probably makes Hell itself look like a Crate & Barrel, and the Bellagio, which is now a place that looks like what would happen if characters from Mike Judge’s Idiocracy had to describe the concept of “luxury” in a college essay.
And that’s just the inside. The outside is just as rotten.
5) Fuck The Strip
I can’t think of any other way to put it. FUCK THE STRIP.
A stupefying social experiment that could only be described as a rat’s maze for horny people, the Vegas Strip is an Escher painting of overlocking walkways, skywalks, and sidewalks. Except you can’t really walk anywhere, because your footed ventures are always thwarted by a stumbling army of drunks at nearly all hours. And poor men and women being paid a pittance to throw cards of nude call girls into the maw of every ambling Duck Dynasty T-shirt. Your attempts to dart in and out of Vegas foot traffic is like a Civil War veteran dodging mortars. Until you wind up stuck behind a very drunk girl in high heels attempting to slither up the stairs to the skywalk. In the words of Julie Klausner, “drunk girls are our culture’s Godzilla.”
All the while, you’re greeted with the neon visage of beer cozies shaped like fake tits. Vodka slushies in oversized novelty Eiffel Tower mugs made from discarded plastic. In case your attempts to merely walk somewhere haven’t already driven you mad, the sights and sounds sure will.
4) Really Disturbing Penny Slots
During your Vegas stay, you may notice any number of hilariously weird penny slots. A number of them feature angry gorillas on them, with stupid names like GORILLA CHIEF or JUNGLE JINGLES. Or perhaps you’ve got a fondness for Lisa Frank ’90s nostalgia? Why, there’s any number of pastel-colored machines called UNICORN’S GOLD! My girlfriend actually made a tidy 95-cent return on a machine called OUTBACK JACK, where a burly, poorly-rendered Australian stereotype threw a boomerang and retrieved what I think is money.
My personal favorite though was PELICAN PETE, who is a pelican named Pete who has been force-fed gold coins like foie gras, and vomits them up from his slot-machine prison in an unending cycle of pelican Hell.
Normally all of this would be fun, and it was for a while, until I realized: there are people who do this all day. Like Liberace’s mom in Behind the Candelabra. Pouring in dollar after dollar, watching numbers and symbols turn in arbitrary directions, robbing them pennies at a time for days on end. Look up “sadness” in the dictionary, and there’s a picture of a chain-smoking woman collapsed in front of PELICAN PETE.
3) Cosplay and Vegas Tourists: The Shittiest Cocktail
I’m sure the people who live in Las Vegas are used to that by now, but here’s the thing: nobody who lives in Vegas actually goes to the strip. The strip is filled with drunk tourists. Drunk tourists who definitely have no idea that there’s an anime convention in town. Drunk tourists who see four people dressed as videogame characters and glare at them. Here are some of the choice quotes as overheard, by me, from these tourists:
“Woah, I must be going to the wrong place.”
“What the fuck?”
And my personal favorite: “*grimace, scowl, followed by furrowed brow and a long glug from a Bud Light tall boy*”
Consider this as an addition to the Las Vegas Yelp review: Not Cosplay Friendly.
2) In Short: Vegas Sucks Ii You Aren’t Rich
Here’s the thing, though. Virtually all of the things I’m complaining about would be easily remedied by one simple thing – if I were engulfed in a fluffy cloud of millions of dollars.
I’m sure Vegas is great if you have the means for it. If you drop a couple grand at the poker tables, the casino will typically treat you very well. Complimentary drinks! Discount show tickets! Upgrades to the swanky suites!
And getting by the hellish strip is no problem, because you’ve got an on-call limo service to power your way through the human traffic of the damned. Spending an outrageous amount of money for mediocre food isn’t an issue, since you can gorge yourself on any number of buffets.
Even if you lose every chip you’ve got at the poker tables, who cares? You’re rich! Money flows like water! You’re not like me, where you lose twenty bucks on a crappy hand of Hold ‘Em and rage-quit, taking your remaining 5 dollar chip to the cashier with a sullen attitude!
But if you’re just some schmo in town for an anime and manga convention, Vegas does not like you. You’re nothin’. Just another easy mark to slowly drain your feeble earnings on terrible games owned and run by terrible people. Someone who goes to New York New York and is forced into the indignity of paying fourteen dollars to ride a roller coaster.
That reminds me of the thing I hate the most about Vegas:
1) FOURTEEN BUCKS TO RIDE A GOD DAMNED ROLLEY COASTER
For Christ’s sakes it’s a roller coaster! I just wanted to ride a stupid roller coaster because I was looking forward to a brief moment of adrenaline-inspired joy to drown out the sorrows of a city-wide Misery Machine!
Or maybe it’s just me. Is Vegas really as villainous as I think? Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong below.
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