Japan, part one: Ikebukuro

Oh boy. It’s been roughly three months since my trip to Japan and I think I’m finally ready to write about it.

If you’ve known me for a while, you’re probably aware that manga and anime mean a lot to me. Japanese media became my first love and obsession when I was just a young girl, and in the late 90’s, it was on the cusp of reaching mainstream success in America. Our local bookstore had maybe one shelf of manga, which included Akira, Inuyasha, and a few other series by creators like CLAMP and Rumiko Takahashi. If I wanted to consume more than Digimon and Cardcaptor Sakura on Saturday mornings, I would need to either stay up late enough to catch Toonami programs at my dad’s house or convince my mom to rent VHS tapes from Blockbuster. Majority of the time, the tapes had random episodes from a series that I previously hadn’t seen or even heard of, but given the lack of options, I was desperate and grateful for anything. My sister Jaclyn and I had to constantly find smart and creative ways to get our fix in the suburbs of Wisconsin where accessibility to Japanese media wasn’t close to how it is now. Sometimes I miss those days and the thrill of watching or reading something my peers thought was strange, but I’m also really happy to see how popular and accepted it is now within our culture.

Anyway, fast forward 20 years later and here I am, walking through Tokyo with my older sister, sleep deprived, and trying to grasp that yes, we’re really here in this beautiful place that created the backbone of our childhoods. This was Jaci’s fourth time visiting, so she handled everything like a pro. We spent 6 months planning this trip, but for the most part, I just had to pay my share and show up where I needed to. A lot of people say Japan is a country that’s incredibly easy to navigate if you don’t speak or read the native language, but I somewhat disagree. Sure, the people are very accommodating and I could figure out things on my own eventually, but Jaci’s guidance and level of communication saved us from a lot of unfortunate or potentially awkward situations. I don’t know if I could ever visit on my own, or if I did, I would want to have at least a mediocre understanding of the language. (Plot twist: Years of watching subbed anime will not help you whatsoever!)

This trip was meaningful for so many reasons. Jaclyn and I can be very opposite outside of our love for all things related to Japan. This mutual appreciation is a thread that has kept us connected throughout our lives, which I’m very thankful for. We also booked the trip around my birthday, which felt like a really great way to put a bow on the first 25 years of my life. Everything already feels so different at 26, and I wanted to say goodbye to the first quarter of my life by ending where I feel like my identity begun. That sounds cheesy as hell, yes, I know, but it’s true. I was also secretly terrified of feeling underwhelmed or like I was romanticizing the whole experience. It was very hard to get excited but also keep my expectations grounded, because the last thing I wanted was to feel disappointed. Kind of like going on a first date, haha.

However, I’m happy to say this trip was everything I wanted and more. There’s a lot to talk about and I’m going to probably divide this over 3 posts since we crammed a lot in those two weeks. Visiting Japan was a side step from reality, where overspending and being reckless with my diet was encouraged. I didn’t have to count every cent or worry about my adulthood problems waiting for me back in Atlanta. This was a dream I never wanted to wake up from, and it’s something I still think about every day. If you’re reading this–thank you–I’m sorry I ramble so much, but a part of me is writing this just for my own preservation and so that I don’t forget anything. I appreciate anyone who entertains this weird mess of mine. Anyway, let’s jump in.


After 20 something hours of travel, we arrived at the Sunshine City Prince Hotel in Ikebukuro. The place was really nice for a 3-star hotel. Our room was small and narrow, but the large bathroom, overall cleanliness, and convenience made it worth it. The hotel was connected to the Sunshine City Alpa mall, Family Mart (a better version of 7-11) and a 24-hour Wal-Mart was only a few minutes away on foot. We got some breakfast and snacks, and I tried some yummy melon buns and soy joy bars for the first time. I’ve been vegan for 5 years now, and something I had to think about was how to accommodate my lifestyle in unfamiliar territory. Overall, my eating experiences were mostly positive, but it is very, very expensive there. Most vegan restaurants were also organic and run by a single person, which added up quickly and took up a good chunk of time. Snacking in the morning really helped our wallets and kept us on schedule, so I recommend other vegans do the same. Also remember to request a vegan or vegetarian meal on your flight in advance! The HappyCow app also helped me plan a few restaurants visits in advance thanks to their handy map tool.

 

Instead of breaking down what I did every day, for me, it’s easier to divide things by area. Staying in Ikebukuro was definitely the best choice, as my sister immediately explained that it’s a more female-centric otaku area of Tokyo. Not only are the businesses geared towards women, but it also felt incredibly safe and I had no issue walking around by myself late at night. Less than five minutes from our hotel was the massive Sega arcade, which led into a giant, neon strip that reminded me of a far cleaner version of Times Square in NYC. The sensory overload is immediate: on your right, glass slide doors open up and a wave of blasting arcade music catches you off guard. There’s a sea of Pokemon plush claw machines, the strong smell of…well, something that has octopus in it, and young, exuberant teenagers constantly bumping into you. There’s a bustling entrance to a train station on your left. And then stores, upon stores, upon stores. Stationary, trinkets, and charms at Tokyu Hands, the biggest Uniqlo you’ve ever seen, a bizarre string of Denny’s, KFC, and other American chains that are like a novelty there. Everywhere you turn, billboards and advertisements for karaoke bars, pop-up cafes, and beauty products do their best to stand out with neon anime girls winking in your direction. At some moments, it was almost too much to handle. Despite the quiet, calm nature of its residents, the advertising in Tokyo sometimes made my head spin as everything is trying to max out your senses whenever possible. It definitely took a while to get used to.

 

Our favorite place to visit was Animate, an 8-story building with all of the latest comics, magazines, and collectables from the newest anime and manga series. Regardless of the day or time, this store was always packed with young women. (Even on our last day, we saw people in their school uniforms shopping when they were probably supposed to be elsewhere.) I ended up getting a lot of really unique Attack on Titan official merch here. My favorites include a postcard set that includes season 3 sketches, and these Levi and Erwin acrylic keychains of them wearing dog costumes. It’s the little things that make the whole experience, y’all. This picture doesn’t include all of the AoT come ups I got during my stay, but a lot of the keychains not seen here are now apart of my ita bag that I took to Momocon recently.

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Can you tell who my faves are?

Ikebukuro had a ton of anime stores, to the point where I don’t remember the names of them offhand. Most of them share a similar layout of neatly organized racks that are organized by series and then character. They tend to all focus on the same few popular series, but sometimes you get lucky and find a few oddball pins or clear files from a 90’s shoujo. Lately I’ve been obsessed with Yona of the Dawn, which created a fun challenge of trying to find what little merchandise existed for an anime that aired in 2014. Surprisingly, I found a decent amount (this will be in a separate post) but I mostly stuck to CLAMP series and old favorites from the 90’s and early 00’s.

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Elusive sister and I waiting at the train station. Ft. My tragic haircut.

I should add that before and during our visit, I actually wasn’t really watching anime! I kept up with my favorites, but it was often put on the back burner in favor of my other interests. Now, I’m trying to watch 2-3 shows per season while checking out the ones I’ve been sleeping on for years. It’s nice to be involved again, but it was a little disorienting walking through entire stores and realizing I didn’t recognize anything. The one regret I have is not being more in the loop about what’s popular at the moment before visiting, because it probably would’ve made my shopping experience more fun.

 

Next to Ikebukuro station was Parko, another multi-level shopping center (mostly with overpriced streetwear) that included a beautiful, well-kept Neon Genesis Evangelion store. I picked up a cool Rei hotel keychain and this pack of odd note stickies with the characters looking like russian dolls. The basement area also had one of the many Marvel pop-up stores we came across. I admittedly spent too much money at these Marvel shops, but I just really loved how unique all of the merchandise was. The US tends to use either a lot of vintage comic imagery or specifically make them appeal to 8-year-old boys, so it was amazing to see so much creative, and often feminine, artwork. I adore these cute washcloths I got, but my favorite is definitely the Winter Soldier bento box and chopstick set. There was so much Bucky Barnes merchandise, which really warmed my heart because he doesn’t get a lot in the States despite being a rather popular character. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse was being heavily promoted in Japan at the time, which was a huge plus for me because it’s one of my favorite movies ever. I love wearing my Gwen and Miles socks and I can’t wait to properly display all of the acrylic keychains and stationary when I have the room! (Side note: These pictures are from all 4 of the Marvel pop-ups I visited, not all of these were available in Ikebukuro.)

 

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Pop-up cafes and carts offer keychains and coasters (picked blindly) in exchange for food and drink purchases. It’s v addicting!

As for cafes, most of the ones Jaclyn and I visited were for shows she was interested in. She adores Japanese voice actors, also known as “seiyuu”, and it was very endearing seeing her get mediocre churros and strange meat buns for Diamond no Ace and Mob Psycho 100 exclusives. (All in the name of Takahiro Sakurai.) Seiyuu in Japan are as popular as A-list Hollywood actors in America, so it felt very surreal to see something that I’ve always had such a keen interest in be the complete norm in this other country. I could only dream of having billboards and themed drinks for the likes of Troy Baker and Laura Bailey here! Japanese voice actors don’t have massive fanbases in America, though. It still fascinates me how there is so much of a cultural divide, even in the way western audiences consume Japanese media.

 

 

Finally, we visited a Banana Fish exhibit that gave a lot of insight into how the studio Mappa adapted the series from its 80’s source material. The set-up and sketch designs were really fun to look at, and I loved that the flow of the rooms led you through New York City train stations, the kitchen where Ash and Eiji shared simpler times, and more. Unfortunately there were no English translations, but my sister’s friend, Sonja, was kind enough to translate whenever I was curious. At the end, I picked up some cute keychains and a clear file, plus snagged a bunch of photos so I can look at them whenever and internally cry over how beautiful and tragic the series is.

 

As I wrap up this first post, listening to Susumu Hirasawa’s flawless 1997 Berserk soundtrack, it’s amazing how many emotions are flowing back in. So many little things in this trip have affected and stayed with me, molding my heart, leaving an impact that will last forever. (There I go getting all cheesy again.) I am filled with a lot of gratitude as I write this and think about how lucky I am to have had this opportunity at all. Thank you to anyone who actually read this! I can only hope that my own story will inspire you to visit Japan as well. If I do visit again, I think I would return to Ikebukuro because the convenience from the airport, overall safety, and proximity to so many fun places made it very worth it to me. In my next few posts, I will be talking about Odaiba, Shibuya, Osaka, and more, so stay tuned. And…I will close this out with my favorite picture I took the entire trip:

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Colon is #1 husbandu.

Momocon 2019

A Japan post is coming, I swear! But for now, I want to talk about the great time I had at Momocon in Atlanta. Despite the brutal heat (Saturday afternoon reached 96 degrees and I literally burned my hand touching my car door), I couldn’t pass up a weekend of beautiful fan art, engaging panels, and the best people watching spot imaginable. I actually went to Momo last year but didn’t review it, mainly because all I did was play arcade games with my boyfriend and met Troy Baker and Nolan North. It didn’t feel like a full experience, but this time, I feel like I have a better understanding of what this con is about.

Momocon is 4 days, but once again, I went Friday and Saturday. Admittedly, this con is still very focused on a younger crowd (I’d say ages 14-22) and most people attending are there to party and cosplay. I’ve never been drawn to that type of con experience, but I can tell Momo is trying to create a better environment for introverts like myself who are more interested in relaxing and meeting some creators I really love. If you’re the type of person who just wants to shop, check out a few panels, and meet a voice actor or two, I would recommend going for just 2 days.

When I arrived Friday morning, my first stop was a panel with two anime YouTubers I really enjoy, Gigguk and Sydsnap. The appeal of streamers is mostly lost on me (a bold statement from someone who is far too obsessed with Critical Role, I know), but I love how personable and honest these two are. Gigguk has been creating anime-related videos for a decade now, and the amount of work that goes into them is truly impressive. Sydsnap, well, she reviews hentai and is utterly hilarious. I ended up going to their signing a few hours later and after sharing a moment of Euphoria survivor solidarity with Sydney, they both signed my badge.

Afterwards, I did my favorite part of any con: shopping in the artist alley! This streetwear-inspired Ranma 1/2 shirt by Jellymomoshop on Etsy was too cute to pass up, and of course, I managed to snag whatever Critical Role fan merchandise I could. The Fjord and “fight me” patch are by Cara McGee and the small Caduceus print is by Inkforwords on Etsy. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the artist’s name who did the bigger poster. I also snagged a few random stickers and enamel pins, plus an adorable Snorlax plush in the vendor hall. More and more I’m running out of room to hang and display art, so I’m getting pickier and pickier these days.

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I swear I’m the happiest person in this picture!

Later on, I ended up going to a Supergiant Games panel, which was honestly a major reason why I attended the con. Darren Korb (Music & Audio) and Logan Cunningham (Voiceover) mainly focused on Transistor, which is arguably in my top 3 video games of all time and helped me through a really weird patch in my life. The game turned 5-years-old this month, so the two of them talked about production and the process they went through to piece together the signature music and narration of the game. Transistor‘s soundtrack is gorgeous and I highly recommend listening if you ever want something like Blade Runner‘s soundtrack infused with Radiohead’s Ok Computer. I ended up meeting Darren and Logan Saturday morning, but…unfortunately I look very annoyed in my photo? Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that I kind of just lock my expression so that I don’t look like a mess, but instead I just seem pissed off here. Promise I’m not. I was internally screaming with joy.

Around Saturday afternoon I started to feel a little sick, so I promptly made my way through the comics area of the con. Momocon really stepped it up with their comics guests this year, and it was cool to see people were actually interested in them. Last year was a little rough and even though there were a few artists that I was a fan of, their tables had very little traffic. I’m not sure what changed, but I like that the artists they did feature had heavily-inspired anime styles, which would be more appealing to the demographic at Momo. I first approached color artist Matt Wilson, which was really overwhelming for me. The Wicked + The Divine was the first western comic I got into (I grew up reading manga) and the Black Widow series he worked on with Chris Samnee was the first superhero comic I really connected with. I was a little too nervous to convey this to Matt, but he was super humble and appreciative, which made me fall in love with the WicDiv team even more. Rico Renzi signed by hardcover Spider-Gwen book and even  sketched a little doodle inside, which was a cute surprise. There were a ton of cosplayers for Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which was a really great surprise to see that level of western animation appreciation bleeding into an anime atmosphere.

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Finally, I met Brenden Fletcher, who writes Motor Crush and Batgirl with an artist I really love, Babs Tarr. I talked to Brenden a little bit about how long it took me to get into western comics because I grew up with an anime and manga background (and the weird difficulties that come with enjoying two totally different comic styles), and to my surprise, he said he was the same way. It’s interesting how I’ve managed to gravitate towards these type of comic book creators, unknowingly, but it’s almost like I’m conditioned at this point to find an anime influence in anything and latch onto it. Even though my interactions with the artists were short, they were the highlight of my weekend because of how grateful, kind, and insightful they were.

Overall, I had some really great moments during the weekend, even if it wasn’t jam-packed with things to do. I may not be your typical Momocon attendee preparing for the midnight rave in My Hero Acadamia cosplay, but I simply love anime and sharing a few, pleasant moments with people who feel the same way. As for the rest of the year, my convention plans include Gen Con, Anime Weekend Atlanta, and Dragoncon. I’ll tell you all about them later!

Critical Role art gallery + The Search for Grog live show in Los Angeles

Hello, it’s me! I still exist! After a few hectic months, I decided to treat myself to a 4-day vacation in California. Big surprise, Critical Role was the main reason to hop on a cramped Frontier plane and visit the other side of the country. Back in December, the team announced their first art gallery and one-shot returning to their Vox Machina roots. I couldn’t pass it up, you guys. I’ve always been too poor or busy to attend previous live shows, and as far as I know, this was my last chance to witness my favorite dysfunctional family, Vox Machina, in person. After getting the time off approved from work and the okay from a friend to let me crash on their floor, I snagged my passes and proceeded to cry for an entire month with eager anticipation.

Now, I’m going to talk through this for anyone who has never been to a live show before. I didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I had conventions like C2E2 and SDCC under my belt, so I knew that being in this fandom can be a little chaotic when securing tickets. Since this was such a big trip for me, I decided to go all out and shoot for VIP. I was a little hesitant to drop $250 ($275 after fees) versus the $70 general admission, but now I’m really glad that I splurged! (More on this later.) The art gallery reception was free with a RSVP and my round trip flight from Atlanta to LA was $175. Altogether, this trip cost me around $550 (those Uber rides add up) and it was worth every penny.

I should also backpedal real quick and mention that 7 months ago, I created a Critical Role fan account that really took off. It’s called critrolecloset and is on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. I track down what the cast wears on the show, and uh, people really like it. It has 22,500 members at the moment and I legit thought maybe 300 people would care at most. Doing this project has been a really wonderful experience since I don’t have much time to draw or cosplay, plus I get to utilize this strange skill I have at finding basically anything on the internet. I posted on Instagram that I was getting ready to leave the terminal when someone messaged me back saying they were on the same flight! What are the chances? We met up and hit it off immediately. It was like that “did we just become best friends?” scene in Step Brothers. My new friend, Sarah, told me she was also taking this trip alone, so we decided to be vacation buddies and spent the remainder of the day exploring an unusually dreary Los Angeles once we landed. One of the highlights was checking out 826LA, which is a non-profit writing and tutoring organization that Critical Role has been supporting since they began streaming. The time travel mart was super cute and worth checking out if you’re in the area. They had a Deck of Many Things dedicated to the community available for $15, so of course I had to snag one. Sarah and I also checked out The Last Bookstore, which Taliesin recommended on an episode of Talks Machina. It was definitely a cute spot, but since I couldn’t really bring anything big on my flight back, it felt a little defeating to look at a bunch of awesome books I couldn’t have.

 

Once Friday evening rolled around, it was time for the art gallery! Man, I haven’t felt that nervous with excitement in a long time and I felt a little silly for it. I mean, this was literally a fan art gallery dedicated to a show about voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons. But it was overwhelming to be there for a new experience and not knowing what to expect. Despite the event being RSVP, Sarah and I rolled up half an hour before doors and there was a line already wrapping around the building. They reached capacity around the time we got in, so in the future I would definitely get there about an hour before doors open to secure my spot. Once we got inside, we slowly made our way around the gallery. The mix of art was really everything I could’ve wanted and more. There were some classic favorites from both the first and second campaign, but also a handful of ones that I’ve never even seen before. Seeing the detail and craftsmanship of these pieces up close was such a gift and I really hope the crew continues to do these in the future. Being in the presence of so many talented people that I’ve fangirled over on the internet was such a cool feeling, and the best part was that none of them had egos. There tends to be elitist snobs in any fandom, but I feel like Critical Role has been mostly spared from it. The cast and majority of the artists would mingle in a private space upstairs and would come down for a few minutes to chat and take photos with fans, which I thought was a really cool way of keeping it casual while still respecting their privacy and desire to step away if things got too overwhelming.

 

Throughout the night, I was fortunate enough to get to chat with Sam, Liam, Marisha, and Ashley for a bit, and was really blown away to find out that they love my fan account! Some of them follow critrolecloset and will occasionally like a post or comment, but I was completely floored at their overall enthusiasm, warmth, and encouragement. They really do continue to make me feel loved and accepted in ways I never expected, no matter how involved or low key I am. If I’m being honest, though, the best part was meeting other critters. There was such an electric energy in the air all night long and nothing beat the feeling of whispering your online username to someone and squealing with excitement when you realized who the other person was. Putting the faces to names was so overwhelming in the best way possible! It felt like this beautiful, second family reunion. Altogether, Sarah and I spent 4 hours at the gallery but it seriously felt like 45 minutes!

The next morning, the friend I stayed with was sweet enough to drive me to Hidden Treasures in Topanga, which is where Taliesin and Marisha get a lot of their vintage clothing. (When you think about it, that was probably the most on-brand thing I could’ve done.) The area was kind of a hippie getaway spot which I found absolutely hilarious, but it was probably one of the coolest thrift stores I’ve ever been to. Majority of the clothing was Native American or cowboy inspired, so there wasn’t much up my alley, but I did find a pair of sunglasses Marisha owns and also swooned over these tiny, adorable boots.

 

After bumming around LA for a bit–which included trying a vegan burger at Carls Jr.–it was time for the Critical Role live show. The venue was absolutely gorgeous and of course, me being me, didn’t take any photos because I was so enamored and overwhelmed at how beautiful it was. Having VIP was really nice because the seats were already chosen for us, so there wasn’t any need to line up super early or rush inside of the venue. When I got to my seat, there was a mysterious black plastic bag waiting for me, which included a number of goodies. A velvet drawstring pouch contained a set of beautiful, copper dice (valued at $30) and a copper Mighty Nein pin, which was a variant version of the normal pin they carry on their website (the variant version is $13, standard is $10). One small hiccup was The Search for Grog poster, which most people assumed would be included in the VIP bag, but actually needed to be bought separately at their merch table for $10. On the bright side, there was a beautiful Vox Machina poster included…and it was fucking signed, y’all. My heart leapt out of my chest at the complete surprise of that! I feel like I’ll never get Matt or Ashley’s autograph, so that meant a lot to me. Considering all of their signatures together would cost around $200, getting the $250 VIP was actually a really great deal and made the splurge worth it to me.

 

VIP attendees also got an exclusive pre-show Q&A panel hosted by Brian W. Foster, which was a huge treat. All of the questions were really thoughtful and the mood felt so light and happy, despite knowing the following one-shot would probably be really intense. There was an hour long break afterwards so that general admission could get seated, and once the show began, it was complete madness! Since the VOD has yet to be released, I won’t reveal any spoilers, but it’s so hard to articulate how incredible this experience was. I cried probably 8 times altogether (bless the girl next to me who cried just as much) and other times found myself screaming like a grown man at a football game. Getting to see the cast play Vox Machina in person was an experience I’ll cherish forever, especially because of how incredibly hype this episode was. The only downside is that it went for 5 hours, and by the time it was finished, my poor east coast brain thought it was 6 AM. It’ll definitely be easier on me if I go to Gen Con or one on this side of the country, but hey, that ending was so worth it.

I had to leave the following morning, and boy, was it rough. I was that weirdo tearing up in my Uber on the way to the airport. Someone even recognized me from my fan account in the LAX bathroom, which was probably the coolest thing I could tell my mom. Flying back to Atlanta and away from all of my friends, old and new, was really difficult. I’ve never had such a hard time getting back to reality, and I think that’s why it’s taken me three weeks to write this. People will tell you how beautiful and and welcoming the Critical Role community is, but really and truly experiencing it in person has made the whiplash of returning to my day-to-day life more difficult to process. This trip has made me reevaluate the course of my life and what I need to work towards so that I’m always feeling this happy! If any of you reading this are people I’ve met throughout the weekend, know that you’re all on my mind and I can’t wait to reunite with you all again.

Wrapping this up, I’m going to assume I probably won’t be posting again until my next big trip, which is Japan in late March. My whole life has been leading up to this massive dream vacation of mine and I can’t wait to share it with you all. Thank you for reading!

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So. Many. Feelings.

San Diego Comic Con 2018

Ah yes, opening this once again with an apology for the lack of updates. I’ve tried to chip away at writing things here and there, but life gets in the way. It’s been two weeks since I got back from my vacation and a part of me is still processing everything. The easiest way to explain SDCC is that it’s like a nerdy version of Las Vegas, full of sensory overload, hungover tourists, and way too many things you convinced yourself were doable in 4 days. Did I have fun? Absolutely, but it may have been a one-and-done for me. Not every convention is for every person, and I think this trip made me realize what I value in my con experience. Before you start hurling tomatoes in my general direction, read on and maybe you’ll understand what I mean!

Thursday

I decided this was going to be my exploration day. SDCC is massive and takes up an entire convention center, neighboring hotels, and the Gaslamp Quarter, which is San Diego’s popular nightlife district. I spent a good 4 hours making my way through the massive exhibit hall, which was really well organized, but could’ve benefited from volunteers keeping the flow of traffic going. Since I have way too many prints now, apparently my new thing is buying shirts. I snagged The Last of Us Part II Ellie portrait from the Playstation store ($30), two Snotgirl exclusives through Big Bud Press ($35 each), and the handmade, cropped Black Widow hoodie from Hero Within ($60).

After checking out a game development panel, I decided to wait outside of the Bait store for Joe Manganiello’s new clothing line Death Saves, which is heavily inspired by D&D. I waited 4 hours (I thought it’d take half an hour) and ended up being the last person he did a meet & greet with, so that was pretty overwhelming. Getting him to sign my badge was awesome and I love the shirt I got (it reminds me of Skull Knight from Berserk) but unfortunately the brutal heat and excitement made me look a little crazy eyed in my photo. Nothing a heart eye filter can’t fix, though.

Friday

Day two unintentionally became my Geek & Sundry and Nerdist day. It’s no secret that Critical Role is a major part of my life, but over time I’ve gotten into some other G&S shows like Wednesday Club, Sagas of Sundry, and Fangirling. After a brief panel highlighting what the G&S brand plans on doing next, everyone moved outside of the convention center to the Nerdist house a few blocks away (Marisha signed my Keyleth tarot card before leaving, which was super kind of her). The offsite location felt a little cramped at times, but hey, it’s SDCC and nothing is exactly roomy. A lot of the props from the shows I loved were on display, including the ominous jenga tower that has probably given me a nightmare or two.

After watching an hour long Dread one-shot, I got to meet a lot of the G&S personalities. At one point, both Erika Ishii and I were getting teary eyed because I was telling her how much I loved Selina from the Sagas of Sundry and it tore me apart that we never got proper closure. Little moments like this definitely made the convention experience much greater for me, but overall, I was waiting for that butterflies-in-my-stomach feeling to make the time and money spent worth it. Thankfully, everything Critical Role related was the following day, and I knew this would be the highlight of my trip.

Saturday

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CR panel, ft. Brian W. Foster, Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, and Matthew Mercer.

After sitting through 5 hours of various panels, I found myself front row for the Talks Machina (Critical Role‘s after show) live episode. The feeling I get when I see these nerdy ass voice actors is comparable to seeing my favorite band when I was a teenager or kissing someone I have a crush on. It’s no secret that I’m completely trash for this series, but I think this weekend reminded me of how monumental it is in my life now. A lot of my current friendships are found and nourished through this fandom. It gives me something to look forward to during my exhausting work week. I realized on Saturday that SDCC has mostly become a flashy spectacle, but there are pockets where community and solidarity can be found. Yes, you’re in the same building as A-list celebrities. It’s where all of the big, pop culture news is revealed. But for me, this moderate-sized room full of people who cherish the same thing as much as I do is the reason why I go to conventions and it’s the reason why SDCC personally isn’t for me.

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The room for Critical Role‘s panel, ft. my friend Dan.

That being said, the Critical Role panel was wonderful despite a few cast members missing (Laura and Travis had their baby and Ashley is stuck in Blindspot filming hell forever), but it was so fun bonding with other people around me before and after their hour long panel. You can watch it here, but be aware of some pretty heavy spoilers.

Afterwards I caught a late night panel with some of the minor Twin Peaks actors. I strolled around the downtown area a little bit, soaking in the warmth and bustling midnight energy in San Diego. I will admit, the location for this convention couldn’t be better and they did an amazing job at keeping the energy going no matter what time it was.

Sunday

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Wednesday Club panel, ft. Taliesin Jaffe, Amy Dallen, and Matt Key.

Sunday just feels like this distant, weird blur. I went to the Wednesday Club panel, bought anything from the exhibitor hall that I was feeling torn on, and pretty much aimlessly wondered about, reflecting on the overall trip (I also probably daydreamed about all of the little munchkins I hung out with at The Cat Cafe). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hit up any of the exhibitions, but I heard most of them were underwhelming considering their long waits. I ended up not doing quite a few things just because the line wait wasn’t worth it, or I knew there wouldn’t be enough slots. So it goes.

I don’t want this post to make me sound like I’m being negative, because I certainly did have fun and got to see a couple of dear friends who live far away from me now. But between a $230 badge, $500 flight, and every other cost in-between, I wish I would’ve saved most of that and went to Gen Con in Indianapolis instead. There’s always next year though and I’m really happy that I got to cross this one off my list. I would go to SDCC again if I worked within the industry or had a specific reason to be there, but from now on I think I’ll enjoy the panels, trailers, and other thrills from the comfort of my apartment.

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The most important of merchandise.

CONVENTION CENTER RATING

  • Location: 10/10. I have to say, they really have the layout down to a science and I can’t imagine it being anywhere else at this point. The area is beautiful, well secured, and clean. I wish I would’ve been able to go by the water more!
  • Parking: ?/10. I didn’t park, but I overheard that some lots were charging $60 a day. No thanks.
  • Accessibility: 7/10. I feel like being in a wheelchair here is a disaster. I can’t speak for their actual services for disabled folk, but any time I came across someone with equipment or a stroller, they seemed to have a hard time getting around.
  • Cleanliness: 7/10. Not remarkable, but not disgusting either. A lot of the bathrooms were out of toilet paper and paper towel, though. I found myself putting a lot of trash in my own bag because I couldn’t find trash bins.
  • Bathrooms: 7/10. I touched on this above. On the plus side, they have a lot of bathrooms and sometimes it’d be worth walking an extra few minutes to find a more hidden one. Lines usually weren’t an issue unless a panel had just ended.
  • Staff: ?/10. I don’t think I’ve interacted with any of the actual convention center staff, so I can’t give a proper rating.
  • Food: 8/10. I always pack my own food, but they had Starbucks, Auntie Anne’s, and a few above average vendors.

 

SDCC RATING

  • Guests: 10/10. If you want to see the most popular guests, you go to SDCC. Sometimes it did feel surreal walking by a Supernatural signing or seeing remarkable comic book artists drawing at their booths. This con is basically every pop culture fan’s dream in terms of gawking at people in the industry.
  • Panels: 10/10. If there’s a fandom or interest, there’s a panel. There were a shit ton of panels here, more than I could wrap my brain around. I mainly stuck to ones I knew were unique to SDCC, but even the smaller, industry ones were very engaging.
  • Content: 9/10. Giving them a higher rating just because it’s so nice to walk onto an exhibitor floor and not see walls of Funko Pops staring back at you. Again, there were a lot of things here unique to this specific con, which made the trip more worth it. My only gripe was with how the artist alley was shoved into a small corner. SDCC definitely cares more about big names at this point, but I will always prefer giving my money to small artists with original creations rather than large corporations.
  • Organization: 7/10. SDCC did an online raffle this year for a lot of the more popular booths and autograph sessions, which mostly pissed people off. (Frankly, I preferred it.) Obviously, when you cram 130,000+ people into a convention center, it’s not going to be spacious and I think they mostly did their best. One of my biggest gripes with any convention is that I think more signs would really save people frustration and increase the flow of traffic as well.
  • Affordability: 7/10. My four day badge was $230 and my flight from Atlanta to San Diego was around $500. A friend of mine was awesome enough to let me stay with them for free (I probably would’ve never been able to afford it otherwise) and our shuttle to and from the convention center was free. SDCC definitely isn’t for people on a budget, but I do think you can still have fun without spending *a lot* of money.
  • Staff: 6/10. I ran around like a chicken with my neck cut off for an hour trying to find the Twin Peaks autographs because I kept being told different things. I know the world didn’t revolve around me, but that frustration put a damper on my experience and I felt like nobody really cared if I got the right information or not. Someone also yelled at me for walking up a moving, empty escalator? A lot of the staff were definitely drunk on power, but there were some nice ones sprinkled in as well.

Critical Role at C2E2 2018

Hey everyone! First off, let me apologize for the lack of updates. There’s been a lot of change happening in my life, but I’m finally getting situated and can’t wait to work on latebloomr more. This weekend I flew home for C2E2 in Chicago, IL and it was three days of Critical Role fangirl paradise. I had an incredible time, so let’s dive in.

FRIDAY

Fridays are always my shopping days at conventions because the crowds are way smaller and you won’t feel overwhelmed in the artist alley. C2E2 has a really great line-up of artists and comic creators, but unfortunately, only one person had Critical Role prints. Most were head shots from the newer campaign, but I did score a classy Percy one from her. Since the entire cast was announced only a few weeks before the convention, I wasn’t surprised at the lack of presence in the artist alley.

SATURDAY

Saturday is chaotic at pretty much any con, but man, I somehow underestimated how crazy the turnout would be for the Critical Role cast. This is their first group appearance in the upper midwest (minus Ashley Johnson, currently filming Blindspot) and one of the few times they’ve done individual signings. Matthew Mercer’s line was capped 20 minutes after doors opened, so I decided to meet Marisha Ray first, hoping it would calm my nerves. Now, deciding what I wanted to get signed was a really difficult choice.  The art book was too bulky and I wanted something I could actually display. Laura and Travis signed my tarot cards at Anime Weekend Atlanta, but it was such a rare opportunity to get all of their signatures at once. I ultimately chose the Tal’Dorei map from the campaign book, mainly because it was spacious and perfect to show off on my bedroom wall. Each cast member’s autograph was $20 (Laura’s was $30) and all of them offered table selfies or audio recordings for various costs. I decided to just get their autographs since I pre-purchased a group photo op for Sunday.

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My signed Tal’Dorei map!

Marisha was personable and sweet, and when I admitted that I somehow didn’t think of anything to say to the cast members, she told me not to worry and that they were all a bunch of losers. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of talented people throughout my life, but this cast and community really does mean the world to me. It was strange to finally be face-to-face with them; I’ve watched hundreds of hours of their material and each one of their expressions are so vivid and familiar, like an old friend’s. Taliesin Jaffe and I had a brief interaction about how freaking cold it was (25° on Saturday, no thanks, that is literally the reason why I moved south!) and then I decided to meet my favorite cast member, Liam O’Brien.

In a way, I really dreaded meeting Liam. Vax’ildan is my favorite CR character and his arc with the Raven Queen mirrored my own experience with taking care of a disabled parent. I cosplayed as Jayne Merriweather (Liam’s death cleric from the Bar Room Blitz one-shot) and his immediate joy seeing me dressed up triggered a rather awful anxiety attack. I nervously stumbled through our conversation, showing him my Vax ita bag and finally pulled down my shirt sleeve to reveal Vax’s last words, forever inked in Elvish on my bicep. Liam gave me a pretty intense look and I began to nervously ramble, choked up, and hurried off. It was basically the exact opposite of how I wanted our first interaction to go, but hey, there’s crippling anxiety for you. I reluctantly got into Sam’s line afterwards and once he smiled at me with that ginormous grin, my mood was instantly lifted.

Since it was nearing a few hours before their panel time, I decided to wait in line about two hours early for a good spot. You can watch the panel here, which was honestly a lot of fun and full of questions that haven’t really been asked before.

There was also an Alpha party that night that I scored an invite to, but I was far too exhausted to check it out. Some of the cast members usually attend, but none of them showed up for this one.

SUNDAY

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My view of Sunday morning’s panel in the main room.

The cast had their second panel bright and early, this time in C2E2’s main room. Thankfully, this one was also filmed and definitely worth watching! I think the entire room was in tears when Sam took his sweater off.

Matt’s line capped before the panel was over (around 12:45) and I had to mentally accept that I probably won’t meet him until the Overwatch hype dies down. I sulked over to Travis Willingham’s line and despite our interaction being short, he did mumble something in a Grog voice, so my year was made. I learned pretty quickly that it’s best to have a question or something to bring up to keep the conversation going, otherwise you might not get the full experience you hope for. With Laura, I asked her about Chloe and Nadine from Uncharted and whether she shipped them (she’s 100% on board, we’re so close to making it canon, y’all). Upset with how my previous interaction with Liam went, I decided to give his line another shot and got him to sign my ita bag. Unfortunately, he remembered me (I literally blurted out “oh no”) but I felt much, much better about how things went.

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My Vax ita bag (or my Vax’ilbag) signed with one of my favorite quotes.

Finally, it was time for what I was most excited for, my photo op! The group ensemble was $208 after fees and purchasing the additional digital download. While that might seem like a lot, getting a photo op with an individual cast member was about $50, so the group bundle was actually a good deal. For those unfamiliar with the photo op process, you basically move like a conveyor belt and don’t stop. There’s rarely any time to talk and it’s over before you know it. I asked Matt for a hug since I knew I wouldn’t be meeting him at his table and he warmly replied, “oh my gosh, of course!” and Marisha then yelled “GROUP HUG!” What followed was the most pure, wonderful 5 seconds of my life and I will never get over how adorable our picture is. Don’t be afraid to ask for hugs, guys! When I giddily skipped away, Matt yelled “I love your tattoos!” and I think I died right then and there. I don’t know if it’s possible for them to be any sweeter.

Overall, the trip and convention were incredibly worth it. I met and hung out with some incredible Critters and even exchanged contact info with a few. I think a lot of people underestimate this fanbase or undermine it because it’s an internet show, but I’ve never come across a group of people so wonderfully crazy, passionate, and supportive. If you’re thinking about going to a CR event but feel hesitant or doubtful for whatever reason, please go. I feel so overwhelmed by the powerful and inspiring energy that happened over those three days and cannot wait to see them all again at SDCC.

CONVENTION CENTER RATING

  • Location: 10/10. C2E2 takes place at McCormick Place, which is actually the biggest convention center in North America. This is my second year attending the con and I’m consistently blown away at how nice this center is. A lot of “Chicago cons” are actually in Rosemont, which is a half hour drive from here, so it’s cool to have one that is actually in the city.
  • Parking: 9/10. I drove last year and had no problem getting into one of their lots. I think it was $20 per day and the lots were spacious enough where you could easily get out.
  • Accessibility: 10/10. There are elevators and ramps everywhere! I didn’t see too many people with disabilities, but I can’t imagine it would be difficult to navigate the convention floor.
  • Cleanliness: 9/10. This convention center always looks so pristine. There’s never any trash laying around, but a few more trash bins would be nice.
  • Bathrooms: 10/10. Their bathrooms are banging. Really large, full length mirrors, and there’s almost always an attendant making sure nothing gets too gross.
  • Staff: ?/10. I don’t think I’ve interacted with any of the actual convention center staff, so I can’t give a proper rating.
  • Food: 9/10. I pack most of my food at this point, but McCormick is one of the better convention centers when it comes to food. There are multiple Starbucks locations, McDonald’s, and a small food court with normal prices.

 

C2E2 RATING

  • Guests: 9/10. I mean, getting the entire Critical Role cast (minus Ashley) is pretty clutch. C2E2 always has a unique line-up, especially comic creators who don’t make a lot of appearances. The only thing that bummed me out was Pom Klementieff cancelling. I think they booked her too soon which got my hopes up, so in the future I’d like for them to hold off on some of the early announcements.
  • Panels: 9/10. C2E2 has every panel imaginable and they’re always really fun, well-organized, and thought provoking. Both of the Critical Role panels were an absolutely blast, but a lot of people couldn’t make the Saturday one because it was in a smaller room.
  • Content: 9/10. This con seriously has everything. Any fandom you can think of has a presence here, but I love that there will always be an emphasis on comics and original artwork. I just wish there would’ve been a Critical Role booth, like a pop-up Gilmore’s Glorious Goods shop with shirts and other merchandise from the Geek & Sundry store.
  • Organization: 9/10. Better than last year and I appreciate that they added metal detectors. The natural flow of the convention floor is really nice and it’s never too difficult to find anything. More room or some sort of crew guidance around the entry spots would be appreciated.
  • Affordability: 8/10. 3-day tickets were $75 if you bought them in advance. You can buy individual tickets, ranging from $30-$35, but the weekend pass saved you like $15. I believe everything increased by $10 once the con actually started. My flight was $150 and I stayed with my sister for free. Uber and Lyft pools typically cost $10. Definitely one of the more affordable cons that I go to, but still expensive!
  • Staff: 10/10. Consistently awesome, super patient, and will thank you for being considerate. A lot of the crew are volunteers, so you know they’re doing it because they actually care about your experience.

All the world’s a stage: What old and new fans can expect as Critical Role embarks on its second campaign

On January 11th, 2018, an estimated 100,000+ people watched as eight (self-professed) nerdy ass voice actors played Dungeons & Dragons on the internet. Their production set at Geek & Sundry is simple: there’s one large table, a decent mic set-up, and the players bring whatever dice, binders, or snacks required to make it through each nail-biting session. The show, appropriately titled Critical Role, has been streaming live on Twitch, Alpha, and YouTube every Thursday for two years now. Despite it’s steady momentum in popularity (the series recently came out with an origins comic book through Dark Horse) nobody could’ve expected this: a fantasy improv hangout boasting actual TV show numbers.

Yet, here we are.

During the first campaign, viewers were dropped into a story that had already been running for two years pre-stream. Vox Machina were a dysfunctional family, full of self-sabotaging, reluctant heroes trying to understand their purpose. Most stories wouldn’t throw you in the middle of a sloppy rescue mission, but the show kept its focus thanks to Matthew Mercer’s guidance as the Dungeon Master. The players, which include Travis Willingham, Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Ashley Johnson, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, and Laura Bailey, are all voice actors who primarily work in video games or animation. Orion Acaba was in the group pre-stream and left around episode 30 for various reasons, including poor health. Occasional guest players pop up as well, including recurring favorites Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Will Friedle, but the large ensemble never devolves into chaos. Similar to an improv or theater format, each actor is given their moment to shine and explore their character’s path without becoming too self-indulgent or derailing the narrative. Throughout the first campaign’s 115 episodes, sporadic one-shots, after show Talks Machina, and “Critmas” specials, something became clear: Critical Role was destined to only get bigger as time went on.

I started watching the show in the summer of 2017 while working a hospital job that often left me with 3-4 hours to kill every shift. Critical Role had been on my radar for months since I became obsessed with Laura Bailey’s range of vocal work, and by episode 6, I was hooked. D&D was unfamiliar territory for me, but I found a lot of comfort in knowing that other cast members had never played until joining the group. Battle mechanics and stats can be understood within a 5-minute Google search, but the storytelling is ultimately why I kept watching. Convincing other people to get into the series, however, was often difficult. C1 has over 100 episodes with the average session running 4 hours long. The material adds up to 20 seasons worth of a TV series, and while it is possible to jump in at different points in Vox Machina’s travels, there are countless references, inside jokes, and personal developments that affect the overall story. Basically, a lot of potential viewers felt alienated due to the amount of commitment and I don’t blame them for saying, “eh, I’ll check it out when the new campaign begins.”

Which leads us to a new year and new beginning. Vox Machina completed their journey and still exist within the lore of Campaign 2, but the actors will be playing entirely new characters. This is an ideal starting point for newbies, and with burning expectations from all sides of the fandom, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out. Episode 2 airs on the 18th, but to give you an idea of how intense the community is (dedicated fans happily identify as ‘Critters’), I’ve seen at least 50 drawings from C2’s premiere, numerous Jester cosplays, and even a pancake spread of the new line-up. The anticipation only builds from here, but I truly believe that we have yet to see best of Critical Role.

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Campaign 2’s official artwork, done by Ariana Orner.

Because we’re joining the new group from their humble beginnings, there won’t be any blank spaces to fill in. Vox Machina were seasoned adventurers by the time we met them in Kraghammer, leaving us with patchy spots of the group’s earlier days. Keyleth accidentally killed a child, Pike had a very dramatic resurrection, and we’ll never truly know how they acquired the magic carpet. So many unseen things, big or small, forever shaped the group, and while the defining moments have been answered via comic books and Q&A’s, it’ll be refreshing to be around since day one. It’s also important to remember that Campaign 1 originally began as a one-shot for Liam’s birthday, so everything from character names to backstories were not deeply thought out. Pathfinder was used pre-stream and the conversion to 5E provided a few hiccups, resulting in some players confused about their own abilities. Not only is everyone more prepared and experienced for C2, but Exandria, the world in which Critical Role takes place, becomes richer every session. With most TV series or movies, there’s a lot of worldbuilding and rule setting from the get-go, which can unintentionally hinder a story as it tries to expand (this is a problem The Walking Dead is facing, for example). In the first campaign, majority of the action took place in the kingdom of Tal’Dorei, but our new heroes will find themselves in Wildemount, modeled after the 13th-15th centuries in Eastern Europe. The government, law, and overall culture will differ from what we’ve come to know, but they’re not hitting a total reset button. Not only is this part of Critical Role‘s magic formula, but one of the reasons why D&D has remained successful for 40 years. You have the power to start over without erasing everything, and with each new campaign, there is more awareness of your lasting decisions as a storyteller. Matt literally creates all of the history, lore, and non-playable characters in the series (he builds many of the sets as well and everyone is waiting on confirmation if he’s some type of superhuman), and in C2 we can expect to have a more thorough story with consideration of the series’ future.

That being said, the biggest room for error lies within our new band of explorers. These are characters that we’ll be spending a lot of time with, but there is a chance that an exciting dynamic never materializes. Campaign 1 had the advantage of introducing us to a group of people who collectively found their stride. Awkward or tense moments will inevitably happen within the next few weeks, but a natural rapport is what holds everything together. Some of the new characters have already teamed up (Caleb and Nott have been acquainted for a few months) which at least hints at the possibility that all of them will form a cohesive group at some point. But with the events at the end of E1, how will certain problems like Mollymauk’s imprisonment be handled without the actors meta-gaming in some way? There’s no reason for the characters to put their well-being on the line for somebody they barely know, so it’ll be interesting to see how early problems like these will be taken care of. Will long-term viewers be able to not compare everything to the first campaign? I’ll admit, a part of me is terrified that it’ll go down like season two of True Detective. This campaign might be 20 episodes in when I realize the magic isn’t there, or I don’t love the group as much as Vox Machina. Not enjoying a new installment is a genuine concern for every fanbase, but for a series with such a vast amount of material, it would be heartbreaking to not care about the people involved. But really, what is the worst case scenario here? C2 falls short and we have a giant backlog of episodes to re-watch. Most importantly, we need to remind ourselves that not only is this show free, but it owes us nothing. These are a bunch of old friends role-playing and giving us the chance to be a fly on the wall. Yes, Critical Role has a chance of falling short, but you have to look at it like an internet campfire. There’s comfort in revisiting an old, favorite story, but nothing beats a compelling adventure you can’t predict. I’m grateful for the joy this series has given me over the past year, and while I do hope it expands and gains more followers, I hope it never loses the intimacy that makes it feel so personal. Whether you’re a new fan or have been watching since their set looked like a 5-year-old’s bedroom, Campaign 2 is here to make us feel like giddy children again. The nervous expectations are there, but at the end of the day, this isn’t just a show you put on as background noise. We’re here, we’re invested, and we’re ready for what the new dawn brings.

Is it Thursday yet?

 

PS, A few extra pointers for new viewers…

  • A lot of questions can be answered on the Critical Role reddit page, which is probably the most well-maintained source for news and fan interaction.
  • Cast members are pretty good with not posting spoilers on social media, but if you do follow them on Twitter, they often ‘like’ things, such as fan art, that could end up on your feed. Just something to keep in mind.
  • This community is unbelievable. I’ve been involved in numerous fandoms or am at least aware of how other groups can be, but Critical Role fans are on a whole different level. They’re dedicated, warm, genuinely loving people who will do anything to support the series and help out their fellow Critters.
  • Gift giving is a big part of the fanbase and while it is tempting to send the cast members presents, they’ve received everything from customized dice to actual replicas of their character’s weapons. Please donate to a charity in their name instead.
  • Some popular quotes you’ll probably hear or see often:
    • “How do you want to do this?” Matt’s signature catchphrase for whoever gets the winning blow on an enemy. This is usually met by all the players collectively losing their shit while the person decides to think of the most dramatic/coolest/brutal way to kill their foe.
    • “Is it Thursday yet?” Matt’s closing words every week, also often used by fans as a way to express their withdrawal grief.
    • “Bidet.” In campaign one, Grog had an…interesting way of greeting people that caught on. You’ll see this used as a greeting in every chat room, message board, etc.
    • “Do you spice?” Said by Scanlan in the first campaign when he was trying to find an illegal substance, also a popular greeting within the community.
    • “I would like to rage.” Another Grogism, Ashley borrowed the phrase in C2E1, but may develop her own saying for when Yasha goes into a frenzy.

Personal favorites of 2017

I typically don’t write year-end lists, but man, 2017 was kind of a dumpster fire. So many terrible things are happening in the world right now, but the art of storytelling makes me believe in a better future. Maybe that’s naive of me to think, but I also feel like it’s more important than ever to talk about the things we love. I didn’t go too deep here, but the following list contains my three personal favorites from each category, including some rambling thoughts. Happy 2018, everyone!

Movies

  1. The Shape of Water. I was totally that weird, grown woman in the theatre softly crying throughout the whole movie. Guillermo Del Toro is known for his dark fairytales, but none of them have captivated me this much since Pan’s Labyrinth.
  2. Baby Driver. A lot of “fun” movies are usually too cheesy for me, but Edgar Wright’s work might be the exception. From the opening 6-minute car chase to the very end, I was completely immersed in Baby’s story and had the biggest smile on my face the entire time.
  3. Dunkirk. I also don’t really care for war movies, but Dunkirk is one of the few exceptions. Everything was so gorgeously done. Christopher Nolan has mastered his craft and it’s one of the few blockbusters I’ve watched in a long time that truly valued the art of “show, don’t tell.”

TV shows

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not exactly fun to watch, but it almost feels necessary. Margaret Atwood’s story resonates more than ever, and I think we’re only a few years away from our country potentially falling into the same trap. Also, this scene with Alexis Bledel’s character (warning: there is a hanging shown onscreen) was the most affective thing I’ve seen on TV in years.
  2. Legion. One of the first shows in a while where I truly had no idea where it was going, which somehow made the experience even better. Aubrey Plaza is a queen.
  3. Big Little Lies. Everything about this show was on-point. The directing, cinematography, soundtrack, acting, everything. To see a story so focused on the nuances of marriage, abuse, and motherhood was also very refreshing.

Video games

  1. Horizon Zero Dawn. Ugh…this game, man. It’s so perfect. Everything from the open world design, to its addicting combat system, to Aloy’s quest for answers made this one of the most riveting titles I’ve ever played.
  2. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. This somehow managed to improve on the small imperfections in the first installment and exceed all of my expectations. Don’t let the loot box controversy deter you–this game fucking rules.
  3. Nier: Automata. I’ll admit, I wasn’t as immediately smitten with this game as everyone else, but it has lingered with me months after playing. The story will leave you questioning just about everything, but Yoko Taro knows how to craft a story that will challenge and reward you all the same.

Records

  1. Lorde – Melodrama. My favorite pop record of all time. I tried writing something and I honestly couldn’t. It’s just perfect. Favorite tracks: “Supercut”, “Liability”
  2. St. Vincent – Masseduction. There’s a lot of Prince and Bowie worship on here, but Annie Clark continues to be a dazzling creative force in her own right. Favorite tracks: “Fear the Future”, “Los Ageless”
  3. SZA – Ctrl. One of the most personal records I’ve heard in years and SZA reminds us to keep it real in the way we express ourselves–even if that means being selfish or manipulating. Favorite tracks: “Prom”, “20 Something”

Comics

  1. Saga. Alana, Marko, and Hazel dealt with the aftermath of Alana’s miscarriage, which led us to a new, Spaghetti Western-esque planet! We got a peak at what The Will has been up to! Ghus is also still alive by the end, so I’d say it’s a good arc.
  2. Snotgirl. Get hooked on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s storytelling and stay for Leslie Hung’s gorgeous, anime-influenced artwork. Lottie continues living it up as a somewhat popular blogger in Hollywood, but there’s still some murder and obsession to worry about. The slow build-up of this comic is such a treat and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
  3. The Wicked + The Divine. The Imperial Phase closed with what was probably one of the best issues I’ve ever read in a comic book series. Seriously, Kieron Gillen is on some next level storytelling and WicDiv‘s upcoming, final arc will be one you can’t miss.

Live performances

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, IL. I’ve gone to a few hundred shows at this point, but nothing could prepare me for the intense, blissful experience of what this band had to offer. I was in such humbled disbelief the entire night, constantly shifting from ugly sobbing to screaming with utter joy.
  2. Nine Inch Nails at Riot Fest in Chicago, IL. Trent Reznor and co. have been taking it easy on shows, but thankfully they made room in 2017 for Riot Fest. NIN are known for their tight, well-constructed live sets, and it was such a gift to finally see it happen during a beautiful, warm Chicago evening.
  3. Paramore at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA. Paramore has changed so much in the 10 years since I’ve first seen them, but their energy and passion onstage is unrivaled. The highlight of the evening was a stripped down version of “26”, dedicated to the shooting victims in Las Vegas. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the room.