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Why I like: “Escape From The Happy Place.” Part 1: The Magicians, overview and characters

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Hello, readers!  I’m Soliyra and I like to talk about things I like.  Right now, I am really liking SyFy’s drama The Magicians, specifically the fifth episode of season four.  But my editors told me that before I start telling you all about that particular episode, I should probably write a short article introducing the show, so you’ll have some idea what I’m talking about.  That seemed reasonable enough, so here we are.

Inspired by the Lev Grossman novels of the same name, The Magicians follows eight young adults as they become adept at using magic, travel to other dimensions, and repeatedly save each other and the world(s).  It’s basically an R-rated “Harry Potter meets Narnia.” Most of the action early on takes place at Brakebills University, a graduate school in upstate New York where college grads can, in three short years, get pretentious degrees in being wizards -only they call themselves “magicians” because I guess ‘wizards’ wasn’t pretentious enough?  Other action takes place in New York City and the magical realm of Fillory, which is definitely not Narnia.

At the beginning, the series is mostly focused on a young man named Quentin, AKA ‘Q,’ though it evolves into an ensemble cast over time.  His favorite books are a fictional series called Fillory and Further, about a set of English siblings who, during World War II, travel through an enchanted piece of furniture to a magical realm populated with talking animals.  They do not resemble any real books at all. Nope. Quentin learns that magic is real when he gets accepted to Brakebills. This gets him thinking that maybe Fillory could be, too.  Surprisingly, he is right! (this is not surprising). Other things that are real include: monsters, witches, gods, bad fairies, DRAMA, and a shadowy organization known as The Library that reminds me of Welcome To Night Vale every time it’s mentioned.

So anyway, this dude goes to school, makes friends, learns magic, etc.  I had deeply mixed feelings about season one. I liked the characters (well, most of them), really liked the spell choreography, and thought the villain was genuinely frightening.  However there was a lot of Problematic content that made me deeply uncomfortable, to the point that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue watching.  Furthermore, I was very over the ‘chosen one’ trope. I felt that the show had potential, in spite of revolving around what I’d deemed a nothing character, because everyone else was much more interesting.

Season two steered away from some of the problems, particularly season one’s treatment of mental health.  It introduced some new characters and a ton of absolutely fantastic costumes (speaking as someone who has devoted the past year to the study and practice of costume design).  Some of the charm of the first season was gone, though. The villain was not scary in the same way, and the storytelling wasn’t as tight. I didn’t find it particularly compelling, but loved getting to see more of the ensemble.

Season three, and what I’ve seen so far of four, have often consisted of damage control: they subvert, or even undo, much of the garbage from earlier seasons.  This is also, I understand, the point at which the show really begins to break with the books. The Magicians hits its stride in season three, and, in retrospect, I am very glad I decided to continue watching.  Problem tropes still pop up from time to time, but the writers are plainly making an effort to improve.

 

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Things have improved, on multiple fronts

The colorful characters are the reason The Magicians succeeds.  I have therefore created a bulleted list describing the core characters, along with their Brakebills year and major as of season one.  This will give you an idea of who is who and how they interact so, hopefully, you’ll be able to at least sort of follow me when I start analyzing things with a microscope.  Also, there is this scene in season three where a bird-man refers to almost everyone by cool code names and we had to figure out who is who. Fun!
Anyway, these characters are good.  I want to hug them all and bring them cookies.   Bonus! This list also doubles as a ‘tag yourself’ meme.  I’m Fen.    Peruse this list while listening to this playlist I came up with at 4am, entitled The Magicians Characters as Dessa Songs” while you read, for an even more complete picture.

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Review: Sacred, Vol. 1 (Manga)

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At Zenkaikon this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Lizbeth Jimenez, the author of the manga Sacred. I was first attracted to her booth because of the artwork hung around it. She creates anime style artwork that’s both adorable and creepy. It’s exactly my aesthetic.

I decided to pick up volume one of Sacred because of it.

What’s it about?
Cecero and Sheko are roommates. Teenagers in the country of Grandome, they live in a dorm and go to school full time as Wizards in Training. Cecero,  the famous son of the great sorceress Lady Alumrion, has a dream that he will prove himself today and receive a gift. The day that follows is horrifying, to say the least, but changes Cecero’s life forever.

What did I think?
Lizbeth Jimenez is immensely talented. Her artwork and witty dialogue bring these characters to life. The story is full of humor as well as darkness.

Cecero is a very low key character. He’s calm and collected, but that doesn’t stop him from trolling his best friend. Despite his status, he’s flawed and real. He’s just a teenage boy trying to get through school.

Sheko is a nervous little thing with something dark and powerful living inside him. He’s too shy to speak to the girl he likes, but will jump into action when his best friend is in trouble. Sheko is who I relate to the most because of this trait.

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As I said before, this artwork is my aesthetic. Cute at times and terrifying at others, Lizbeth Jimenez has a way of showing the macabre within delightfulness. I’m excited to read the rest of the series.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, I absolutely would. Please revel with me in the delightfully macabre and let me know what you think in the comments below!

You can learn more about the manga and it’s wonderful author here. You can purchase the manga here.

Zenkaikon 2019: FOOD

Unfortunately, we didn’t do much by way of food this year, but what we did was absolutely amazing.

Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub

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On day one, we had dinner at Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub. Our experience here last year was phenomenal, so we decided to go back with Corgi Cosplay. This year, we waited over an hour for a table (they told us 30 minutes) before we decided to order our food to go. After a 2 hour wait in total, we were back in Nicole’s hotel room, scarfing down Irish goodness.

Despite the wait (it was Friday at a pub, what did we expect?), the food was spectacular. I ordered Fish and Chips, which was seasoned perfectly. Crymson had Bangers and Mash. I don’t think we spoke at all while we ate. We were starving and the food was just that good. The Dark Side of the Moon desert was to die for, as well, as the chocolate mousse just melted into your tongue.

The Rabbit & The Dragonfly

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On day two, we visited The Rabbit & The Dragonfly, my favorite place in Lancaster, PA. It’s a Tolkien and CS Lewis themed cafe which just screams Vanri. I’m drawn to it like a moth to flame. They have a new pastry, too. A coffee scone. It’s soft and melts in your mouth, with hints of cinnamon and pure deliciousness. I highly recommend it.

Noodle King

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We had lunch on day two at Noodle King. We all ordered the Combination Pho, which has sliced meatballs, rare beef and pork. It was cooked to perfection. I couldn’t get enough of it. I actually ended up finishing Crymson’s since it was too much for her to eat. They also make a hot sauce in house that is to die for. The flavor is fantastic and it doesn’t make your lips burn – perfect combination. I’m getting a craving just thinking about it.

I’ll drive an hour plus to get good pho, not gonna lie.

If you ever find yourself hungry in Lancaster, PA, be sure to check these amazing restaurants out. You can also find a few more great places here.

Kingdom Hearts III: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Like many people, I’d waited almost thirteen years to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Technically, you could say that I’ve been waiting since 2012, when I beat Dream Drop Distance. But thirteen sounds more impressive, and it’s been that long since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in Japan. And ever since then, we’ve all hoped to hear Square-Enix announce development on Part 3. Instead, we got hit with a number of smaller titles on different consoles. All have proven to be important to the story to varying degrees and I enjoyed playing all of them. (Well, except Coded. Sorry, Coded.)

But now, here we are. I can say that I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 at long last. Many have asked, and many more have their own opinions regarding this one question: was it worth the wait?

My answer: yes and no.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional rollercoaster for me, a lot of ups and downs. When it’s good, it’s phenomenal. It surpassed some of my wildest hopes and dreams. But when it’s bad…yikes. It’s worse than I could have imagined. I’m not even really trying to be dramatic here. That’s really how I felt as I played this game.

Let’s start with the high points.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy are back! These characters are the best that they’ve ever been. Their friendship is so strong in every scene, whether they’re teasing each other, reminiscing about past adventures, or having each other’s backs in battle. Donald and Goofy love Sora and they’re prepared to go anywhere with him to the bitter end. And while Sora is the hero of the story, his two companions got to have plenty of “awesome” moments all on their own. That was a pleasant surprise. 

The Disney worlds look, sound, and feel fantastic. They’re enormous in size compared to previous games and they’re all beautiful. Each location presents a unique environment to explore, from the lush forests in Tangled to the wide, open ocean from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The attention to detail is just wonderful and I keep finding new things to appreciate.

And best of all: the game has NPCs! Sora no longer runs through empty streets! You can actually see people in the cities and towns!

Unfortunately, while I adore all of Yoko Shimomura’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series, I have to admit that I came away with mixed feelings about the soundtrack this time. Kingdom Hearts 3 recycles and remixes a lot of music from the previous games, when I would have liked to have heard more new tracks.

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But I can’t complain too much because both the new and old music sound just as good as they always have. And I was extremely impressed by the new field and battle arrangements for each world. They each reflect the style of the scores from the original Disney films. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that Alan Menken composed the music for Corona.

Now, you’ve probably heard that Kingdom Hearts 3 is too easy. Speaking as someone who’s not a very skilled gamer, I can confirm that these fans are correct. Most of the game is a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level. Usually, I need to put in some level grinding at various points in a Kingdom Hearts game. Not this time.

Why is it so easy this time around? I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the number of options at your disposal when you’re fighting. As you attack with your Keyblade, you fill up a gauge that allows your Keyblade to change form and unleash more powerful attacks. Then, after a certain period of time spent fighting, you can trigger a joint attack with one of your party members, i.e. throwing Mike Wazowski at the enemy like a bowling ball. You also acquire Links, which are characters you can summon into battle using magic, i.e. Ariel and Wreck-It Ralph.

But wait- there’s more! On top of everything else, attacking certain enemies will trigger a type of attack called Attraction Flow. These attacks are designed to mimic popular rides at the Disney theme parks: a swinging pirate ship, the spinning tea cups, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, etc. They are a lot of fun to unleash…the first couple of times. And they can be great for crowd control. But after a while, I got tired of using them.

And wait- there’s more! If you’re low on health, you might trigger an attack called Rage Form. Similar to Anti-Form, this turns Sora into a humanoid Heartless with faster, powerful attacks. His Rage attacks do significant damage at the cost of his own health.

Add it all up, and you can see why it’s not so easy to die in this game. I’d come close, only to trigger a slew of special attacks that allowed Sora to stay alive until the fight ended. Although you do not have to use any of these commands, you can’t disable them either, so they will keep popping up as you play.

Last of all, Kingdom Hearts 3 adds a very welcome option when you do fail at a battle or similar objective: “Prepare and Retry.” This allows you to access the menu before restarting a boss fight, so you can restock items you might’ve forgotten to equip, change your abilities or customize your spells differently. I hope that’s an option that’s here to stay for future Kingdom Hearts games.

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So, what didn’t I like about this game, besides the difficulty?  On paper, it doesn’t look like much.  However, the story has some problems and some of them bothered me so much that they almost tainted my feelings about the whole experience.

Granted, there’s actually a lot to like about the story of Kingdom Hearts III. The Disney characters get so many opportunities to shine. There’s a nice balance between worlds that strictly follow the plot of the movie and worlds that follow an original story that ties into the central conflict between Sora and Organization XIII. The Organization members have actual conversations with one another about their personal goals, their motivations, and their opinions of one another. One member gets a whole subplot that I won’t spoil, but it’s fantastic.

But, I reiterate: when this game goes bad, it goes bad. The biggest problem lies in the treatment of the female characters. It’s not a new problem for Kingdom Hearts, given that the games introduced us to dozens of engaging male characters and a handful of ladies. Yet many fans hoped that this would get rectified, especially for poor Kairi- the girl who is supposed to be one of Sora’s two best friends, but constantly gets pushed aside in favor of giving Riku more character development.

Kairi gets a couple of good moments in this game, but by and large, what Tetsuya Nomura decided to do with her was abysmal. I won’t spoil anything, but something important happens to her that left me feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry.  It’s not so much that I want Kairi to become a Strong Female Character who fights with a sword and doesn’t need a man in her life.  I just want Nomura to write her the way that he writes the male cast: as a person with her own goals and character growth, not an accessory to Sora.

To a lesser extent, there are twists in the game that seem to exist just for the sake of confusing/shocking us and getting the fans talking, not because they contribute to the story or characters. I know that some of this comes down to personal preference, and that if I want to continue with this series, I need to accept that this is how Tetsuya Nomura likes to tell stories. Still, I wish he’d stop pulling things like, “THIS character is secretly connected to THIS thing or person ALL ALONG!” When he just lets the characters play off of each other, Kingdom Hearts III shines. When he starts to go into the Lore, that’s when I begin to tune out.

I recommend Kingdom Hearts III to people who have stuck with this series for all of its installments. I would even recommend it to people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before. If you are willing to embrace the odd story and you think running around beautifully recreated Disney worlds sounds appealing, you should have a great time.

However, I do not recommend this game to anyone who has only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Weird as it sounds, I think you’ll have a harder time enjoying it than people who have never picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in their lives.

Why? Because you know just enough about the world and its characters to find certain ret-cons and new characters/information all the more confusing. The game doesn’t offer a clear, concise explanation for why some characters have returned from the dead, like Axel. Whereas, if you’ve never played one of the games before, you don’t know that they’re supposed to be dead.

Overall, I rate Kingdom Hearts 3 a 7/10. It’s not a perfect experience. The treatment of Kairi and certain parts of the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet the game also provided a lot of joy and I don’t want to throw that away. Sora, Donald, and Goofy: thanks for the ride. I look forward to playing future installments.

Zenkaikon 2019: Cosplay Burlesque

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For the second year in a row, I’ve had the absolute pleasure to attend Cosplay Burlesque’s show at Zenkaikon in Lancaster, PA. I had first heard about Cosplay Burlesque three years ago, after Crymson went to their show and interviewed them at Zenkaikon 2017. I was excited to hear they were coming back so that I could finally see what all the fuss was about.

Last year, Thia the Bard wrote about her experience at their show, being asexual. I want to give a little background on myself before moving forward with my review. I am demisexual. This means that I don’t feel sexual attraction to a person unless I’ve established an emotional connection with them first.

That being said, I absolutely love burlesque. To me, it’s not so much sexual, but rather an art form. It’s an art that promotes and celebrates body positivity, confidence and sexuality. It’s an art that allows the dancer to utilize their creativity and express themselves using physical methods.

Cosplay Burlesque specifically uses pop culture and turns it into something even more exciting. We see characters from shows and movies we know and love.. then we see them dance and take their clothes off.

This year, we were excited by characters from My Hero AcademiaMario, X-MenGame of Thrones, and… The Human Centipede? Yes, Oliver Swisskey did a The Human Centipede act. It’s awesome, though, I promise!

The dancers were all amazing, as usual. The show came together extremely well. Clothes were flying everywhere, laughter and cat calls filled the air, and there was so much T&A that I didn’t know whether I should look away and blush or lean into it and cheer (spoiler alert, it’s the latter).

The MC was witty and really knew how to keep the momentum of the show going. The most memorable acts, for me, were the following (in no particular order): Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones, The Juggernaut from X-Men, Lady Bowser from Mario, Mrs White from Clue, and the doctor from The Human Centipede. Each act brought something new to the stage that could be exciting or concerning, depending on the context.

Though, I must say, the picture of Oberyn Martell’s dead body directly after the act was unnecessary. (I know, Oliver, it’s a palette cleanser, but still!)

What makes this company so intriguing to me is that you have people of all genders, orientations, shapes and sizes exuding so much confidence that I start to feel as though I could do anything. As an overweight woman, my self-esteem is often down in the dumps. I have insecurities out the wazoo. If faced with the option to burlesque, I would run home and put more clothes on. But after a Cosplay Burlesque show, where I see a woman who is my size flaunting her sexiness to a room full of con-goers, my confidence in myself is soaring. I’m inspired. I feel good about myself because she feels good about herself.

Burlesque is so much more than dancers taking their clothes off. It’s a form of expression that can not only make the dancer feel amazing, but also inspire people in the audience. It’s an art that screams out, “You are sexy!” to a room full of people who may have come in believing that they’re not good enough.

Cosplay Burlesque has introduced me to the world of burlesque and I would love to see more. If you have any suggestions for burlesque companies to look out for, please leave them in the comments below!

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Dungeon Crawling: Clerics

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Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, today I am here to talk to you about healers Clerics. I mean really, when most gamers think of clerics the first thought that comes into their minds is a healer, and they can be so much more than that. They are not the only class that has access to healing spells, nor do their subclasses have a monopoly on healing features. Just take a look at the Circle of Dreams Druid or the Celestial Patron Warlock.

Proficiency-wise, clerics don’t do too bad with all simple weapons, light and medium armor and shields. Certain Domains will give you access to Heavy armor as well, allowing you to wade into the thick of things cracking heads and getting hands on with your better healing spells.

Wisdom is the primary spellcasting ability for clerics, affecting everything from spell attacks to spell DCs, and even adding to the effectiveness of their healing spells. Combined with their clerical levels, wisdom also determines how many spells they can have prepared on any given day. Each of the chosen domains also gives the cleric access to certain spells that they automatically have prepared each day for free on top of the ones they choose. Ritual casting is in the arsenal for a cleric as well.

Channel Divinity. Every cleric gets it, and the common use for it is Turn Undead, or Destroy Undead at higher levels. Each of the domains also has a secondary use for it as well, adding to the clerics toolkit of abilities. Starting at 1st level you have roughly ten subclasses, or Domains, to choose from. I say roughly because the Death domain is secreted away within the covers of the Dungeon Masters Guide and is meant for villainous characters. Still, with seven to choose from in the Player’s Handbook and two more in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything a budding cleric has plenty of versatility laid out before them.

The Knowledge domain is all about divination, and borrowing proficiency in skills and tools using your Channel divinity. In addition you gain double proficiency in two skills of your choosing from Arcana, History, Nature or Religion making for an extremely talented learned scholar.

The Life domain is the quintessential healer. Most healing spells in the cleric list are not counted against their daily prepared spells. In addition, healing spells of 1st level or higher are more potent. They also gain access to Heavy armor so they can wade into the thick of battle. When push comes to shove their Channel Divinity can be used as a group heal spreading a scaling pool of healing among whomever they choose.

Light domain clerics are bright shiny beacons burning their foes with fiery spells. They can distract an enemy with a brilliant burst of divine light or use their Channel Divinity to set off a radiant area-of-effect attack.. At higher level they are capable of adding their Wisdom modifier to the damage they deal with any cleric Cantrip.

When you choose the Nature domain you gain proficiency in heavy armor, access to a druid Cantrip, and a skill chosen from Animal Handling, Nature, or Survival. Your Channel Divinity can also be used to charm animals and plants.

Now the Tempest domain is another full on battle cleric. They gain proficiency in heavy armor and martial weapons and specialize in using thunder and lightning spells. They can rebuke attackers with a lightning strike, and use their Channel Divinity to max out the damage on thunder and lighting attacks when they choose.

Trickery domain clerics are sneaky, giving a blessing of stealth to someone else or using their Channel Divinity to create an illusory duplicate of themselves creating confusion on the battlefield. At higher levels their Channel Divinity can also be used to turn invisible for a turn.

War is the last of the basic domains in the Player’s Handbook and not surprisingly another full on battle cleric. Like Tempest, War gains proficiency in heavy armor and all martial weapons. When they fight in battle they can make extra attacks as a bonus action, but this is limited to a number of times per long rest. Their accuracy however can be truly awesome. They can use their Channel Divinity to gain a +10 to hit after they make the roll.

The Death domain in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the only villainous domain so far. Focusing on death and negative energy, they start with a free necromancy Cantrip that is expanded to hit two targets within 5 feet of each other. They also gain proficiency in all martial weapons. Their Channel Divinity can used as a necromantic smite doing extra damage on a melee hit.

Next we have the Forge domain. These clerics are walking magic item arsenals. Sort of. Once per long rest they can imbue a non-magical suit of armor or weapon with magic granting a +1 to AC or Hit and Damage. They are also capable of creating metal objects using an hour long ritual when they use a Channel Divinity.

Finally we have the Grave Domain. These clerics monitor the line between life and death. They can cast Spare the Dying as  bonus action and at range, and when they heal a target who is at 0 hit points the dice are considered to have rolled maximum for the spell. They are also able to detect undead a limited number of times per day. In combat though their Channel Divinity can be used to curse a foe so they are vulnerable to the damage from next attack that hits them from an ally or the cleric themselves.

So all clerics can heal, but all clerics are not strictly healers. Pick you god, choose a domain and kick evil ass.

Zenkaikon 2019: The Experience

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Those of you who know me know that I’m fairly new to the convention scene. My first convention was just two years ago. It was TooManyGames 2017, a small gaming convention in Oaks, PA. After that, I went big at PAX East 2018 and completely overwhelmed myself. Zenkaikon 2018 was my 3rd convention and it seemed to be just the right size for me.

My experience at Zenkaikon 2019 was a bit different than 2018. Last year, I had more mobility. I was able to go to more panels and peruse more vendor wares. This year, I was the camera person, so I was able to join Crymson for the guest interviews. Both experiences definitely helped me develop a big picture view of all aspects of the con, from the perspective of the press.

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This was probably our best year at Zenkaikon. The weekend went by smoothly. With one exception, the communication between the convention staff and us was impeccable. We had some technology hiccups (it wouldn’t be RWOG if we didn’t), but we were able to quickly assess and adapt. Crymson and I make a great team (and actually had our 7 year friend-anniversary on the Saturday of Zenkaikon!)

We tried to rush to the con on Friday to see the Anti-Bullying panel, but we unfortunately missed it because we got pulled over on the way. No matter, though! We were still there in plenty of time for our interview with Michaela Dietz. We walked around the vendor hall, spoke to quite a few people, waited 2 hours for dinner with Corgi Cosplay, and then ended our night with the amazing Cosplay Burlesque show (review coming soon!).

On Saturday, we rushed again. It’s definitely a pain commuting over an hour each day to the convention center. We ran to our interview with Charles Dunbar, only to find out that he was missing! His handler, Timothy, couldn’t find him anywhere! A few more con staff come in, only to let us know that the schedule that we have is incorrect. Charles wasn’t late, we were all just early. We had the pleasure of not only interviewing him, but also getting coffee with him at the Rabbit & The Dragonfly.

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We went on to interview our friend Nicole, founder of Corgi Cosplay, and get a ton of footage of Kiba doing super cute and amazing things. Crymson then fangirled over Monica Rial, who did her Mey Rin voice from Black Butler. Crymson about fell off the couch, she was so excited.

We ended that night with Night Time Stories with Todd Haberkorn, then Guests Against Humanity where we laughed so hard that we actually disrupted the panel.

Finally, Sunday. Day three. The day that sleep deprivation caught up to us and we giggle at the mere mention of Brendan Urie (long story). We spent the majority of this day in the press room as we interview Laura from the Carolina Manga Library, Oliver from Cosplay Burlesque, Austin Tindle of Attack on Titan, and the amazingly talented artist, Sincerely Sam. We finished the con with Closing Ceremonies, a fun panel where we got to meet everyone behind Zenkaikon and give feedback.

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Overall, this Zenkaikon was fun, informative, and exhausting. We saw a ton of amazing cosplays, ran into some old friends, ate amazing food, and met some wonderful new people. If you’re already planning your 2020 cons, make sure Zenkaikon is on your list!

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