The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Tag Archives: The University of Calgary

The Prairie Chicken’s Swan Song: A Finale at Cosplay Hill

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” —Seneca

After seventeen years at the University of Calgary, Otafest announced that they are to move their venue to the Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary. Besides this change in venue, Otafest will be held during the depths of summer, overlapping with Anime Expo 2016 during July. Last Saturday, Otafest’s organisers hosted one final event, celebrating the memories that countless attendees have of the Prairie Chicken Sculpture. Completed by sculptor George Norris in 1975, the Prairie Chicken occupies a hill in the middle of campus and is supposed to evoke an open book blowing under windy skies, but the 5.49-metre high stature is better known as the Prairie Chicken owing to its similarity to a chicken. A fine place to rest during the warmer seasons, this hill is informally dubbed “Cosplay Hill”, and under variable skies on Saturday, a small group of cosplayers gathered for the last Otafest event hosted at the University of Calgary.

  • On the day of the event, I happened to be on campus; I was completing the documentation to one section of my simulation. The event was largely limited to Cosplay Hill itself and a section of one of the older science buildings: other places on campus normally host to Otafest events were deserted.

  • I briefly strolled by the events but did not stick around, as I had some additional assignments to handle. During Otafest, Cosplay Hill itself is packed with cosplayers and attendees, but for most days of the summer, the hill is deserted. Campus is a surprisingly nice place for a stroll, and during breaks, I take walks to clear my mind out.

  • This smaller event felt a little more melancholic owing to the knowledge that it would be the last time that any major events will take place on campus. It’s a reminder of how fleeting things can be: the Prairie Chicken predates Otafest and has seen all seventeen events, including the year this web series took place.

  • Otafest 2016’s attendees will find Olympic Plaza a suitable replacement for Cosplay Hill: built in 1988 for the Winter Olympic Games, it is where medal presentations were held. In time, it will be as iconic as the Prairie Chicken. One thing’s a sure thing: rather than earning quizzical looks from the university’s staff, cosplayers will earn quizzical looks from the City of Calgary’s employees.

The timing of Otafest 2016 could prove interesting, though: the larger Anime Expo 2016 will run from July 2-5 in Los Angeles, and some of the anime community’s most well-known names (Danny Choo, Aimer, Aya Hirano and Minori Chihara, to name a few) have been special guests in previous years. Even with a new location would add new dimensions to an anime convention with nearly two decades of history and a pledge to turn Olympic Plaza into “Cosplay Plaza”, the timing could impact which special guests make an appearance. In the meantime, the corridors and lecture theatres on campus will fall silent during the Victoria Day long weekend for the first time in eighteen years, marking the end of one chapter in Otafest’s history as a new chapter unfolds.

The First day of June

Teachers need a break too! ^_~ What are you going to do this weekend? Let’s hope your plans make the grade! A+, June

Today is the first day of June: over the past weekend, I’ve been learning C#, reviewing proofs by induction, and spent an inordinate amount of time in Battlefield 3, where I devastated other teams in games where, victory or loss, my KD ratio never dropped below 1.5. Through this rampage, I was able to destroy a vehicle with the repair tool (a conveniently placed radio beacon) and finally unlocked the L85A2 thanks to winning five of eight squad deathmatch games. With almost all of the Upotte! guns unlocked (minus the SG553, a short-barrel variant of the SG550 and the HK G3 battle rifle, which are co-op unlocks), I might make a Upotte! post on this for amusement somewhere before the summer ends. Two weeks have passed since Otafest 2014, but between Unity development and Battlefield 3, I have not succumbed to the infamous post-convention depression, which is characterised by a lack of energy and a desire to be back in a convention atmosphere. Indeed, campus has been quite quiet following Otafest, and once more, the hallways give off an academic air as they have for 362 days of the year. Admittedly, following conventions, there is a sort of melancholy, although there has been much to be engaged in over the past while, and souvenirs remind me of the incredible times to be had at Otafest, including the Angel of Time pin, of which only one hundred exist. This pin is modelled after June-sensei, who was Seph and Aurora’s old instructor from the two’s school days. June-sensei is said to be an excellent instructor with a passion for teaching, and her youthful appearance often leads her to distracting the male students in her class. In spite of this, she’s a bookworm and is unfamiliar with courtship, reading kindness from her male students strictly as a cordial interaction between pupil and instructor.

  • This is what the Angel of Time pin looks like: June-sensei’s mature aura and purple hair lends itself to the pin’s appeal. The actual pin has a brass-gold finish: coupled with the fact that it is the only pin to depict June-sensei, the pin is highly sought after. Naturally, I have no inclination of trading it. I picked up another gold pin through trade, bringing my total up to four (three brass-gold pins and one rose-gold pin).

As the first day of June, I’ve opted to share a story about June-sensei because, unsurprisingly, the angel shares a name with the month, and because June-sensei indicates the depth surrounding Otafest and pin trading; this aspect has raised quite a bit of buzz. In the case of the Angel of Time, the pin was introduced during the Otafest pin-trading party back in January 2014: I first heard about this pin via Otafest’s Facebook page two days after the pin trading party. On Twitter, one of my friends noted that the pin’s rarity was something that others might kill for: on account of this, said friend noted that this was a pin he’d rather not talk about. The Otafest staff subsequently provided only one clue: that it could only be acquired via secret parameters. Paired with my subsequently seeing a design of it at the Otafest Tumblr, I resolved to try and, at the minimum, acquire a silver version of the design at Otafest 2014 (I don’t think any silver versions of the pin actually exist). Of course, the rest is history: after a chance encounter with a member of pin-trading team following the Opening Ceremony, I exchanged a silver pin to pick up the Angel of Time, and I am now a proud owner of one of a hundred pins in existence. Angel of Time represent!

Operation Eternal: The Joys of Otafest 2014

“Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.” —William James

For three days of the year, the University of Calgary undergoes a dramatic shift in atmosphere. Rather than being an academic institution home to some of the most cutting-edge research labs in the world, hallways and lecture halls are adjourned with signs of festivity. Conversations about physiological fly-throughs and optimal UI paradigms are displaced by spirited talks about anime and games. Instead of quietly illuminating corridors after hours, the evening sunlight falls into busy hallways and open areas brimming with excitement, throwing the cosplayers and convention attendees into sharp relief. This is Otafest, an anime convention that is aimed to promote Japanese popular culture and encourage community charity. This event had humble origins in 1999: since then, has become Calgary’s (and Southern Alberta’s) premier anime convention. My first time attending was last year, right when Otafest was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. I had a wonderful time, even though my day lacked any sort of real coordination. I have since attended Otafest’s winter incarnation, Otafest Aurora, and subsequently, a pin-trading party. With an overwhelmingly positive experience, I convinced a greater number of friends to attend Otafest 2014, and, after my last exam ended late in April, I pre-ordered my tickets. Soon after, my work with the research lab began. Before this, though, I had an opportunity to dine at the Levilla Chophouse. As a gentle drizzle fell outside, I sat down to lobster bisque and the Steak Neptune, a charbroiled beef tenderloin filet topped with seared scallops and prawns. The steak brought to mind the steak I was thinking of a year ago, in The Matrix, and that evening turned out to be most pleasant. With a week left to Otafest, I fixed some of the bugs in my iOS version of the physiology software, and over the past week, I’ve been working on importing the brain model from the lab’s in-house physiology software suite into Unity.

  • Why was this one called “Operation Eternal”?  Project Eternal is an initiative that appears to be working on introducing new angels in the Otafest world, with June-sensei being one of the first to be showcased. June is Seph and Aurora’s old instructor from their high school days. I only became aware of the June pin after the pin trading party, and decided that this was a challenge I would undertake, giving rise to the cryptonym “Operation Eternal”.

  • I know that readers might just be looking for images of me attending the convention, but I don’t have enough images to populate this post: as with Otafest Aurora 2013, I was having too much fun to be photographing things. With that said, I did manage to get photographs of what matters (i.e. myself with Yuu Asakawa, Brad Swaille and Chris Cason, plus some of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica cosplayers). Otafest 2014 was timed perfectly with Gundam Unicorn‘s finale. News has reached my ears that people are already beginning to upload images of the final episode online, and while I’m normally very accepting of spoilers, this finale is one of the few exceptions where I’m refusing to see any spoilers. If current trends hold, I think that I should have access to the episode over the next two days, and I’ll be able to get a review out a few days after that.

Of course, this isn’t a talk about my work, and so, on Friday, I committed my first prototype to the repository. As I was working to ensure the first prototype could work out of the box, the first of the attendees began arriving, forming an immensely long line for registration. Cosplayers became more frequent, and soon, my friends would arrive for registration. All of us had pre-ordered, and I picked up my wristband on Thursday evening. While I was waiting, I purchased three Otafest pins, looking to trade them. Registration proved prompt, so we made it to the opening ceremonies in time to get good seats. As I entered the lecture hall, I recalled the fact that not more than a month ago, I sat just a few rows below, jotting down notes about magma compositions and differentiations between stony and iron asteroids. On the first day of Otafest, though, the lecture hall held a different atmosphere: relaxed and excited. The opening ceremony saw the clarification of convention rules, exciting new events, and the special guests. The emcees delivering this presentation did so with a humorous flair, and after the events finished, I had the fortune of acquiring one of the “Angel of Time” pins via trade. I would leave shortly after, preparing for the second day.

  • The beauty of Otafest’s timing is that I had something highly engaging to participate in while waiting for the Gundam Unicorn finale to come out. Pictured above is the Prairie Chicken statue. This picturesque spot is more informally known as “Cosplay Hill”; on the days where Otafest is held, it is packed with people. The page quote above refers to my end thoughts with Otafest 2014: the event’s success is motivated by the team of staff and volunteers, whose enthusiasm and passion make Otafest the top-notch event that it is.

  • The lecture halls where the voice actor panel and opening ceremonies were held are visible in the image’s right side. There is a sculpture in the middle of this hallway, called the “Zipper” (not visible, on account of Haruhi and Kyon covering it) that undergraduate students have various superstitions about. I’m in the camp that believes touching it prior to a final is a curse; I touched it prior to my first midterm in first year and promptly got wiped out by the exam. Every subsequent exam that I would write, I avoided the Zipper. While there’s probably no correlation, my performance was much more consistent with my usual standards after that.

The weather forecast had predicted thundershowers for Saturday, although upon waking up, the skies had been as pleasant as they were the day before. Making my way to the University of Calgary, I was able to make reservations for the Maid Café, which my friends had expressed interest in attending the previous year. This promise was made a year ago: at the previous Otafest, a lack of knowledge on my part meant that by the time we tried to reserve, all of the tickets had been distributed. Fortunately, with knowledge of how things worked, I was able to obtain tickets for all of the party (a grand total of seven members). With that done, I made my way to the vendor hall in the same manner as I had last year. Back then, I had nothing in mind, but this time, there was a single item I was aiming to purchase: the HGUC 1/144 Full Armour Unicorn Gundam (Destroy Mode). The Unicorn Mode was available last year, I decided against buying it, as it wasn’t the Unicorn Gundam’s ultimate form. I would not be disappointed: after circling around some of the vendors, I encountered a vendor who had the model in stock. The transaction was made, and I rendezvoused with the main party. We decided to walk around the campus; during this time, I was able to make three more successful pin trades, acquiring rare pins in the process. As with last year, the food trucks were available: this time, I opted for Tao Rex‘s bratwurst on a bun, as that could be finished more easily. The rationale for this was to be on time for the voice actor Q&A panel, featuring Yū Asakawa, Brad Swaille and Chris Cason. The venue this time was my old primatology lecture hall, although morphological differences between Old World Monkeys and New World Monkeys fell from thought (for reference, New World Monkeys have prehensile tails), as my attention turned to the voice actors’ responses to the audience’s queries.

  • On the warmer days, the fountain at the centre of campus comes to life, providing an oasis not too far away from the Prairie Chicken statue. It’s a rather peaceful place to be, especially during the summer months, when there are fewer students on campus. However,  the fountain is only active during the summer months of the year, and for the most part, the fountain is dry.

  • It was a surprising when I learnt that there are actually sakura blossoms on campus grounds (and I’ve been a student here for five years now). Throughout May and early June, it’s quite possible to partake in hanami on campus. By July, the blossoms are gone, and it’s just greenery everywhere.

The next hour saw some of the most amusing answers from the voice actors as they replied to questions from the audience, who were treated to entertaining and informative stories and answers. Yū Asakawa’s English proved excellent, and she answered questions expertly. Our group dispersed to pursue independent activities, and then reconvened at the Maid Café for a milk tea, tiramisu and dance from the maids. Once this concluded, my friends decided to visit the vendors: having informed them of the lines, they had set aside a two hour slot to explore the vendors. The hours elapsed on short order, and soon, it was time to attend the most anticipated event: the voice actor autograph session. This proved incredibly taxing, and even though I’d arrived fourty minutes prior to the event to secure a spot, the line was already massive. However, the wait yielded returns: my K-On! Artbook now bears signatures from all three of the voice actors. Returning to the office space to pick up the stuff I’d left up there, I returned home, closing off Otafest 2014. By now, it should be immediately apparent that I only have good things to say about Otafest. Even though I myself don’t cosplay, I find absolute enjoyment in sharing a friendly environment with fellow anime fans. This year, owing to superb coordination and communication (thanks, Nokia Lumia 520!), my friends and I were able to visit a vast majority all of the events and venues, more so than last year, illustrating the difference that preparedness and open-mindedness makes in a convention. All in all, I attended two of the three event days: today, I took time off to rest following the previous few days’ excitement, and spent the evening at a local Japanese restaurant, where tonkatsu, beef yakiniku, takoyaki and tempura were amongst the things I enjoyed during dinner, acting as a fitting close to a weekend celebrating Japanese culture. I end with the remark that, while I’m not sure whether I’ll be available to attend in a year’s time, I am certain that next year’s attendees will experience an event that will be equally (if not more) spectacular, thanks to the efforts put in by the staff and volunteers. ありがとう、皆さん!

Operation Starlight: The Otafest Pin Trading Party, or, Otafest Aurora Part II

On Christmas Eve, the Otafest staff released the design to their latest pin; the only hint about the pin’s theme prior to that was that it was sentimental, and that it would be an exclusive for the Edmonton anime convention, A Taste of Animethon. The new pin is known as the Starlight pin, and is a physical representation of how the Otafest mascots, Seph and Aurora, came to know each other. It’s a very nostalgic story, set on top of the eastern edge Nose Hill overlooking the city centre. After Seph makes a wish from a meteor, green and blue curtains of light form in the sky, and Aurora appears, fulfilling the former’s wish to have a friend. Presently, the dynamics between Seph and Aurora are very entertaining to observe, and their presence gives Otafest a very welcoming feeling, befitting of a smaller scale convention. A very long time ago, I kept records of astronomical events observed, and in a curious turn of events, I do recall seeing a single meteor during an aurora display somewhere back in March 2008. Of course, since Otafest has been around since 1999, this story compliments Otafest itself very nicely.

  • According to the Otafest website, Aurora is a morning person and doesn’t sleep in, being the anime-incarnate of the Roman Goddess of the Dawn. According to the books I’ve read, aurora are formed when high energy particles with a charge interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Ionised molecules emit in the visible spectrum when regaining an electron following excitation by the charged particles: oxygen gives off green light, while nitrogen releases either red or blue light.

Previously, at Otafest Aurora, a mishap with the pins precluded any chance of acquiring them. The Otafest organisers later released information concerning a Pin Trading Party, which I was able to attend today. Despite being a non-convention event, the attendance proved to be impressive, and a quarter-hour after the event opened, I got what I came for: the pre-order exclusive Snow-wing pin, alongside the Starlight pin, the Gala Seph and Aurora pins. Through a curious turn of events, through the trade, I also acquired a gold version of the Holiday Seph pin (whereas I was previously going for the Aurora-wing, a staff pin). The gold pins are supposed to be very difficult to find, and therefore, being able to acquire one exceeded any expectations. Of course, I had never expected to be able to get the Starlight pin either, seeing as it was intended to be a special for the Edmonton Convention. With my pin collection now bearing a number of Otafest Aurora pins, I’ve finished everything I set out to do at Otafest Aurora. Timing constraints meant that after I picked up everything, I hustled back to the City Centre for an excellent steak dinner, rather than stick around at the event. Otafest 2014 is next in line, being some 120 days away; I might go about pre-ordering again once I ascertain whether or not any of my friends are interested in attending.

Otafest Aurora: a day at the mid-autumn convention

“Don’t be discouraged. It’s often the last key in the bunch that opens the lock.”  —Author Unknown

Pre-ordering generally confers bonuses, and so, with that in mind, in conjunction with my previous experiences at Otafest, I decided to attend the winter convention, Otafest Aurora. Thus, I spent the past two weeks working away at my term papers, research grant proposals and assignments to clear up my schedule today. Contrasting Otafest, Otafest Aurora is a smaller convention held at the University of Calgary’s Downtown Campus. This shiny new addition to the University of Calgary opened in September 2010, and last year, Otafest’s organisers hosted their first convention here. Previously known as Otafest Lite, this event was re-branded as Otafest Aurora last year and is a day in length, concluding with an evening banquet and dance. Otafest Aurora capitalises fully on the more compact and modern venue to deliver an incredible experience. All of the panels, anime screenings and events are held in the main building, making it a simple matter of climbing steps to reach all of the activities. Shortly after arriving at the downtown campus, I checked in my backpack: I do not have an office space conveniently located here, so I would make use of their service to safely store my gear. Today would turn out eerily similar to the events from last time: since I pre-ordered my pass, I bypassed the registration process and was able to enter the vendors’ room within minutes of opening. I browsed through the vendors first and picked up some K-On! pins and a Puella Magi Madoka Magica pin depicting Madoka Kaname. I then proceeded to the stall selling official Otafest gear. I had been quite excited about the pin trading: the Aurora pin series was particularly well done, and I was looking forward to acquiring the Gala series, plus the Snow-Wing, a pre-order exclusive pin. However, the staff informed me that there was a substantial amount of difficulty in delivering the pins, which had somehow resulted in the pins being shipped to Mexico (there is an event hosted there that is also known as Otafest), and subsequent communication errors precluded their arrival in time for the events today. The staff suggested that I check back at four: at around this time, I rendezvoused with one of my friends who had expressed interest in attending. We set out and watched the opening ceremonies, which imparted the sense of spirit that Otafest was about. Despite being a small convention, a dedicated and enthusiastic staff gave Otafest a very warm, welcoming feeling. Even as the event coordinators were giving their speeches, I knew their minds were on the delayed pins, but they nonetheless delivered the opening talk and introduced next year’s theme with such zeal that I wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

  • Above is an image of the main entrance at the University of Calgary Downtown Campus. I spent most of the day enjoying the sights and sounds, more so than photographing things, so this time, I don’t have photos to share. Among the cosplayers I saw include Madoka Kaname and Mami Tomoe (Puella Magi Madoka Magica), Seph and Aurora (the official Otafest mascots), Chell (Portal, Portal 2), and even Christian Bale’s Batman (The Dark Knight Triology). As for what’s happening with the pins, I think an announcement will be made soon. Depending on what happens, I may place an order for them at a later date.

Once the opening ceremony ended, I brought my friend to a screening of Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. This is my third time watching the film in full, and although we were watching at DVD quality (imagine playing Crysis on medium settings), the movie was still the beautiful work I had seen back in June. After lunch,  we decided to see what the Winter Maid Cafe was about. After being welcomed by a friend working there, we took our seats, placed an order for hot cocoa and struck up a conversation with some of the other patrons. In the interest of courtesy, we left after finishing our drinks: the Maid Cafe had been quite busy. Hereupon, we visited the vendors once more: after showing him around some of the merchandise associated with anime-related hobbies, his day concluded. I returned to the Otafest merchandise vendors, and they had informed me that the pins would probably be a no-show for today. They did prepare a smart contingency: surplus pins from the previous Otafest were available, and I netted myself three pins (two of which were staff pins and thus, unavailable for purchase during the last Otafest). My ride arrived shortly after, and with it, the second convention I attended. The event had been remarkable: if any of the Otafest organisers find this blog, the only thing I really need to say to them is that they have gained a regular attendee (well, as long as I’m still around these parts for the upcoming events).