Saboten-con: After Action Report
Presented for the Pleagus Productions Science Fiction Research Club
FRY ME TO THE MOON
Last night was probably the first time in my life that I have ever smoked an actual black and mild—though it was by no means the first time I had ever purchased some, and this for all the obvious reasons. A reflection of the moon vacillates across the surface of the lake. My soul has been emptied of anything that might resemble the courage it would take to break into the first beer in my cooler even a week after that fateful sojourn to the outermost extremes of the Sonoran desert—but it happens anyways. Effortlessly—like the movements of a master samurai the Book of Five Rings describes in the Nothingness scroll. No thought obtrudes, no distinction of a self clumsily manipulating objects like an inexperienced virgin angling for side boob from his tinder-date with a frigid, wholly un-erotic cadence that might get one accused of rape nowadays. The black and milds aren't that bad, but they aren't very good either. Only the former is really surprising.
As the exhaled smoke lazily billows upwards in the lunar light an owl with steely, penetrating eyes, and a wingspan evocative of the thunder-birds of Native legend takes flight to begin its moonlit hunt. I finally begin the process of meditation on the events of labor day weekend in the year-most-hesitate-to-call-of-our-Lord 2018. For days I have deliberated with myself over the best environment to process these events in. How can something like this be recorded for posterity? Nonetheless an attempt must be hazarded. I decided that the only proper environment for my reflections would be in the light of the moon, in hopes that something like the wisdom it gave to Schoenberg will rub off on them:
Den Wein, den man mit Augen trinkt,
Giesst Nachts der Mond in Wogen nieder,
Und eine Springflut überschwemmt
Den stillen Horizont
Gelüste schauerlich und süss
Durchschwimmen ohne Zahl die Fluten!
Den Wein, den man mit Augen trinkt,
Giesst Nachts der Mond in Wogen nieder.
The wine one drinks with one's eyes. Surely, there is something of Schoenberg's lunar overflow in the spirit of all anime. The torrents of supple and exhilarating lusts—such things as can only begin to stir after the owl of Minerva has taken flight. A body of water is so unmanageable, all that can be done is to be submerged—to swim through it....perchance to drown and feed its aquatic denizens. An entire ocean of wine to be drank with our eyes. This is the closest we will probably ever get today to the “wine-dark sea” of Homer's Odyssey. It is our lot to set sail on the sea of the wired, with its tempests of awe-inspiring ecchi intensities; its treacherous Kraken with tentacles made of white-hot, electric anime sex—straight from Japan.
LET ME BE WITH YOU
We set out on a journey that could only be described as nautical that afternoon, though we would be traveling into one of the most arid locations in the entire continental United States—Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix is a city that is shrouded from the outside world only by the mere fact that its climate is so inhospitable to life during half the year that few are courageous enough to travel there. Only recent advances in modern technology have made Phoenix habitable by large populations of human beings—and in that sense, it is a miracle of modern science, and perhaps also of modern medicine. When one arrives in Phoenix after hours and hours of driving through the arid, oppressively hot, and mostly uninhabited Sonoran desert one gets a sense that the only reason that this city even exists at all is because the transportation authority was too embarrassed to stretch the Interstate 10 all the way across such a massive expanse of desert without having any cities for it to pass through on the way from Los Angeles to El Paso.
In many ways, the inhospitably of the environs Phoenix spits in the face of nature in order to habitate itself within nonetheless have made this town into an metropolis that history forgot.
Time, however, has not forgotten it, as its run down, decrepit buildings and spirit attest to. Youthful vitality is in such short supply in this desert metropolis that public service advertisements featuring smiling, whiter-than-bleach haired baby boomers entreat you to “be life's MVP” by donating your organs to unnaturally prolong the existence of the washed up retirees who make their way here to this city that by all rights should not exist. Perhaps this artificially sustained pseudo-Los Angeles (which is itself just as artificial, though the climate is tolerable enough to make one forget), hundreds of miles from anywhere meaningful in the middle of the Sonoran desert is a fitting burial ground for the generation that dedicated the productive years of its lives to inventing credit cards, treadmills, endless streams of fad diets, face-lifts, and all other manner of abominations with which to cancel out death and financial responsibility. The perennial quest to prove that they've “still got it” comes to places like Scottsdale to die.
However, in many ways Phoenix is like the mist shrouded plateau of Arthur Conan Doyle's “The Lost World,” if instead of transporting one back to the height of the Cretaceous period, one is instead transported to a world where the early 2000's pop culture of edgy mall-hating rejects (who find themselves drawn to it by Hot Topic™ anyways) is preserved in pristine condition. It is difficult to explain the experience of arriving in country and realizing that there is an FM radio station in service that unapologetically plays peak mid-2000's era macho chunk-riff rock like Breaking Benjamin, Linkin Park, and 90's Metallica. Driving through the above 105 degree Fahrenheit temperatures as James Hetfield belches “Give me Fuel Give me Fire Give me That which I Desire. . . .” blares through your car radio you realize that “we're not in Kansas anymore” doesn't cut it. Perhaps only the heaviest duty psycho-active substances can prepare you for literal time travel, which, in a certain sense, is the essence of traveling to Phoenix—to travel in time by traveling through space. A heavy regimen of alcohol (or any other drugs you can get your hands on) is necessary in order to maintain your bearings in an environment like this—or at least, to help you deal with. . . .whatever the hell is about to happen here. . . .
Every year in this part of the American desert forsaken both by God and man, an anime convention is held at the end of the summer. Some of the strangest and most alien forms of life have evolved to exist in the most extreme environments on our planet. Organisms with monstrous features and dimensions populate the abyssal depths of our oceans. Further down still, near the hydro-thermal vents that can be found in the deepest trenches of our oceans are life forms whose evolution is so isolated from the rest of the global biosphere, and has occurred in such an extreme environment, that they seem almost as if they may have come from a completely different planet. If anything this subterranean and alien exists in human societies, then it is slithering around for four days every year at the end of August in Downtown Phoenix at Saboten-con.
Like the city of Phoenix itself, Saboten-con feels in many ways like an anime convention preserved in a time capsule from 2007—particularly when stacked up against some of the major cons of today, which now feel like soulless Whores of Babylon serving at the pleasure of Big Weeb. The influxes of more “mainstream” Western nerd culture have in many ways overtaken the original character and spirit of the anime cons of yesteryear. Saboten has remained throughout all of this largely untouched by such developments. Much in the ways a real Saboten (tl note: “Saboten” is Japanese for cactus) protects its water with painful, prickly thorns—Saboten-con has been able to protect itself from these vampires and corrupting influences because of the inhospitable environment that it encloses itself in—effectively filtering out all but a dedicated set of locals and the few, the rare. . . .
What else is there to say about the environs? The squalor and poverty in the surrounding downtown Phoenix area is really at an ordinary level for any major city in the United States—a familiar sight for veterans of anime conventions across the country. Ultimately, Phoenix is only the game-board upon which Saboten plays out. It also serves the function of enshrouding Saboten-con from the sands of Macintosh-time. When you hit Saboten-con you will know immediately that you've arrived in what is, quite literally, a parallel, subterranean world.
The first things that hit you are the sights, sounds, and odors emanating from the con-goers—many of whom are cosplaying. But the second thing you will notice is that the mean distribution on the Asperger's spectrum in this place is significantly higher than normal—even by contemporary standards. At certain points, one might even become anxious with a feeling that a total breakdown in social order and stability has to be immanent—as though society is like a submarine that can only handle so much autism or Asperger's pressure on its hull before the vessel is completely crushed. And yet, somehow, the kite string never pops.
While it might never be possible to shake the suspicion that at least half of the people openly discussing lolicon have to be well-disguised feds, you are eventually forced to realize that there really is something higher gluing all these people together other than mere “social competence.” Perhaps it is a sign of a decaying and sick society with no real values that we assume civilization can only be held together by forcing one another to constantly pantomime specific scripts of “normal” behaviors. Here at the anime-cons, on the outer limits of acceptable social behavior (one might even describe the acceptability of taking part in these cons as “merely legally permitted”) a spirit of friendship and harmony outside the established order of white pig gaijin society recalls earlier moments in American life when flower children and transcendentalists of yet earlier “great awakenings” sought to create their own societies separated from the materialism and corruption of mass society as administered by greedy corporations and the state. These gentle folk have no aspirations of physically separating themselves from mainstream society, however. There is no need to. In their minds, they are already free.
The panels are mostly a by fans for fans affair, which is greatly preferable to the Big Weeb industry circle jerks that certain other cons have turned themselves into. On account of this, one of the most prominent genres of panel on display at Saboten-con are group cosplay panels where cosplayer's LARP as the characters they are meant to be portraying and frantically try to out-reference members of the audience in a Q and A format that quickly descends into a battle of wits to display the most trivial knowledge about a particular show possible. This can be entertaining in and of itself. Often nothing great is lost from skipping most of these. Many of the other panels, contrary to popular opinion and the schedule books—simply do not exist. It will happen more than once during your con experience at Saboten that you will show up to check out a panel on time and find a completely empty hall. It's probably completely possible to put on your own panel if you situate yourself at the panelists stations during a panel nobody showed up to and pretend like you're supposed to be there.
By far the best types of panels at Saboten are the amateur presentations of original weeb research. These panels inform con goers on the latest developments within certain genres of anime (or on the finer points of “Fur-Etiquette”), and also provide a good venue for recommendations of shows that haven't got the exposure they might deserve, as well as critical discussions of trends within contemporary anime as such. Something of the spirit of the original Science Fiction Research Clubs of the Japanese universities in the 1980's—whose discourses laid the foundations for the explosions of anime and waifu autism that would come pouring out of the Japanese anime industry in a deluge from the 1990's onward—survives in these kinds of panels.
Saboten by night is a completely other beast. The desert heat produces an excess of sweaty weeb odors throughout the convention hall in the Sheraton over the course of the entire day. By the time night comes around there is a literal mist of weeb sweat odors pounding your nose. One of the necessary consequences of this is that all of the con-goers are effectively bombarded by a cloud of weeb sex pheromones, although I'm not entirely sure that ventilating Saboten con more effectively would change the character of “Saboten-After-Dark” in any way. As Saboten-con journeys deeper and deeper into the night, it becomes increasingly difficult for the con-goers to keep a lid on their horny levels. It is no exaggeration to say that Saboten-con might be far and away the horniest anime convention in the entire United States. One gets the sense that Saboten is some kind of seasonal mating ground for the Arizona weeb community; reminiscent of a colony of crabs out of a David Attenborough nature documentary. Such is the scale of the writhing throngs of thirsty weebs looking to get lucky during the four nights per year where their Asperger's might not necessarily cock block them.
The fujoshi of late-night Saboten (and make no mistake, many of these women are fujo's) are basically as predatory as it is possible to be while still remaining ladylike and cosplaying. In the /cgl/ thread this year some poor bastard who had clearly been blown the fuck out by /r9k/ memes was asking everyone how easy it would be to meet someone and get with some girls. No matter how much everyone kept trying to tell him it was fairly easy, and that everyone at the con was looking for anyone to join their Sheraton parties, his response was always the same. “Even if I'm a 6/10?” In computers and in life there is no such thing as 1-10. There is only the zero and the one. The unit and the null. It's either on or off. And at Saboten-con, it is definitely on. Merely letting someone borrow a lighter can get you a borderline arm paizuri massage. Giving out dick at Saboten is probably easier than handing out child pornography at bronycon. Not that any true connoisseur of anime pussy is going to be thirsting after the flesh of mortal women. For those who have not yet undertaken the steep path of initiation into the 2D only lifestyle, however, pleasures await you at Saboten that have not been on the menu in this country since the Summer of Love, and especially the introduction of the AIDS virus into the general population (another problem that only applies if you're into the 3D game).
The young hearts of the Arizona weeb community are aflame with a desire to find love somewhere out there in the corridors of the Sheraton hotel that borders on cartoonish. No, that's wrong—it doesn't border anything. It is cartoonish. Everything about this con, as amateurish as it can be, is in a certain sense a bacchanalian summoning of an image of the Japanese cartoon world. The true desire of every weeb to become anime, to shed off their shell of socially imposed normalcy, and their human, all too human weaknesses is allowed to be unchained here at Saboten just as it is at every con that carries with it the true spirit of anime love. And as the oppressive heat of the midsummer Arizona sun recedes into the barely tolerable ninety degree nights the darkest, dirtiest desires of those who have rejected this world of mere normie-dom and boomer-worship in favor of a higher ideal of a life lived with all the intensity and passion of the most over-the-top anime are unchained for their nocturnal emissions.
It is difficult to explain the kind of togetherness that a con such as Saboten engenders in the attendees. Even though there are such obvious differences between everyone in terms of anime-taste, wealth, physical attractiveness, neuro-typicality, gender dysphoria, race, and seemingly every imaginable category of human difference—for four days out of the year we were all together in perfect harmony in celebration of our atomized (yet collective) escape from a world unworthy of giving a shit about, or participating in. We are all equal before the blinding superiority of anime, to which we all submit willingly, and this is whence our bonds of affection for those magical four days and four nights are forged. The spirit of anime has the power to rip all these people from out of a failing and decrepit society eagerly anticipating its own self-destruction with a catastrophile fervor not seen since the war fever leading up to WWI in Europe, and through this higher power we do not become one—but nonetheless become comrades, and brothers and sisters in pure fucking autism. There is nothing with the power to unite America. But all anime-loving people, through their mutual love of anime seem to be capable of overcoming unbelievable levels of autism to produce a truly harmonious society based on the celebration of the spirit of anime—a spirit that transcends all petty worldly concerns and provides us with visions of a truer world of friendship, courage, love, and kindness, from the white-hot electric beyond that surges forth from underneath the shadows of the zaibatsu and the Japanese consumer electronics industry.
But there is trouble in paradise. . . .
Every stop on the road into Phoenix—the road into the heart of whatever comes to life every year at Saboten-con—was inundated with reminders that Senator John McCain had just passed away. Day Zero of the convention was the day of McCain's funeral, which one could have been forgiven with mistaking for an affair on the scale of a North Korean Leader's death given that it was not even possible to go into a Del Taco in some po-dunk desert shithole like Blythe without the tearful elegies to Senator McCain (Peace Be Upon Him) playing—with the audio on—on the television. Even sports bars in the middle of North Hollywood with the lights dimmed just low enough to allow you to see your beer, but not brightly enough for anyone to be able to notice your under the table drug deal were compelled to indulge in the solemn mourning and remembrance of “The Maverick.” Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but it really seemed as if it was not possible to go anywhere within earshot of a television without participating in McCain's funeral. As far as I am aware, no such event has dominated the screens of so many public televisions in the United States since the Twin Towers exploded on September 11th .
Whenever so many televisions are broadcasting the same thing at the same time, and in so many places, the message it sends is very clear—something very serious is going on and you, as a good freedom and bravery loving citizen need to be taking it very seriously. All of the very smart people in charge of keeping us safe and making sure our lives are so great as they are were clearly very upset, and must have had a lot of extremely smart things to say about how bad the thing they were getting upset about was. I personally did not have much time to contemplate their grief or the depth of their patriotism—the source of their extreme and selfless concern for the immediate future of this country and the loss of one of its great champions against enemies such as the anti-war movement. John McCain had apparently died carrying out a mission to defend America against some vague antagonist or danger, which one could only assume was Donald Trump—because it's always Donald Trump these days. His mission had just ended in his own death—a soldier's death if ever there was one. Jet-lagged and hung over, I was on my way to my own mission in to the heart of a city in a desert hotter than the deepest recesses of Hell in service of a cause only few men and even fewer women could probably understand—a cause that cannot be understood by those who have not attained to a level of meme zen that is unimaginable to the common, thoughtless, and unironically sober rabble.
The noble cactus stands firm, and lives; persists against all odds in the most completely inhospitable of environments. It can outlast because it can survive for months upon months without even an imitation of nourishment or hydration. The land tries to starve it of sustenance—it holds its water. The beasts who roam the deserts are constantly consumed with ravenous hunger and thirst in that scarcest of climates, and the flesh of the cactus remains untouched because of its torturous barbs that make the thorns of the rose feel playful in comparison. The rose politely suggests it doesn't want to be eaten. The cactus maintains its flesh by forcing you to draw blood for blood to steal from it.
サボテン . . . .
All the evidence of my senses and my heart convinces me that spiritually America is a desert that is probably even more hostile to life and its flourishing than the physical deserts of Arizona. The cactus survives by holding on to its own water, by maintaining an interiority that needs nothing from the environment and takes everything from it whenever it finds its occasional, fleeting nourishment—giving nothing back except pain and bloodshed to those who would disturb its private, self-reflexive cycle of endless autism. Autism literally means to be wrapped up in oneself, to be auto-sufficient in an existential manner. In a certain sense, I came to Saboten-con on a mission for cactuses—to learn how to be a gardener of a spiritual cactus garden. To put it more literally, I was on a quest for the zen and art of autism—though maybe I wouldn't realize this fully until after all was said and done.
Those who waver from the path of a true and highly-functional autism, which only anime seems possible of cultivating, are cursed by fate to suffer grievous consequences. We arrived at Saboten-con only expecting to be allowed into its outer courts and gardens, which offer their own abundant share of pleasures and delights—all of which are best enjoyed in a stupor of drunkenness and intoxication that takes hours of drinking to prepare for (also, coincidentally, a great excuse to spend as much of any anime convention actually watching anime as possible—maybe even some shows you wouldn't normally be able to get away with watching around “normal” people you might be forced to co-habitate with). There is a certain philosophical attitude towards society that allows one to impartially observe it as Jane Goodall does the Gorillas (though often without the same degree of fondness) that can only be truly cultivated through practicing the art of getting away with being as intoxicated as possible in public without raising any alarm, or getting oneself molested by any authorities. It is precisely this disposition that is necessary in order to distill the true essence of a festival so far on the outside of social norms as Saboten-con. The strangeness won't be discernible to your palette otherwise, like an inexperienced smoker who cannot tell the difference between various cigars because they all taste too strongly, and it hurts one's nostrils to even be near too much of the smoke itself.
Young hearts become lonely easily. Human beings are born into this world always missing something that they will never find. For many people, this desire to complete oneself, like the self-sufficient animal in the Timaeus that consumes nothing and produces no excrement, nourishing itself off its own shit in an endless cycle, drives them on a quest for something more than the mere satisfaction of lust—to be touched by the divine graces of “true love.” The allure of anime and memes is extremely powerful and sublime. In an environment like Saboten-con many a good man has fallen victim to the siren songs of a love so demanding that it completely overpowers the will, and dashes them upon the lonely rocks of the dry and horny Arizona desert night—unable to bind themselves like Odysseus strongly enough to the masts of their ships in order to resist the siren song of 3D cosplay girls and stay true to the path of 2D superiority. These men pay the ultimate price in pursuit of the purest and most extreme feelings that can only be aroused in our time by the most powerful anime. Their weakness for 3D is not enough to condemn them—for they have chosen to live a life in accordance with the sort of cartoonish hyperbole of drama and true emotion that is only befitting of a proper anime protagonist, and this above all is what is commendable. But for every triumphant ending there will be dozens of Spike Spiegel's. They do not go to places like Saboten to burn out or die—but to find out if they were ever truly alive.
In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity, or law? Is it like the hand of God—hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control—even over his own will. . . .
The “Faderades” and handles of New Amsterdam that absolutely hemorrhage vodka like stuck pigs put one into a zone where one's con experience is completely at the mercy of the winds. It was in this condition that we were spirited away by a ghost from the past into the inner sanctums of the Saboten weeb aristocracy. There is an over-class of cosplayers and generally “cool” people that dominates the late night party scenes in the halls of the Sheraton hotel after hours during Saboten-con. One is assured of their coolness by their general lack of skin issues, and the fact that some percentage of them are actually able to pull off the appearance of being in decent physical and mental health—and perhaps even of having decent occupations in the outside world.
The “cool” and the “in” descend upon the ground floors of the Sheraton where the general con activities take place like minor gods and godesses descending Mt. Olympus. Amongst themselves, however, just as with the Olympic pantheon there are bitter quarrels which Zeus does not see fit to intervene in and resolve (probably because he is too busy impregnating anime women). As in much of baka gaijin literature—which still has yet to discover the innovations of waifu culture—the trouble generally revolves around a dispute involving a (3D) woman. A level of drama and existential despair unfolds in the stratospheric heights of the Sheraton hotel parties every year that give one the impression that something in the heart of Saboten really might be connected to something larger than life—something that is not supposed to directly intervene in this world where “realistically” things are supposed to always remain bland, mediocre, and never worth caring about. The court intrigues of the Saboten nobility rival those of any that appear anywhere in Shakespeare or any yakuza themed mahjong anime. But they will be as lost to history as the grains of sand that eroded the Grand Canyon when the winds of the Sonoran desert carried them along. I will not discuss the things I saw in the Sheraton here at any length—only the silence of the cowboy ethos that grimly chugs room temperature grain alcohol mixed with water in a completely utilitarian manner is fit to bear witness to the essence of those things. Bringing them to light would not be edifying to the inexperienced in any way, and, more importantly, it would be disrespectful to the quick and the dead.
The heights of joy and love, as well as the heights of despair spiral upwards at this convention towards a stupefying level—probably reaching the crack in the heavens that has appeared over the state of Arizona as it was coping with the loss of their great Boomer champion and hope Senator McCain. A level of emotional and spiritual intensity that one only assumed was possible in the hyperreal world of anime (certainly never in “real” life) has the chance to strike one here at the end of August in downtown Phoenix for four (plus zero) days every year. Getting flung into the center of such delirium can easily break a human spirit too accustomed to the mere demands placed on it by life limited to a human body—a heartbreak no amount of boxed wine or xanax can heal (but of course that isn't the point). To assume such extremes cannot possibly exist because the world is too average, too boring, or too banal is like assuming that lightning can never strike because one has never been struck by it. It is only a comforting delusion of those who cling to their mediocrity like a blanket.
Your body will need an entire twenty-four hours of bed-rest to recover from the proper amount of drug abuse necessary to absorb Saboten-con before physical activity will become tolerable again. It was during this time that I was first able to pause and reflect on what I had learned out there in what was undoubtedly the greatest and most true anime convention I had ever attended—before the question of what I had learned had time to transform into a question about what I had become after an experience such as this. Whether it was ultimately going to help or hurt my life in terms of worldly affairs makes no difference to me at this point. All that is certain is that something beautiful that is not allowed to exist by “normal” “serious” “adult” society—the kind of society that spent that weekend crying its eyes out over John McCain and was politely entreating me to donate my organs to it every time we went to to Safeway to stock up on provisions for our Bacchanalian anime festivities—has found a blind spot somewhere out there, and that the torch of Truth, Beauty, and Justice lives on in that skeeby, yearly Weeb Xanadu of the American southwest. Like a class of precociously sexual anime middle school girls spending an episode at a hot springs retreat—I will surely never forget those precious memories that we wished would never end.