In-between Philly and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, the nerd party people have been waiting for came to town, and that party was Zenkaikon 2017! Since Zenkaikon has moved into a bigger venue four years prior, the anime event continues to flourish with big guests, many panels, and just the nicest attendees.
The Space Cowboy Visits Zenkaikon
This year I managed to revisit Zenkaikon after four years! What made Zenkaikon especially great this year was the high tier guests they received. After getting great guests in the past like Dante Basco and Jim Cummings, Zenkaikon didn’t disappoint this year.
Famed anime and video game voice actors Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop, X-Men, Legend of Korra) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Ghost in the Shell, Naruto, Silent Hill) were in attendance this year. Sonny Strait (Dragonball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, Assassination Classroom) was a confirmed guest, but cancelled his appearance due to illness. The convention had the famous voice actress behind Glados, the infamous robot in the Portal franchise Ellen McLain. Another was John Patrick Lowrie (Half Life 2, Halo 3) from many other video game powerhouses.
The Zenkaikon experience was a lot more low-key compared to my Otakon 2016 trip last summer. While Zenkaikon doesn’t get Aniplex, Funimation or Crunchyroll knocking at their door to be in the dealer’s room, it still has boatloads of charm. I say boatloads, because the theme at Zenkaikon this year was a beach, under-the-sea theme.
Saying Zenkaikon is small isn’t a disadvantage in my opinion. Compared to the big east coast cons I’ve attended before like Katsucon and Otakon, Zenkaikon makes the experience more personable. The staff are very friendly, respectful, and attentive. Zenkaikon also gets just as many talented artists in the artist alley and have a wide selection in the dealers’ room.
Zenkaikon Cosplay Trends
As for cosplay, this convention didn’t seem to have as many anime cosplay compared to past years. Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Blizzard, Pokemon, and other video games/American TV shows seem to be dominating the cosplay scene. That isn’t to say there weren’t any anime cosplays at all.
New cosplays I came across from recent animes included Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon, Nanbaka, and Yuri on Ice to name a few. Although I saw many cosplays from Pokemon Sun and Moon, Overwatch, Undertale, Steven Universe, Rick and Morty, Star vs. The Forces of Evil, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, etc.
Steve Blum & Elizabeth McGlynn Working For Disney?
At a Q&A panel with Blum and McGlynn, one fan brought up both of their involvement in a new Disney animated series Tangled: The Series on the Disney Channel. McGlynn is a dialogue director for the series, and Blum voices a recurring character named Attila Buckethead. One fan asked what it was like to be working for the Disney company. It’s the latest project they are both apart of, nd had many good things to say about it.
McGlynn explained that the producer behind the show knew she was fit for the job. She helped these actors who may not have experience behind the mic compared to performing live in Broadway. She was terrified at first to be working for the Disney company. McGlynn though still felt the dialogue directing she was doing for Tangled wasn’t much different what she had done in anime series. It was explained further:
“The process is still the same. If I’m directing Steve [Blum] in anime or Melissa Fahn or Wendy Lee in anime, it’s the same experience directing Steven in Tangled. It’s a very intimate experience with producer, me, engineer, and actor in the booth. It’s a very high profile thing, and I just can’t let that kind of pressure get the best of me… There’s so much that’s put into the show…”
Blum also explained his feelings of having Broadway actors do voice acting. He even felt intimidated at first by the lead actors in the show, but has also enjoyed the experience as well.
“It’s amazing to because a lot of animated shows or movies when they bring in on camera celebrities, you don’t always get the best performances. On this show it’s the exact opposite of that. Mandy Moore and Zach Levi are ridiculously talented people. They really put everything into it, they sweat in the booth and go for it. I finally got to meet Zach at convention last week and he’s a sweetheart and really nice guy. I was really intimidated cause he’s such a big star but he’s a really cool guy.”
How McGlynn & Blum Start Voice Acting?
Another fan asked how both actors got their start in the industry. McGlynn recounted when after finishing graduate school in Texas and wanting to pursue acting in California. She managed to make her way to San Diego, then eventually LA. She went from getting her knee dislocated on Xena: Warrior Princess by a horse, to being introduced to ZRO Limit Productions. They are behind some translations and subtitle timing for shows like Akira and The Big O.
Blum on the other hand says he got into the industry on accident. Blum expressed that he was a class clown growing up and just liked doing silly voices, which included doing a Goofy impression for his answering machine back in the day. A wrong number called him, and thought his impression was so funny. He kept calling Blum back at least ten times in a row to show his friends the funny voice.
“This goes on for a week and they start telling me to change the voice, saying ‘dude that’s getting old, do something else.’” In response, Blum gives him a Donald Duck voice in response. “I go through every stupid voice that I thought I did a pretty good job on…I start changing it literally every week. And I didn’t think I was going to make a living at that, I wanted to be a musician. I was playing in an R&B band during the ‘80s opening for heavy metal acts, and that was not going well.”
The story goes on to Blum working at a mailroom for a film company to being asked to do a voice for a “Japanimation” as the man asking him put it, (this was a term used in the early ‘80s where English dubbed anime and production was still new in the west) in return for food. Blum then recorded in a literal tree house, to later becoming head of marketing for that company. He eventually dedicated himself to voice acting after leaving the executive side of things. It was interesting to hear both of their stories. They seem so humbled by all the success they’ve gotten through all their hard work.
The convention overall was a blast. Zenkaikon is always looking to approve itself every year, despite it being a smaller con in the central Pennsylvania area.