The NekoCon Diaries 2018: 2017 FLASHBACK – Swag Review and Grab Bag Unboxing

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In my effort to try and get back into the swing of things before Live Free or NekoCon, I’ve pulled out this post I started on over a year ago and am presenting it here; mostly so that the absurd amount of money I spent on this crap didn’t go entirely to waste.  The reason why this one didn’t go up despite me finishing most of it is that I always set these up to be the last one of my convention recaps but I always write them first.  When I get back, it’s just easier for me to get the table ready, get the lights, and go through all this stuff right then and there instead of postponing it and hoping I’ll ever be in a better mood to get it done.  Also, I do want to point out that one of the manga I bought has a hate symbol on it that I have “tastefully” edited out, so just be aware of that before we go any further.  And with that, everything going forward (excluding a brief wrap up at the end) was more or less written a year ago, so enjoy!

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MANGA GALORE!!

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I picked up books from two stores; one selling them at ten for forty bucks and another selling them at four for ten.  I honestly don’t know a thing about most of these books and basically picked them up based on the covers and the brief descriptions.  The ones that are of particular note would be Queens, Your and My Secret, and Lie to Me; all of which seem to deal with gender and identity in interesting ways that don’t confirm to strict heteronormativity or at the very least subverts traditional gender roles.  Citrus as well is another queer series as it deals with a relationship between two women, but I already knew about this one and basically bought it as a good example to have on hand on how NOT to do a lesbian romance story.  I still maintain that Milk Morinaga’s Girlfriends is one of the best and least skeevy explorations of this kind of story and it’s fascinating to go point by point through JUST HOW BADLY Citrus screws that up.  If I ever go deeper into Milk Morinaga’s work, I’ll certainly have more to say about it, but for now I basically consider these to be reference books and nothing else.  On the less tasteful side of things (yes, less tasteful than Franken Fran) are a few books I found for REALLY cheap on the last day.

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These were already at a mere five bucks a pop, but I managed to snag all three when they were fifty percent off.  I’m willing to take a chance on some trashy stuff for THAT price.  The Ninja School books, despite that one obnoxious cover, don’t seem to be all that interesting; nor does Maxion which has like fifty different clichés in the first five pages.  I DO like the fact that it was clearly localized as it’s not only ready left to right (BLASPHEMY!) but they also say this takes place in COLLEGE when they are clearly on the same exact high school campus that every other anime character goes to.  Hey, I’m not complaining considering how much nudity is in it and I honestly wish that more manga would take that approach if it’s gonna be THIS gratuitous.

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THE REST OF IT!!

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I didn’t go too overboard buying things because frankly I’ve got enough crap around here that I don’t need to be adding to my collection, so I MOSTLY stuck with snacks and a few small things.  I like these micro-LEGO thingies so I decided to add Ami to my collection, and this print of Rick and Morty just looks badass!  I’m CERTAIN there’s a reference here that I’m not getting (is the evil Rick supposed to be a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure character or something?), but I honestly don’t care because of just how well the artwork is done here.  I have my issues with the series, but after a few rewatches I can’t help but appreciate what it does when it’s truly on point and not simply indulging in its nihilism for the sake of it.

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LET’S THE UNBOXING BEGIN!!

The theme this time around is MORE IS BETTER because I managed to spend a pretty penny (TOO MANY pretty pennies in fact) indulging my desire to pedantically quantify the value of these randomized bargain bags; especially considering that such tactics have been the ire of several people once it infiltrated mainstream gaming.  Now it’s not really a one to one comparison as the sellers of these bags aren’t pushing and prodding its customers into purchasing them (outside of the discounted price) and you don’t have to keep rebuying the damn things if there’s something you ACTUALLY want to get.  Still, there are right ways to do this and there are VERY wrong ways as well.  Do the Grab Bags hold up to scrutiny this year, or has greed overtaken any value they might have once had as a convention staple?  Let’s find out!!

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Dragon Trading Mystery Egg (Vendor)

Website: http://www.dragonstrading.com/
Total: $45

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Yes, we’re back to Dragon Trading once again as they stepped up their game (and price) for this round of Grab Bags.  I do like the choice to use a plastic egg instead of a paper bag, but I am annoyed that it doesn’t have any details on the egg itself about the contents or even about Dragon Trading.  The increase of price to $45 also puts a bit more pressure on this one to deliver which the $25 bag last time around failed to do, and while they sweetened the deal with better packaging and even a raffle ticket to win a game console, well I don’t have much use for the plastic egg and I lost the damn ticket immediately which would have made it hard to claim my prize IF I had won… which I didn’t.

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Contents: A Halo Play Arts Action Figure, a Pop Figure, a plushie, a Pokeball, and 2 packages of candy

I’ve got to give them credit on this one!  The Play Arts Kai Action Figures don’t come cheap and the average price I can find for this Halo one is about sixty bucks, so that alone makes the set worth it.  I’m still rather nonplussed about Pop Figures, but they make easy enough gifts and the candy is a nice little bonus.  The pokeball is a little disappointing as it just has two generic spinning tops in them, but the rest of the package certainly makes up for it.  I’m also not sure what I’m gonna do with this plushie here (seemingly from Neko Natsume), but I’m sure I’ll find some use for it…

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“Fuzzy Butt!  I CHOOSE YOU!!”     “MEOW!!”     “Fuzzy Butt!  Use Spinning Top BARRAGE!!”

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Danielle Marciniak Grab Bag

Website: http://dmarciniak.com/
Total: $30

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DAMN!  Look at the size of this thing!!  I don’t know about you, but Grab Bags from artists (especially ones as eye catching as this beast) are way more interesting to unwrap than yet another bag of stuff that I certainly don’t need from a reseller jumping up the prices.  Now that’s not to say that the Vendor Grab Bags can’t be great too (the one from Discotek Media last year ended up being the best of the bunch), but with artists it becomes something much more personal and unique.  I may or may not like what’s inside, but it certainly won’t be something I already have!

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Contents: 4 large prints, 1 small print, 2 sketches, a magnet, and a sketchbook

Now these are some REALLY well done prints even if they aren’t exactly to my taste.  The designs are certainly intricate and extraordinarily well realized (especially the colored ones), but I tend to prefer a more cartoony look; hence why the one piece I specifically bought was based on Rick and Morty.  I do really like the medusa print as well as the large TNT ones and I’ll probably find a place to put those up while I check to see if anyone else would like some of the other prints; someone who enjoys the style to a greater extent than I do.  For thirty bucks, this was quite a good deal!

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Otasempai/Discotek Media Grab Bag (Vendor)

Website: http://www.otasenpai.com/; http://www.discotekmedia.com/
Total: $50

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Now there’s a bit of confusion here as the business card they gave me was for Otasenpai, but the Nekocon guidebook clearly says that the booth was reserved for Discotek Media.  The booth was selling both candy and movies, so I’m guessing Otasenpai was just there to pad out the selection at the booth and when I asked for a business card they just gave me the one for that.  Now if you recall, Discotek Media was one of the two tables where I managed to find an 18+ Grab Bag in 2016, but this year I couldn’t find a single one at any of the Vendors.  It’s somewhat disappointing considering how surprisingly great (and surprisingly awful) the selection was in the Grab Bag I got from Discotek last year, but hopefully the bump up in price means that we’ll get something even better this time around!

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Contents: A Haruhi Suzumiya Audio CD, 2 DVD box sets, a Monster Hunter Figure, a box of Pretz, and a .Hack//Roots T-Shirt (XL)

Well… I guess it’s hard to argue that it’s not worth the asking price… but aside from the Case Closed DVD which is one of the best anime series of ALL time, I can’t get too excited about this.  The T-Shirt is luckily big enough to fit, but I don’t know anything about the .Hack series, I’ve never liked Haruhi Suzumiya (ENDLESS EIGHT!?  ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!?), I’ve never even HEARD of Marmalade Boy, and I don’t even like Pretzels all that much!  The bag claims this is a hundred dollar value, but that assertion is clearly inflated considering what I’ve been able to find online.  You can get both the Case Closed and Marmalade Boy sets for about thirty-five bucks, T-Shirts like this can usually be found for around ten, and I even managed to find that Haruhi disc for less than two freaking bucks.  Round that out with the figure and the snack and you just BARELY make it to fifty which is a shame considering I’m really only gonna use one thing from this set.

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EscLair Studios Button Grab Bag (2x) (Artist)

Website: https://esclairstudios.com/
Total: $10

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I managed to lose the big Sailor Jupiter button pin I got last year as I brought it to this convention and then it ended up falling off my backpack.  I REALLY wish the artist who I got it from was at the event this year as I would have paid an embarrassing amount of money just to get that pin back, but no such luck.  I guess that means I have to move on and find something else which brings us to these two bags.  I’m glad that they not only bothered to give proper labels on them (even including their website) but that they also categorized them so that those looking to purchase one of these will have  a better chance of getting something they want.  They also had these really cool looking wall clocks which they sadly weren’t offering in grab bags but were still quite impressive!  In fact, they were so nice that I’m kind of kicking myself for not picking one up while I was there, but this is hardly the time for regrets!  That comes AFTER we open the Grab Bags!

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Contents: 10 button pins

I get SOME of these references, though I’m not sure what King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was doing in the video game bag.  I’m just gonna assume that’s someone else actually (probably Dark Souls related) and go slink off to my little corner where all the dankest memes and most obvious references can continue to pass me by.  Still, I DID get a Zelda pin which is nice!  Maybe not ten bucks nice, but it’s still something!

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Hen Da Ne Raffle Bags (5x) (Vendor)

Total: $5

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Well if it isn’t our old friends Hen Da Ne!  I railed on them last year for selling random pieces of candy at an astronomically inflated price, but it was eventually pointed out to me that what I was actually buying was a chance to win some sort of prize from the table.  Now they didn’t explain that to me last year and nothing on the envelopes indicated that this was the case, but this year I went in knowing what I was buying… even though I’m still not sure what the prize might have been; nor if I actually wanted whatever it was.  Let’s be frank.  This is the table that was selling the hentai books and the explicit dakimakuras which in concept are fine, but I find both to be overtly problematic as I have made clear in previous years of writing these.  Then again, if I DID manage to win, it would at least be something worth showing off here!  So… was there something waiting for me inside one of these envelopes?

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Contents: Candy

Nope.  No such luck this year I’m afraid.  Also, I want to point out that the explicit dakimakuras were still on display albeit with much LARGER pieces of paper covering the naughty bits and the guy at the booth seems to have misplaced their Make America Great Again hat that they had last year.

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Beastly Boo-tique Mystery Box XL (artist)

Website: https://www.trishdobson.com/
Total: $16

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Now THIS is what I like to see!  Colorful bag!  A custom sticker!  Clear indication of what to expect inside!  It’s a shame just to open the darn thing considering how nice it’s put together!  Speaking of which, this thing might NOT be put together because I dropped it at one point.  Hopefully nothing broke, but I guess we’ll have to see…

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Contents: A pair of horns and a button pin.

I’m not a big fan of the color choice for these horns as this pale semi-transparent look makes them look super plastic and fake, but the build is rather solid and I DID manage to get them on without hurting myself.  Plus, it turns out that these can take a rather strong beating as there’s no visible damage from when I accidentally dropped the bag.  The pin itself is nothing special if I’m being honest, but if you’re looking for a solid set of easy to use horns… for whatever reason, then these guys seem to be a good option.

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Anime Pavilion Grab Bag (Vendor)

Website: http://animepavilion.com/
Total: $50

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Anime Pavilion has been at the Vendors Hall the last two times I went there, but I never really paid it any attention as the deals were never all that great and the selection was rather… generic.  Sure, they had A LOT of stuff, but I its selection of manga and DVDs weren’t anything special and were certainly easier to find elsewhere for a better deal.  Still, I figured I’d give them a shot and went ahead and bought one of their bags which they helpfully provided a full breakdown of what to expect right on the bag itself!  Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?

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Contents: Exactly what it says was in it.

Yeah, no.  This is doing absolutely nothing for me.  The freaking DVD set they promised looks like it’s been through at least a dozen owners, and the NARUTO MYSTERY FIGURINE wasn’t even sealed on the bottom!  Look, I haven’t been particularly excited about anything I’ve gotten so far, but THIS feels like the perfect example of how these Grab Bags can go wrong.  It’s just leftover crap they couldn’t sell like a SINGLE issue of the Dragon Ball Z manga (who the heck is gonna buy that instead of a volume?) and a DVD set they have the nerve to say is worth thirty when you can buy it BRAND FREAKING NEW right now for twenty.  Padding it out with Pocky and Magic cards (OH WOW!  I’LL NEVER FIND THOSE ANYWHERE ELSE!!) feels just like that; padding, and while the manga is at least the first volume (they didn’t stick in a book at some random point in the story LIKE WITH THE DRAGON BALL Z COMIC) and the messenger bag is just fine, I don’t see this coming CLOSE to a fifty dollar value, nor are most of these items I would have gotten on my own.  That’s of course the risk you run when buying Blind Bags and I know enough to not assume every one of these will be a winner, but there’s no reason they needed to cut corners THIS much.

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Look at this!  Did they feed it to a wood chipper first!?

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Anime Palace Wifu Grab Bag (Vendor)

Total: $25

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And here’s the other grab bag with nondescript packaging.  I mean I GUESS you could say it’s got a bit more color than the one from Anime Gift since it’s not just a plain brown bag, but I honestly think it’s worse as having your customers carry their purchases off in someone else’s bags seems lazy and cheap; like they raided the nearby Aldi right before the convention started.  It’s not even stapled shut!  You could just sneak a peek at the table without any effort!  Well if the sign on the table is to be believed, at least we know what we’re getting into which is more than can be said about several of the other bags!

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Contents: 2 Figures

Okay, well Figures are a decent enough item to get in one of these bags, but after looking up the prices on these I can get both for just under thirty bucks which yet again makes this a rather underwhelming deal for something whose selling point is the savings you get.  I don’t know anything about the series that either of these characters comes from, but the figures are nice enough I guess.  However, the one with the book had a piece broken off immediately and I simply cannot get the pegs in her boots to fit properly with the base provided.  The other figure doesn’t even have pegs as you just place it on the base itself which seems like a lazy move, but it DOES mean I can do all sorts of stupid poses with her!

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“Ladies and gentlemen, step right up as my business partner over here shows you her uncanny ability to talk directly out of her ass!”

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Anime Gift Lucky Bag (Vendor)

Total: $25

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Oh look!  We’ve got another returning Vendor as Anime Gift was brought up last time around with the same boring packaging.  I Now the plain packaging is nothing new for Anime Gift, but where that was the exception last time it’s starting to become the as several of the Vendors (a few of which we’ve already discussed) decided to save a few bucks and just have a sign next to the bags instead of on the bags themselves.  I wasn’t too impressed with the selection of items I got last year, but let’s see if they improved in THAT area at least.

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Contents: A Pokemon plushie, a fan, a poster, a keychain, and a figure

Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.  THE EXACT SAME FIGURINE!?  Were these just sitting in a warehouse somewhere and were about to be put in the Atari E.T. landfill before they decided to try and offload as many as possibly by putting them in these crappy bags!?  I mean it’s a nice enough figure, but what the heck are the odds I’d get the SAME one twice in a row, and what would I even do with it!?  Sadly the rest of the package is far less interesting as it’s basically the same stuff I got last time, down to the poster for a specific toy.  At least THAT time though it was for something I knew about!  Yeah, same shit different year which I guess isn’t TOO bad if you’re looking to add this kind of stuff to your collection, but I with the contents being very similar to last year and the inclusion of the figurine I already have, this just feels incredibly redundant and not worth the money I spent.

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“How about a live demonstration?  Excuse me, miss!  Why don’t you come up here?  Now we’ve OBVIOUSLY never met before, is that right!?”     “Yes… that is correct…”

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HKT Import Toys Mystery Grab Bag

Website: http://www.hkttoys.com/shopping/shoploginforce.asp
Total: $15

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I’ll give them credit for a few things here.  First, the packaging, while non-descriptive, is at least colorful and easily manages to set itself apart from the rest of the bags which are almost all boring brown bags filled with disappointment and pokey.  I’m also glad that I managed to find one that was going for less than twenty five bucks which has become the norm this time around and feels maybe a bit TOO much for something that we’re ultimately asked to take a risk on in good faith that there’ll be SOMETHING worthwhile inside.  Fifteen feels like a much more manageable risk, especially if you’re like me and seeking these things out for whatever reason.

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Contents:  A rather eclectic selection of toys

You know what?  I’m perfectly okay with this; especially considering how disappointed I have been with the Vender Grab Bags overall.  Okay, MAYBE fifteen feels a bit pricey for what are essentially dollar store toys and a freaking pencil, but the low cost of this one compared to everything else at least makes this pill a lot more easy to swallow.  It’s not even like anything in here is particularly BAD or in reprehensible shape.  It’s just… fine.  Perfectly fine for the lowered price I paid for it.

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And that’s it!  I know there was a Pokemon Pinup book that I bought, but hell if I can find the darn thing, and if there’s anything else, well I didn’t take notes and I don’t have any pictures of them.  For the most part I was pretty disappointed here.  Other than the Rick and Morty Poster, one of Danielle Marciniak’s prints, I never used any of this stuff and it was just another reminder of how shallow my experience with this convention has been and why I’m resolved to approach it in a different way.  I’ll do another Swag Review and Grab Bag Unboxing this year, but it’s gonna be WAY more scaled back as spending THIS much money was an absolutely ridiculous mistake that I won’t be making twice.

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