When I tell people why I love anime fandom, I often describe the unrelenting enthusiasm of its members. These are people who love Japanese animation and pop culture for its own sake, and welcome anyone who shares their passion to join the fold. Ben Schoedel (a.k.a. Taishi or Tingle), who passed away at age 30 due to complications during open-heart surgery at Albany Medical Center on Friday, November 11, 2016, was one of those fans.
Ben was born on August 14, 1986 in Binghamton, NY, and has lived both in Binghamton and Rochester, NY. I first met him, however, at AnimeNEXT 2007 in Secaucus, NJ when I attended C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U., a convention event run by the organization of the same name, founded by Ben. It was an ambitious group, with goals to produce their own animation and fan comics as well as put on an annual game show at cons like NEXT.
I never saw the animation and comics ambitions materialize, but what made an impression on me was C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U.'s game show. It included a mix of physical and mental contests ranging from anime trivia to WarioWare games to planking with an ever-growing stack on manga on the contestants' backs. Then, of course, there was "Pocky Olympics," the final competition in which contestants would try to hold a piece of Pocky up with two other pieces while attempting to knock the opponent's piece to the ground. It was a ridiculous game, with its unabashed weeaboo worship of Japanese snacks and the clumsy maneuvering of its players, but it was also a ton of fun to watch and play.
Even as I grew out of most of my overzealous fan tendencies, it was hard not to get caught up in Ben's enthusiasm at these events – his smile brimming under a wiry afro, and a dry sense of humor punctuating his introductions and disclaimers. C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. amassed an army of friends and collaborators over the years, including Ben's wife (and co-founder of the group) MaryEllen, but it was always him, at the center of the room, guiding the event with an indelible energy.
Even when I couldn’t make it to a panel, I usually found time to catch up with Ben and MaryEllen as they wandered the con between their panels at AnimeNEXT. We were both longtime AnimeNEXT attendees (Ben had never missed a con and worked as con staff at one point), so we often discussed the history and future direction of NEXT and conventions in general.
C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. began with Ben and co. cramming fans into tiny panel rooms. Starting in 2012, they were invited as guests to AnimeNEXT. Their panels started drawing huge crowds and required larger and larger ballrooms. They were still active as recently at the 2016 convention, in which Ben and Mary trekked to Atlantic City to put on a show for fans.
In the guest biography for the con, Ben wrote, "[I] founded C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. back in 2003 with the intent of giving convention attendees an unforgettable experience and a forum to make new friends." I can personally attest to his success; at his panel I befriended other young fans whom I never would have met had I simply browsed the dealer's room. Many of my high school anime fan friends have been loyal C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. attendees for years.
Ani-Gamers even has roots in C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U.! At college con Castle Point Anime Convention in Hoboken, NJ in 2008, I had a silly idea. As Ben was closing down another raucous C.R.A.Z.Y.O.T.A.K.U. show, he let me grab the mic and solicit writers interested in contributing to my anime, manga, and video game blog. Two people answered the call: Uncle Yo, who wrote anime reviews for us for a long time, and Ink, who's still a contributing editor and podcast host for the site!
Ben was a local legend in the tri-state area anime convention scene. He was also my friend. His tragic passing at such a young age will be felt not only by the many who knew and loved him personally but by the hundreds of people, many of them young fans new to anime, who, through the events he organized, found an enthusiastic, welcoming community where they could be themselves.
Ben is survived by his wife, MaryEllen Schoedel; their cats, Daisy and Pabu; his mother and stepfather, Anne and David Lott; his brother, Robert Lott, and many more friends and family members.