This past weekend was my second time attending the unambiguously named “Anime Con” over in Almelo, the Netherlands, only unlike last year I managed to go for more than one day. Truth be told, I had originally planned on skipping out this year for various reasons, but when I saw the guest list it seemed like a must. Not only was anime and manga scholar with a particular fondness for Tezuka Helen McCarthy attending, but there was Initial D opening/ending band m.o.v.e. as well. Another prominent guest was Dutch comics artist Martin Lodewijk, but I was not able to see him because he was only able to attend on Friday (which I skipped out on).
Located near the German border, the train ride to Almelo for me altogether took about two and a half hours, something I felt I should have remembered from the last time I did it, but somehow seemed strangely new. I was unable to procure a hotel at or near the venue, but taking the train back and forth ended up costing less money (and even less than a similar trip by Amtrak back in the US), and it gave me a lot of time back and forth to read manga and even to draw, which I hadn’t done in a long time. So, even aside from the actual convention itself, fun was had. Also quite fortunate was that the weather in Almelo was excellent, and if I hadn’t had to pass through wind and rain to get there I would’ve thought it to have been a waste to wear a jacket.
Before I get into the con itself, I do want to note that there are some interesting parts of the event which didn’t change too much from last year like the game room and the maid cafe, so I’ll refer you again to last year’s report.
Now I am the type of con-goer who loves to attend panels, and it was very clear to me that Anime Con this year had made a concerted effort to insert more panels into its programming. There were humorous panels, quiz shows, and a number of informative ones, including a Vocaloid panel. Not being terribly interested in Vocaloid myself normally, I walked in on it half an hour after it had begun in order to be around for the next panel, only to realize that in my ignorance I had missed out on what may have been the best Vocaloid panel ever.
Normally, Vocaloid panels seem to be more celebrations of Hatsune Miku and friends, but this panel was actually run by motsu, the rapper from m.o.v.e. Known for such sage wisdom as “I got no impression/ This town made by the imitation/ Wanting your sensation/ In this silly simulation/ I wanna rage my dream,” from the little I caught of it, the whole hour was a little bit of history about Vocaloid and a lot about how it works as a music-making program and its limitations, like how Vocaloids are bad at that double-consonant often found in Japanese, the “kk” in Tekkaman for instance. The band has somewhat close ties to the program, as not only was his fellow bandmate yuri was made into the celebrity Vocaloid “Lily,” but the guy as an active musician uses the program himself, even posting on Nico Nico Douga under the name “Nicormy.”
We learned that motsu likes to use the Gackt-based Vocaloid “Gackpoid,” and that there was originally some trouble with Vocaloid Lily because of yuri’s relatively deeper voice and how the program is better-suited for high-pitched tones a la Hatsune Miku. He also gave some tips for working around the program’s limits, like using the hi-hat (the cymbal?) from a drum machine in order to simulate a “ssst” sound, another weakpoint for Vocaloids, or using a “bend down” to improve the sound of Vocaloid rapping. Even though I don’t know music and had to look up some of these terms after, I really regret not being in there earlier.
Right after the Vocaloid panel was Helen McCarthy’s talk on “kawaii” and its origins, tracing it back more generally to a biological human tendency to want to protect doe-eyed creatures be they babies or kittens, as well as more directly how the styles we associate with Japanese cuteness were the result of an intermingling between Japanese and Western cultures. For instance, Helen pointed towards Betty Boop as an influence on kawaii, a mix of cute and sexy and facial proportions which resemble a traditional idea of attractveness in Japan, and talked about the French artist Peynet, whose romantic drawings of Parisian life still persist today.
Of particular note for me was her brief discussion of the artist Macoto Takahashi, whose “Makoto Eyes” (see above) would clearly become an influence on 60s and 70s shoujo manga. In fact, I had to ask Helen about the clear lineage into shoujo, and what might have caused a decline in those types of sparkling eyes, to which she replied that it likely has to do with how the painstaking detail of Makoto Eyes, which can take hours to draw precisely, conflicts with the hectic work schedule of a manga artist.
The last panel I attended was “The Future of Comics is Manga.” Held on the last day of the convention, it drew what I felt was a surprisingly large crowd based on my experience with American conventions, and I have to wonder if there are actually proportionately more anime con attendees interested in industry and creator discussions compared in Dutch conventions. On the panel were Helen McCarthy, Japanese manga and video game pixel artist curently living in the Netherlands Aoki Noriko, writer for the Dutch anime magazine Aniway Rik Spanjers, and Dutch comics writer Sytse Algera. The discussion went to various places, from how it’s faulty to say that comics never appealed to adults around the world and that it’s more an issue of the comics industry not being able to hold onto those readers to the comparatively low salary that most manga artists make, which has to be tempered by an actual passion and enthusiasm for creating comics.
Somewhat unfortunately, the Q&A session turned into primarily a discussion of piracy and copyright, from downloads to doujinshi to everything in between. While I felt that it was in certain ways a fruitful discussion, and everyone agreed that creators cooperating with fans had definite benefits, it also pushed aside all other potential questions. Moreover, a lot of the discussion had to do with artists feeling that they’re being slighted by downloads, and I feel that when you have a panel comprised of mostly artists and creators it skews the discussion in a certain direction, just as a panel of mostly editors might, or a panel of mostly fanfiction writers. All in all, though, it was quite informative.
While I’m aware of the fact that m.o.v.e. has performed at at least one anime convention in the US, given my current living situation and the sheer size of the United States it was actually easier for me to go to Anime 2012 to see them than if I were still back in the US and they had visited another state.
Last year I had attended a portion of the Aural Vampire concert, but had to leave early. This year I decided to stay for the full thing, which almost didn’t happen because the concert started 45 minutes late. In spite of not getting home until 1am as a result, it was still really great, with m.o.v.e. playing up the crowd and throwing in their Initial D songs alongside some of their non-anime-related work.
I am no regular concert attendee, so I can’t say if this is anything truly special or not, but I was pretty amazed that the singer yuri actually sounds better live than she does in official recordings. I don’t have the proper musical vocabulary to describe what I mean, but she actually comes off as more powerful on-stage than in music videos. motsu meanwhile rapped up a storm, and in some ways it’s even more special to hear live than yuri’s strong vocals.
There were also some technical difficulties with the microphones during the concert, but m.o.v.e. handled it very well with the help of a supportive crowd. When mics would stop working, the two would share one, and at one point the DJ Remo-con (who also deserves respect) passed over his personal headset to motsu so he could continue.
As might be expected, motsu actually has excellent English (he was even occasionally switching to English in the vocaloid panel prior), and was definitely not working from a script when talking to the audience. My favorite moment was probably when motsu asked if we wanted “A CAT FIGHT” or “ANOTHER KIND OF FIGHT.” Remo-con responded with a cat paw gesture. At another point, motsu also asked what kind of beat we want, giving “flamin'” as one option. Naturally, there was only one choice.
Unlike many of the Dutch cons I’ve attended the artist’s alley this time around was somewhat separate from the dealer’s room. I’ve spoken about this many times before, but I’m still interested in the fact that most of the artists in the alley seem to prioritize making full books, either by themselves or in collaboration with others, as opposed to buttons and other trinkets (though those were still around). I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the Netherlands’ own strong tradition when it comes to publishing (it was known for having very good freedom of publishing centuries back), though that connection may be too tenuous.
An interesting element of this convention’s artist’s alley was that there was this peculiar collectible card game available, where you actually buy cards based on the amount of things you buy in the artist’s alley, which you could use to create an actual deck. I didn’t buy too much from the alley, so I couldn’t experience the game firsthand, but it was apparently the idea of the people running the Manga Kissa (manga cafe) at this convention and many others, and who actually currently have a permanent location in Utrecht.
I also got a chance to talk Aoki Noriko, the Dutch-resident Japanese artist, who is also apparently a huge fan of Saint Seiya given her personal portfolio. As we talked, she mentioned some of the difficulty going from traditional media to digital, which is a topic I’m always interested in. In the end, I bought the comic above and left with a thank you, though looking back I regret not asking her more about her work in video games, as she did sprite graphics in the 8-bit and 16-bit era.
Speaking of art, ever since Nishicon 2011 I’ve been really enjoying the idea of a drawing room at conventions, a place which provides free paper and drawing tools so that people can go nuts. Like at Nishicon, the room was run by “Mangaschool,” the group which also ran various drawing tutorials and workshops throughout the convention. I feel like sometimes the best thing to do to get away from the hustle of a con while still being a part of it is to just sit down and draw, to let the mind wander through the hand. Also robots are cool.
I don’t have a proper scanner on me at the moment so while I’d like to share the drawings I made at the convention, I’m going to save it for a separate post in about a month. Look forward to it!
Also on display at the convention were various anime design work and storyboard pages from a wide variety of shows. I’ve included some below for your enjoyment:
Sakura contemplates revenge
Sadly she was not singing the Panty & Stocking opening
While I may not be the best judge of the long-term progress of “Anime Con,” I noticed many improvements compared to last year, especially in terms of varying the kinds of things that are available to do. Theaterhotel Almelo may only be able to hold 3000 people, but I certainly felt their energy as fans.