Going Beyond Limits, for Better or for Worse: Anime NYC 2021

ANIME NYC HAS REPORTED A CONFIRMED CASE OF THE COVID-19 OMICRON VARIANT. IF YOU ATTENDED ANIME NYC, GO GET A COVID-19 TEST. 

One year ago, New York City was still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines had not yet begun to roll out, and many of the annual traditions we expected had to be put on hold—possibly even indefinitely. Though not seen in the same rarefied light as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s, Anime NYC had become an annual outing for my friends and me. I was sad, though understanding, that 2020 had to be canceled.

Anime NYC is right in my backyard, tends to have some interesting Japanese industry guests, and the fact that it has thrived in one of the toughest convention cities (see the defunct Big Apple Anime Fest and New York Anime Festival, among others) meant I’ve felt a strong desire to support the event—lest it go away and be substituted by unscrupulous scams and the like. When Left Field Media announced that Anime NYC 2021 was on, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation. 

Lines, Crowds, and COVID Mitigation

Vaccination rates are generally high in NYC, and we have a general mandate for indoor venues. However, the situation was different even compared to Otakon three months ago, thanks to the rise of the Delta variant, the colder weather, and concern over waning efficacy of vaccines. In the end, I decided to attend, thinking that there might be a drop in attendance that would give plenty of breathing room. After all, New York Comic Con 2021 in October saw lower numbers, right?

Not so. Anime NYC 2021 was packed with fans extremely ready to revel in the convention experience. In fact, attendance was up compared to 2019—from 46,000 to 53,000. By comparison, New York Comic Con saw a drop from 260,000 to 150,000. 

I find that this contrast highlights the difference between having a larger but relative more casual and mainstream audience versus a hardcore base ready to go wild. The former will see better results in the good times, but the latter will ride with you even when it gets bad. I suspect this has less to do with loyalty towards Anime NYC itself and more to do with passion for anime and manga in general, but the results are the same.

Anime NYC 2021 was from Friday, November 19 to Sunday, November 21. It was clear that the showrunners knew how big the lines were going to get, as they began sending out alerts encouraging as many people to grab their vaccination wristband and badge on Thursday before the con. However many heeded their advice, by the time Friday rolled around, it was clearly not enough. The con opened at 1pm, but people were lining up since 9am, packed together outside in fairly cold weather, all while being unsure of whether they were on the right line. In previous years, this would have been a nuisance. With COVID-19 around, I could only hope that people kept their masks on and were smart about it.

As a press attendee, I had the benefit of being able to avoid the brunt of these problems. However, what should have been a five-minute process of “getting in” turned into almost half an hour as I was told three different things by three different people as to how to get my wristband and get into the Jacob Javits to get my press badge. So while I was fortunate to not have gotten the worst of the lines, the small taste I had made me aware of how much worse it probably was for the attendees on Friday. Saturday and Sunday seemed more organized, but I don’t know how much it alleviated any issues.

In addition to better communication and maybe even the ability to line up indoors, I have to wonder how much of the problem is that the Thursday badge pick-up hours only go to 6pm. Anime NYC is very much a commuter con, and I imagine many people are working or going to school from 10am to 6pm. Even in pandemic times, New York is still often the city that never sleeps.

Omicron Variant

Of course, the elephant in the room in hindsight is the news that one attendee had a case of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Any sort of precautions were inevitably taken without knowledge of its existence, but excuses also don’t treat infections. Thankfully, none of the people I know personally who attended Anime NYC (including myself) have tested positive, but between reports that the Omicron variant spreads more easily and that the person who was found to have it may have spread it to half of a group of 35 friends, it’s clear that there needs to be an extra layer of vigilance.

Take mask compliance, for example. I found it to be mostly there, but it felt like people got more and more lax. All the classic errors of masking were there (not covering the nose, taking it down to talk, not wearing it all). While this is partly on those attendees who flouted proper mask usage, I would like to have seen better enforcement by the con itself. Even the simple act of providing free masks at the con could go a long way.

Dealer’s Hall

The Dealer’s Hall felt like any other at a professionally run big con, but I did notice one thing in particular: People seemed very, very eager to buy stuff. It was as if two years’ worth of pent-up desires to purchase came crashing to the surface. So not only was it packed each day, but attendees were behaving like the money they had was burning holes in their wallets. Because of my wariness over COVID-19, I went in and out, trying to avoid staying in there for too long.

That said, I did purchase a few things with the intent of making them part of my convention memories, so I understand that sentiment. I got an official May hoodie from Guilty Gear Strive, nabbed some new manga, and found a booth that actually sold old Japanese movie brochures. I picked up one for God Mars and a couple for Goshogun.

Other highlights of the Hall included the HololiveEN booth where you could take photos with cut-outs of all the EN girls (including from the inaugural generation), a tribute wall to the late Miura Kentaro, author of Berserk, along with a New Japan Pro-Wrestling booth where you could hit the actual NJPW ring bell.

Panels

One of my favorite things about anime cons are the panels. While Anime NYC isn’t anywhere close to the amount of content you’d get from something like Otakon (and it’s clearly not the con’s priority), there was at least a panel track when you wanted to sit and listen.

Due to other engagements, I was unable to attend the Aramaki Shinji panel. I was told it was informative and even went over some of his work on American cartoons (M.A.S.K., Pole Position), though it seemed like Aramaki had less time than he thought.

Hololive Council

I’ve been getting more and more into Virtual Youtubers over the past couple years, and so I was looking forward to HololiveEN Council’s con debut at Anime NYC.

One of the running jokes among the fandom is that Hololive English group streams tend to be pretty “scuffed,” and this was certainly no exception. The panel started roughly half an hour late, and there were technical issues throughout, such as audio delays. Still, it was good to see the Council get their moment in the sun at a convention, and they were entertaining nevertheless. While the panel was focused on HoloCouncil, HoloMyth (the first generation of HololiveEN) made a cameo with some messages for their kouhai.

One big difference compared to other Hololive conventional panels I’d seen online was that there was less interactivity with the live audience. Namely, much of the interactions were scripted and questions were taken from Twitter rather than a live audience, which was a tad disappointing but also understandable given the size of the crowd and the inevitable technical difficulties. Overall, it felt like a very managed experience, possibly because it was sponsored in part by the Consulate General of Japan in New York. Also, while the interactivity wasn’t as high, the fans in the audience tried to bridge that gap. It was easy to notice who got the most enthusiastic fans—Ouro Kronii’s “Kronies” certainly wear their preferences on their sleeves.

Afterwards, I got some Hololive merch thanks to a friend: A Ceres Fauna button!

New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits

While there weren’t many guests who flew in from Japan this year, one surprising appearance came from New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s “Switchblade” Jay White, leader of Bullet Club. He was there to promote NJPW’s new mobile game: New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Spirits. 

Jay mentioned that this was his first-ever convention appearance, and he was pretty much a natural at entertaining the crowd. My favorite thing was his insistence that he was the sole reason NJPW sold out Madison Square Garden a couple years ago, and every time he said it, a large and obnoxious image of this fact would flash on screen. 

Although I had a good time , part of me regrets going to this panel because I should have expected an audience of wrestling fans to be loud and care little about the risks of COVID-spreading associated with yelling. One person in particular was loud, maskless, and insisted on shouting constantly. I also had the sense that the fans love bringing attention upon themselves.

As for the game itself, “bizarre” is how I would describe it. Unlike so many other wrestling games, it uses all existing video footage for moves, as well as green-screened video of the wrestlers during turn-based move selection. The developer of the game (from Bushiroad) even said they had to clear rights for the footage in 150 countries. There was also an example of training to improve your wrestler’s stats, and the key point here is that it also has live footage of your chosen NJPW wrestler, this time getting sweaty in the gym. This, I believe, is where the real appeal of the game might be. It will also predictably have a gacha component, but the developer claims it won’t be pay-to-win.

GKIDS

I’ve long known GKIDS for their involvement with the New York International Children’s Film Festival, but they’ve also been putting out some excellent titles on home video lately. GKIDS was there because many of their films were having American or east-coast premieres at Anime NYC. While I was unable to see most of them, I was glad to find out that they’re pretty much all getting limited theatrical releases, notably Hosoda Mamoru’s Belle in January and Pompo the Cinephile in Spring 2022. I was able to see Pompo at the con, and you can read my review here.

At the panel, I found out how successful Promare has been, which is quite a bit. It’s the reason the film keeps getting re-screenings in theaters while others do not.

Cosplay

I didn’t take many cosplay photos this year, but I wanted to at least share a couple.

Final Thoughts

In spite of an inevitable lack of Japanese guests and trepidation over the pandemic, Anime NYC came back at a time when people were champing at the bit to do something in person again. I had a decent time at the con, but seeing the crowds made me realize a truth about this new era: More success means more precautions are necessary if we don’t want worse-case scenarios happening. I hope that whatever fallout occurs due to the Omicron variant, it becomes an outlier rather than a standard of conventions.

Cut, Cut, Cut: Pompo the Cinephile (Anime NYC 2021)

THIS IS A REVIEW FOR A SCREENING AT ANIME NYC 2021, WHICH HAS A REPORTED CASE OF OMICRON-VARIANT COVID-19. IF YOU ATTENDED THIS CON, GO GET TESTED.

When it comes to making movies, editing is often seen as one of the least glamorous elements. The image of filmmaking pop culture conveys to us often eschews that process. The anime film Pompo the Cinephile chooses instead to celebrate the nitty gritty of film editing and the painful decision of what to leave on the proverbial cutting room floor, all while being a vibrant and creative work itself.

Pompo is the nickname of Joelle D. Pomponette, a prodigy film producer in “Nyallywood” who has been responsible for one box office hit after the next. Her assistant, the perpetually haggard Gene Fini, is a lover of movies who can’t understand why Pompo seems to work only on schlocky blockbusters—or why she hired an untalented wreck of a human being like him. But Pompo sees that Gene has what it takes to work behind the camera, and when she picks him to be the newbie director and editor of her new project, Gene falls deeper into the world of filmmaking than he thought was possible.

A movie about making movies can feel like an exercise in pretentious navel-gazing, but Pompo the Cinephile manages to strike a tricky balance between “the artist and their oeuvre” and “films are for the enjoyment of others” that gives merit to the indie arthouse piece, the Academy—excuse me, Nyacademy Award winner—and the popcorn flick. Much of Pompo the Cinephile is about exploring the emotions one experiences when involved in different parts of a production, and while there is a good amount of anime-style melodrama and bombast, those feelings read as genuine. The characters feel like both people unto themselves and the conduits to deliver a simultaneous celebration and criticism of filmmaking, but without seeming overly preachy. For example, Pompo is very insistent that films should never exceed 90 minutes, but her argument is shown to come from a very personal place while also being quite reasonable. The viewers are left to decide whether to disagree, but the movie itself doesn’t shy away from making assertive statements.

Pompo the Cinephile doesn’t try to flip filmmaking inside out or challenge it to be more experimental. Rather than challenge the status quo of what works and doesn’t, from tropes like the manic pixie dream girl to the notion of killing your darlings as a tenet of artistic creation, the film doesn’t seek a revolution. It shows but doesn’t discuss the difficulties of overwork. Rather, it portrays characters finding imaginative ways to work within the system, even including a strangely engaging side story about investment banking (another conceptual quaalude) and the film industry. 

Even if the kind of filmmaking Pompo the Cinephile showcases isn’t one’s cup of tea, I find it encourages active discussion of how we as people see and regard the act of creating movies. At times, it can feel both insightful and shallow—which is exactly the kind of film Pompo herself excels in. Perhaps most importantly, it’s exactly 90 minutes.

Who Dares Interrupt My Corona-tion?!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2021

A low-angle view of the planet-sized Transformer, Unicron.

The end-of-the-year holidays are rolling around, and I feel like I’m in a strange place mentally and emotionally. I think it’s tied to the assumption that this year’s Christmas would be a far cry from the feelings of hesitation and dread that came with COVID-19 and hot off of the 2020 US elections, and how history might potentially be repeating itself. Virtually everyone I know is vaccinated, including many kids, but reports of the new Omicron variant make me wonder if I need to temper my expectations. And inevitably, it just makes me think of a certain planet-sized Transformer.

(Speaking of which, I got the new blu-ray recently. I don’t know for sure when I’ll re-watch the movie, but it never fails to disappoint.)

On a lighter note, I haven’t been looking at as much anime and manga lately, but there’s a very good reason for that: Super Robot Wars 30. It’s supposed to be over 100 hours, and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I am enjoying the hell out of getting to use Gaogaigo and the J-Decker squad, though.

I also attended Anime NYC 2021, but due to my blog schedule, my coverage of it will be in December. Look forward to a review of Pompo the Cinephile!

I wish for safe and soul-comforting holidays for everyone, and I’d like to thank my patrons for the month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from November:

Real Character: Love Live! Superstar!!

My review of what turned out to be the best Love Live! anime—emphasis on anime.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Imagine Fourteen Balls on the Edge of a Cliff: Ogiue Maniax 14th Anniversary

An anniversary post turned into a reflection on the site Something Awful in light of its founder’s death.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 46 is more serious than silly, and it provides a window into Jin’s inner turmoil.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter involves sharing his thoughts on erotic manga artists.

Apartment 507

Six giant robot anime came out in Fall 2021. Here are my basic impressions of all of them.

Closing

The world is ever unpredictable, and I hope we do what we can as people to watch out and care for one another. Get vaccinated if you can, look out for your fellow humans, and understand that no one is free until we’re all free.

Away with Ads: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2021

Readers may have noticed something different this month: Ogiue Maniax is now ad-free! And right in time for this blog’s anniversary!

I felt that the ads were getting more and more intrusive on the blog if you don’t use any sort of ad block, so I’ve been wanting to do something for a while now.

I’ve also had my Patreon going for more than a few years now, and I wanted the money to go more directly to giving my readers a better experience when reading my posts. I’m thankful to my patrons for allowing me to talk about the new anime season or giant robots or whatever, with special gratitude to the following this month:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from October:

The Anime THEY Don’t Want You to Know About: Makyou Densetsu Acrobunch

I reviewed a lesser known but quite peculiar mecha anime from the 1980s.

The Best Sports Manga You’re Not Reading: Shoujo Fight

My long overdue general review of thia fantastic volleyball manga.

Sora in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Gameplay Thoughts

My personal take on the style and potential of the final DLC character.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 45 might just be my favorite chapter to date. Things are coming to a head between Akira and Jin!

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter has been buzzing with preparation for both his collected-volume releases in September. In a rare treat, he’s actually been retweeting fans who are supporting both Spotted Flower and Hashikko Ensemble, which is how I got retweeted by the man himself!

Apartment 507

A look at the farewell episode for Jigen Daisuke’s retiring veteran voice actor in Lupin III.

Closing

The two things that have my attention as of late are the final Hakai-oh: Gaogaigar vs. Betterman novel and Super Robot Wars 30, which features that very same story. I’m in a constant internal struggle as to which I prioritize. Do I spoil the novel or the game?

This month is also Anime NYC, and I’ll likely end up going. It’s smaller than New York Comic Con, so I predict it’ll be safer, but it’ll still be important to exercise best COVID-19 prevention practices. Remember, vaccinations will be required!

Ouran High School Ghost Club: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2021

The funny thing about blogging for as long as I have—almost fourteen years, at this point—is that you never know what old entry might somehow get excavated and arrived from the massively convoluted ball of information that is the internet. Or rather, you never know which of your posts managed to have the right accidental SEO to actually survive and be on the front page.

This month, All Elite Wrestling held one of their big pay-per-views, All Out. It was an event with many surprise debuts such as Bryan Danielson (formerly Daniel Bryan) and Adam Cole, and among those appearances was New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Suzuki Minoru. I myself was watching and yelling at the screen as soon as his music hit, but when I decided to just check my blog stats on a whim, I noticed a huge spike in hits. The reason: Hundreds of people were finding my 2018 blog post about Suzuki’s entrance theme, “Kaze ni Nare.” Somehow, some way, that post is still on the front page when you google the song’s title.

Anyway, I hope the following Patreon sponsors take flight like birds and risk their lives to become the wind:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from September:

Standing in a Whirl of Confusion—Gundam Reconguista in G Part II: Bellri’s Fierce Charge

My review of the second G-Reco movie. The films continue to impress.

It’s a Secret to Everybody: Giant Gorg

My review of the lesser-known mecha anime Giant Gorg directed by the legendary Yoshikazu Yasuhiko of Gundam fame.

The Unquenching Desire for Villains: 9/11, 20 Years Later

A serious and personal reflection on a moment that changed many lives, including my own.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 44 sees the characters unite in full force, and reveals the softer side of Kousei.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter has been buzzing with preparation for both his collected-volume releases in September. In a rare treat, he’s actually been retweeting fans who are supporting both Spotted Flower and Hashikko Ensemble, which is how I got retweeted by the man himself!

Apartment 507

A review of 2017’s Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul.

Closing

By next month, the fall anime season will be in full swing. All the big sequels and follow-ups like the new Demon Slayer, JoJo’s, and 86 have my attention. However, the fact that Sunrise is trying their hand again at a new mecha series has my attention. Will Kyoukai Senki be any good, or will it land like a wet fart? The fact that it’s impossible to predict given Sunrise’s track record actually has me more excited.

The final Smash Ultimate DLC character is in just a few days! My dreams will always be with NiGHTS (no pun intended), but I’ll be happy with anyone.

Lastly, speaking of October, New York Comic Con 2021 is on. If you’re going, know that NYC requires full vaccinations for entry for those eligible to get vaccinated. Stay safe.

Pumpkin Spicy Takes: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2021

The past month has been quite a ride for me as an anime fan. I attended my first live convention in ages, I watched the finale of one of my favorite franchises ever, and I stumbled into my most popular tweet in a very, very long time.

I’ll definitely be watching the second G-Reco movie next month, so watch out for that review!

Meanwhile, I’d also like to thank the following Patreon sponsors for their continued support:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from August:

I actually think I posted some of my best work in a while, so I recommend readers check out everything this month, but if you only have a little time, these are probably the best.

Farewell, Old Friend—Evangelion 3.01+1.01: Thrice Upon a Time

My extensive analysis and personal send-off of the final Eva film. Clocking in at over 5,000 words, it’s one of the longest pieces I’ve ever written for the blog.

Risk vs. Reward: Otakon 2021

I attended Otakon this year! In person! See my thoughts on con-going in the COVID-19 era.

The Fight Against Oneself: Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway

Like Shin Evangelion, another look at the past and then the future—this time, in the form of my review of the latest Gundam movie.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 43 is the first time we’re Kousei’s orphanage—a significant development for the character, in my opinion.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter account has some interesting Eva tidbits in August.

Apartment 507

In terms of setup and interesting storytelling, I think Love Live! Superstar!! might be the best the franchise has to offer.

Closing

Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve noticed a funny thing with my blog stats.

Throughout 2020, I received many more hits than I have over recent years. This trend started to subside around spring this year (when the vaccine rollout started getting some steam), but now over the past couple months as the delta variant ravages the US (where most of my visitors come from), I’m seeing an uptick in blog views again. As much as I like having more people read my stuff, I’d rather everyone be alive.

Go get vaccinated and wear a mask in public and when around others. Stay safe, and I wish you all good health.

Risk vs. Reward: Otakon 2021

2021 was the first year where I questioned whether going to Otakon was a good idea. It’s long been my favorite anime convention, but the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the frightening rise of the delta variant in the United States made me anxious about attending an event that regularly brings close to 30,000 people into a single indoor venue.  Ultimately, I decided to make the trip to Washington DC—partly because I wanted to support the fan-run con that has provided so many excellent moments. But it was also because I wanted to try to do something “normal” while taking every precaution I possibly could in order to avoid straight-up tempting fate. 

Personal COVID-19 Precautions

I traveled to DC fully vaccinated and wearing the best facemasks I could obtain. I decided not to do any interviews with guests this year (though the lack of Japanese industry guests helped that). I largely steered clear of the dealer room and gaming room. And I greatly reduced my normal frantic pace of checking out every panel imaginable to eat and take respite in my hotel room, where everyone else was a familiar face who was fully vaccinated.

Otakon COVID-19 Precautions

Prior to Otakon weekend, attendees would receive emails about the numerous precautions being taken to try to ensure everyone’s safety. Masks would be mandated, the convention center would be well ventilated, and temperature checks would be included.  Vaccinations were not required, which I hope can change for next year.

In terms of masks, the vast majority of people I saw wore masks and wore them properly, and even those whose mask etiquette was questionable would at least try to fix it eventually. This was only my limited perspective, so I can’t say if there were pockets of people resistant to doing so, but it gave me at least a bit of faith that most attendees wanted this event to work. However, trying to enforce a mask mandate on 23,000 people is no easy feat, and I’m not sure if a greater amount of staff/security would do the trick.

The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is a very spacious venue with high ceilings, and was even used as a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients in previous months. In a more cramped space, I would have been much more alarmed, but walking past people on the way to a panel felt no busier than a New York City sidewalk, albeit indoors—at least on Friday and Sunday. Saturday had more attendees (an inevitability for any weekend convention), and that had me feeling more apprehensive. I took particular care not to remove my mask for any reason on Saturday.

The panel rooms themselves could have used better social distancing, as there was no incentive presented to steer clear of others outside of one’s own desire to do so. In some cases, volunteers encouraged us to pack in for the more heavily attended panels, and I found myself (perhaps against better judgment) staying and hoping my mask and vaccinations (as well as the masks of those around me) would be enough. I feel there should have been more done to encourage social distancing in rooms, even though I understand the disappointment it would inevitably cause for those who wouldn’t be able to enter a panel or event they could have in previous years. I myself presented a panel this year with the best attendance I’ve ever seen for one of my presentations, and I feel conflicted about it because of these circumstances.

As for the temperature checks, I did not see any, and I’m not sure how they were supposed to work or if anyone was indeed caught having a fever. If anyone spotted the temperature checks in action or have more information, I would like to know more.

Fan Panels

As mentioned in the introduction, there’s a lot I typically look forward to at Otakon—interviews with Japanese guests, especially—that simply didn’t happen this year. The ability to get interesting industry guests who are willing to share greater insight into the world of anime and manga beyond just pitching their latest projects has been one of the most valuable parts of the Otakon experience up to now. In their absence, I had to wonder if the other appealing aspects of the con could carry the event.

While guests are great, I think the real lifeblood of Otakon is the robust fan panel programming, and I was happy to see it out in full force. A combination of veteran presenters and (I assume) new blood kept things entertaining and informative. While not every panel was an absolute winner, the energy that comes from seeing people onstage sharing topics they find fascinating or encouraging others to expand their scopes is always encouraging.

Thirty Years Ago: Anime in 1991

Daryl Surat from Anime World Order is always a solid presenter. He picked a nice and diverse set of works and made good cases for why they’re still memorable today. As I expected, he made reference to Brave of the Sun Fighbird, the super robot anime that gave birth to the “Is this a pigeon?” meme.

The Best Openings for Shows You (Probably) Didn’t See

This had the Anime World Order crew in full force. As advertised, there were some I didn’t see, and I liked that it had a real mix of genres. The fact that it started off with the opening to Goshogun earns it plenty of points. 

Japonisme: A History of the First Japanese Culture Craze in the 19th Century

This panel looked at the weebs of the 1800s, particularly in terms of the great artists of the century. The presenter (an art history teacher) did a solid job of showing how names like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and more were influenced by the woodblock prints and other forms of art coming out of Japan—as well as the problematic Orientalism surrounding the whole thing. 

Manga Masters: Kentaro Miura

Patrick (The Cockpit) and manga expert Ed Chavez did a retrospective on the life and career of the late, great Miura Kentaro. Some of the big takeaways were that 1) Miura was not just a skilled artist, he was a nurturing and supportive figure to his friends and fellow artists 2) he single handedly put seinen on the map for the predominantly shoujo-oriented publisher Hakusensha 3) he changed the landscape when it came to manga and fantasy titles. Overall, it was an informative and insightful panel.

Samus vs. Ridley: A Metroid Historia

Not just a video game history panel, this one looked at how the disparate scraps of lore and storytelling gradually came together to form the Metroid we know today. It was fascinating how seemingly everything, even the Nintendo Power comic from the 1990s, somehow has found its way into the mythos in part or in whole.

Bad Anime, Bad…The 20th Anniversary!!

One of the enduring highlights of Otakon is back to celebrate twenty years of awful animation, and I think it’s important to note how much this panel acts as a predecessor of sorts for the current Youtube anime review scene. Not just limited to Japanese animation, it was good to see this still going strong—and Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned is evergreen terrible.

The Wonderful World of Yas

Another creator retrospective, this time it was for Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer of Gundam and one of the finest artists to ever grace the industry. Finding out that he was dissatisfied with his work in the 1980s makes a lot of things click together in terms of my understanding of him. I wish this panel was better attended, as I think plenty of fans would love seeing not just Yaz’s mecha stuff but also his love of history. However, it was literally up against a different Gundam-related panel.

When Anime Companies Knew Nothing About ANIME FAN WANTS

Run by George Horvath, this panel was a series of painful lessons in industry hubris. However, perhaps it had the opposite effect on me, and I kind of want to start my own anime company…

Ogiue Maniax Presents: Saturday Morning MILFs

A few years ago, I decided to turn an idle observation about anime into a panel where I introduce fans to the surprisingly wide variety of interesting and attractive mom characters cropping up in works for kids. Amid the perennial love of high school characters in anime, I thought MILFs was a worthwhile subject. Unfortunately, my initial attempts to present it were met with rejections and waitlists.

But this year, I decided to swing for the fences and apply for it as my sole panel submission…and actually got the okay! While I was out of practice when it came to public speaking, I actually had most of the panel prepared from previous years’ attempts, and felt comfortable that I could deliver something at least decent.

What I didn’t expect was to be in Panel 1 (one of the two biggest panel rooms at Otakon), and for my silly little project to have the largest convention audience I’ve ever dealt with on a personal basis. It was packed (though that was perhaps not a good thing, given COVID and all).

The funny thing about me is that I often feel a lot more pressure presenting in a vacuum than I do to an actual audience. In front of a gathering of otaku eager to see some MILFs, I worked to educate and inform, while also throwing some red meat out there (because at the end of the day, it was an 18+ panel). Afterwards, a few longtime friends complimented me on the panel, saying I successfully threaded the needle and balanced learning with pleasing the horny audience.

Industry Panels and Screenings

Despite a lack of Japanese guests, the industry panels I did attend were all worthwhile in their own way. The DENPA panel was run by Ed Chavez, and he’s always your best bet for getting an inside look at the manga industry. AnimEigo has the benefit of CEO Robert Woodhead’s many decades in the industry, and I was impressed by his company’s dedication to preserving art and design material for anime projects. Discotek panels are always a blast, but the announcement of blu-ray releases for both Aim for the Top! Gunbuster and Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos practically stole the whole show at Otakon. I’d been waiting years for the former, and the latter never got a full release—it was actually licensed by accident

I also decided to check one off the bucket list and finally watched Project A-ko, or rather, Discotek’s remastered blu-ray edition.

In addition, there was a screening for a 3DCG short called HOME! by the animation studio Orange. It was a brief but sweet story about an astronaut and a ghost inhabiting a space colony, and it showed why Orange’s CG work is a cut above its competitors in Japan. A short panel afterwards elaborated on Orange’s approach to 3D work, and it’s easy to see the care that goes into shows like Beastars and Land of the Lustrous.

Artist Alley

Artist Alley is usually not one of my priorities, but it sort of took the place of the Dealers Room for me this year. Below are all my purchases at Otakon. It’s not much, but I think it all looks great.

Food

The places I went to this year for finer eating were Farmers & Distillers, SUNdeVICH, and Bantam King. There was also a newly opened Ben’s ChilI Bowl in the convention center (and the old dining area near the underground entrance to the Marriott was closed for renovations).

Farmers & Distillers’ claim to fame is that they get everything directly from local farms. It’s more expensive than your standard restaurants and requires a reservation, but the food is amazing. I got the Yankee pot roast and the vanilla bean cheesecake with strawberries and cream—a combination that was as delicious as I’d hoped but left me regretting the heaviness of the overall dinnerl. the next day. Take a lesson from me and try to balance your meal out better.

SUNdeVICH is a sandwich shop with a variety of solid choices with an international flair. I tried the Shiraz (Persian beef tongue) over salad and the Rome (Italian cold-cut combo) on a sandwich, and both were top notch. 

Bantam King I’d been to on my first trip to DC for Otakon, but this time I went for the curry snow fried chicken plate instead of the chilled ramen. The onions and white sauce on top reminded me a lot of coleslaw and fried chicken, and the flavor profile worked well. However, the simplicity and sheer deliciousness of the chicken drippings over white rice was the real winner.

Ben’s Chili Bowl at the convention center suffered from being short staffed (a common problem caused by the pandemic), but once I got my chili half-smoke (chili over a beef-and-pork sausage on a bun), it was amazingly solid. 

Cosplay

This year’s cosplay had the inevitable addition of masks. Some of the cosplayers would temporarily remove their masks for photos but kept them on otherwise.

Final Thoughts

The overall Otakon 2021 experience, for better or worse, was surprisingly normal. In any other year, it would’ve felt par for the course, but the surrounding circumstances at times made things awkward. There were moments where it was easy to almost lose myself in the moment, but had to get snapped back to the reality of an escalating pandemic. I’m still not sure if going was the right idea, and as the delta variant escalates, I worry about 2022. In the meantime, though, I made it back with plenty of good memories. I hope everyone else can say the same thing.

[Otakon 2021] The Kitchen Sink Too: Project A-ko (Remastered)

Project A-ko is an indelible part of my anime fandom. As a young nerd in the 1990s eager for more information about this newfangled “Japanese animation,” I ran into it everywhere. The super strong A-ko, the technologically savvy B-ko, and the crybaby C-ko defined anime itself, and their antics were the stuff of legends. What fan didn’t recognize them?

But while I “knew” Project A-ko, I never actually watched it. Less a secret shame and more an ongoing omission, this representative gateway anime of those early days just never crossed my path–that is, until Otakon 2021

A Brief History of Restoration

In 2019, Discotek Media announced that they were releasing a blu ray edition of Project Ako, and what began as a state-of-the-art transfer from laser disc eventually gave way to the discovery of an original 35mm film master long thought most to the aether. Fast forward a couple years and a pandemic, and Discotek brought the first showing of the remastered Project A-ko to Otakon attendees. What better way to experience this missing piece of my history?

And so I sat in among a crowded audience, a near-even split of longtime Project A-ko fans and newcomers. Because of my exposure and cultural osmosis, I knew too much to pretend like I was viewing it in a vacuum or with a blank slate. I had read the fanfics, I had seen the websites on Anime Web Turnpike. Now, it was my time to bridge that gap between hearing everyone else’s opinions on Project A-ko and establishing my own.

Story…?

Transfer students A-ko and C-ko are best of friends (or something more). Graviton High’s queen, B-ko, wants C-ko for herself, and she’ll do anything to tear the two friends apart. However, A-ko is superhumanly strong, and neither deception nor giant robots can stop her. Though not immediately obvious, the film was originally meant to be part of the Cream Lemon erotic OVA series before spinning off into its own thing.

The premise of Project A-ko is less a central driving narrative and more of an excuse. It’s a canvas upon which the creators display all manner of gorgeous and lovingly rendered animation ranging from slapstick to tense hand-to-hand combat to fanservice nudity to science fiction set pieces that could impress Moebius. In terms of technical and artistic perspectives, Project A-ko stands the test of time. In terms of artistic indulgence, it stands near the top.

I think how much you like Project A-ko truly boils down to how much you love animation for animation’s sake, how much the excitement and titillation of its myriad spectacles draws you in, and how much you can tolerate a paper-thin plot. I found myself somewhere in the middle, blown away by the sheer beauty of it all, but feeling the drag of nothing to truly anchor it, my attention started to drift halfway through. Yet, now knowing what Project A-ko is like now, it shines a whole new light on the fandom I remember from over 20 years ago.

Hindsight Is Hilarious

Project A-ko is comedy and satire, and I think that much is obvious if you’ve been exposed to plenty of anime. But while watching the interactions between the three core characters, I couldn’t help but recall the kinds of series-related discussions I would see as a young anime fan. Chief among them was the recurring hate lobbed at C-ko, with viewers frustrated that both the cute and feisty A-ko and the beautiful and elegant B-ko would devote so much attention to a loud, whiny, blond gremlin who seems like the worst kind of shoujo heroine. But in the wise words of McBain doing stand-up: that’s the joke.

C-ko is supposed to be obnoxiously innocent, from her shrill voice to her garbage-dump lunches she eagerly makes for A-ko. The way the haughty B-ko stares longingly at C-ko when the latter is at her loudest adds to the absurdity of their interactions. And unlike Mineta in My Hero Academia, who some fans find so annoying that the fanfiction site Archive of Our Own has a tag to indicate the removal of Mineta (and any traces of his history) from MHA, C-ko isn’t just some comedic side character. C-ko is essential to Project A-ko.

But I’m aware of the fact that Project A-ko hit the Western anime audience at a very particular time when there just wasn’t much anime available. Fans at the time took Project A-ko at face value, and it took the discourse around the movie in a certain direction that’s fascinating in hindsight. It’s possible I would have fallen into this trap myself—If I had watched Project A-ko back in the 1990s, I most definitely would not have understood that their class teacher is literally Creamy Mami, for example. In other words, “If a work of satire comes out in an environment where the target of satire does not exist, is it still satire?” 

Generational Differences…in Spaaaace

In the anime Darling in the Franxx, the characters eventually take to space to fight a greater threat. I often welcome this familiar trope, having grown up on it as a matter of course, and the studio behind Franxx, Trigger, is often known for this particular kind of escalation. But to a number of viewers, this is the point at which the show jumps the shark. To them, the move to space battles makes little sense, and nothing about what came prior sets up this little twist. In contrast, I think Franxx is at its strongest after this point, and it’s because I’m of the A-ko generation without having previously seen A-ko.

That fandom generation gap is evident in the constant presence of that Star Wars–esque science fiction/space fantasy aesthetic in Project A-ko. Spaceships, aliens, and beam weapons are mixed into the setting and the narrative, and while technically there’s a twist, the plot revelation component is less important than the pretense it allows for more fantastic animation. And of course, there really isn’t any science fiction in the thematic or philosophical sense—it’s all about the explosions. “Why wouldn’t you have a space battle?” asks the 1980s/1990s anime fan, and Project A-ko is designed to be a collage of all the things that anime fans of the era adored.

A Worthwhile Experience

While I know all too well the period in Western anime fandom when Project A-ko was a definitive anime—from the obsession with chibis to the limited reference material that shaped the perception of anime in a certain direction—I also know that I can never truly return to that time. I can only look at Project A-ko from a point where it’s not the mind-blowing, life-altering experience that introduced me to all of the possibilities of animation. But that’s okay: Project A-ko still has a certain charm that’s hard to deny. The lack of inhibition it conveys and the loving care put into every second of it still stand the test of time, at least in terms of spectacle.

Otakon-kon-kon: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for August 2021

For better or worse, I’ve decided to attend Otakon 2021 this year. And barring an even more devastating report about COVID-19 and the delta variant than what’s already out, it looks like I’ll be on track. I’ll be vaccinated and masked, and while it’s basically impossible to ask anyone to be the former just one week out from Otakon, there’s also a mask mandate for the event itself. Stay safe, everyone!

I have a single Otakon panel this year, and it’s actually one I’d been trying to get into the con for a while now. Come see:

Saturday Morning MILFs (18+)

Friday, 10:45pm–11:45pm

Panel 1

Did you know that kids’ anime has a long history of spotlighting hot moms?! They’re here to teach kids important lessons…and keep the parents from changing the channel! Explore the legacy of attractive mothers in Japanese animation and their continuing influence on the fandom.

Yes, I made an educational panel about anime MILFs. I looked at the schedule, and I’m the only 18+ panel on Friday, so it feels rather…daunting.

Anyway, I’d like to thank the following Patreon sponsors for supporting the blog and allowing me to indirectly research topics like attractive anime moms:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from July:

Haachama vs. Brian Pillman: VTubers and Evolving Gimmicks

A comparison of the worlds of virtual youtubers and pro wrestlers.

Back Arrow Never Asks for Too Much

My review of the quirky mecha anime Back Arrow.

Oh, What Could Have Been: Maku Musubi Final Review

A look at one of my favorite recent manga that felt like it had more left in the tank.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 42 brings new club members, including an arrival I’ve personally been anticipating.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter account through July has him quote tweeting me!

Apartment 507

A review of Demon Slayer -Kimetsu no Yaiba- the Movie: Mugen Train.

Closing

If I see you at Otakon, I’ll be glad to give a solid thumbs-up from a safe distance. And remember: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, wear a mask. Let’s make this a memorable convention where no one catches COVID-19.

And one last thing: I’m really, really looking forward to seeing Gaogaigo in Super Robot Wars 30. I hope I can finish the last novel before the game comes out.

Ju-shin Ly-ger: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for July 2021

Summer 2021 anime is just beginning, and there are plenty of shows I’m looking forward to. Chief among them is Getter Robo Arc, bringing the classic giant robot franchise into the 2020s. I definitely plan on reviewing it once it’s done, but I’m curious to see how it does with a modern-day anime audience.

Speaking of robots, Bandai just announced the GX-100 Soul of Chogokin: Gaiking and Daikumaryu. Coming in at 82,500 yen and measuring about 750mm, it is going to be an impressive hunk of diecast metal. I’m not a super big fan of Gaiking, but I’m looking forward to all the toy reviews.

Also, check out this GX-100 celebration stream featuring Sasaki Isao, singer of Yamato, Gaiking, Getter Robo, and many other classic themes.

Before getting into the posts from the past month, I’d like to thank the following Patreon sponsors:

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from June:

20th Century Boys: Pandemics, Conspiracies, and Cults of Personality

How the Urasawa Naoki manga is eerily more relevant than ever before.

BNA: Brand New Animal, Assimilationism, and the Myth of the Model Minority

This series from 2020 continues the trend of socially conscious furry anime.

Little Lady, Big Meals: Kozuma no Kobito no Kenshin Recipe

One of my favorite manga authors, the creator of Mogusa-san, has a new series!

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 41 brings the Culture Festival tournament arc to a powerful finish, as well as some surprising insight into the Kimura family.

Kio Shimoku’s Twitter account through June featured a lot of insight into his older work.

Apartment 507

Pui Pui Molcar!

Closing

I mentioned last month that I am fully vaccinated, and it’s given me a new sense of security and freedom I didn’t have before. However, now we have a new COVID-19 variant, the Delta variant, wreaking devastation around the world. It’s also getting a foothold in the US, and I find myself nervous that I’m getting a little too complacent and worrying about trying to neitheo over- or undercompensate for the current situation. Having to balance the psychological happiness that comes from doing things again with some sense of normality with awareness that we are in no way close to getting out of this pandemic reminds me of all the conscious decisions I’ve had to make these past 18 months, and the toll it can take.

That being said, I plan on being at Otakon next month. I’ll be fully masked, and playing it as carefully as I can short of canceling. I hope it’s the right choice.