The Far Side Booth at New York Comic Con 2019

It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.

The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.

This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.

Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

Pre-Otakon 2019 Hype Courtesy of the Speakeasy Podcast

Otakon 2019 is this weekend, and I recently appeared on the Reverse Thieve’s Pre-Otakon Speakeasy Podcast. We go into what panels we’re doing and what panels we’re looking forward to, so have a listen if you’re inclined and share your thoughts and expectations.

As for Ogiue Maniax’s panels, I have two this year.

Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku

Saturday, 7pm-8pm in Panel 7 (Room 146C)

Artist Kio Shimoku is best known for the manga Genshiken, but his career is filled with plenty of other fun, daring, and thought-provoking titles. Come and learn about Kio’s life, works, and artistic evolution!

Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots!

Sunday, 1245pm-145pm in Panel 5 (Room 151B)

When giant robots and romantic relationships collide, there’s bound to be chaos, drama, and more than a few messages about peace between peoples. See how some of the most iconic and fantastic mecha anime approach the perennial trope of star-crossed lovers!

See you in Washington DC!

World Shaking: Anime Expo 2019 Love Live! Sunshine!! Concert Review

For the past few years, I’ve been attending Anime Expo (AX) in a limited capacity, and it means I often don’t get to see everything I want to. In this respect, the AX Love Live! Sunshine!! concerts have been something I’ve wanted to see but regrettably kept on missing. But this time was different, and I finally, finally saw Aqours live. While it wasn’t my first time seeing a Japanese idols concert—I saw Morning Musume as part of a multi-act performance at Anime NYC—it was the very first time I had specifically sought out anything even resembling an idol group. It was an enlightening experience in terms of both performers and fans, and a unique experience thanks to a strange AX weekend filled with literal seismic activity.

The adventure that was attending LOVE LIVE! SUNSHINE!! Aqours World LoveLive! in LA ~BRAND NEW WAVE~ (how’s that for a mouthful?) began a couple of months before Anime Expo, when it came time to purchase tickets. I’m no stranger to being part of a massive online crowd trying to buy tickets for the same thing. However, difficulties I had never seen arose. After waiting in the queue, the ticket page would open, but every time I tried to select a ticket and check out, it would say that the ticket I selected was no longer available. This would happen no matter what I selected, be it general, VIP, or the mysterious balcony option that would appear and disappear randomly. I think the issue was that, as the site was trying to choose a ticket for me, it would somehow immediately get snatched up by someone loading the page a split second earlier. I can only assume all this was because of Love Live!’s sheer popularity, Los Angeles being a convenient location for fans in both the U.S. and Asia, and the Showclix website being not fully equipped to handle this level of demand.

In other words, I already had it in my head that an overwhelming amount of people wanted to see Aqours. I managed to get a general admission ticket, and then counted the days. There were two Aqours concerts at AX, but I wasn’t quite hardcore enough to attend both.

I flew to AX the day before the concert, and luckily the plane had free Wi-Fi, so I could see what was going on in the outside world. As the plane was getting ready to descend, I saw that Southern California had just experienced a roughly 6.5 magnitude earthquake—one of the strongest in a long time—and attendees on social media were talking about it, wondering if the tremors would keep coming.

Friday came, and after taking the time to rest my feet (the general admission ticket was standing only), I went to the Novo in downtown LA. The doors opened at 5:30pm and the concert started at 7:00pm, so there was plenty of time to kill. Some new information came out during that time—like the release date of the film Love Live! Sunshine!! Over the Rainbow, an accompanying trailer, and details about the Love Live! Sunshine!! x Shadowverse collaboration—but most of the lull was spent waiting in anticipation. Eventually, the crowd started pulling out the glow sticks and singing along with almost everything on the speakers as a way to pass the time.

Then, at last, out came Aqours to raucous applause, a trend that would continue throughout the concert. I had about as good a spot as possible without being in the VIP section, and I was pretty close to the of the speakers, but there were times when the un-mic’d crowd was louder than the singers.

One of the nine members, Komiya Arisa (aka Kurosawa Dia), could not make it to the concert due to health issues, so I had wondered what they would do in her stead. Would they change the choreography at all? Would they adjust the songs to have other people take her parts? They decided to basically just leave a gap where she would have been, and have a recording of Dia for her parts. I don’t know if this was the intent, but it gave the feeling that they wanted to convey her being there in spirit.

I’m not well-versed in all Aqours songs, especially not compared to that of μ’s from the original Love Live!, so I was surprised by the heavy bass that seemed to show up out of nowhere during one performance. After the song finished, however, a message came in over the loudspeakers: the concert was put on hold, and what I thought was “bass” was actually an earthquake. At first, I was confused, because we were on the 7th floor and I didn’t notice a thing. But then I looked up and saw a set of lights swinging back and forth, clear evidence that the voice wasn’t kidding.

Impressively, Aqours had danced through the earthquake, and to my untrained eyes, they didn’t miss a step. After a few minutes of waiting, the concert was deemed safe to continue, and they went straight into the next song with little issue. Given that Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, I wonder if this is familiar territory to them.

A little before the earthquake, a guy standing nearby handed me a spare glow stick, perhaps taking pity on my merch-less self or wanting to make sure we as an audience looked as good as possible. This was also my first time with an official Aqours “Blade”—one of at least three he had on him—and I had no idea that these things were so complicated. A Blade comes with nine colors (one for each girl), and adept fans have all of them memorized, quickly shifting to the proper one given the song and point in the performance. The only one I could figure out immediately was Yohane’s, thanks to the Yohane cosplayer in front of me with two lights permanently set to white. I actually looked up the color for my have Aqours, Matsuura Kanan (CV. Suwa Nanaka), and taking a hint from the aforementioned cosplayer, kept it on “emerald green” for most of the rest of the concert, making a few exceptions when I could figure out what to do. At one point, the guy who lended me his spare light got so into a song, he pulled out two additional generic glow sticks and accidentally elbowed me in the gut hard. He didn’t apologize, but I honestly think he was so entranced by Aqours that he didn’t even notice.

After a fun and exciting main performance, they followed with a whopping four-song encore, which included a song where the performers would encourage everyone to bring out their official Love Live! Sunshine!! towels and swing them around. It was about the most “buy our stuff” moment of the concert to me, but I didn’t mind all too much.

When all was said and done, my only regrets were my aching feet (I had to do a lot of standing that day, concert aside), and the fact that they didn’t perform “Happy Party Train,” the song led by Kanan. It turns out that they actually did “Happy Party Train” the second day, whereas we on the first day got “Koi ni Naritai Aquarium” and its focus on Watanabe You (CV: Saitou Shuka). I’m sure some You fans wish they could’ve switched places with me, so in the end it was simply luck of the draw. Also, seeing Suwa’s pouty face during the performance was a treat in itself.

If I have the opportunity next year, I’d be interested in seeing Aqours again. At the very least, it would give me a reason to use the Aqours Blade I purchased the next day. And even if I don’t attend, I’ll still have the memories of an earthquake concert. However, given that there’s a mega live event in January that will bring together the old and new school idols of Love Live!, maybe Anime Expo 2019 will do something special as well. And if it so happens that the girls of Nijigasaki or μ’s show up and render my Blade obsolete, then so be it. I’ll be glad to see them too.

“Hi-New York”: Anime NYC 2018

I had nothing but praise for last year’s inaugural Anime NYC, which I felt was the right size, scope, and level of focus for a New York City anime convention. But it can be difficult for a sequel to live up to a hit original, so I was curious to see how the second time around would fair.

Spoilers: It was pretty fantastic.

Exhibitor’s Hall, Artist Alley, and Moving Around

Once again, Anime NYC hit it out of the park in terms of having the right amount of space. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, as too little space means crowding and delays for all attendees but too much space can make a convention feel empty and isolating. Aside from absolute peak hours in the Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley, I never had any trouble moving from place to place. There might come a point where Anime NYC starts to outgrow its space, but the con this year only took up a portion of the Javits—it actually shared convention space with a pet-oriented event called Petcon. In other words, there’s plenty of room to expand.

I also want to re-affirm something I mentioned last year, which is how much I like the Artist Alley space for Anime NYC. Located on the top floor of the Javits, the area is surrounded by glass, which allows plenty of light to come in. At the best times of the day, it makes you feel like you’re walking through a gallery boutique, albeit filled with fandom ships of Voltron: Legendary Defender. As an aside, I was happy to see so much Cardcaptor Sakura stuff this year; perhaps a sign that the recent Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card made an impression.

The Star of the Con: Furuya Toru

Without a doubt, the biggest guest for me was Furuya Toru, the veteran voice actor behind roles such as Amuro Ray (Mobile Suit Gundam‘s protagonist), Pegasus Seiya (Saint Seiya), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and more. He is, without exaggeration, a legend of the industry, and this was my first opportunity ever to see him. I wanted his autograph and to get some insight from his decades of voice work in anime.

The autograph aspect hit a snag from the get-go, though not entirely through Anime NYC’s fault. For signings, the convention went with a mix of paid sessions and free ticketed ones, and Furuya’s was the latter. This required lining up outside the Jacob Javits convention center Friday morning, which also just happened to be the morning after one of the biggest snowstorms in New York City history. People were made to stand in the cold, despite the fact that there was plenty of room indoors. To Anime NYC’s credit, the con issued an apology the next day and allowed people to line up inside the convention center for Saturday and Sunday. That didn’t solve all the issues with autographs—I’ll get to that later—but it at least showed that they were willing to respond to complaints.

Fortunately, I was able to get an autograph ticket, and I was able to thank Furuya for putting so much passion into his many roles over the years as he signed my Gundam movie DVD box set. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for as long as I live.

As for Furuya’s panel, it was a mix of both moderated discussion and audience Q&A. Sadly, I was unable to stay for the second part, but the first half provided plenty of highlights. One of my favorite exchanges was when the moderator, Kyle Cardine, asked Furuya about playing the character Ribbons in Gundam 00, who’s thematically an evil version of Amuro. Furuya responded that while he was the narrator in Gundam 00, it was “his kouhai” who played Ribbons. For those unaware of the joke, Ribbons is clearly Furuya (his voice is unique and unmistakable), but the role is credited to “Sougetsu Noboru”—a pseudonym that cheekily means “Moonrise,” a wink to the studio that makes Gundam, Sunrise.

I actually had the chance to provide Kyle a question to ask Furuya as well (thank you Kyle!). Specifically, it was asking about his experience working with director Nagahama Tadao on Furuya’s first big series, the seminal baseball anime Star of the Giants. Furuya gave a look of surprise, and then responded that he didn’t really interact with Nagahama, as the man didn’t attend the recording sessions much. However, he also mentioned that he was only fifteen years old when he played Hoshi Hyuuma, the protagonist of Star of the Giants, and that if the show hadn’t been so wildly successful, he probably wouldn’t have ever become a professional voice actor.

This answer is interesting to me, partly because I asked a similar question back in 2010 to another star actor from a later Nagahama anime: Mitsuya Yuji, the voice behind Aoi Hyouma from Combattler V. In contrast to Furuya’s response, Mitsuya actually said that Nagahama pushed him to improve his performance. This says to me that Nagahama must have changed in the years between Star of the Giants and Combattler V. Or maybe the director felt Furuya needed less guidance, even at a young age? It’s startling how talented Furuya can be, given how well he can modulate his voice between younger and older characters.

One minor mishap from this panel was that the moderator Kyle tried to ask him about Director Tomino Yoshiyuki, but something got lost in translation and Furuya didn’t give a real answer. Here’s hoping he comes to New York again, so we can get a second chance at this.

Shintani Mayumi and Studio Trigger

Another big Japanese guest at the convention was voice actor Shintani Mayumi (Haruka from FLCL, Nonon from Kill la Kill, Rikka’s mom from SSSS.Gridman). She was a speaker at the Studio Trigger Live Drawing/Q&A panel, and it gave me the opportunity to ask her about her experience on the 2000 anime Brigadoon: Marin & Melan. At first replying that the topic was unexpected  Shintani went into details about a memory from that time. Her character in Brigadoon, Lolo, resembles a cat, and so she played the role in a feline manner. However, it’s eventually revealed in the show that the cat-like appearance is a disguise to hide its true form, and seeing a closet full of “cat skins” was a shock to her. She then talked about how Brigadoon still has passionate fans.

Afterward, I received a nifty Gridman standee as a prize.

I’m truly glad to have asked Shintani about Brigadoon, but I was also a bit torn at first as to who to direct my question at. I really wanted to pick Koyama Shigeto’s brain about his Darling in the Franxx mecha designs or ask producer Wakabayashi Hiromi about whether they watched Superhuman Samurai  Syber-Squad as research for SSSS.Gridman. However, I’ve had the fortune of interviewing Trigger in the past, so I decided to focus my attention on Shintani, who’s a rare guest at US anime cons.

Shintani also got asked about playing Miss Shamour in Go! Princess Precure, and she basically replied that Miss Shamour shouldn’t be a Precure because then she would be too powerful. What’s more, at the start of the panel, Shintani recited Nonon’s signature “Nani sore?!” to audience applause. Totally worth it.

Other highlights of the panel include Wakabayashi’s desire to put Inferno Cop into Smash Bros., the ridiculous video from Anime Expo they showed of them clowning around and expressing how behind they are on their new show Promare. They also had an extended discussion on who to blame for the cockpits in Darling in the Franxx. Koyama and Tattsun (the translator) claimed that it was because doggy-style is Wakabayashi’s favorite position, while Wakabayashi said it was the result of seriously considering what would make sense for the show. The producer also said that there were six members of the design staff, and any one of them could have spoke up.

DENPA and Asada Hiroyuki

Coincidentally, the Studio Trigger panel was followed immediately by a live drawing/Q&A panel for Asada Hiroyuki, author of Tegami Bachi (aka Letter Bee). He was there to promote the manga Pez, which is being translated and sold by the new manga publisher DENPA. The company’s focus seems to be on eclectic prestige titles, as they also brought artist Murata Range over, and are publishing the eerily beautiful An Invitation from a Crab by panpanya (which I highly recommend).

As for the panel itself, it actually had a soothing music track playing the entire time—what I was told was Asada’s drawing music. Unlike with Trigger, which was more of a Q&A with a live art session as a backdrop, this felt like the live drawing was the main star of the show.

Autographs: Ups and Downs

I understand that autographs are never an easy situation for any convention to handle. No matter how an event tries to plan for them, it’s damned if you, damned if you don’t. In that respect, I don’t especially mind the ticket system for signings, which involves lining up to get a voucher to attend an autograph session later, but there are a couple of criticisms I have for Anime NYC’s approach.

First, on Saturday and Sunday, it required lining up at 8am, and given that people will line up early for autographs, it usually means getting there by 7am or earlier. For anyone not staying close to the Javits, it means perhaps having to wake up as early as 5am. Another drawback is that everyone is in the same line for autographs, which is a problem I also have with Anime Expo in Los Angeles. The fact that all of the autographs are funneled into one line means that even if your desired guest isn’t one of the super-popular ones, you still have to deal with all the people who are waiting for the mega-stars.

I hope Anime NYC does some things differently. First, having lines at the start of the day is a good idea, but try to make them at least a little later. Second, ticket lines for autographs should be split in a way that makes it faster for everyone. If those changes can happen, I think it would benefit everyone.

Screenings

Sunrise showed the first twenty minutes of Gundam Narrative at their Gundam panel, and it enticed me enough to want to finish Gundam Unicorn and to see where the film will go from there. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the way it somewhat re-frames the way society looks at Newtypes has me intrigued.

I also caught the Kase-san and Morning Glories film. It’s a gorgeous animated movie about two girls in love, and the way it explores the depths of their feelings is thrilling on a mental and emotional level.

Concert

I attended the Saturday Anisong World Matsuri concert at Hammerstein Ballroom, which featured Kitadani Hiroshi and Kageyama Hironobu of JAM Project, Nakagawa “Shokotan” Shoko, and idol titans Morning Musume. Despite being standing only for non-VIP audience members, it was one of the best anime concerts I’d ever been to. The mix of idol fans and anisong fans actually made for non-stop excitement, as each performance highlighted the best of the old and the new in a roller coaster of bright spots. Shokotan and Kitadani sang “Pegasus Fantasy” from Saint Seiya, followed later by Kageyama and Shokotan doing “Soldier Dream”!). Kageyama and Morning Musume joining forces for both “Love Machine” (a Morning Musume classic, I’m told) and “Chala Head Chala” (the first Dragon Ball Z opening). By the end, everyone came out to perform “THE HERO !!” from One Punch Man together. Hearing members of Morning Musume shout, ‘NOBODY KNOWS WHO HE IS!” will go down as a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

However, my personal absolute highlight of the entire concert was Kageyama performing “Heats,” the opening to the 1999 OVA Shin Getter Robo: Armageddon. It’s one of the first songs that really made me pay attention to Kageyama and one of his greatest, but the age and obscurity factors made me think I’d never hear it performed live. I am incredibly glad to be wrong.

In Closing

From top to bottom, Anime NYC 2018 was a great event. There were some hiccups, especially when it came to managing autograph lines and the cold weather, but I eagerly await 2019. My only regret is that I didn’t get any interviews for Ogiue Maniax this year. If the convention gods find it in their favor, I hope I can ask next year’s guests some solid questions.

New York Comic Con 2018 and Thoughts on the Asian-American Experience

New York Comic Con is the only non-explicitly Japan-focused convention I typically attend. In that respect, it gives me an opportunity to explore in greater detail the aspects of comics and media fandom that I normally prioritize less. This year, while I did my fair share of anime and manga-related activities—namely see Son Goku’s esteemed voice actress Nozawa Masako—my main takeaway from NYCC 2018 was that the shifting cultural landscape beneath the United States at this moment is of the utmost importance in comics and entertainment.

I went to many events during the convention, but the main stand-out was Super Asian America. A Q&A and discussion about Asian-Americans in comics, animation, and related media, the panel featured a bevy of guests: comics writer Marjorie Liu (Monstress), actor Ryan Potter (Hiro in Big Hero 6), comics writer Greg Pak (creator of Amadeus Cho), Kickstarter publishing’s Camilla Zhang, comics creator Nidhi Chanani, and host Mike Le. Much of the discussion was about the surprisingly good year that Asian-Americans have experienced in the entertainment industry between the successes of Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved, and Searching. The main takeaway was that this is a good step, but that convincing the Hollywood machine that falling back on its old racist and conservative mindset for “safety” reasons is going to take a lot more. Moreover, the United States as it currently stands is a troubling place for non-white ethnic groups, and this fight extends to more than just movies and TV shows.

I’ve long struggled with an unfortunate truth: many Asians, especially from older generations, are extremely racist. Readers might be wondering what this has to do with New York Comic Con, but my view of my fellow Asian-Americans is not always charitable. It always saddens me to see a kind of “we Asians need to get ahead” mindset that seems to come at the expense of others, the kind of attitude that encourages ingratiating ourselves to white people and avoiding association with other ethnic groups. So for years, I’ve seen those struggles for better representation in Hollywood and such, and felt myself being a bit skeptical. “How many of these people are really thinking about equality and opportunities for all?” Now I realize I’ve been conflating more than a few things that should be considered separate yet loosely related.

It is true that many Asians living in the US have been racist, and have tried to emulate “white success” to some degree. It’s also true that the Asian communities often focus on themselves to almost a deleterious degree, ignoring the reality of the politics surrounding us. However, the fight for better representation of Asians and Asian-Americans on screens and pages big and small is itself a fight against the racism that lingers within our communities among fellow Asians. There are generations of stereotypes that Asians have to fight against, like being weak and ineffectual compared to rugged European folk (unless we’re doing martial arts), and the sooner we remove the seeming need to graft the problematic elements of white privilege onto our own identities, the sooner we can make all Asian-Americans feel like they don’t have to conform to others’ ideas of who we can be.

Mecca of Mecha: Otakon 2018

2018 marked the second year of Otakon in Washington, DC, as well as a year that posed some unique challenges. Scheduled for the same weekend as a nearby white nationalist ally, the potential danger cast an uneasy cloud over both a multicultural city and an anime con that typically attracts people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Fortunately, the rally amounted to nothing more than a fart in the wind, totaling around 30 people and far outnumbered by counter-protesters. What was left was an enjoyable Otakon that accomplished what the convention is meant for: celebrating Japanese culture and the people who make, enjoy, and are inspired by it.

Panels

Where there might have been three to five panels on giant robots in a typical Otakon, this year’s programming was rife with robot content thanks to the theme of Otakon 2018 being “mecha and science fiction.” As a huge fan of all things anime and robotic, this was right up my alley. I made it something of a mission to check out as many panels as I could, whether they were by fans, companies, or special guests.

I was even on a panel myself! “Mecha Fight Club” with Patz, Tom Aznable, Doug, and myself was an hour of debate and discussion on various topics concerning giant robots and giant robot fandom. If you came to our panel, thanks for waking up at 9am on a Saturday. I hope we gave you some food for thought.

Fan Panels

Transformers: The Birds and the Bumblebees

This panel, from the group “Manly Battleships,” looked at the early history of the Transformers. Impressively, it started not at the release of the toys in the US or even the Japanese Diaclone toys from which Transformers took many designs, but with the advent of GI Joe in America and is exporting over to Japan. It was quite an informative panel, and while I thought the “nerd humor” fell flat at times, it was a solid presentation overall.

NoS Anime

I attended two panels from a group called NoS Anime: one a Gundam Wing retrospective, and the other a look at mecha in the 1960s and 70s. Both panels were well researched, and made efforts to explain the social and economic climates of their times. I had only a few criticisms, and even those are more about what I’d prioritize, rather than what I think would make the panels absolutely better.

First, for the Gundam Wing panel, I would have preferred a greater look into the Japanese fandom, as it was mostly a nostalgia panel from the US side. Also, the comments about the first opening theme, “Just Communication,” having odd lyrics seemed off to me, as plenty of robot shows and Gundam anime feature similar music.

Second, for the 60s and 70s panel, I think more explicit mention of Nagahama Tadao and Tomino Yoshiyuki being directors on Reideen before working on the Robot Romance Trilogy and Gundam respectively should have been explicitly emphasized.

Overall, NoS Anime showed they were a deft hand in presenting.

Outsourced Anime

I try to attend at least one Anime World Order panel at conventions because they’re usually quite entertaining. This panel focused on American cartoons which actually had as lot of the animation work done in Japan. One of the major points of their talk was the impressive flourish that Japan would give these shows—and that their best efforts became the most memorable parts of these cartoons for young minds.

Gattai! Giant Robots from 198X

Essentially a 1980s robot anime recommendation panel, the hosts Patz, Tom Aznable, and Hazukari went over why their favorite mecha shows of the era deserve a look. While there was some trouble with keeping on time, and I feel like they didn’t sell certain shows as well as they probably intended, what worked for me is that each of the presenters clearly valued different things and you could get a more balanced view as a result.

Industry/Guest Panels

Kawamori Shoji

Out of all the guests at Otakon this year, Kawamori was arguably the most significant. Because there’s so much content from him, I’ve spun it off into two separate posts: a recap of his “History of Macross” panel, and my personal interview with him.

Ebikawa Kanetake

A mecha designer on series such as Full Metal Panic!, Gundam 00, and Gundam Build Fighters, Ebikawa’s panel was fairly restrained, and his answers short. One of the main things I learned is that while fans mostly remember the glamorous parts of being a “mechanical designer,” it also includes more mundane items such as coffee mugs and utensils.

Nagai Tatsuyuki

The director of The Anthem of the Heart, Anohana, Toradora!, Iron-Blooded Orphans, and more went over his history in the anime industry. We learned that he first found an anime production assistant job while unemployed and needing work. It was a position that required driving around to pick up and deliver things, and when he lost his license, it forced him to try his hand at other roles such as storyboarding. This eventually took him on his path to episode director and director.

I had the opportunity to present him a question, so I asked about the reasoning behind the unorthodox romances in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, which includes an actual harem. Nagai responded that it was to show that many different forms of love exist in the world, and that he did indeed meet resistance at first from the staff when he told he wanted to put this in. I also told him the true story of my friends and I walking through a blizzard just to see The Anthem of the Heart. By the way, everyone should go see that film.

Another person asked how he feels that Okada Mari (writer on Iron-Blooded OrphansAnohana, and Anthem of the Heart) seems to get all the attention and credit. It felt like a question tinged with bitterness toward Okada, but I might have been mistaken. Nagai answered that he actually liked it because it meant he could sort of hide in secret, perhaps a defense of Okada without getting too aggressive.

One interesting takeaway came when Nagai talked about how he often worked with the same core staff, and that because they’re around the same age, they can talk to each other more candidly when working. Kyoda Tomoki expressed something similar in my interview with him at Otakon 2017, which makes me wonder if studio hierarchy is often a thorn in young creators’ sides in the anime industry.

Discotek Media

During the weekend, friends and acquaintances informed me of one anime company planning a licensing bonanza: whereas most publishers tend to announce maybe five or six new titles, Discotek was going to reveal new shows totaling in the double digits! I had waffled on going to their panel, but now I had to attend. And as it turns out, for fans like me, their announcements pretty much won Otakon.

  • Area 88
  • Message from Space: Galactic Wars
  • Space Wolf Juspion
  • Space Warrior Baldios TV
  • Voltes V
  • God Mars
  • Psycho Armor Govarian
  • Galaxy Express 999 TV
  • Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo
  • Lupin III: Blood Seal of the Eternal Mermaid
  • Kimagure Orange Road
  • Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still

To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement. Voltes V is one of the greatest mecha anime ever to not get a proper US release, and is one third of the famed Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy (which means I hope Discotek is looking at Combattler V and Daimos next). Baldios and God Mars are classic 80s robot action, with the latter actually being a fujoshi favorite of its time. Giant Robo is one of director Imagawa Yasuhiro’s finest works. Psycho Armor Govarian is an obscure Nagai Go robot series animated that is said to be Studio Knack’s best work—faint praise, perhaps, for the studio behind Chargeman Ken. Kimagure Orange Road is one of those 80s classics I’ve always wanted to watch but never did. Galaxy Express 999 holds a special place in my heart, and the additional update on the 999 films getting a Blu-ray box set makes me want to pump my fist in the air and high-five the clouds.

Hiccups and Missteps

Not all was smooth sailing. One of the more significant problems I ran into was subpar management of the autograph line on Friday.

To start off, the autographs section was in the Dealers’ Hall, so that anyone who wanted to get anything signed had to wait on the same massive line as those wishing to make purchases. This in itself would not be so bad, except that there were autograph sessions close to the opening time, and having both aforementioned groups plus those waiting for the nearby Artist Alley to open meant that the line size inevitably became a fire hazard. This issue was compounded with the fact that telling people to go away and come back later never works because it punishes those who decide to follow the rules, and rewards those who skirt/defy them. This would become a recurring theme with the autograph area.

Upon getting in line for the actual autographs, I ran into another problem. The way the area was set up, the idea was that a small group at the front of the line would break off and go into a section where all the guests were waiting. From there, attendees would get their autographs, and then the next group would have their turn. In practice, however, only the first group ever got the chance to get autographs and the rest of the line was stuck waiting the entire time, with not even a single person having an opportunity to move from that second line. In other words, even accounting for the fact that not everyone who wants an autograph is going to get one, many people were denied autographs when they shouldn’t have been.

In my eyes, the underlying issue was that the volunteers in charge of the main autograph area did not communicate properly with the volunteers managing the line, and so the former never seemed to realize there were additional attendees waiting in the first place. Those who went first, or had guests with smaller lines, could easily ping pong between all the guests, while those who (again) followed the rules and waited patiently were done a disservice. My hope is that this changes for next year, including finding a better place for autographs. While Otakon in Baltimore had its own issues with signings, this never happened as far as I can remember.

Another non-autograph-related problem was that at one point on Saturday, the tunnel between the Marriott and the convention center was closed off, forcing everyone to go in through the convention center’s main entrance in the sweltering, 90+ degree heat. This was apparently another miscommunication, but the fact that the weather played a role was a concern.

Con Food

Eating out on Otakon weekend is always a potential hassle, given the amount of attendees. Because of the prospect of both protesters and counter-protesters, my friends and I avoided restaurants and decided to (for once) stick to supermarket and convention-center food. The latter was overpriced (as these things usually go), but the quality was surprisingly decent, and many of the food stands had Japanese cuisine to along with the general theme of Japanese culture. At the same time, $15 for not much food can hurt the wallet a bit. My advice is that if you can’t get out anywhere to eat, and you didn’t bring anything, the Caribbean food is only $12 a dish by comparison, and still plenty good. You can avoid the “anime fan” tax and still get a hot, delicious meal.

Events

Concert

Otakon attendees had the rare opportunity to attend a performance of the “Distant Worlds” Final Fantasy orchestral concert series. With legendary Final Fantasy composer Uematsu Nobuo in the audience, it was a pleasant experience that took the audience through songs from throughout the franchise. I definitely enjoyed the concert, though I felt there was a distinct lack of battle music. I was selfishly hoping for some personal favorites, like Zeromus theme from Final Fantasy IV and the Four Fiends theme from Final Fantasy I remakes, but alas.

Hi-Score Girl

Another special event was the US premiere of the Hi-Score Girl anime, which is adapted from a fantastic manga about romance and growing up in 1990s Japan arcade culture. The show is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the manga, albeit with CG that can feel awkward at times. It’s coming out on Netflix in the coming months, so I recommend everyone check it out when they have the time.

One odd thing about the Otakon showing was that it included a panel beforehand that kind of spoiled a lot of what the first episode was about—pointless if we were going to watch it right afterwards. Also, unfortunately, the interpreter didn’t seem well-versed in fighting games, so she ended up missing a few points here and there. One omission that stood out to me was that the producer mentioned the manga’s author, Oshikiri Rensuke, having participated in Vampire Savior tournaments, but the interpreter translated it as having experience with games in general. Because Vampire Savior holds a certain significance for the history of fighting games and the fighting game community, a bit was (as the cliché goes) lost in translation.

Overall

The final number put Otakon 2018 at over 29,000 attendees, but even so, moving around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was never a burden—especially compared to some of the most sardine-esque years of Baltimore. Between the quality of the guests and the convenience of Washington, DC (aside from the notoriously terrible traffic), I solidly believe now that Otakon moving to DC was the right choice. There’s so much more room to grow! I’m looking forward to seeing how things will change in 2019 and beyond.