Teikoku State of Mind: Anime NYC 2017

When a brand-new convention decides to call itself “Anime NYC,” it’s practically asking to have the deck stacked against it. Running a first-year convention is no small task, doubly so if it’s in the heart of Manhattan. And with no reputation to go by, potential attendees may feel reluctant to try things out. Small attendance numbers can mean a lack of overall interest and the inability to justify the high costs of NYC, while large numbers means a greater chance of disaster striking if mismanaged. As a longtime resident of New York City, I’ve seen cons come and go, but somehow, someway, Anime NYC went so swimmingly that I almost can’t believe it was real.

General Impressions and Exhibitor’s Hall

Those who attended New York Anime Festival and the first few New York Comic Cons might recall what it was like to go through the Jacob Javits Center without feeling like sardines. Walking through Anime NYC felt reminiscent of that environment, as the con was fairly heavily populated but with plenty of elbow room to spare. Panel rooms were right next to the Exhibitor’s Hall, making transitions between checking out the goods and listening in on industry and fan talks. Special events were held in a Main Event Hall that was a fair distance away, though nowhere near as disorienting as, say, the Baltimore Convention Center where Otakon used to take place.

Because it was so easy to navigate (without the space feeling overly empty), I came out of the three-day con feeling satisfied yet unstressed. Usually one comes with the other due to the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done, or because there’s so little to do at the event itself that boredom and lethargy set in. Anime NYC struck a Goldilocks-type balance with a schedule that thrilled but did not overwhelm body and mind.

A major contrast between Anime NYC and NYCC is that the latter is focused on being a general comics pop culture event, with a film and television presence that all but overshadows the “comic” in comic con. Anime NYC, on the other hand, is first and foremost concerned with anime and manga. A few features branched out from that core, such as the presence of Overwatch voice actors who were there to meet the fans and sell autographs, but this was certainly no “anime ghetto,” as fans took to calling New York Anime Fest when it began to be dissolved into NYCC.  For those who love anime and love a big convention feel but think New York Comic Con’s a bit too much, Anime NYC has potential to be a gathering point for anime fans in the tri-state area.

Concerts

Anime NYC featured two concerts that shone in different ways. The first was Anime Diva Night, while the second was the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert.

At Anime Diva Night, three Japanese musical guests performed as part of the Anisong World Matsuri. Two of the singers, Ishida Yoko and TRUE, are amazing vocalists in their own right, but the third, Yonekura Chihiro, was the reason I wanted to attend. She’s the voice of so many amazing anime themes over the years that it almost doesn’t compare. Notably, she sang the opening and ending themes to Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team.

While having Yonekura alone would’ve sufficed in my case, all three did a wonderful job. Some singers sound significantly better in the recording booth than they do onstage, but this was not the case for the Anime Diva trio, who sounded incredible even though the makeshift Main Events Hall did not have ideal acoustics.

The concert had a somewhat unusual format. Rather than move from one act to the next, each performer would do a few songs, perform a duet with another, and then the newer singer would take over before the next duet. There were two rotations in total, with all three singers performing together at the start and end of the show. All of the group performances were cover songs of popular anime themes—”Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” “Moonlight Densetsu,” “God Knows,” etc.—while the solo acts were their signature songs. Yonekura did indeed sing the Gundam 08th MS Team opening, but also an old favorite of mine in “Will” from the anime Hoshin Engi (aka Soul Hunter). Highlights from the other two singers included TRUE performing the first Sound!! Euphonium opening and Ishida doing arguably her most famous song, “Otome no Policy” from Sailor Moon R.

There were a couple of songs that didn’t make the concert that I was hoping for: Yonekura’s “Yakusoku no Basho e” from Kaleido Star and Ishida’s “White Destiny” from Pretear, but it was a small loss for an otherwise amazing concert.

The Gundam Thunderbolt Concert was highly unusual compared to what typically happens at an anime con performances. Generally, they’re closer to Anime Diva Night, sounding like the j-pop or j-rock one expects out of anime. To have the Gundam Thunderbolt composer Kikuchi Naruyoshi lead a jazz band himself on saxophone was a truly rare treat, and it’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve had at an anime con. The closest equivalent I could think of was Kanno Yoko’s concert at Otakon 2013.

I am no jazz aficionado, but thanks to the concert, I felt as if I began to understand the almost primal appeal that jazz holds for listeners. As I listened, an analogy popped into my head: jazz is like constructing a human being from music. They can be loud one moment and quiet the next. They can be a mess of contradictions, yet still function. I’m unsure if this will send me towards checking out more jazz in the future, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.

I’ve been more or less referring to the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert as a “jazz performance,” but that’s not entirely accurate. To everyone’s surprise, the concert also included performances by the singers of some of the 50s/60s-style pop songs from the Gundam Thunderbolt anime. In the context of the series, the two main characters, Io and Daryl, are two soldiers on opposite sides of a war who each listen to music as they battle. Io is an intense man who loves equally powerful jazz, while the handicapped Daryl prefers softer ballads.

At the Gundam Thunderbolt panel, Kikuchi mentioned that these are basically his two favorite genres of music, and he thought both fit the characters well. Interestingly, while the Gundam Thunderbolt manga included jazz already, Kikuchi composed entirely new songs that he felt fit Io’s character better.

One funny coincidence of sorts when it comes to Kikuchi’s choice to add a golden oldies aspect to the Gundam Thunderbolt score is that one of the biggest names in classic mid-20th-century American pop, Neil Sedaka, once composed the theme songs to Mobile Suit Z Gundam in the 1980s. I’d be curious to know what Kikuchi would think about this.

Artist Alley

More than Exhibitors’ Halls, Artist Alleys at cons can be affected heavily by the space they occupy. Regardless of the artists’ skills, or the amount of people in the alley, a bad space can make an attendee want to leave as quickly as possible, while a good space encourages more browsing and exploring.

Anime NYC’s is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Held on the top floor of the Jacob Javits Center, natural light shined down on the entire Artist Alley from an entirely windowed roof. At times, it almost felt like an outdoor European boutique, which made it just a pleasant place to peruse.

I purchased a few items at the Artist Alley, mainly from Japanese artists (something of a rarity even at anime cons). One booth was ran by the wife and assistant (pictured above) of manga artist Ohno Junji, creator behind the manga for obscure titles Mobile Suit Gundam: Missing Link and Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island. Unfortunately, the artist couldn’t attend himself. They were selling art packages from Ohno himself and his assistant, Ally Suwabe:

Ohno Junji

Ally Suwabe

Axel Rex is Ohno’s original web comic he drew for Kodanasha/Yahoo!! Comics from 2008 to 2009.

The other Japanese artist attending was Tatsuyuki “Mikey” Maeda, who’s worked for the past 10 years as a manga assistant. In a way, while manga artists themselves only attend cons sparingly, their assistants are even rarer. Maeda was selling a short guide called “Secrets of Manga: Basics of the Tools & Trade.” In it, he gives various technical tips to aspiring manga creators, the kinds of things that often get glossed over in favor of “character design” and “how to draw mecha.” The guide talks about differences in pen nibs (such as what you should use if you have a light touch vs. a heavy hand), how to effectively use white-out, and more. I highly recommend it.

Panels

Gundam Thunderbolt Panel

Panels are an important part of the con experience for me, though due to my schedule I could not attend as many as I would have liked. Still, the Gundam Thunderbolt panel was highly informative, as were the Inifini-T Force and LeSean Thomas panels.

Infini-T Force is a current 3DCG anime series crossing over the classic heroes of Tatsunoko Production—Gatchaman, Casshan/Casshern, Hurricane Polymar, and Tekkaman. The fact that Tatsunoko, one of the most influential anime studios ever, had a con presence at all was the main reason I decided to attend their panel. Overall, it was a fairly basic introduction to Tatsunoko, but I like that they conveyed a bit of the studio’s historical significance. They’re one of the most influential studios ever, pushing the limits of animation in Japan since their inception in the 1960s. They were also willing to discuss a bit of the reception Infini-T Force has received in Japan, such as the fact that the primary female character is a little contentious to Japanese audiences. This is also somewhat unusual for Japanese companies, and was somewhat refreshing.

The LeSean Thomas panel was a general Q&A, but was one of the highlights of Anime NYC. It was inspiring to see attendee after attendee express how Thomas inspired them to keep working at their art, and how his success as a creator of color gave them the courage to never give up. I previously interviewed him at Otakon 2016, and he does make for an excellent role model.

Cosplay

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

In Conclusion

Given how much I’ve praised Anime NYC, it might seem like I’m a paid shill, but I assure my readers that this is not the case. The con was actually executed so smoothly that there’s little I can complain about that would be the fault of the convention itself. While I attended for free as press, even the weekend ticket was affordable, especially compared to New York Comic Con ($60 vs. over $200 to buy four 1-day NYCC passes).

At approximately 20,000 attendees, Anime NYC has already become one of the larger anime cons in the US. The convention appears to have done a sound job of attracting locals, and I’m curious to see how much more it can grow. If the convention keeps up this level of quality, I’d be happy and proud to call Anime NYC “home.”

 

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Tonight was the Night: The End of VGCW, Video Game Championship Wrestling

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 marked the final episode of Video Game Championship Wrestling, and the end of one of the most bizarrely enjoyable spectacles I’ve ever known.

VGCW was a federation that used the WWE video games’ “Create a Wrestler” feature to fill its ranks with video game characters, celebrity gamers, and even Vegeta and Nappa from Dragon Ball Z. Pitting not human opponents but rather (often incompetent) computer-controlled wrestlers against each other, VGCW stood out amidst a universe of “Let’s Plays” and eSports titles in ways few other phenomena could. VGCW was the flagship show for the VGCW Network, which also includes a women’s federation and a developmental one.

One of the more fascinating aspects of VGCW was the fanbase that surrounded it. Viewers in Twitch chat would cheer on their favorite wrestlers, despite knowing full well that their rabid typing would not actually affect the routines and patterns of the AIs. While story threads presented by the creators of VGCW provided the stakes for many matches, what has been really the heart and soul of this whole concept of video game AI wrestling is the ability for the fans to willingly give meaning to the actions of these virtual marionettes who represent out favorite heroes and villains.

While the same could be said of actual pro wrestling, the difference is that audience interaction there tells the wrestlers if they’re doing well and if they need to change anything to keep the audience’s attention in a predetermined match. In VGCW, match results are unknown even by the creators.

I remember seeing Little Mac redeem himself by knocking out Dracula and throwing him in a casket. I recall Phoenix Wright returning from captivity to vanquish his alternate-dimension evil doppelganger (affectionately known as Phoenix Wrong), an achievement celebrated by having Fall Out Boy’s “Like a Phoenix” play over the end credits (see above). I enjoyed seeing the Gameshark force the wrestlers to leave WWE 2K14 and enter the N64 game WWE No Mercy. Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, wrestled and defeated Jesus, teamed with Deus Ex 2 hero Adam Jensen, became an all-powerful villain, and died. Scorpion from Mortal Kombat is arguably the greatest champion of all time with his record six title defenses.

For the recent finale, the championship match featured Ganondorf, the only triple crown winner in VGCW history, against perennial underdog Zubaz—a rejected Street Fighter design popularized by the Super Best Friends YouTube channel who became a playable character in the bare-bones fighting game Divekick. On top of that, they actually commissioned former WWE announcer Justin Roberts to announce the match. Calling VGCW a wild ride would be an understatement.

My personal connection to VGCW lied not just in the excitement it brought, but also in that it helped me deal with tension in my life. When I first started watching VGCW, I was still living in the Netherlands, and due to the pressure of trying to finish my dissertation I could sense that my nerves were constantly frazzled. Watching anime and reading manga was fun, but it wasn’t relaxing because consuming titles caused my brain to keep firing on all cylinders. During this time, I found that what soothed the cacophony inside my head was episodes of VGCW. It was, in a certain sense, my version of “healing anime” such as Aria.

I have to give a shout-out to the defunct multiplayer spinoff called “NWTOH,” which first featured a bizarre entrance for obscure Final Fantasy VI character Banon. A shining example of what one might call “anti-cinematography” due to the non-sequitur nature of its transitions, Banon’s entrance can make me laugh so hard that I can literally feel the stress leaving my body every time I watch it:

Although the main VGCW show is gone, it leaves with successors and descendants. All of the more recent episodes are on YouTube, and a little digging around can uncover older ones as well. Women’s Video Game Championship Wrestling (WVGCW) is gearing up for its own finale. Developmental show Extreme Dudebro Wrestling (EDBW) still has some life left in it, and might just step out of the shadow of VGCW now. Belmont Wrestling Alliance (BWA), which will be live tonight, recently made its return, and it has perhaps the most eccentric and eclectic roster of all.

To Bazza, TOH, and everyone who worked to make me and the other VGCW fans sports entertained, thank you.

 

The Limits of the Fujoshi Files

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In 2008, I had an idea: archive every fujoshi character I could possibly find. At the time, it seemed like an achievable task. Fujoshi characters were around but fairly rare, especially compared to the “girl otaku” that tended to share the same interests as the guys. However, a lot can change in eight years, and over this period the position of the “fujoshi character” has changed tremendously, leading me to think about all of the limitations imposed on the Fujoshi Files as they currently exist.

First, while the 2007-2009 period featured a kind of “fujoshi boom” as the term came into prominence, if you look at the fujoshi character today she’s basically been kneaded into anime and manga as a whole. The archetype doesn’t exist in its own universe, and she’ll appear in works more disconnected from the realm of hardcore fandoms. I mean, a yuri school detective comedy? A weird political satire light novel?

Where once the Izumi Konata-style female otaku was taken as the standard, now the de facto girl fan in anime and manga is the fujoshi. They’re basically everywhere, and it can be hard to keep up with all of them, which is why I’ve slowed down the pace a bit. Perhaps this means I should be doing more for the Fujoshi Files than ever before (and believe me, I’m still on the look-out), but I also want to make sure that the blog remains diverse thematically, as I think that’s one of its strengths. In other words, I don’t have the time to tackle every single work with fujoshi characters, but I wish I did.

Of course, if you find any fujoshi not currently on the list, by all means please leave a comment.

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Second, the number of fudanshi (rotten boy) characters steadily increases. Back when Genshiken Nidaime first came out, I was faced with a decision: do I include Hato in the Fujoshi Files? Ultimately, my decision was to not give him an entry because he identifies as male, and the list is for female characters. Then I found out about the series Fudanshism. A brand new series, Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsufeatured prominently in the summer season. Now the fudanshi is in the position the fujoshi once was, and to ignore them seems something of an issue.

Third, these Fujoshi File profiles I’ve written are very basic, and tend to be in-universe, but there are are often interesting aspects to these characters, like how they’re utilized in terms of narrative, elements of their designs, etc. Not including these factors leaves the Fujoshi Files without any real analytical teeth, though I’m not sure if that should change.

So I’m left with a few questions.

Should the Fujoshi Files branch off into a “Fudanshi Files?”

Should the Fujoshi Files go from being a series of small blog posts here to an entire Wikia?

Has the Fujoshi Files served its purpose already, in that it’s already over 150 characters strong?

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Baltimore’s Last Stand: Otakon 2016

Otakon, the east coast’s largest anime convention, has been a mainstay of Baltimore summers since 1999. With the 2017 move to Washington DC, however, 2016 may very well be the last Otakon Baltimore ever sees. The awareness of this turning point among attendees felt almost palpable, and not just because the blazing heat and heavy humidity made everything feel ten pounds heavier. Watching con-goers on Sunday discuss the end of Otakon in Baltimore with an air of finality made it feel like it really was the end, even if it’s more of a new beginning.

Music and the Matsuri

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Every year, I try to attend at least one Otakon concert, usually that of an artist I’m interested in from hearing their music in anime. This time, it was MICHI, who sang the opening to one of my favorite shows of the year, Dagashi Kashi. Unfortunately, both of the panels I was involved with ran during her concert time, so I unfortunately could not go. What’s more, her concert was the half-time show at the Masquerade, which is an event I generally avoid. The upside of all this is that I got to meet her in person at the autograph session.

I did check out the Otakon Matsuri, a first for me. Taking place every year on the Thursdays before Otakon weekend, in the past I simply had neither the time nor the energy to go. This time, however, they had as music guests Lotus Juice and Hirata Shihoko from the Persona game series. Because a friend of mine loves Persona and made it a mission to attend their performance, I tagged along and was treated to a lively concert. Despite a number of technical difficulties likely owing to the severe heat not playing nice with Lotus Juice’s Macbook, they really made it a memorable experience. Lotus Juice, who was born in Japan but actually grew up in New Jersey, actually performed not only Persona and anime-related music, but even threw in a Japanese version of a Tupac song. Unfortunately, I don’t know Tupac well enough to recognize it, so if anyone in the comments knows, feel free to chime in!

Guests and Industry Panels

This year’s guest list was sparser compared to previous Otakons, possibly because of next year’s move to DC. Notably, Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao (founder of anime studios MADHouse and MAPPA) was not able to appear, and it felt like Otakon was missing his insight. The guests that did come, however, were able to provide a great deal of insight into the anime industry and their creative processes.

Akane Kazuki and Escaflowne

Akane Kazuki, director of Escaflowne, Heat Guy J, and Code Geass: Akito the Exiled, was in attendance because of the new Blu-ray release of Escaflowne and the English premiere of Akito the Exiled. Akane is a Studio Sunrise man, so just like Takamatsu Shinji and Park Romi last year, so at a press conference I had to ask him what this experience was like working with Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki. Akane mentioned that he actually went to Sunrise straight out of college because it was where Tomino was working. However, the very first time he arrived at Sunrise for work, he found Tomino was scolding his staff. Akane also described Tomino as someone who thought about anime from morning to night, and that he gave the impression that such a devotion was necessary to succeed in the world of Japanese animation.

He also talked about his work on Escaflowne, how it was his first work where he had full directorial control, and about the changes he made to the heroine, Kanzaki Hitomi. When Akane first came onto the project, Hitomi was going to be a quiet, long-haired girl, but he and character designer Teru Nobuyuki pushed to have her become the strong-willed, short-haired girl we know her as now. Later on in the conference, he described that period as one where a lot of female characters were the same, and he worked on Hitomi with the idea of, is this the kind of character that actual girls themselves can get behind?

Industry Panels

The Japanese industry panels I attended included P.A. Works of Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha fame’s, as well as Under the Dog producer Morimoto Koji’s. At the P.A. Works panel, they didn’t really take questions from the audience, but they went through why they decided to make their new series, a robot anime called Kuromukuro, because it was uncharted territory for their studio. They also asked the audience themselves about the idea that Americans prefer action-oriented anime with strong heroes, but I found that an audience predisposed to coming to a P.A. Works industry panel likely wouldn’t have the same tastes.

As for Morimoto, I asked him questions related to his involvement with giant robot anime. First, I asked him about whether or not he has any input on how series are represented story-wise in the Super Robot Wars video games, to which he responded that they mostly leave it up to the game studio Banpresto. Second, I asked him about what goes into adapting or reviving old mecha franchises. Here, the answer was that it really depends on the series, and how much they’re trying to draw in the old, nostalgic audience, or create a new one.

As for the American side of things, I attended the Discotek panel and the tail end of the Vertical Inc panel. The main takeaways (at least for me) is that the glorious anime Charge Man Ken is now licensed by Discotek, and that two of Vertical’s best-selling titles are two of my favorites, Nichijou and Mysterious Girlfriend X. As someone who kept putting Mysterious Girlfriend X on their surveys every year, this fills me with pride and joy.

For more guest coverage, check out my interviews with  LeSean Thomas and the staff at P.A. Works.

Fan Panels

One of Otakon’s claims to fame is its strong collection of fan panels. Presenting a diverse range of topics, it’s one of my personal highlights every year. This time around, however, I felt that a lot of the panels I attended weren’t quite as strong, though I don’t think this is really the fault of the con itself or even the presenters. There will be some panelists who are stronger than others, and I, as someone who did a couple of panels, have plenty of areas where I need to improve.

It’s also good that Otakon occasionally goes for untested presenters, because if they stick with only the ones they know, it gives less of a chance for newer panelists to show what they’re capable of. In many cases, there appeared to be a lack of preparation and oversight on actually planning and researching the presentations. That doesn’t mean that any presenter who didn’t bring their A-game doesn’t deserve to come back, but I hope that we all look to the next time with the hopes of being even better.

Anime of Green Gables

Featured Panelist Viga’s panel all about the popularity of Anne of Green Gables in Japan was quite informative. As someone who’s watched both the 1970s Anne of Green Gables anime and the 2000s Before Green Gables prequel, I learned a lot, especially in regards to how it got to Japan. I didn’t know, for example, that Japanese fans take pilgrimages to Prince Edward Island fairly regularly. I thought the panel had a generally good structure, but felt a bit disorganized in places. While I at first wondered who the panel was for, I think it turned out to be existing fans of Anne of Green Gables who might not be as familiar with the anime.

Gen Urobuchi: Magical Girls, Riders, and Puppets, Oh My!

Because the title of this panel mentioned puppets, I was hoping to see some Thunderbolt Fantasy action. Unfortunately, it got cut out of the presentation, which I find a bit strange because plenty of episodes had been out by then. On top of that, there was an entire special about the making of the show, which would have given them plenty of material to work with.

The Bravest Robots: Sunrise’s Brave Series

An overview of the Yuusha giant robot franchise of the 1990s, this panel was run by Patz Prime from Space Opera Satellite, with whom I’d previously done a podcast review of Brave Police J-Decker. As someone who’s more familiar with Brave Robots than most, even I learned quite a bit from it. I was particularly fascinated by the transition by the sponsoring company Takara from Transformers to Brave Exkaiser, the first series, and how the panel wove a narrative of the continuous fight between the animators, Sunrise, and Takara. Maybe next time the panel might have time to mention Baan Gaan.

1999: The Otaku Time Machine

George from Land of Obscusion ran this panel, which went over some of the major and minor anime and video games to come out in the year 1999. For me, it was in many ways a review of my adolescence, but I’m also well aware that many anime fans in attendance likely would have been born before 1999. It’s still kind of crazy for me to think about. All I’ll say to this is thumbs up for showing the Japanese Medabots opening, thumbs down for not showing the Japanese Digimon opening.

My Panels

This year, I presented at two panels: “Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow” with Kate from Reverse Thieves, and “Greater Uglier Manga.” The former was a panel about dogs across anime, including popular series such as Naruto, genre legends such as Ginga Nagareboshi Gin, and old historical works such as Norakuro. If you came to the panel, I’d like to thank you for being such a great audience, and I hope to get better at communicating for next year.

Greater Uglier Manga was the sequel to last year’s Great Ugly Manga, with the twist that it was now 18+. The point wasn’t to fill the panel with pornography, but to extend the range of images that could be shown. Unfortunately, the panel began with a serious hiccup due to technical difficulties, and we spent the first 15 minutes troubleshooting. Ultimately, thanks to Daryl Surat from Anime World Order, we figured out that it had to do with the switchers they were using for the panel room and were able to start. Unfortunately, I ended up speeding through the presentation and finishing early, which means I have to work on my pacing better. My co-panelist had a better handle on time, I think. Lesson learned!

By the way, I really do like Kurosaki Rendou‘s work, and I hope that, if you attended the panel, that you might find them fascinating too.

Shopping and Sites

Dealer’s Room

otakon2016-dealersroom

This will be the last time we see this incarnation of the Otakon Dealer’s Room for a long time. That being said, I do want to point out that they once again allowed attendees to travel between the buildings of the Baltimore Convention Center by cutting across Liberty Street. In recent years, this was restricted, and in my opinion it really hurt the accessibility of the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley.

My two biggest purchases of the convention at the Dealer’s Room were finding all of Brigadoon: Marin & Melan (a great series that deserves more love) and getting the Nozomi from Rolling Girls Nendoroid. As shown in the photo below, I posed her the best way I know how: drinking [soda] and driving.

(Don’t try this at home, kids).

If you were wondering, the sidecar can hold another Nendoroid, and I have just the right riding partner in mind.

The real highlight of the Dealer’s Room for me this year, however, had to bee the Good Smile Booth. While I did not obtain the aforementioned Nendoroid there, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were selling blank Nendoroid faces for $1 each, along with tables where you could sit down to decorate them. Apparently those faces are a convention exclusive, so I bought a bunch and turned one into a potential Ogiue for the future.

Some day…some day….

Artist’s Alley

One of the strongest titles at Otakon 2016’s Artist’s Alley had to be Pokemon Go and Overwatch. While Pokemon in general tends to be pretty beloved among Otakon artists and attendees, the three factions of Pokemon Go, Team Valor, Team Mystic, and Team Instinct, made for easy ammo for creators. As for Overwatch, I believe its popularity among artists to be a testament to its highly appealing and charismatic character designs. However, overall the artwork was quite diverse, and hardly anything was truly dominant.

Relevant to me personally, I bought an amazing image of Rice Goddess Hanayo from Love Live! wearing glasses. The Demeter outfit or the specs alone would have been enough, but together the combination was unbeatable.

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The real highlight of the Artist’s Alley, however, had to be the P.A. Works 15th Anniversary exhibit. Showing detailed character design sheets, background art, and more from P.A. Works shows, it made me even more conscious of the two arms of P.A. Works: the attractive girls who engage in adolescent drama and discovery, and the exploration of beautiful scenery and environments.

Food & Drink

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Seeing as this was likely our last time in Baltimore for years to come, my friends and I decided to hit up many of our favorite places and turn Otakon weekend into a feeding frenzy. We went back to Abbey Burger Bistro, where I tried their Australian Red Deer burger. We stopped by Piedigrotta Bakery, the original home of tiramisu. We had to sample the luscious crab cakes from Flash Crab Cake Co. For the return trip home, fried chicken from Royal Farms was a must.

Two places I had never tried were Portuguese chicken chain Nando’s and a local Afghan restaurant Maiwand Grill. Though not exclusive to Baltimore, Nando’s was truly a highlight. Having sample a whole variety of their dishes, including their default chicken, chicken liver, macho peas, Portuguese rice, and natas (egg custards that were the predecessor to Hong Kong’s famous dan tahts), everything was a home run. Maiwand Grill had great portions at really affordable prices, and both their yogurt drink and Afghan ice cream were amazing. The yogurt drink was no-nonsense pure yogurt flavor, and the ice cream had both dates and figs in it (two of my favorite fruits).

Overall

Otakon 2016 was fairly low-key by the standards set by previous conventions, and for that reason it really did feel like a transition into something new and exciting. A part of me wants to come back to Baltimore someday, but another part of me looks forward to seeing what Washington DC has to offer.

Also, I hope no one pulls an Eden of the East near the White House.

As with every year, I leave off with a selection of cosplay photos.

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[Apartment 507] 5 Tips for Growing Your Love of Anime and Manga

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I’m trying to do lists my way! My latest post on Apartment 507 features five pieces of seemingly generic but I think useful advice for those who want to get more into anime/manga (or want to revive their lost interest) but feel lost doing so. Tell me what you think, and even throw in some tips yourself because this certainly isn’t a closed list.

[Contest] Win a Love Live! School Idol Festival Swag Bag!

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I recently attended “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ in Japan, and I managed to get an extra bag of freebies. Now, I want to give it away to my readers.

All you have to do is show why your favorite Love Live! character and why they’re your favorite. Write an essay, take a photo, draw fanart, make videos, I’m leaving it up to you to express your love! They don’t even have to be a main character; moms and alpacas are valid too! And no, picking Hanayo won’t give you a higher chance either. I want to see and feel your passion, not just agree with my tastes.

Submissions can be emailed to ogimaniax at gmail dot com, and are due by July 9, 2016 11:59pm EST.

However, as thanks for being my patrons (and many of you have been with me since the beginning), I am prioritizing my Patreon supporters. If you’re one of my patrons, you will have a much higher chance of winning the prize; however, it’s not impossible to get it otherwise.

I want to emphasize that this is not an attempt to get more Patreon supporters. I merely want to thank my patrons for supporting me. If you’ve been thinking about joining the Ogiue Maniax Patreon for other reasons (perhaps you enjoy my writing), then by all means go ahead. Also, pledging more does not give you a higher chance of winning. You can be pledging at 1 cent or 1 million dollars and you would have the same chance as every other patron.

By the way, one of the items in the swag bag is an unopened card from the Love Live! Card Game. I’ve already opened mine, and it’s a Maki card. I know a lot of people are Maki fans, so if you want that one instead just tell me and I can switch them no problem.

Good luck, and may the Loveliest, Liveliest fan win!

The Popularity of Plushies

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Why are plushies popular with anime fans?

When I got into anime, the internet was a very different place. While I was never part of the old Usenet groups (and in fact I never learned how to use them), I would talk with my fellow fans about whatever was hot at the time. Part of the fan experience was a kind of lighthearted role playing (no, not that kind, and no, not that kind), and one thing I notice was the virtual exchange of “plushies.” These dolls didn’t actually exist, but they were playful gestures to show friendship and support, or to present oneself as cute and fun and lovable. When I think of “anime fans and plushies,” I think of an era of the Anime Web Turnpike and Kisekae (KiSS) dolls, both relics of late 90s, early 2000s internet fandom.

However, that’s not really the case, is it? Plush dolls, whether specifically anime themed or otherwise, still hold the attention of many fans at conventions, online, and (I assume) with each other in other more personal settings. Also, the dolls have become more prominent, whether in artist alleys or through official channels. They might be a chibi Sasuke from Naruto or an alpaca, but they’re out there being sold and traded and loved. There’s something kind of timeless about the idea of owning a cute doll, and it’s not like this is limited to anime fans at all, but anime fans will embrace and hold onto them even after they’re supposed to have outgrown collecting dolls.

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There can’t be only one reason that anime fans gravitate towards plushies. Even with the common interest of Japanese cartoons, people are too diverse for a singular cause. I could see some enjoying them because they just like dolls in general. Others might just want to collect their favorite characters. That being said, I do think that the trope of the chibi or super deformed character has no small influence on the popularity of dolls with anime fans. They appear in official parody spinoffs, in the middle of scenes, and in fanart since the earliest days. Anime fans embrace what is cute, Japanese culture has made an entire industry off of “kawaii,” and in certain ways it’s almost defiant of macho expectations given to both men and women. Frederik L. Schodt wrote in his seminal book on Japanese comics, Manga! Manga!, that part of the reason manga became so sophisticated is that the fans of manga in Japan grew up and refused to let go of their stories. Perhaps plushies are connected to this sentiment, maybe not directly but in terms of a similar mindset and desire to keep the joys of childhood.

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Maybe the association between SD character renditions and plushies are why I consider plushies to be very much anchored in that 90s anime fandom. After all, the 90s were the peak of chibi character content. Though I don’t really see it anymore, super deformed characters were considered such a staple of anime fandom that they were viewed as a defining characteristic that helped to differentiate anime from other forms of animation, right along with big eyes and small mouths. While we’ve since been introduced to a much wider variety of styles, and the trends have changed over time, the anime plush doll still retains the features of a chibi character.

I personally don’t engage with anime or anime fans the way I did 15 to 20 years ago, so I don’t know to what extent the old ways of interaction still remain. Do fans still give each other imaginary plushies, or do they now take the form of digital renderings, emojis, or Line stickers? Does this further emphasize the physical aspect of actually owning plush dolls? For the anime fans who carry them through conventions and meetups and such, do they also display them in their everyday lives, or is there still a fear of being judged for being into dolls? This is a line of inquiry I’d be interested in finding out more about. If you have insights of your own, feel free to share them!

I know that, by mentioning dolls, I’m also bringing up associations with the ball-jointed (and often very expensive) kind. I think that fandom might share some qualities with the enthusiasts of plushies, but they’re quite a different group overall. Perhaps I’ll discuss that one while reminiscing about Rozen Maiden and its very passionate followers another time.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.