At one point, the AWO crew and guest Heidi Kemps talk about the SeHa Girls ending theme, which they explain is actually the company song for Sega in the 90s, but is sadly left untranslated in the official Crunchyroll release. I decided to take it upon myself to translate the song, only to realize that there is not only a full version of the original song, but that there’s also a full version of the variation used in SeHa Girls as well.
Thus, I present to you a translation of “Wakai Chikara -SEGA HARD GIRLS MIX-.”
A couple of notes: Wakai Chikara, or “Youthful Power,” was the Japanese Sega slogan in the 90s. Similarly, a lot of the quotes spoken in reference to Sega hardware are also advertising slogans.
Title: Wakai Chikara -SEGA HARD GIRLS MIX- Composed by Wakakusa Kei
(Japanese lyrics taken from here)
Fortune and misfortune came in roughly equal parts at this year’s Otakon, as the best weather in years for the convention mainly served to provide some reprieve for the long and grueling ticket line. Some technical difficulties forced the registration to extend all the way until Friday at 4pm (registration began Thursday). Being press I did not have to deal with this myself, so I don’t want it to sound like I am speaking entirely from personal experience, but I did accompany a couple of friends as they moved through what was a seemingly unending parade of otaku before giving up at roughly the 2-hour mark and waiting for the next day.
Some panel room shuffling this year meant that panels could hold larger audiences, while little details like dividers helped traffic flow along. The bottleneck sky bridge between the Baltimore Convention Center and the Hilton could still get backed up at times, but not quite as much as last year. Again, the weather was a major boon as it meant that even if certain parts of the con got jammed, it was a simple matter of leaving the con center and entering at a different point. Unfortunately, many of the presentations also had tech issues that mostly seemed to stem from the Otakon equipment rather than presenters’ laptops and such. However, Otakon smartly implemented 15-minute breaks between panels, which gave people time to set up and mostly work through any problems, and even if things still went awry it at least only ate into their time somewhat.
Once people actually got into the convention though, Otakon turned out for the most part to be as great as ever.
This year, due to still recovering from jetlag, I took a more relaxed pace compared to previous Otakons. Having no panels to run for myself made this easier, and while the guests were good, none of them were must-see for me. Of course, even simply picking and choosing means that there are still a number of interesting panels. The best industry panels this year had to be the Q&As with director Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle), Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao, founder and former producer of the anime studio MADHouse and current founder of MAPPA (Kids on the Slope, Teekyuu), and character designer/animator Matsubara Hidenori. Their new project is a film adaptation of the manga In this Corner of the World (previously released on JManga as To All Corners of the World) by Kouno Fumiyo, about a young girl living in Hiroshima during World War II. Kouno previously received critical acclaim over the similarly themed Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, and having read In This Corner of the World myself, I have to say that I am extremely looking forward to this project.
I managed to ask a couple of questions of Katabuchi. One had to do with some criticism of Kouno’s work I’ve seen in the past, where people accused her of not being directly critical enough of the Second World War and issues such as Japan’s militarism at the time. While it’s clear upon reading the manga that the work is actually quite critical and is merely subtle in its approach, I wanted to know if 1) they were aware of this criticism 2) they were prepared to address it. Katabuchi’s response was quite satisfying in this regard, as he himself gave an example of how the original manga does portray a larger world with many political issues but through the eyes of a young girl who isn’t necessarily aware of everything around her but is nonetheless affected by it in her everyday life.
In particular, Katabuchi pointed out how the main character’s desire for a yo-yo is actually a reference to the fact that yo-yos had become popular in Japan at the time, but the manga does not bother to mention this because a little girl would not be thinking about the significance of popular trends to a society. In other words, while this yo-yo example says nothing directly about the political climate at the time, it shows the awareness that the work has about what was happening in society. Given this response, and the fact that an elaborate art exhibition of their layout and design work for the movie showed just how much research they were putting in to depict a pre-atomic bombing Hiroshima, it gives me confidence that the movie will properly tackle its difficult subject matter. While Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises drew a similar kind of controversy (the criticism that it had whitewashed Japan’s role in history), I feel that, similar to Miyazaki’s film, that this will not be a simple black-and-white anti-war film.
The other question had to do with the fact that he actually worked on the, shall we say interesting, American Street Fighter cartoon. No, not the anime film with the dub soundtrack featuring Korn, nor Street Fighter II V, but the one best known for its M. Bison memes. I basically asked if he had any recollection of his experience there, and he said that it had been so long ago that all he remembered was drawing Chun-Li at some point and eventually feeling like he should have been in charge of the whole thing. At another point in the panel, Katabuchi also mentioned how he has an advantage over Miyazaki because Miyazaki is never allowed to direct something like Black Lagoon but everything is fair game for Katabuchi himself.
As for Maruyama, it’s more or less the case every year, but the man is arguably the most important person at Otakon every time he attends. In This Corner of the World is a MAPPA production and so a lot of the focus was on that, but he was of course open to questions in general. I asked him if his production style had changed now compared to his early days at MADHouse on shows such as Aim for the Ace!, but he responded that his approach to production has changed little in the 3+ decades since, as he prefers to give the creators themselves freedom to work. The only drawback is that it means he’s not the best with finances, which is why MADHouse was eventually purchased by Nippon TV.
Another interesting question courtesy of Kate from the Reverse Thieves was whether the subject matter of the current anime Terror in Resonance (terrorism and nuclear weapons) had caused any controversy or run into any problems. Maruyama responded that both he and the director Watanabe Shin’ichirou (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope) had concerns that the TV stations would refuse to air the show, but that the two of them went forward with it anyway because that’s their style. It reminds me of the production issues that the Coppelion anime ran into that caused it to cover up all overt references to radiation, and I’m personally happy that the same fate has not befallen Terror in Resonance, or at least not yet. Overall, I have to stress that going to a Maruyama panel is always worth it, and as sad as it sounds the man is not getting any younger. That said, he did joke that he’s the same age as Miyazaki but whereas Miyazaki retired Maruyama is doing more work than ever before. Maybe it’s a MAPPA trend to make jokes referencing the famed Ghibli director.
The last guest to attend the convention that was related to In This Corner of the World was Matsubara Hidenori, known for his character design work on the Sakura Wars games and more recently for his animation work on the Rebuild of Evangelion films. He was a guest in 2009 as well, and after having heard how interesting his Q&A was at the time I made sure not to miss it. Sadly I couldn’t ask him any questions myself, but his responses in general were quite informative. In particular, he talked about how glad he was to not have to necessarily draw young, cute girls all the time anymore, and that one of the works most influential to him is the World Masterpiece Theater series En Famille or The Story of Perinne. He also mentioned that while he once tried to switch to using a drawing tablet, in the end he had to go back to pencil and paper.
I briefly mentioned the In This Corner of the World art exhibition, but it really deserves at least is own paragraph to talk about how amazing it is. I’m actually a little sad that photos weren’t allowed because the amount of work and research that went into them is nothing short of astounding. In order to properly capture the Hiroshima area of World War II Japan, they did things like find out how seaweed was dried using bamboo instead of reeds, and they even looked into the train schedules at the time to see what times would be accurate for trains in the backgrounds in certain scenes. A lot of this work would arguably be unnecessary and very few people are even alive today who remember that period, but it shows just how much they want to capture the feeling of living in that environment.
I also attended the panel for character designer Kozaki Yuusuke, and while I’m not quite the fan that others are (having only barely played No More Heroes and never having played Fire Emblem: Awakening), it was fun to see him take audience drawing requests. The two images above were the result of this, and it turns out that Kozaki even drew the cover art for the Otakon guidebook this year. This was quite noticeable as generally the artwork for Otakon stuff has traditionally ranged from subpar to mediocre. It also made me really want to read his manga Donyatsu, which is about donut-shaped dogs and cats in an apocalyptic world; in one of the images above, Donyatsu is featured being eaten by a Fire Emblem character. The main reason Kozaki was at Otakon, however, was to promote a new anime project, Under the Dog, which based on its initial material is trying to invoke a Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-type feel but with more action. In fact, at the panel they mentioned getting an animator who worked on GitS. If you want to help make it happen, a Kickstarter went up just this past week.
While the guests are generally great at Otakon, it’s the fan panels that are in my opinion the heart and soul of the experience. Compared to Anime Expo, for example, Otakon boasts a much larger set of non-industry panels, which results in a general sense of genuine enthusiasm over the experience of watching, reading, and thinking about anime, manga, and related topics.
The first panel of the convention that I attended was the Intro to Josei panel, and it was clear that they were inexperienced as presenters. The panel had two parts to it, a brief history and rundown of the significance of josei (manga for older women), and then some examples of interesting titles. Their intentions were good, but the panel had two main problems. First, it felt like two panels in one, with the seam between the history and the examples made especially visible by the fact that the first and second halves just felt completely different. Second, it was more of an introduction to J-Drama panels than one about josei anime and manga, as all of their visual examples came from dramas, even in cases where anime counterparts were available (like Nodame Cantabile). The result was that the panel didn’t feel like an introduction, but more a brief gleaning of what’s available. If they could include more anime and manga and really figure out what they want to say, then I think it would be much improved for the future.
I’ve known Daryl Surat for a long time now, and have listened to the Anime World Order podcast for even longer. As was the case last year (and possibly the years before that, I can’t remember), Daryl was a featured panelist at Otakon, and he always manages to have a strong mix of smart and stupid that keeps things fresh, entertaining, and even educational. While his Anime’s Craziest Deaths panel is an Otakon mainstay at this point and pretty much always delivers exactly what its title states, he also did a panel on ninja in anime, one on the long relationship of influence that exists between pro wrestling and anime, and one on showing some of the many references in Kill la Kill. The ninja panel was the lightest in terms of content and was more about seeing how wide and varied the perception of ninja has become to include just about anyone doing anything as long as they’re called a ninja. The pro wrestling/anime panel approached that connection from a unique angle, positing the idea that, more than simply being about one referencing the other and vice versa, some of the very fundamental storytelling aspects of anime and manga (particularly shounen fighting works) are influenced by the wrestling storylines that were popular when television first emerged in Japan. It also went into detail about the female pro wrestling scene in Japan and how it was for a long time not about appealing to men through sexy outfits but about giving girls idols to aspire to, which then created certain archetypes in anime and manga as well. Really great panel, I recommend going even if people don’t have an interest in pro wrestling.
The Kill la Kill references panel 1) made me want to watch Sukeban Deka, the show about a yo-yo-wielding delinquent girl that inspired much of Kill la Kill 2) emphasized that what makes Kill la Kill work is that it does not live or die by its references but uses them to enhance the experience (something I agree with). It was fun to see the audience’s brains light up as they realize how many things went over their head, and also great to see how many Kill la Kill fans were at Otakon (more on that later). I have to give a very personal thanks to Daryl, because while he mentions appropriating this post of mine on the puns and wordplay in Mako’s spotlight scenes, he gave me full credit for it and even encouraged people to come read Ogiue Maniax. The applause I got at the panel was one of the best moments of the con for me.
I also attended two of the fan panels run by members of the Reverse Thieves, “The Visual Stylings of Kunihiko Ikuhara” and “The Measure of a Man. The Nature of a Hero: A Fate/Stay Night Panel.” The Ikuhara panel focused on the Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum director and the unique flair he brings to his work, tracing his visual motifs from his days on Sailor Moon to his more recent work. One thing that they really emphasized was how important pattern and repetition were for Ikuhara, which along with his use of visual cues from dramatic theater really shows how Ikuhara values graphic design in his animation work, and doesn’t treat it simply as “drawn film.” As they mentioned, it’s easy to believe that Ikuhara does things purely for style’s sake and that it doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative at all when in fact it very much does, but it could have been highlighted even better. Although there were some technical mishaps, Alain’s Fate/Stay Night panel was also quite successful. In showing how each of the three main story paths in Fate/Stay Night follow a different philosophy in terms of what it means to be a “hero,” Alain pointed out how attempting to mash them all together for the first TV series led to its downfall because it was literally putting three conflicting sets of ideas together. I remember years ago seeing fans of Tsukihime being similarly upset over that anime, and given that it is also a Type-Moon property I can’t help but feel a similar thing happened there.
This might not sound especially different from the panels I normally attend, but by being less focused on must-see events, I also was able to be more experimental in my con experience. For example, while a former boss of mine was big into sumo, I had never really gotten into it myself. However, being somewhat aware of the fact that sumo takes a lot of skill, going to the Sumo Demonstration on Saturday was actually pretty informative. There, five-time US sumo champion Kelly Gneiting took on the world’s largest Japanese man, Yamamotoyama Ryuuta, and showed the flexibility and strength required to be a sumo wrestler. To give you an idea of what it takes, imagine trying to lift 500 lbs. that is actively trying to push itself against you, adding more weight and stress to your attempt. It’s no wonder that matches last only a short while and require long breaks.
Another unusual panel that leaped out of the schedule was something titled “Gunma Prefecture Office” with no description to accompany it. What could it be? Was it actually people from Gunma’s tourism division? It turns out that it was something along those lines (though not in an official capacity), as former Otakon president Alice Volkmar introduced the crowd to the Gunma Prefecture and all of its little details. The things I got most out of it were that hot springs are a big deal there (which of course makes me want to visit), and it’s known for its three mountains, all of which are featured in the intense races of Initial D. Truth be told, I was originally considering just asking Initial D questions the entire time.
The last panel I will mention is the Otakon Game Show, a perennial Otakon feature that has both contestants and audience participating in a battle of who knows more about anime. It’s generally fun, though I feel like the questions are too geared towards knowledge of minutiae from popular shows and not so much a well-rounded knowledge of anime, and the ask the audience section needs to go. I also had problems registering my phone for the audience participation section, and many of my answers did not go through. Other than that, it was a fine time.
I do have to say, though, and this might just be me nitpicking, but yaoi does not rhyme with kazowie. That’d be like saying Aoi rhymes with Howie.
I was originally not planning on attending any concerts this Otakon, but upon remembering that the band Altima consisted of not only one of the singers from Fripside (A Certain Scientific Railgun) but also motsu from the recently disbanded group m.o.v.e. (Initial D), it meant I had to check it out if only for a little while. This wasn’t the first time I got to see motsu as I actually attended another con where he was a guest, Anime 2012 in the Netherlands, so I knew that the man brings the hype. The music really got me pumped up, but I actually had to leave the concert early as I could feel it destroying my ears (I failed to bring earplugs).
I am also not big into J-Rock, but X-Japan member Yoshiki has such a reputation about him that when I managed to get a ticket for the concert I also decided to see what he’s all about. You may have to forgive me for being ignorant when it comes to X-Japan, but I had no idea that their style was a mix of heavy metal and classical. Yoshiki was there more for the latter side, performing primarily classical-style pieces on piano while accompanied by a string quartet and a singer. The highlight of the concert was when he played a song in tribute to two members of X-Japan who had passed away over the years, a long, 10+ minute torrent of emotions that culminated in Yoshiki smashing the keys as if he was trying to shove them through the piano itself. This was actually a transition from his classical self to his metal self, as suddenly two other X-Japan members made a surprise appearance and rocked out. I apologize for not knowing their names.
Because of the fact that I personally did not approach Otakon as frantically as I had in previous years, in a way it would have been difficult for the convention to have disappointed me. That’s not to say that Otakon made no effort to make this year as enjoyable and as comfortable as they could, but I did not run into any major problems that ruined the con experience. The only thing that is a concern is the gradual countdown until the move to Washington D.C. in a few years, and the farewells we’ll have to bid to Baltimore and its food.
I’ll sign off here with a collection of cosplay photos. Shout outs to the Nogami Aoi cosplayer for referencing something as cool as Zettai Karen Children, the Yazawa Nico and Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live!) cosplayers in the photo all the way up top, the impromptu and unintentional VGCW match, and all the various Jakuzure Nonons that attended. Given that she has more outfits than just about anyone else, it was fun seeing how many variations of Nonon I could photograph.
On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?
From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited. Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?
The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.
I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.
Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.
Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.
Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.
Otakon is an event I look forward to every year, and to give you an idea of just how much, I actually plan my time in the US to coincide with it. I went in with the intent of getting some autographs (but not too many as I felt a bit autographed-out from my Anime Expo experience), but ironically I pretty much got everyone but the three I was looking to get the most: Hirano Aya, Nanri Yuuka, and Kakihara Tetsuya. Though a bit disappointed as a result, I realized that this is Otakon and it’s always impossible to accomplish everything you want to do. The scheduling is so jam-packed with events that time is always against you, but then you look back and see all of the fun you had.
This year, as seems to be the case over the past few Otakons, Baltimore was hot. Given that most of it is spent inside an air-conditioned space this isn’t so bad, but there always came a time where people had to brave the heat. Taking Megabus to Baltimore, for example, requires one to walk quite a distance to catch the local city bus. It’s a trek I’m accustomed to at this point, but still one I have to brace for. As for the people in elaborate cosplay, you have my pity to an extent, but seriously you guys must have been dying, especially the full-on fur suit wearers.
When it comes to industry guests, my main priority is generally the Q&A sessions followed by autographs, and the reason is that I love to see people pick their brains, especially the creators. I always try to think of a good, solid question or two to ask them, and over time I think I’ve become pretty good at it, because the responses I receive are generally great, though actual credit for the answers of course goes to the guests themselves.
The first industry panel I attended was that of Urobuchi Gen, writer of Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, two shows which are the new hotness, and by extension make the man himself the new hotness as well. Surprisingly, there was only one question nitpicking continuity, and the rest were about his work, and even some “what if” questions. From it, we learned that Urobuchi is inherently suspicious and so would never sign a magical girl contract, considers Itano Ichirou (of Itano Circus fame) to be his mentor, that he would never pick Gilgamesh as his servant, that the main reason Kajiura Yuki did the music was because of SHAFT Producer Iwakami’s magic, and that working with both UFO Table and Shaft is like being aboard the USS Enterprise and meeting different alien species. In addition, it turns out that Madoka Magica wasn’t influenced by any magical girl series in particular, and the closest lineage it has is with Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (atypical magical girl show with striking and violent imagery) and Le Portrait de Petit Cossette (a gothic-style show by Shinbo). Given my recent post about this topic, I have a few words in response to that, but I’ll save it for another post.
As for my question, I asked Urobuchi how he felt about influencing such an enormous industry veteran in Koike Kazuo (who is in the middle of creating his own magical girl series), to which he answered that he considers it something he’s most proud of. Though the two have not talked since that interview, he still follows Koike on Twitter. Later, I would get a Madoka poster signed by him.
I also attended the Satelight (Aquarion, Macross Frontier) panel, attended by Tenjin Hidetaka (who technically isn’t a Satelight employee), which was just a fun introduction to their studio. They explored their history, from making the first full-CG television anime (Bit the Cupid), the creation of some of their less-regarded shows (KissDum, Basquash!), and into the modern age. Given the small attendance it actually felt a bit personal, and in this time we had some pretty interesting facts dropped on us. A studio which prefers to do original animation instead of adapations, we learned that they sometimes just like to animate things because they can. Case in point, they showed us Basquash! footage they animated just because they liked the characters and world so much, with no additional TV series planned for it. About director and mecha designer Kawamori Shouji, we learned that he likes to work on 3-5 projects simultaneously despite his somewhat old age (52), that Kawamori is devoted to making anime look good, sometimes at the expense of his budget.
They also showed us some CG-animated clips of concerts by Ranka Lee and Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier, which were really nice and elaborate. Originally they were meant to be used in commercials for a Macross Frontier pachinko machine, but the 3/11 earthquake prevented the commercial from going on air. Another Satelight anime they showed was the anime AKB0048, which actually looks amazing, and from all reports by even the most cynical of reviewers, actually is. Kawamori even graced us with his recorded presence, giving an interview where he briefly discussed topics such as attending Otakon years ago and making the second season of AKB0048.
Given the flow of conversation, when it came to the Q&A portion there was one question I just had to ask: Why did Kawamori end up directing a show like Anyamaru Detectives Kiruminzoo, a show about girls who turn into animal mascot characters and solve mysteries, an anime seemingly far-removed from his usual mecha and idol work? The Satelight representative’s response was, Kawamori is known for working on anime with transforming robots, and when you think about it, transforming animals are not that different from transforming robots. Hearing this, I actually had to hold back my laughter.
One last thing to mention about the Satelight panel was that the laptop they were using was on battery power, and when it started to run out of steam, rather than finding an AC adapter to plug into a wall, they actually just gave the industry speaker another laptop entirely, also on battery power. An amusing hiccup in an otherwise great panel.
Maruyama Masao is a frequent guest of Otakon. One of the founders of Studio Madhouse, he’s been to Baltimore for many, many Otakons, and it had gotten to the point where I began to feel that I could skip his panels to see other guests. This year was different, though. First, with the unfortunate death of Ishiguro Noboru, the director of Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes who had died just this past year, it made me realize that the 70+ Maruyama won’t be around forever. Second, this year Maruyama actually left Madhouse to form a new studio, MAPPA, an unthinkable move for someone in as good a position as he was. The studio was created in order to obtain funding for Kon Satoshi’s final project, The Dream Machine, but in the mean-time it also released its first television anime, Kids on the Slope. Even if Hirano Aya’s autograph session was originally scheduled for that time (it got moved), I felt I had to attend Maruyama’s Q&A. In fact, if you are ever at Otakon, I highly suggest anyone, even people who think they might not be interested in the creative side of anime, to attend one of his panels. His answers are always so rich with detail and history given his 40-year experience that you’re bound to learn something and then thirst for more knowledge.
Some of the highlights include the fact that he’d very much like to make an anime based on Urasawa Naoki’s Pluto but thinks the right format, eight hour-long episodes, would be difficult to fund (the manga itself is eight volumes), that half of the animation budget of Kids on the Slope went to animating the music performances, and that he is looking to try and get funding for Kon’s film in the next five years. I find it personally amazing that he would think of the format best-suited for Pluto first, instead of thinking how the series would fit the typical half-hour TV format. In addition, Maruyama pointed out that a lot of work was done in Kids on the Slope to blend and hide the CG, and I think it shows.
In any case, while I would normally be content to just give a summary of the panel, I’m going to link to a transcript just so that you can read the entire thing. The question I asked is as follows:
How did director Watanabe Shinichirou (director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) become involved with Kids on the Slope?
“I was working with Watanabe from back in the MADHOUSE days. Unfortunately there were about three years where nobody got to see his work — his projects always got stopped at the planning stages. So when I got Kids on the Slope, I handed him the manga and said, ‘here. You’re doing this.’ At MADHOUSE we had developed a feature — it was already scripted and ready to go, but then I left the company and the project fell through, so I gave him this as something to do. I really think he’s one of the top directors in Japan, one of the top 5. That’s why I wanted to create a theatrical animation with him. Up until this project, he’d only worked on original projects, so this was his first adaptation from a manga, and as a result, he didn’t really know how faithful he had to be, or if he had room to adapt, so he put up a lot of resistance at first.
“Mr. Watanabe loves music, and has a lot of deep thoughts on the music. So I told him that it was a jazz anime, and that he was likely the only director that could pull it off. That convinced him. Then Yoko Kanno said, ‘if Watanabe is working on this, I’d like to work on it too,’ and so that’s how that show came to be.”
Also note that in the photo above, Maruyama is wearing a shirt drawn by CLAMP to celebrate his 70th birthday, showing him to be a wise hermit.
Hirano Aya Concert
Partly because of scheduling conflicts, I attended the Hirano Aya concert knowing that it would be my only experience getting to see her. As expected, it was quite a good concert, and I had to get up despite my con fatigue for “God Knows,” but there wasn’t quite this process where I felt won over like I had with LiSA at Anime Expo. Thinking about it, it’s probably because I’m already familiar with Hirano Aya’s work.
I did wonder if her cute outfit was designed to kind of draw some of the controversy away from her, the large bow tie on her head possibly trying to restore her image in the eyes of certain fans. At the same time, given her songs and given her vocal range, I had to wonder if she would benefit from being presented as less of an “idol” and more of a “singer.”
Getting to the concert 15 minutes late on account of 1) the Baltimore Convention Center not being entirely clear as to what can lead to where, and 2) my own forgetfulness from not having done this for a year, I sadly missed the announcement that she would be signing autographs at the end, and ducked out after the encore was over. Alas, I’ll have to wait a while before I get the chance to have my volume of Zettai Karen Children signed.
Apparently Opening ceremonies was ushered in by the Ice Cold Water Guy. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but I heard it got quite a reaction.
I also attended (the last half of) the Vertical Inc. panel, whose big, big license is Gundam: The Origin. Honestly, I’d never expected to actually see it released in the US, seeing as Gundam is practically seen as poisonous in the States, and I doubly didn’t expect it from Vertical. In addition, though I didn’t attend, some friends went to the Kodansha Comics panel and got me a Genshiken poster! Would you believe that I’ve never owned a Genshiken poster? This one even has Ogiue on it! Granted, I can’t put it up just yet, but it’s basically a copy of the English cover to Volume 10.
Also, while I didn’t attend some of the guest Q&As, I did conduct personal interviews with some of them.
A panel run by the Reverse Thieves, I was happy to see that the room was so packed that people were starting to get turned away at the door. The goal of the panel is exactly in the name: the two panelists pointed out anime that have come out within the past five years that they felt older anime watchers, even the kind who have children of their own, could enjoy. By far the most popular show was The Daily Lives of High School Boys, which just got endless laughs. What I found to be really interesting though is that I could tell the panel was working because I heard more than one baby crying throughout the whole thing. Assuming that the babies did not magically crawl in on there own, I could only assume one or more parent was there with them, also learning about New Anime. I even had a couple of old college friends attending Otakon tell me how much they wanted to watch some of these shows.
Genshiken: The Next Generation
If anyone thought this was my panel, my apologies! It was actually run by my old Ogiue co-panelist, Viga, and offered an introduction for existing fans of Genshiken to its sequel, Genshiken Nidaime aka Genshiken: Second Season. Overall, I thought it was a fine panel, though at points I felt like Viga couldn’t quite decide who the panel should be for, explaining some things while omitting other details entirely. Should it assume that people had read the current chapters or not? If the panel could have a tighter focus with a clearer idea of where it wants to go, I think it would be much better.
Fandom & Criticism
This panel was dedicated to introducing and exploring the concept of “active viewing” to a convention audience, which is to say the idea of distancing oneself from one’s own emotions while watching something in order to more accurately gauge what the work is saying. Hosted by Clarissa from Anime World Order, as well as Evan and Andrew from Ani-Gamers, I took interest in the panel partly because I know the panelists, but also because as an academic myself the concept comes into play with my own studies. The discussion was quite fruitful I think, though one thing I do want to say is that I feel the concept of distancing and dividing between the rational mind and how one’s emotions operate while consuming media can make it difficult to see how other people might view a certain show, and that it is important, I feel, to consider emotions and “passive feelings” while watching a show, as they can shape one’s experience in a way that “active viewing” may tend to break down like a puzzle.
Anime’s Craziest Deaths
It was my second time seeing Daryl Surat’s violence smorgasboard of a panel, and probably what impressed me the most wasn’t any single clip, but the fact that the footage was (as far as I remember) 100% new compared to last year’s Otakon, and that a lot of it came from newer shows. The panel is a treat to watch, and that the craziness of a death doesn’t necessarily have to do with its violence level, but it certainly helps. The panel was a full two hours, so the middle felt like it started to drag, but I think it has to do with the basic idea that people’s attentions will slowly fade over time, so it’s somewhat necessary to up the ante as it goes along. I’ll finish this part by letting Daryl himself offer some sage advice.
The Art of Fanservice
The last fan panel I attended was hosted by the third host of Anime World Order, Gerald, and it was a brief look through the history of fanservice, as well as some of the general differences between fanservice for men and fanservice for women. Defining the art of fanservice as titillation which is not just outright pornography, Gerald’s theory, which seemed confirmed by the audience’s reaction, was that fanservice for guys is typically very visual, very isolated, while women usually require some kind of context. A pair of bare breasts, no matter what situation the woman is in, can be enough for a guy, but a girl usually wants some backstory. Possibly for this reason, the clips of women’s fanservice tended to be a little longer. Also of interest was the Cutie Honey Flash opening, which was a Cutie Honey show targeted towards girls, and though Honey is still leggy and busty, I noted that the way the shots are framed is a far cry from its most immediate predecessor, New Cutie Honey.
I think the idea of “context” does definitely ring true to an extent, but I have to wonder about the degree to which people, especially otaku, defy those gendered conventions. For example, there is definitely “context-less” fanservice in Saki, but there are also moments which are meant to thrill based on the exact circumstances of the characters’ relationships, like when Yumi tries to recruit Stealth Momo for the mahjong club and shouts, “I need you!
Speaking of Saki, why I had a panel to present this year as well.
It was likely thanks to Saki: Episode of Side A that Dave and I got the chance to once again present”Riichi! Mahjong, Anime, and You.” The format was essentially the same as our panel from 2010, where we try to help the attendees learn not so much how to play mahjong (an endeavor which requires hours and hours of workshop time), but how to watch mahjong anime. New to 2012 though were the fact that we had two years of additional playing experience, which meant we knew what we were talking about a bit more, as well as a number of new video clips to thrill the audience, including one that Dave was so excited about he was almost willing to skip the order of presentation just to reveal it).
It was held in a larger room than last time, and though there were still some empty seats, the fact that we were able to mostly fill a room at 10 in the morning on Friday pleased me so.
After the panel, I was waiting on line for the Urobuchi panel, when the people in front of me not only recognized me from the panel, but also let me join in a game of card-based mahjong, where instead of tiles playing cards with the images of tiles are used. From this I learned that mahjong cards don’t work terribly well because it becomes extremely difficult to see your entire hand, but I have to thank those folks anyway for giving me the chance to play, and though the cards are less than ideal, they’re still handy in a pinch, especially because carrying tiles takes so much more effort.
Thanks to Dave’s effort, however, we actually brought tiles with us to play, and on Friday and Saturday, Dave and I managed to find time to sit down and play for a few hours against not only opponents we already knew but also people we’d never seen before. The tables at the conference weren’t particularly suited for this, and we had to find a table edge and play the game with the mahjong mat angled diagonally. I ended up doing pretty well overall, including an amazing game where I never won or lost a hand and maintained a default score of 25,000, but what really stood out to me is the realization that we had all improved since we started playing mahjong. I know I said it before in discussing the panel part, but playing live against other people made it so that even my mistakes were the mistakes of a more experienced person who could learn from them.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones doing this, as we saw a second mahjong group as well. I couldn’t stay long enough to assess their ability, but as long as they were having fun it’s all good.
Other Photos (mostly cosplay)
Despite a number of good costumes out there, I actually didn’t take too many photos this year. I blame the amount of times I had to hurry to get to the next thing on the schedule. Also, I saw absolutely no Eureka Seven AO cosplay. Promise me for next year!
This was actually the first Fuura Kafuka cosplayer I had ever seen, and I’m amazed (and grateful) that someone would remember her. A funny story came out of this, as the cosplayer had not been aware that Nonaka Ai (Kafuka’s voice actor) was at the event. I told her about the autograph-signing on Sunday, and I hoped she was able to make it. Now, onto the next.
While at the convention I would notice little things here and there that I thought could use some improvement, the sheer amount of content at Otakon means that with even a few days of post-con recovery the bad mostly recedes away and all that I’m left with is fond memories. One complaint I do have, however, is that because the convention is set up to have some entrances and pathways usable and some off-limits, it is extremely difficult to tell just based on the map given in the con guide how to get from location to location. As an Otakon veteran at this point, I mostly have no issue with it, but even I ran into problems while trying to find the Hirano Aya concert. A combination of better signage to point people to the right locations alongside a clearer map would do wonders.
Even though Otakon had a “cooking” theme this year, I didn’t really feel it, pretty much because I didn’t attend any of those related events. At this point, every Otakon is starting to feel similar, but I can never hold that against it. After all, with a convention this big and with this much to do, I feel that we as fans of anime and manga make of the convention what we want. This isn’t to say that the way the convention is run doesn’t matter, of course, but that it is run smoothly enough that it becomes almost unnoticeable.
Truth be told, I used to take the sheer variety of panel programming and activities at Otakon for granted, but when I attended AX for the first time this year, I realized how limited that event is by comparison. Not only are there a good amount of industry panels with all of the guests they’ve flown over from Japan (or elsewhere), but the fan panels are a nice combination of workshops, introductions, and even philosophical explorations of topics concerning fans. Seeing Otakon once more in person, I knew this was indeed the con I waited for all year.
I was listening to the most recent episode of the Veef Show, where the argument that Code Geass is not a “robot” show came up by way of another podcaster, Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat. It’s an argument that I’ve heard before from Daryl, whether it was through AWO itself or just talking with him online, and it all hinges on a simple statement: A show which does not focus primarily on robots cannot be called a “robot anime.” The direction the fanbase of Code Geass takes, one that emphasizes the characters in a variety of ways such that arguments about attractiveness and character motivations occur side by side, is used as supporting evidence. Seeing that I just appeared on the Speakeasy Podcast and endorsed Code Geass as a solid mecha show for people who feel a little put off by mecha though, I figured that it would be a good idea for me to say something. Also because I enjoy both the Veef Show and AWO and they’re cool dudes.
While I’m on the side that says Code Geass is a mecha show, I’m not writing this to argue in its favor. Where one person draws the line between genres (or whether they choose to draw them at all) is predicated to a certain extent on their own preferences (the reason I put the qualifier of “a certain extent” is that obviously a show with zero robots and zero mentions or implications of robots would have a hard time justifying itself as one), and that argument can just go back and forth with no signs of budging. It happens to all sorts of genres, particularly science fiction, which may be appropriate given the subject at hand, but I’ll leave that alone for now. What I really want to do is look at some of the deeper layers of meaning behind the above argument about why Code Geass isn’t a mecha show, as I think it says some things about the anxiety that exists in a fanbase for a genre which perhaps fears irrelevancy. I do not think Daryl necessarily feels this way, but underlying questions still exist within.
The notion that Code Geass does not fall into the genre of “giant robots” is based on the level of presence that mecha possesses within that series. While they appear in virtually every episode in some way or another, they are not integrated into the main thrust of the story, thus the show does not attract fans through its robots, at least not in comparatively great numbers. Given this view, the first underlying element of this argument is a question, “Why isn’t Code Geass emphasizing the mecha?”
The answer can be presented with varying degrees of cynicism, and I will show two here on somewhat opposing ends. The first version is that their goal is to pander to a larger anime fanbase by placing importance on those character traits previously mentioned. Mecha are thrown in for flavor but not much else. The second version is that giant robots for the sake of giant robots do not capture the attention of a wide enough audience. Whether you’re more inclined to express this same idea as the former or as the latter, the commonality between them is the fact that giant robots as a genre, be they super or real or some kind of hybrid, just aren’t that popular anymore. So then the next question that comes up is, “Why aren’t robots popular?”
I don’t have the answer to that. All I can say is, for fans who got into anime because of giant robots, or those who lived in a period where mecha shows made up such a huge part of industry output that it became one of the genres inextricably linked to anime, the idea that robots do not capture the general viewing population’s imagination can be a bitter pill to swallow. The properties of anime that are bringing in fans now may not be what brought people to the table in previous eras. As soon as what you thought was popular no longer is, and you can’t quite figure out why things have changed, it can be baffling. How you reason through this change can depend on how you feel towards what has supplanted your old favorites, and it can be conveyed with different degrees of discontent.
At this point, it’s important to remember that giant robot shows that place enormous amounts of emphasis on the robots themselves and their influence on the story as a whole still do exist and are still being made. The problem with them, however, is that they are few in number, and that as a niche genre it appeals to a dwindling hardcore fanbase. I know that Daryl is also aware of this issue, as must be a great number of mecha fans whether they consciously realize it or not, and embodied in that feeling is the uncomfortableness of having gone from riches to rags, from being one of the premiere fanbases to a minority. I find that in actuality, the negative reaction towards categorizing Code Geass as a “robot anime” comes not from simply definition semantics and pedantry, but from what I think is perhaps the most central question underlying everything: “Why aren’t Code Geass and other shows doing more to convince people to like giant robots?” With that, giant robot shows must thus not only appeal to fans who already like the genre but also act as ambassadors to people who are less receptive.
For that, I point once again to that Speakeasy episode, because the whole purpose of that podcast was to talk about mecha shows that are capable of appealing not to simply those who are unfamiliar with the genre and just need to be exposed to it, but to people who have been burned by giant robots in the past. With some shows, the mere presence of robots can be enough for people to say “no thanks,” but if Code Geass attracts this large fanbase that is willing to stay even with robots continuously present within the show, then it must be doing something to not have them outright rejected. Perhaps all that is happening is that the robots are being conveniently ignored, but before people can even carry the potential to love giant robots, they should be able to tolerate them first.
Have you seen the “V8 VFusion?” It’s a drink whose purpose is to mask its vegetable content with fruity flavor. It’s even advertised by showing people who don’t like veggies drinking and enjoying it. You can make an argument that it’s not really a vegetable juice and you could even probably make a convincing case of it, but then I have to wonder about how much that distinction really matters.
In the Anime World Order review of Nobody’s Boy Remi, Gerald Rathkolb discusses the way in which the narrator plays with the expectations of its viewers by saying things that turn out to be completely false a short while after. If the narrator says that Remi found some money and spent it happily, there would likely be a scene shortly after where he accidentally drops the money down a sewer.
Generally, identity-less narrators are seen as omniscient, so either the narrator does not actually know everything, or is actively deceiving the audience. A similar effect happens with misleading episode titles. How many times does Chiba Shigeru in Hokuto no Ken declare in the next episode that a major character is definitely going to die but actually doesn’t? It makes a person begin to doubt the authenticity of words in fiction.
But words are easy to ignore as lies. The very idea of lying is tied closely to the use of words. If someone says you’re lying, it usually has to do with what you’ve said and not what you’ve done. What happens then, when the lies are not words but pictures?
Ambiguity in a given scene is a common technique used in anime and manga to create a sense of tension and drama. In Dragon Ball Z, a character attacks an enemy with so many energy projectiles that a giant explosion occurs where the target was standing. This ambiguous moment is meant to leave the viewer in anticipation as to whether or not the attack worked, though the explosion itself begins to take on a symbolic identity as a red herring and leads the viewer to assume that the opponent did not in fact die. What I’m referring to with visual falsehood though is something far more sinister.
While I cannot speak for everyone, I tend to believe that what is presented to me on the screen or on the page is what has happened in the story. In other words, there is a certain degree of “truth” to the visuals of a manga, because without them how are we supposed to know what has or has not happened?
One prominent manga author who uses visual falsehoods to their utmost advantage is Fukumoto Nobuyuki, creator of gambling series such as Mahjong Legend Akagi: The Genius Who Descended into the Darkness, Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji: The Suffering Pariah -The Ultimate Survivor-, and Gambling Emperor Legend Zero. In Akagi and Ten for example, mahjong hands are displayed right on the page and presented as what a given character has to work with. In the anime for Akagi, the hand is generally displayed by itself floating in a space, as if to say that this is an objective view of the mahjong hand. Of course, it turns out not to be, and we are presented with what is really there.
This is a scene from Zero where the main character is faced with a scenario where he cannot see who is behind the wall. Fukumoto lets us the readers take a peek at the person behind the wall. Then he reveals the truth!
What are we to believe? Reveals like these are downright disarming.
A non-anime/manga example of this comes in the form of Megaman 9. In this game, there is an enemy that disguises itself as a 1-Up icon. Attempting to get a free life will of course result in an unpleasant surprise.
Though the enemy is not difficult to defeat, it creates some paranoia in the player. Just which 1-Ups are real? Does that 1-Up seem too good to be true? The game has challenged your perception of what “should” be.
I do not believe these visual lies impact these works negatively, but when the images themselves are untruths, it can create a sense of imbalance, a distrust for what is in front of you. Keep in mind that in Fukumoto’s case, this never damages the “gambling” or “mystery” aspects of his stories, so you are also unable to just doubt everything and view his works from a position of absolute superiority. It adds a new layer to reading manga, one where you are in a sense competing against the creators themselves.