Uwa…! New York Anime Festival 2009

New York Anime Festival ran on my home turf of NYC this weekend, and I was there once more to experience anime, Jacob Javits-style. The most significant parts of this convention were the fact that this would be the last year that NYAF stood on its own apart from New York Comic Con (a merged con will stand in its place next year), and that the creator of Gundam Tomino Yoshiyuki would be there. As a long-time Gundam fan, I could not ignore the fact that he was set to appear in my city. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless you were at Big Apple Anime Fest years ago; then it’s a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity).

Friday morning, I got an official NYAF tweet telling me that people were already lining up for autograph tickets, and so with a somewhat mad dash and a long train ride, I and others managed to get to the autograph line on time and obtain our golden passes. Secure in the knowledge that I would get to meet Tomino in person, I continued on through the con.

I helped run a couple of panels this year, namely the Anime Bloggers Roundtable, and Anime Recruitment. For the latter, I was mainly a tech guy, but I managed to chime in on a few subjects, and when asked about why I was a fan of anime more than other forms of media, I gave an answer that I felt satisfied the question. My response, to sum it up, was that anime and manga are capable of addressing and portraying an incredibly diverse number of topics in a way that is appealing on both a basic surface level as well as a deeper and more emotional one. Feel free to disagree.

As for the Bloggers Roundtable, it was great fun and I got to learn quite a bit from my fellow bloggers, but I hope to learn even more and really see the differences in our blogging styles come to the forefront. Ed Chavez, who came onto the stage like a surprise pro wrestler, as well as others, mentioned that he would like to see more direct interaction between bloggers and I am inclined to agree.

I also attended panels such as the Central Park Media retrospective, where I learned that John O’Donnell is a fiercely honest businessman and speed-reader, and saw representatives of Del Rey, Funimation, Vertical Inc, Bandai Entertainment, and Harmony Gold discuss the status of the anime and manga industry, ultimately coming up with the conclusion that while the industries were in trouble, this was old territory despite being on a new frontier. I also saw the US premiere of Cencoroll, a 30-minute short vaguely reminiscent of Pokemon and Alien Nine, created by just one man a la Shinkai Makoto and his first major work, Voices of a Distant Star. It was a fine work to be sure, the animation was beautiful, and the story was simple and stylish.

But I know you’re all here to learn about Tomino, or at least my own experiences with Tomino, as all the actual news aspects have been covered in spades by various news sites. In other words, I expect you to be here for the Ogiue Maniax Tomino Experience, and I assure you that it was something.

I first saw Tomino at the opening ceremonies, where he came out with the intent to cut the red ribbon and officially open the New York Anime Festival. With a big smile on his face, and a propensity for throwing peace signs, Tomino appeared and disappeared in an instant. I knew he’d be back though.

Tomino’s keynote, despite its questionable translator, addressed a number of topics, but what it mainly focused on that I found significant was the idea that movies, film as it were, could not succeed with only one person behind the wheel. Tomino emphasized again and again that making movies, making anime, was a team effort, and that one cannot suffice on emotion and desire alone. He further explained how while he did not agree with everything that Mecha Designer Ookawara Kunio and Animation Director and Character Designer Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s philosophies entirely, it was their combined effort which made the original Mobile Suit Gundam so successful. In addition to having it contrast with the very existence of Cencoroll, what was amazing to me was seeing Tomino embrace his status as Gundam’s creator, something he was extremely hesitant to do in the past. My personal theory is that years back Tomino was bitter that he could not escape the ominous shadow that Gundam cast upon his career in animation, but when the 30-year mark hit, he came to an epiphany that made him realize that having a work you created survive and evolve for three decades is more than most creators could ever hope for. Some might say that Gundam today is a corruption of what it was, but to have something so influential to corrupt in the first place is in itself an achievement.

The next day, Tomino Q&A was in session. First the panel began with a video summary of Tomino’s greatest works, including Triton of the Sea, Space Runaway Ideon, and Overman King Gainer. The attendees, including me, sang along with as many songs as we could. It shouldn’t surprise you that I knew a lot of them (I could hear myself being the only one singing along to “Come Here! Daitarn 3”). Also, much to Patz’s chagrin, Garzey’s Wing was missing. With that over, Tomino was introduced once more and the Q&A was in full swing. Despite the plans to ask a number of questions from the ANN forums, Tomino decided to give priority to those who were in the room. You can find out the answers to all of the questions here, though I should point out that the person asking the One Year War question was asking for an “alternate” conclusion and not an “ultimate” one.

The answer that surprised and intrigued me the most was the fact that Mobile Suit Gundam’s original fanbase was actually teenage girls. In retrospect it is very easy to see why this would be the case, and I mean that in the best possible way. Next were his answers that one of the main themes in Gundam is that adults are the enemy because they’re too set in their ways, and that as an old man he is a “super enemy,” and that to get anything done in anime you need sponsors and investors. Everyone could sense the cynical Tomino, and it turns out he’s the same as the pleasant Tomino.

What was especially great though was that I managed to ask my own question, to which I received a most satisfying answer.

Q: You had worked with the late director Tadao Nagahama. Is there anything you can relate about your personal experiences with him?

TOMINO: I worked with director Nagahama for several years before Gundam, and what I learned from him was the sense of right in stories aimed towards children. When creating works for children, it should not be biased in one way or another or leaning more in a political sense, but to provide a very pure and good story.

It’s different from the response Ishiguro gave at Otakon 2009, but I expected that and I learned a lot from that brief statement.

The panel then ended with a showing of a 5-minute clip from Tomino’s Ring of Gundam. Overall, the Q&A was a rousing success, though I wish there were more non-Gundam questions asked.

Outside of the actual con itself, a number of friends and I did some con-esque activities that made the weekend more fun as a whole. On the Thursday prior to NYAF, we watched the Eureka Seven movie, and learned that half the dub cast has trouble sounding convincing or serious. We also learned that the voice director tries his best to avoid calling E7 a “cartoon.” On Friday, we had the most Japanese of foods, Go Go Curry, and then spent the evening laying out some Most Serious Karaoke along with the likes of the Reverse Thieves, One Great Turtle, and others. Sub and I discovered that they actually had “Kanjite Knight,” and it rocked so hard we had to sing it twice. This will easily be a part of our karaoke repertoire from now on. A few trips to the Japanese bookstores of NYC were also made, where I rediscovered the Hulk Hogan manga I gave away years ago. This time, it’s definitely getting scanned.

New York Anime Festival is very unique in terms of its panel and events scheduling, in that there tends to be very few panel rooms and opportunities to see someone speak, but what is there is definitely a big hit and immensely enjoyable. I did not attend the AKB48 or Makino Yui concerts, for example, but I’m sure fans of each had a good time. What ends up happening as a result is that you get these long periods of having nothing to do except maybe go around the dealer’s room, or just sit around with friends (and luckily the Jacob Javits Center has plenty of places to sit), and actually recommend this as a way to just enjoy the con without enjoying the con. In my case, I also watched Starcraft matches as part of the World Cyber Games USA finals to pass the time (congratulations to Greg “Idra” Fields for winning WCG USA, and getting a chance to play some of the most fierce Korean pros in Starcraft history). Overall though, the panel situation is quite different from Otakon, where you feel compelled to run around to get to the next panel and have to decide on what not to attend. Things will be different next year of course.

And what of my autograph session? When I handed my DVD box to Tomino, he looked at it for a second, and as if his mental dissonance was correcting himself, he suddenly exclaimed, “Uwa…!” Then he inscribed his name, and handed me one of my most valuable possessions ever.

I can see the good times.