Large Men, Donut Cats, and a Slice of History: Otakon 2014

otakon2014-nicohanayo

General

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.

otakon2014-preregline

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.

Industry Panels

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.

otakon2014-katabuchi

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.

otakon2014-kozaki1

otakon2014-kozaki2I 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.

otakon2014-underthedog

Fan Panels

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.

otakon2014-darylsurat

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.

Other Panels

otakon2014-sumo

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.

Concerts

otakon2014-altima1

otakon2014-altima2

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).

otakon2014-yoshiki

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.

Overall

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.

 

otakon2014-kurokisiblings

otakon2014-akb0048-1

otakon2014-akb0048-2

otakon2014-eureka7delivery

otakon2014-falcometalsonicliukang  otakon2014-ichinosehajime

otakon2014-ichinosehajime2

otakon2014-jojopart2

otakon2014-josephjoestar

otakon2014-kinnikumansoldier

otakon2014-mammothmankinnikumanlady

otakon2014-kise  otakon2014-linkshovelknight

otakon2014-lucina   otakon2014-merida  otakon2014-nogamiaoi  otakon2014-panty

 

otakon2014-pit  otakon2014-shaoran otakon2014-spacebros

otakon2014-tsunemoriakane  otakon2014-utenajuri

otakon2014-vgcw

otakon2014-yowamushi

otakon2014-satsukisenketsu

otakon2014-makotrip

otakon2014-nonon-firstuniform

otakon2014-nononyuno

otakon2014-nononconductor

otakon2014-nonontransformed

otakon2014-nononfinaluniform

otakon2014-gamagoorinonon

BONUS: motsu achieving the speed of light

otakon2014-motsuspeed

Please Get Loud When the Piano Gets Loud: Otakon 2013

otakon2013-20years

This year’s Otakon was its 20th anniversary, and as expected of the staff they brought out the big guns, with names such as Watanabe Shinichirou, Kanno Yohko, and Seki Tomokazu. As with every year, one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Otakon is that there’s too much to do, and it leaves me feeling both satisfied and a bit disappointed.

For one thing, I didn’t get to see the Space Dandy trailer.

Industry

Watanabe Shinichirou (Cowboy Bebop)

Possibly the biggest news to come out of Otakon was the announcement of Watanabe’s new anime, the aforementioned Space Dandy. Described by Watanabe as “80% comedy, 20% serious” in contrast to Cowboy Bebop‘s “80% serious, 20% comedy,” the series sounds just plain interesting when you hear how much they’re putting into it. In terms of music, for example, Watanabe stated that they would have over 20 artists contributing to the soundtrack, and in terms of production every episode would have different episode directors and different designs for the aliens inhabiting their planets.

I managed to ask Watanabe about having Thomas Romain (Basquash!, Oban Star Racers) on staff for ship design, and Watanabe mentioned that he had been impressed with Romain’s work for a while. Also, while Romain is Satelight staff and normally wouldn’t be able to work at Bones for Watanabe, Romain turned out to be a huge fan of Cowboy Bebop which gave Watanabe the leverage to get him on board for this one project.

I do wonder how it’ll be received among American fans, because there was some disappointment from the fanbase over Watanabe’s previous work, Kids on the Slope. While Space Dandy is closer to his action-ey works, the “80% comedy” part might be unwelcome by those fans looking for drama and grit. That said, I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Kurosaki Kaoru on Watsuki Nobuhiro (Rurouni Kenshin)

One of the more unique guests this time around was Kurosaku Kaoru, a novelist in her own right, but also more relevant to the otaku audience as the wife of Watsuki Nobuhiro, author of Rurouni Kenshin. Originally Watsuki himself was supposed to come as well, but he was unable to due to working on Embalming. Kaoru also held a panel all about Watsuki, but because of the way she went about it the crowd also learned a lot about some of the most famous Shounen Jump manga artists, as well as the workings of Jump in general.

There was also a gallery of Watsuki’s works, the first of its kind, but sadly even though we could take photos we are not allowed to share them online. (I’m sure somebody has though.)

Watsuki we learned is a big fan of American media, as one of his biggest regrets about not being able to attend Otakon was not being able to visit a Toys “R” Us and look at the Pacific Rim merchandise. He’s also a big fan of American comics, and his favorite superheroes are the X-Men. We also got to see his daily work schedule, which is mind-bogglingly arduous but also par for the course. According to the breakdown, Watsuki works from 10am to 6pm, from 7pm to late, and midnight to 4am. Sleep is 4am-9am, and the other gaps are for meals. That’s 5 hours of sleep versus about 15 hours for work. If he keeps on schedule, he gets four days of rest at the end of each month.

Kurosaki also provided a monthly breakdown of his schedule, and while inking comprised the majority of it, it was especially fascinating to see that the “name,” an extremely rough preliminary version of the manga which is mainly about panel and page layout and narrative flow, takes four days to comple. Kurosaki mentioned that the “name” is so simple as to use stick figures, but the attention paid to this part of the manga-creating process does emphasize how important panel flow is in manga.

Kaoru also took us through the process by which Watsuki makes color images, which involves drawing a thumbnail and then going over it with a Japanese calligraphy brush and copic markers for color. Watsuki apparently thinks that It’s good for one shot illustrations but not the manga itself, as it requires more concentration but the lines become more dynamic, and it acts as a time-saving measure for color images. The traditional feel that the brush art gives off also matches the theme and feel of Kenshin. Related to that, when someone asked about the setting of Rurouni Kenshin, the answer was that Watsuki wanted to draw a period piece with sword fights but didn’t want to draw topknots (they were strange-looking to a modern Japanese audience as well as an international one), so the Meiji period was the only point in history where you could have the former without the latter.

I wish I could’ve asked more about copics, as I find it interesting that they’re such an industry standard.

In terms of former assistants, Watsuki’s lineup is near-Olympian, counting among them Oda Eiichirou (One Piece), Murata Yuusuke (Eyeshield 21), Shimabukuro Mitsutotshi (Toriko), Mikio Itoo (Normandy Secret Club), and Takei Hiroyuki (Shaman King), all of whom consider Watsuki a friend. From Kaoru we learned that there are three breaks a year for Jump artists, and that during those breaks everyone either gathers at Watsuki’s or Oda’s house. Shimabukuro is a current neighbor of theirs, while Takei is a former neighbor. Murata, now known for his exquisite artwork on One Punch Man, used to be an assistant on Gun Blaze West, though at the time Watsuki thought his drawings were “no good.”

Mikio Itoo is known as the “cameo king,” appearing multiple times in One Piece, Shaman King, and even Kenshin in background posters and crowds and such.

Another major name who worked with Watsuki on Kenshin was former editor-in-chief of Shounen Jump, Sasaki Hisashi, who worked with Watsuki from his first submission all the way to the end of Kenshin. The basis for a certain character in Bakuman (he even uses the fictionalized version of himself as a Twitter avatar), Sasaki is often asked about the accuracy of Bakuman, to which the official reply is, “Things depicted in Bakuman are neither true nor false.” We also learned that Jump employees are not supposed to give comments outside the office using their real faces.

Not limited to people who have worked directly with, over, or under Watsuki, we also saw comments from Kishimoto Masashi (Naruto), Inugaki Riichirou (also Eyeshield 21), Matsui Katsunori (La Sommelière), and Suzuki Shinya (Mr. Fullswing). Did you know the last chapter of Kenshin ran in the same magazine as the first chapter of Naruto? Kishimoto saw this as a kind of passing of the baton, and credits Kishimoto for making Japanese culture popular in manga again (but also believes that now it’s become too much). For this reason, Kishimoto calls Watsuki the leader of a generation.

Inugaki’s comment was that Watsuki taught him techniques to speed up the manga-creating process, namely giving rhythm to the use of detail and not trying to draw every little thing. We then learned from Kurosaki that both she and Watsuki play German board games often with Inugaki and his wife, and are especially fans of Dominion. As someone who hasn’t played it but has played games like it and has heard much about it, the intrigue continues to build for me.

Suzuki’s message talked about Watsuki’s fandom, as he once found an entire box full of fan letters for Watsuki. Matsui, whom Kurosaki commented that he’s especially good at drawing cute girls (I would agree), actually did not send any comments, except to promote him in the US. As much as I’d like to see that, I know Drops of God didn’t knock the manga community off its socks, so I don’t know how well the less adventurous La Sommelière would do.

What was maybe the most interesting bit of trivia of all, however, was that a lot of the Jump artists use the instant messaging service LINE to talk to each other and joke around. Watsuki doesn’t use it because he’s bad with computers, so his wife has to tell him what’s going on.

otakon2013-badges

Sentai Filmworks

The only American industry panel I attended was Sentai Filmworks’, where they were very excited over their recent Girls und Panzer announcement. I also ran into an unfortunate bit of luck, discovering that they had license rescued Betterman, a show which I had just recently scoured Amazon for in other to get the complete release of the original Bandai DVDs. It’s a shame, because it definitely would have been a show I would’ve bought and supported, mainly because it’s such an unusual piece of work.

I asked Sentai Filmworks about the translation issues in their release of Mawaru Penguindrum but the answer given was ignorance, claiming that they had not been aware of the criticisms brought out against their translation choices. Oh well.

Maruyama Masao

While many of the industry guests and panels are excellent, every year the most stand-out guest is Maruyama Masao, founder and former producer at MADHouse, currently founder and producer of MAPPA (Kids on the Slope). Even though he’s been at one Otakon after the other, his Q&A panels are consistently informative and interesting. To give you an idea of how great his answers are, when asked about production delays for Redline (which took 7 years to complete), Maruyama answered that Redline was not late, it took as long as it should have, which was a lot of time due to the amount of work required for it. Maruyama then said that he left MADHouse to take responsibility for the debt that Redline put them into but then said in English, “IT’S A JOKE.”

In one of my favorite moments of Otakon, I asked Maruyama to share some stories about the recently departed Dezaki Osamu (director of works such as The Rose of Versailles, Aim for the Ace, Black Jack OVAs, and even Dear Brother), to which he replied with what was about a 10-minute long answer. Maruyama stated two significant events responsible for his long career in anime: working with two Osamus. First, he worked for Tezuka Osamu at Mushi Pro, and then formed MADHouse with Dezaki. Their first non-Tezuka work was Ashita no Joe. Eventually when the Ashita no Joe 2 film was in planning, they had creative differences where Maruyama believed it was unnecessary and Dezaki wanted to work on it, so he left and formed a studio called Anapple. They would not work with each other for many years, though they were still friends and still played mahjong with each other.

During the time they were apart, Maruyama produced directors such as Hosoda, Kon, Kawajiri, and had no time to work with Dezaki. Eventually, as they both reached old age, they decided to work together once more, and their final project together was, of all things, Ultraviolet. Dezaki wasn’t sure if it was the right work, but it was the only one in the pipeline at the time and the only chance they had to work together. Maruyama said they were happy to make it, though said nothing of the quality of the show. Maruyama then mentioned that Dezaki’s final work, Genji, had Dezaki tryingg to put in everything he couldn’t put into Ultraviolet. Then Maruyama said that with the time he has left on Earth, he would try to bring Dezaki and Kon’s remaining works to the world.

The panel also included a special showing of a short titled Hana wa Saku (Flowers Bloom), directed by Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle) with music by Kanno Yohko, whose purpose was to encourage the people affected by the earthquake. I hear in his other panel he also showed a video directed by Rintaro which was a funeral tribute to Kon Satoshi.

Interviews

I managed to get interviews with both acclaimed voice actor Seki Tomokazu, as well as Tachikawa Yuzuru and Suwa Michihiko, who are involved with the Anime Mirai project. Keep checking Ogiue Maniax for those.

otakon2013-mural

Fan Panels

In terms of fan-run panels, this year was a mix of new and interesting subjects as well as a few “greatest hits” to celebrate the 20th anniversary. Mike Toole’s panel on “Outsider Anime,” his take on the Henry Darger-esque idea of “Outsider Art” looked at a number of creative and off-the-wall artists who, while for the most part not totally “outsiders” still push the boundaries. Names such as Shinkai and Yuasa are somewhat familiary to anime fans at this point, but I hadn’t heard of Tomioka Satoshi and his bizarre toilet humor rabbit animation Usavich for instance, and only recently learned about Mizue Mirai and his abstract animations. I was especially glad though to see him mention Iseda Katsuyuki, a man infamous for creating anime pretty much on his own with… unique results.

I attended the “45 Years of Shounen Jump” panel (while also singing along with the anime openings). Run by landofobscusion, it was a short “greatest hits” breakdown of the magazine. I learned quite a few things. For example, I did not know Sexy Commando was a top 3 title at one point, nor did I know that the end of Dragonball lost the magazine 500,000 readers while Slam Dunk’s finish lost them 2 million. What was even more interesting was hearing the crowd react to all of the titles mentioned. Yu Yu Hakusho for instance got a gigantic pop that I wasn’t quite expecting, as I knew people liked the show but didn’t know it was nestled that fondly in the hearts of fans who watched it on Cartoon Network.

Because of this panel the second City Hunter opening is stuck in my head now.

Speaking of surprising fan reactions, I am pleased to see the mecha fandom’s opinion of Gundam SEED turn around tremendously. Traditionally, when you go to a giant robot or Gundam-themed panel, there is a valuing of the Universal Century timeline over the alternate universe counterparts not named G Gundam. (The Seki Tomokazu panel I attended taught me just how many people love G Gundam, to the extent that more than one attendee exclaimed Domon Kasshu as a role model for how to live as a man.)

In the past Gundam SEED was seen as a black spot on giant robot anime, “the beginning of the end,” and all it took was a panelist to go “Gundam SEED! BOOOO!” to get the crowd to follow along. This time, though, when I attended the Mechapocalypse panel, Gundam SEED received largely applause rather than jeers, and it just warms my heart to see a mecha fandom which accepts what SEED brings to the table. We all agree though that SEED Destiny is still terrible.

otakon2013-mechapocalypse

Actually, the Mechapocalypse panel in general was a good deal of fun. Generally mecha panels are all about going through the history of giant robots and having everyone cheer for their favorites, and while this one retained some of that, it also mixed it up heavily with roundtable discussions of specific themes and characteristics of robot anime, all while keeping it light-hearted. While I’m already familiar with the Japanese Spider-Man, it’s inevitably a crowd pleaser whether you’ve seen it or not.

The other mecha panel (of sorts) I attended was Al’s presentation of the directorial works of Tomino Yoshiyuki, creator of Gundam. Neither full of blind praise for the man nor unfairly critical of his body of work, the panel laid out the various aspects of Tomino’s reputation, particularly his tendency for works to be either fairy light-hearted or particularly violent and morbid, and how both make up Tomino’s overall ouevre into something special. While I know a decent amount about Tomino anime, I also learned a good deal from the panel. I also realized based on audience reaction that Gundam has this strange memetic power which actually exceeds the content of the actual shows. This might be commonplace for anime fans nowadays as a lot of current anime operates actively under such influence, but I recall seeing the shouts of “Char is a lolicon!” back in the late 90s, and I think it’s what fuels some of the odder aspects of most Gundam panels, whether the panelist plans it or not.

The last panel I want to mention is “Anime Mystery Science Theatre 3000.” Although it was my first time seeing it, I learned from others that it was an extremely popular and well-regarded Otakon panel back in the day. Coming out of retirement for Otakon’s 20th anniversary , the Anime MST3K crew took down the GONZO film Origins: Spirits of the Past (aka Gin-iro no Kami no Agito), pointing out the hamfisted environmentalism message alongside the sudden and strange character/romance development points which result in the deformed child of Appleseed and Nausicaa. In addition to being hilarious, I noted that they had indeed kept up with anime over the years, spotting multiple Girls und Panzer references.

Concerts

kanno01

This year, Otakon decided to hold two double concerts for its four guests, which resulted in Home Made Kazoku starting for TM Revolution and Ishikawa Chiaki preceded Kanno Yohko. I saw Home Made Kazoku back in 2010 at Otakon and TM Revolution back in 2008 at the first New York Comic Con. In both cases they’re among my favorite concerts I’ve attended, and to see them together was quite a treat. One notable thing about the Kazoku/Revolution concert was that it was held in the Mariner Arena, which made lining up in advance almost entirely pointless as you could get a decent seat even at the last minute. It was a pleasant change-up compared to previous years, and unlike the time with JAM Project I was glad to see the arena fill up a decent amount. I heard that at the end the two groups had a superhero teamup and did a song together, but I sadly had to leave before that.

The Ishikawa/Kanno concert was an anomaly before it even began. Unlike every other concert at Otakon, this concert required tickets due to “unforeseen demand,” and tickets could only be picked up at specific times of the day. While I know Kanno is probably the most popular anime composer out there, it seemed to be an intentional choice to up the value of each seat, marketing at its finest. In order to keep up with demand, Otakon actually created an overflow room so that people could watch the live feed from elsewhere within the Baltimore Convention Center.  The concert itself was also quite fantastic, as Ishikawa’s haunting melodies (“Uninstall” is a perennial favorite) led well into Kanno’s part, which was unlike any convention concert I’ve attended. Kanno was alone on stage with a piano, playing a number of her best hits, including of course “Tank!” and “The Real Folk Blues” from Cowboy Bebop. As the concert went on the white covering laid over the piano became a kind of projection screen which displayed graphic animations to accompany her music. It was a full-on aural/visual combination, as much an artistic performance as it was a musical concert. It was definitely another highlight of Otakon 2013.

The title of this con report comes from Kanno’s introduction by her producer, which I found quite memorable.

Baltimore and Friends

otakon2013-congestion2

The most surprising news to come out of Otakon had to do with the convention itself, as the staff announced that Otakon would be moving out of Baltimore into Washington, DC in 2017. Citing capacity issues, I experienced firsthand the fact that the Baltimore Convention Center is increasingly unable to handle the growing attendance rate of Otakon. Friday afternoon saw for whatever reason extreme, extreme congestion on the third floor that made it so it literally took me 15 minutes to walk what should be a 3-5 minute trip, tops. I do feel pretty bad for Baltimore, as I know that Otakon provides them a good deal of money every year. On a personal level, my friends found a great hotel and great places to eat, and to leave them with the possibility of never returning does fill me with a bit of sadness. That said, I still have three years to chow down and go wild.

By the way, if you ever are in Baltimore and decide to go to Abbey Burger Bistro, I’ll tell you about my custom burger I ordered this year because it was fantastic. Duck meat burger (it’s a meat of the month so it might not be available) cooked medium rare, with brie, grilled onions, mushrooms, pineapple, and red pepper paste on thick toast. Do it.

I didn’t hang with or meet people as much as I had in previous years, but I still enjoyed seeing everyone. In terms of group activities, the highlight of the convention was watching Salty Bet in the hotel room. We happened upon a great night which pitted all of the famous overpowered characters against each other, and the unstoppable force vs. immoveable object that was Berserk vs. Rare Akuma made for an unforgettable evening.

Cosplay

I’ll end off with the semi-standard cosplay photo bonanza. I was not quite as trigger happy with the camera this year, but I did find some definite gems. Special shout out to the Sasha cosplayer who actually handed me a potato afterward.

otakon2013-jojolion

otakon2013-aokijihancock

otakon2013-mgronalds

otakon2013-miria

otakon2013-mother3

otakon2013-shura

otakon2013-yoko

otakon2013-cammybison

otakon2013-momiji

otakon2013-tohsakarin

otakon2013-tsuritama

otakon2013-noel

otakon2013-summerwars

otakon2013-teikou

otakon2013-bigo

otakon2013-utena

otakon2013-anthy

otakon2013-akb0048

otakon2013-charhaman

otakon2013-chie

otakon2013-kaibutsu

otakon2013-kuragehime

otakon2013-kaleidostar

otakon2013-colossaltitan

otakon2013-titangear

otakon2013-titanlevi

otakon2013-titanmikasa

otakon2013-titansasha1

otakon2013-titansasha2

otakon2013-potato

Ice Ice, Cold Cold: Otakon 2011

Otakon 2011, occurring over a blistering 100-degree weather weekend, was a unique anime convention for me because it was the first US anime convention that I have been able to attend since my departure to the Netherlands. In the context of my vacation back in the US, it was an odd little break within a break that felt all the more special as a result.

There was also just a lot to do at Otakon, even more than previous years.

Premieres

Otakon this year was packed with premieres, anime that had never officially aired outside of Japan. In an age where convention viewing rooms have lost their importance compared to when they were the main reason to go to a convention, the willingness for Japanese companies to debut their works at cons brings back a bit of old school flavor.

I attended the showing of episodes 1 through 3 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the dark, subversive magical girl anime which this past year took the Japanese internet by storm. Though normally I would not watch at a con something I’d seen already, especially a series which doesn’t rank among my top favorites, I attended the premiere in order to gauge the audience reaction to the show. Who exactly was attending this premiere? Despite its popularity among fans on the internet, how many people had actually seen Madoka Magica?

Though there were a number of people who had obviously seen the show already, it was clear that for much of the audience, this was all-new. The crowd cheered and clapped not at the moments where you expect someone with full knowledge of the show would, but at points in the episodes where new and exciting things happen, such as when a magical girl transformation happens for the first time. Also, in re-watching these early episodes, I noticed some particular details, such as how Mami’s transformation sequence is different every time. Overall, I think the show made quite a good impression on the viewers, and I expect the series to reach some degree of success.

Another of the big showings was for the film Trigun: Badlands Rumble, a follow-up to the enormously popular Trigun series. Trigun is probably one of the most beloved anime titles among American fans. I’ve known a lot of people both personally and through observation who had been itching for more Trigun anime for years, and Badland Rumbles scratches that itch pretty well. Centering around Vash the Stampede’s confrontation with a robbery-obsessed villain named Gasback, who only ever takes money so he can use it to fund his next heist. The film features all of the main Trigun cast, and acts as a good reunion for fans, though I’m not sure how well it would do for someone who’s never seen any Trigun before. If I had to make a guess, I think it could still do a decent job because of how action-packed and fun it still is.

The last premiere I attended was for Shinkai Makoto’s new film, Hoshi o Ou Kodomo: Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. Known for deeply introspective works such as 5cm per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is a first for Shinkai, a more mainstream-feeling title that, although possesses a good deal of introspection, has a greater emphasis on adventure and exploration. Focusing on a young girl named Asuna who gets drawn into a mysterious world, the film has a number of flaws, feeling like it tried to introduce too much all at once and so occasionally lost focus. It manages to mostly overcome these problems, though they’re still a sticking point. This may be a sign of Shinkai’s inexperience with this type of film.

Regardless of the film’s strengths and weaknesses however, the showing of Hoshi o Ou Kodomo was made all the more special by the fact that Mr. Shinkai himself was a guest at Otakon 2011, his first ever American anime convention.

Guests, Directors, Producers

We were given a number of opportunities to interact with Shinkai, with a Q&A directly after his film on Saturday, an additional Q&A later in the day, a press conference on Sunday, and then a final Q&A with a bunch of directors and producers. Due to certain conflicts, I was only able to attend the first and last Q&A but both were extremely informative. Shinkai is not just simply polite but actually very humble, giving detailed answers to every question asked. At the first Q&A, Shinkai elaborated on his desire to create a more mainstream film that is visually accessible not only to a Japanese general audience but an international one as well. I was able to ask Shinkai a question myself:

Q: In the film, Agartha is in decline and the people there think it’s best to accept it, but others struggle not just against death itself, but struggle to live their lives. What are your own thoughts on to what extent a person should struggle against that fate or accept it?

To which he responded:

In the film, there are those who have accepted that they are not long for this world. But Shin, a resident of Agartha, hasn’t accepted it. If asked this question 15 years ago, I would have definitely sided with Shin, but now that I’m older I can’t help but say I understand the view of the other people. In this film, I didn’t want to side with either side. I didn’t want to deny either side.

I had originally wanted to ask Shinkai about digital animation, but after seeing the film and the concept of accepting the decline of one’s own civilization, it had me thinking about the way in which all of the various characters struggle in different ways and to varying degrees against their circumstances, and it spurred me to ask this question instead. Fortunately, I would have another opportunity to ask Shinkai about the animation process itself at the Directors Q&A Panel.

The Directors Q&A was nothing short of amazing, as it brought together directors Ishiguro Noboru (Macross, Legend of the Galactic Heroes), Murata Kazuya (To Heart, Full Metal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos), and Shinkai, and every answer showcased just how different these three were in terms of age and experience. The best example might be when someone asked what series would be considered the directors’ top must-watch anime. Whereas Murata picked a good, yet fairly expected response in Future Boy Conan, Ishiguro mentioned old Czech puppet shows, Canadian animator Norm McLaren, and a Chinese sumi-e-style animation from decades prior called Muteki and Shinkai actually selected Ishiguro’s own Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This generational difference was also evident in their responses to how the recent earthquake and tsunami might affect the industry and its people, with Ishiguro mentioning that the lack of escalators and power outages were something that he remembers and is familiar with from decades ago, while Shinkai talking about how he thinks that there is definitely potential to use this event to fuel the creative process but doesn’t quite know yet how to do so.

Keeping in mind this living history of directors available, and also remembering a comment from Ishiguro earlier in the panel about how he has had trouble adjusting to digital animation, I crafted my question accordingly: I asked if Shinkai and Murata, who both worked in digital animation, had any advice for Ishiguro in terms of working with digital animators. If you think about it, Ishiguro worked primarily in an age of analog animation, Murata worked in the transitional period between the two, and Shinkai is purely digital, this meant that each of their responses would embody different experiences and values. Knowing that Ishiguro is a living legend and that neither Shinkai nor Murata would want to show any disrespect towards him, I tried to phrase the question to give them as much leeway for politeness as possible, but it was still clear that this was going to be a tricky situation when the translator actually said, “I’m not going to touch this one.” Fortunately, Ishiguro, upon learning what I asked, actually encouraged the younger directors to give answers, sincerely willing to set aside seniority for some help.

Murata spoke of his own initial thoughts towards digital animation. Having worked with cel animation and remembering the hardship of lining up cels and taking photos of the compiled images one by one, Murata saw the move to digital as an opportunity to do more with more freedom. Shinkai, however, actually said that today’s digital animators should be learning from the older cel animators because, at the end of the day, as long as the initial images are still drawn with pencil on paper, those experiences and talents are still very important. Another interesting conversation arose when Shinkai mentioned working with older animators and how they worked in “millimeters” while digital animators think of space in terms of “pixels,” to which Ishiguro responded that he had to deal with the opposite problem, seeing the term “pixels” for the first time and wondering how many millimeters that was supposed to be. My question was the last one and it felt good to end the panel that way.

I was also able to get Evan Minto from Ani-Gamers to ask Shinkai a question at the press conference, about what it’s like to work with computers in animation. Interpreting the question as to mean 3DCG, Shinkai remarked that he actually prefers 2D animation despite his background in games, and would only go back to 3D if 2D faded away. Given the number of great anime creators who only started working in anime because they couldn’t find more “legitimate” work, I have to wonder if this could be another case for allowing 3D anime to fully mature.

There were Q&A sessions with both Ishiguro and Murata, as well as Madhouse founder and perpetual Otakon guest, Maruyama Masao, but unfortunately they conflicted with just about everything else. Notably, Maruyama’s and Ishiguro’s panels ran during the showing of Shinkai’s film. Still, I am glad I got the opportunity to see Ishiguro on the Directors/Producers panel, and I managed to get autographs from both Ishiguro and Maruyama. Speaking of Maruyama, the man has worked on so many things it’s actually kind of hard to be completely unable to find merchandise related to his work. In my case, I had him sign my Cardcaptor Sakura movie DVDs.

Industry Panels

This year’s Otakon included a Sunrise industry panel, which might not seem all that special compared to other companies’ panels until you realize that Sunrise never holds industry panels. Usually, there stuff goes to Bandai Entertainment, but this time it was Studio Sunrise, creators of Gundam, coming straight out of Japan to talk to the fans at Otakon about their shows. The panel began with an introduction from Sunrise producer, Ozaki Masuyuki, and then continued with a video showing called “The World of Gundam,” giving a brief history of the franchise and how it has affected Japanese animation. The video delivered on two points, first of which is that it fulfilled my wish for it to have a hilarious English-language narrator, and second of which is that it managed to result in a few surprises. Ozaki was clearly expecting the cheers for the original Gundam and titles like Gundam W, but when the crowd went into a roar over G Gundam, I could literally see that Ozaki didn’t expect it, with his body actually being taken aback by it.

From there, they showed a recap of the first season of Tiger & Bunny (which contained spoilers!), and it was also evident that the show was extremely popular. I also had a bit of a realization during that section, as Ozaki asked one by one if each hero was the crowd’s favorite character. Naturally, characters like Wild Tiger, Barnaby, and Blue Rose got good reactions, but when he asked about Dragon Kid, I found myself to be the only one clapping and hollering.

(Dragon Kid is the best, forget y’all.)

The panel also had a bunch of new show previews, the most interesting of which is probably (Gundam AGE aside) a series titled Phi Brain Puzzle of God. Apparently, it features a kid who is good at solving puzzles. The title alone makes me want to check it out.

Speaking of Gundam, the Tamashii Nations booth in the Dealer’s Room featured this:

Being that this was the first and possibly only time we’d ever see an official Sunrise panel, a lot of questions were asked about a lot of series. Patz from Insert Disc for example asked about the possibility of streaming older shows, especially the Yuusha robot series, and the answer there was that they were looking into streaming as much as they can but that there were no definite plans. I asked about the possibility of reviving significantly older giant robot franchises such as Zambot 3 and Daitarn 3, to which the response was that Sunrise prefers to create new concepts rather than going back to older ones, unless there is significant fan demand or a director/producer has interest in doing so. Gundam, I assume, falls under both the former and latter. There was also a lot of praise for Tiger & Bunny and hope from the fans that there would be more. Probably the question that sticks out to me most was the lone girl who politely asked them for more My-HiME/My-Otome in a thick southern accent, if only because that franchise didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar. Interestingly, Ozaki said that the My series is designed to have sequels. These are certainly not concrete answers, but more than I typically expect from a company official.

If you want real answers at an industry panel though, look no further than Vertical Inc., publishers of Twin Spica, Chi’s Sweet Home, and a plethora of classic Tezuka titles. While going through all of their upcoming titles, marketing guy Ed Chavez (who you may remember from the old Vertical Vednesdays) would talk about his own feelings towards them, giving a genuine sense that he had a personal investment in all of their licenses, which include a manga adaptation by Furuya Usamaru of No Longer Human, Princess Knight, and The Drops of God. In answering a question of whether or not the manga would be flipped or unflipped, Ed remarked for instance that The Drops of God would remain unflipped despite its potential for success outside of manga readers because of how the intricate labels on wine bottles would be excessively difficult to correct afterwards.

The Bandai After Dark panel tried to be a somewhat free-flowing, “casual” panel as well but didn’t quite come across that way. That said, there were a number of highlights. The Gosick and Nichijou anime have been licensed for DVD release, as has the Nichijou manga, which according to one person I know is far superior to its adaptation in terms of comedic timing and such. The composer for The Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi was also present, and he played a violin solo of that movie’s main theme, Yasashii Boukyaku. I really love that song, and I think that was one of my favorite moments from Otakon.

In terms of industry panels, last but not least must be the Angel ScandyS Q&A, which centered a show that isn’t even actually in production yet. Ishiguro, the aforementioned director of Macross, has thrown his hat into the ring that is the moe idol genre. Planned to be a story about angels, devils, and human idols competing over a young man’s soul (or something), what’s fascinating about this project is that they bothered to show it at Otakon at such an early stage, something I’m certain has never been done before. The voice actors, who were selected first and had characters based on them rather than the other way around, had prepared a skit as well, both in valiant Engrish and in Japanese, to give the audience an idea of what the show might be like. When asked about the music, we were told that Ishiguro himself wrote the lyrics for the music. Ishiguro meanwhile, had been sneaking around the panel itself, preferring to film the panel from an audience perspective. I asked them about the character designs, which seem oddly familiar despite being so generic, but was told that 1) it was done by an unnamed Artland (Ishiguro’s studio) employee and 2) that the character designs aren’t even final. I don’t know, seeing a project so early in its life piques my interest.

Fan Panels

Due to the sheer amount of premieres and unique industry panels this year, on top of the scheduling conflicts that caused similarly themed panels to run at the same time (Gundam Unicorn showing vs. Sunrise panel vs. Gundam panel vs. Underrated Mecha panel), I unfortunately was unable to attend very many fan panels. Still, of what I saw I certainly enjoyed.

The Reverse Thieves ran two panels this year, “The Best Manga You Never Read: Tokyopop Edition” and “Investigating Detective Anime.” The former pointed out titles that the two considered to be underrated titles, many of which did so poorly in the US as to be canceled even prior to Tokyopop’s demise. One good reason to go that panel is actually the Q&A section, not because they give out free stuff, but because they’re actually really good at answering questions and taking suggestions. The Detective Anime panel showed the sheer range of genre fiction available in Japanese animation, and focused less on finding the most obscure titles possible. Again, their Q&A session was excellent.

I also made a quick stop at the “Moe Moe What?” panel, curious about how exactly they were going to approach the subject. Though I cannot say how the panel turned out by the end because I had to leave early, I found the panel to be informative enough, though obviously geared towards fans of moe who are looking for an intelligent way to defend the idea.

I attended both of Daryl Surat of Anime World Order‘s panels, “Remembering Satoshi Kon” and “Anime’s Craziest Deaths.” As someone who knows Kon but doesn’t really know Kon, it was a highly informative panel which showed his influences and his connections to other great names in manga and anime. In particular, Kon began his career as a manga assistant for Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira), and even worked with Oshii Mamoru (Ghost in the Shell) on a number of occasions. As for Anime’s Craziest Deaths, I had talked to Daryl when he was originally planning it a couple (?) of years ago, and even contributed some examples, but was just unable to see the final result for a long time. Now that I’ve experienced it, I can say that it’s really worth its own title, though I realized that my suggestion of Zambot 3  felt a little weak compared to the blood-and-guts violence of the likes of Baoh and Violence Jack. Perhaps something from later on in the series would do it more justice, though I think it more has to do with the fact that the “craziness” of the deaths in Zambot 3 are more contextual than visceral.

The last fan panel I attended was the Otakon Game Show, which had four contestants on-stage showing off their anime trivia skills, one of whom was an aforementioned Reverse Thief. The format of the game had it so that the audience could participate as well, and keen panel attendees might have noticed that I reached second place in Round 1 of the Game Show, just about 30 points shy of the #1 spot.

I realized my own frightening power during that panel. One of the categories in the second round was “Shower Scenes,” and for one question, even before the clip started playing and all the only thing visible was a shower head, I said “Chun-Li” to my friends and was eventually proven to be correct. Sadly, none of the contestants actually got it, though any arguments I make about that shower scene being really distinct and iconic does not help me in any way. Still, for one moment I shined in the most brilliant yet dark way imaginable.

Though that was the last panel I participated in as an audience member, I was also a panelist on “Anime and Manga Studies,” which had us answering questions from both the moderator, Mikhail Koulikov as well as the audience. It was a Sunday 9am panel, which meant that attendance would inevitably be somewhat sparse, but I was still glad to see quite a few people show up. I hope we provided a good panel for you all!

Cosplay

I’ll let this section more or less speak for itself, but I do want to say that the three of the biggest cosplay this year were probably Madoka Magica, Panty & Stocking, and especially Tiger & Bunny. Sadly I did not get any photos of Tiger & Bunny, and the only Dragon Kid cosplayer I managed to find was when I was waiting for the bus on the way home.

Miscellaneous Noteworthy Things

The artist’s alley this year had some really interesting features, an “Art of Akira” exhibit that features the animation cel collection from a diehard Akira fan and did a really good job of showcasing the visual excellence of that film.

A couple of artists also caught my eye, especially one Ashwara, who I commissioned to draw a piece of Ogiue fanart for me. Amidst a number of artists who draw well but pretty much look the same in style, his work really stood out and I was glad to have seen it.

There was also a wall at the Aniplex booth where people could ask Kyubey for a wish. Seeing it, there was one wish I knew I had to make.

Is it a cat?

This year also gave attendees the opportunity to donate to Japan in light of the recent disaster, to which they gave merchandise. I received this Madoka poster for my efforts.

In terms of cheap and simple food, a Jimmy John’s had opened up since the previous year, which had me jumping for joy (you can ask others about it). Back in college, I frequently visited the local Jimmy John’s, and had not been able to partake of it in over five years. Now that I know that there’s one to greet me every Otakon, I know where I’ll be eating at least once. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s really quick and I think it tastes better than Subway.

In terms of more expensive food though, the place to go this year was Abbey Burger Bistro, which features a number of exotic meats in burger form. My burger ended up being a medium-well Kangaroo burger with mushrooms, onion rings, chili mayo, herb yogurt, swiss, and pepper jack. The only thing that made it better was being in the company of good friends, including Daryl and Gerald from Anime World Order, the Reverse Thieves, Patz, the crew over at Ani-Gamers, and many more. Same goes for everyone I met over the weekend. You know who you guys are.

A Special Message

In the sweltering heat of Baltimore in July, when humidity and temperature worked together as an unpleasant duet, only one man was truly able to save us from the sun. He sold cool, freezing temperature water for a mere dollar, and he had a powerful advertising jingle to go with it. Apparently around last year, the addition of the megaphone made his presence fully known. Even for those who did not buy his goods, he was quite possibly the most refreshing part of Otakon 2011, his pitch quickly becoming a popular tune to sing along with for the attendees. I found myself in that group as well.

Ice Cold Water cosplay is inevitable.

Ishiguro and Pals’ Otakon Press Conference Full Audio at Ani-Gamers

In my Otakon 2009 review, I mentioned a highly informative press conference with guests Maruyama Masao, Ishiguro Noboru, Kikukawa Yukio, and Matsubara Hidenori, and I implored you to listen to the full interview once it was released by some noble citizen. Well it turns out Evan Minto from Ani-Gamers is that Good Samaritan, as he has posted the entirety of the audio on his blog.

Click the link, download the mp3, and be enlightened.

More Than Enough: Otakon 2008

I went to Otakon with one purpose in mind: to go see JAM Project. Everything else on my priorities list could be postponed or sacrificed as long as I would be able to not turn away, and not show my tears, because I have the power of love to take back tomorrow. I am glad to say that not only did I see JAM Project, but the overall experience of Otakon 2008 has made it one of the best times o my life. It’s a culmination of various parts of a long weekend which turned out to be all too short.

I arrived Thursday afternoon by train along with a number of friends who I’ve known for some varying numbers of years. The first pleasant surprise was the hotel itself. We had taken two rooms in the Radisson, and found the rooms to be spacious, far more spacious than the place we stayed at last year. This was very fortunate, as it meant sleep would be comfortable and not the hassle it usually is at a con. We were later joined by kransom and astrange of welcome datacomp, two happening guys, one of whom is currently on a plane to Japan.

Actually, scratch that. My first pleasant surprise was on the train watching episodes of Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san. I can’t believe how good that show is.

Thursday night was spent sitting back and playing Smash Bros Brawl with friends in the hotel room. The character choices among everyone were quite diverse, and this became a mainstay of practically every day we were there. As is always the case, Smash is simply a great way to unwind during conventions. kransom also showed me a copy of Patrick Macias‘ new book, Otaku in USA. The book is in Japanese, but it doesn’t seem to be a difficult read so I may pick it up at some point.

Friday morning, I went to the dealer’s room. While browsing DVDs, a dealer asked me what I was looking for, to which I responded, “Something for JAM Project to sign.” Luckily, a female dealer standing nearby pointed me out to a Gravion + Gravion Zwei combined thinpack that she was selling. She mentioned to me that the only reason she was here in the dealer’s room was so that she could be at Otakon to see JAM Project. To the kind woman who helped me out, I thank you, whoever you are. Other than that, I also accomplished another major objective that day.

(I also got an Eureka Seven poster.)

My first sighting of JAM Project was at the opening ceremony for Otakon, though I arrived pretty much just as they were leaving. I was there to see the Madhouse-produced opening animation, which basically involved Otakon’s two lackluster mascots fighting every anime character ever on their way to the convention center. Could have been worse, could have gone without it, the result was that I applaud their desire to celebrate their 10th anniversary with something big.

The JAM Project concert was to be held at the 1st Mariner Arena, a few blocks away from the convention center. After a bit of hassle, I managed to find a place in line with Sub from Subatomic Brainfreeze, and his friends, who I’ve met in the past thanks to a mutual friend of ours. There, we spent time enjoying the wonder and prestige of Sasaki Isao English renditions of Maginzer Z themes, who teaches us that, although humans can fight for good, give it all they’ve got, men are weak and they’re flesh and blood. Mazinger, however, is not. I could not think of a better way to pass the time.

At 7:00 we walked inside, me carrying a glowstick which I accidentally snapped. Sitting only a few rows away from the stage got me feeling anxious as I chatted it up a little with the people around me. Smoke began to fill the stage as I realized I was without my DS and could not participate in the inevitable pictochat. This only made me more anxious, as I knew it was almost upon us, the Japanese Animesong Musicians Project, albeit minus a few members I would like to have seen.

I am not a concert-goer, but I do not think any concert will ever top this one again. JAM Project are the masters of keeping the crowd excited with both their choice of music and musical style, and their sheer stage presence. JAM Project introduced themselves in English. You had the Lover of Amateur Rock Music Yoshiki Fukuyama , the Only Female There Masami Okui, the Youngest Member of JAM Project Hiroshi Kitadani aka Dani, the Most POWERFUL Member of JAM Project Masaaki Endoh (said while flexing his bicep), and the Leader Hironobu Kageyama. With an introduction like that, greatness was inevitable.

Their set included a large number of their combined efforts, such as Nageki no Rosario, Hagane no Messiah, and Breakout, as well as individual songs for which they were famous, which included Chala Head Chala, We Are!, Rinbu Revolution, Angel Voice, and Yuushaoh Tanjou! Knowing I had plans for karaoke the next day, I sang my heart out anyway, actively trying to destroy my throat as I yelled GOLDION HANMAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH. Totally worth it.

Especially impressive during the concert was Ms. Okui, who without Rica around had to sing twice as many lines as she normally would. Not only that, but Okui sounded better than I’ve ever heard her sing before. Usually her live voice is different from her studio voice, but on this night the two were one in the same. This, of course, is not to say that the others were anything less than outstanding. You could tell they enjoy their careers, and have a genuine love for anime music.

They finished off the main concert with GONG, then followed up with an encore comprised of Soul Taker and SKILL. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more, besides the presence of the God of Anime Songs Ichirou Mizuki! Sadly, my “Mizuki” chant did not work. By the way, that’s how I think Kageyama would have introduced him.

After the concert, a woman walked by with a sign saying,”Give your message to JAM Project!” All I could do was close my eyes and smile while clapping. I then gave a deep bow to them to show my gratitude. I hope you see it, JAM Project.

With the concert over, this was already the best con ever. I could have gone home that evening and been totally satisfied. Fortunately, the weekend was not over. After greeting Erin from Ninja Consultant (she asked me what I thought of the concert and my first response was to pump my fists), I ended up eating dinner with a mighty group indeed, perhaps the mightiest ensemble in all of Baltimore that evening had JAM Project not been around. This group consisted of myself, astrange and kransom, Mike Toole (whose panel I attended earlier in the day), ricequeen, Daryl Surat, and Gerald Rathkolb. It was an enjoyable dinner at a humble chain-like mexican food restaurant, where we discussed various anime-related topics. Kingdoms fell at our feet, while my ears continued to ring from being too close to the speakers during the concert.

The social aspect of the convention, which I was concerned about prior to attending, turned out to not be a problem, and was in fact one of the most enjoyable aspects of Otakon. While I ate with some anime titans of the internet on Friday, I ate with a different group of people every night that I was in Baltimore. Thursday night, I enjoyed extremely delicious Brazilian buffet at Fogo de Chão with my close friends from New York and college in Pittsburgh. There, while chowing down on lambchop, leg of lamb, pork sausage, garlic beef, filet mignon, filet mignon wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon, etc (I tried to eat as wide a variety as I could), I talked to a waiter from Brazil. He mentioned his fondness for Saint Seiya and Evangelion.

Fogo de Chão is very pricey, so I wouldn’t recommend it as “con food” but as a place to enjoy the company of others while stuffing one’s face with protein-based brilliance, it is worth checking out.

Saturday evening, I ate with the internet. It was a Vegeta-mongling good time.

Afterwards, I ran to attend karaoke, where I gave a poor performance of Disarm Dreamer. There, along with astrange and kransom, I sat down and had a grand old time with wildarmsheero, Link, Omo, Anna, among others. You’ll forgive me if I forgot all of your names, but you were many. I sang along with a number of tunes, including Pegasus Fantasy, English and Japanese Pokemon themes, and SKILL, and tried my hardest to do my Souther impression for wildarmsheero. Watch out for it on his site. I was surprised to find someone singing the ending theme to the Sega Saturn racing game, Sonic R. I salute you as well. Unfortunately I did not have time to sing Minna Daisuki from Shugo Chara, which I had also planned.

While signing up for karaoke, one of the people working there asked me where I got my badge (see all the way up top), to which I said I made it myself. As he looked closer at my badge he suddenly said, “I read your blog!” Thank you, SSJSquall. You made my day in a day full of things which can make days with little difficulty.

On the same day was the JAM Project Q&A, which was a good time for all. There were many highlights to the whole session, but the absolute best was when Masami did an incredible Mizuki impression. Very few things in life will ever top Masami going, “[Mazinger] ZEEEET!” but one of them might be Fukuyama’s sheer antics. This guy is a joker through and through.

Sadly, I missed the Katsura panel because it interfered with the JAM Project autograph session, but I managed to attend the Maruyama/Madhouse panel, which is always a treat. I also sat in for the Fansubbers and Industry panel, which was informative if disappointingly peaceful. John Sirabella, head of Mediablasters, was a blast with his crotchety-yet-informative ways. I wanted to ask how buying region 2 dvds directly affects the region 1 industry if at all, but I was cut off. Maybe next year.

As for the JAM Project autograph session itself, I got to shake hands with them. As Kageyama signed my Gravion box, I pointed and said, “Sparking!” to which he responded in kind. After my friends and I all got our swag autographed, we got together in the dealer’s room to do a Whoa Bundy, the second Whoa Bundy of the day.

I also saw two incredible cosplays during the convention. First was a girl cosplaying as Rosalie from Rose of Versailles. Her outfit was this bright pastel blue, perfect for a shoujo character, and it was as if she stepped out of the pages of Riyoko Ikeda’s work. Second was a cosplay of Billy Mitchell, the first man to ever conquer Pac-Man. I failed to check if he had a bottle of Rickey’s Hot Sauce in hand.

At the train station, I saw Erin and Noah from Ninja Consultant, and wildarmsheero. Along with the friends who I came with, we had a good conversation to wind down the convention, and one of my friends read my blog for the first time. I hope it’s as frightening for you as I think it is.

There are two main lessons I took away from Otakon 2008. First is that on the internet it can become very easy to caricaturize those you talk to, to focus on only one aspect of their character and personality. In real life, we can get along without necessarily needing to debate or to try and make things “interesting.” Those things will come in time.

Second is that, according to Kageyama, this was one GAY 2008.

(It actually says 9 Aug 2008)