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

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

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

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

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

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[New York Comic Con 2017] Mashima Hiro Panel Thoughts

New York Comic Con 2017’s biggest manga and anime guest was, without a doubt, Mashima Hiro. Mashima came to NYCC after concluding his most famous series, the hit shounen manga Fairy Tail, and he sat down for a couple of panels. While I only have a passing knowledge of Fairy Tail, I attended his Saturday retrospective panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom. An hour later, I came away with the sense that Mashima Hiro might be closest to the mindset of anime and manga fandom than other creators.

Because NYCC had another major shounen manga guest last year in Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi, and because Mashima himself mentioned during the panel that he considered Kishimoto his “rival,” I can’t help but compare the two. Listening to both of them explain their motivations painted two very different pictures. Kishimoto talked about how, at some point, Naruto became a story of redemption, while his becoming a father during the course of his manga’s serialization also influenced the messages he wanted to leave behind. Mashima, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the simple yet effective premise of “what would be cool?” Fairy Tail was apparently powered by questions such as “Who would win in a fight?” and “What kind of magic would be awesome to see?”

Combined with the greater amounts of fanservice in Fairy Tail—it seems as if, after a certain point, every panel in the series of a girl is pinup quality—it just seems like a series that didn’t have especially lofty goals, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s a certain kind of purity, and has in its basis much of what makes shounen manga so popular in the first place. It’s part power fantasy, part adventure. The kinds of ideas floating around in Mashima’s head seem to be cut from the same cloth as much of the fandom, especially when taking into account Western fans. Fairy Tail in Japan is no match for One Piece, but I always get the impression that they’re much closer in popularity at least in the US. I feel like this fan space, where crossover dream battles are practically the potatoes of online discussion (the meat is “who do you ship?”), is one where Mashima’s mindset can thrive.

New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #3: The Artist Alley vs. My Expectations

For this year’s New York Comic Con (which is now months ago, whoops!), I’m doing something a bit different with my coverage. Instead of doing a standard con report, with overviews and opinions on panels, artist alley, etc., I’m going to be writing a series of essays based on things I saw at NYCC 2016. Think of it like extended thought exercises and musings inspired by the con.

While manga is closest to my heart, I love comics in general. Even if individual titles aren’t my cup of tea at times, and even if I find myself going back to Japanese comics more often than not (for reasons both rational and irrational), I never want to stop giving different types of comics a chance. This is one of the reasons I’m generally eager to visit the Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con. Though it’s been years since I looked forward to Wednesdays (the day when new comics in America come out), I still opened myself up to the artists of NYCC 2016 with a simple desire: I wanted to be wowed, to be drawn to them and convinced to read more.

Perhaps I set too unfair a standard for myself and for the artists there.

I want to emphasize that I think the New York Comic Con Artist’s Alley is full of incredible talent. These are hard-working artists, each of whom have their own stories when it comes to how they came to comics. Also, given that NYCC is built on American comics culture, a lot of it would be the things you’d expect: superheroes, graphic novels, and certain approaches to cartooning and anatomy that have grown out of the American tradition. I think all of these things are great and have their own unique strengths worth exploring, but when it came time to find something that, pardon the cliché, spoke to me, I just wasn’t able to.

I feel that the decision-making process I went through as I looked from booth to booth was vague, even to myself. It’s not that I had any specific criteria. For example, I enjoy seeing comics about cool girls doing cool things, but I’d find that the particular arrangements that existed in the Artist’s Alley fell into recurring categories that made them all blend together to a certain extent. If they weren’t female superheroes, they were girls who wanted to show how much they defy gender expectations. These are both very good things, but it’s as if, in the rush to seize these ideas and the momentum they carry (whether for profit, social consciousness, desire to create interesting stories, or something else entirely), they ended up collectively dulling the product in my eyes.

I believe that a lot of the problem lies with me. When you distance yourself from something as I have, you tend to look at it in broader strokes. The opposite is often true if you get too deep into something. For example, when it comes to anime I’m a long-time Gundam fan. I’ve seen nearly every series, and I appreciate the subtle nuances and varying approaches that they bring, for better or worse. To someone outside of Gundam fandom, it just all looks like robots fighting wars and characters giving speeches. Thus, when I looked at Artist’s Alley as this well of potential to bring me back into the fold, I think I was expecting it to have much more of a gravitational pull than it had any right to. After all, if you’re at an Artist’s Alley at New York Comic Con, it’s natural to assume that you should already be into the stuff. It’s not the responsibility of the artists there to “convince me” to give American comics more of a chance, only to convince me to check out their work.

I still plan on taking a similar approach to Artist’s Alley next year with some adjustments. Instead of hoping for something to call out to me and speak directly to my soul, I’ll drift towards anything that catches my fancy. I shouldn’t expect a revolution, but I should at the very least leave the door open for minor reforms.

Giver of Thanks: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2016

November is anniversary month for Ogiue Maniax, but I’ll be saving that for its own dedicated post (if I remember, that is. Someone please remind me!).

A big thanks to this month’s Patreon sponsors. You might not understand how much I appreciate your help, but I’ll explain at the end:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Before going into an overview of my favorite posts of the month, I want to talk a bit about my appreciation to my readers for being curious as to what I have to say. As I go through life, I meet more and more anime and manga fans of different tastes and philosophies, but often I feel it can be difficult to engage in conversations about the nitty-gritty of anime and manga as ways to explore thought, society, emotion, and more. Talk about anime and manga floats at the surface, or, if it delves deeper, is often connected to value judgments or inside looks at the mechanics of industries. I know my audience isn’t especially large, but I am grateful that the topics I’m interested in at least pique your curiosity.

That being said, I know I’m really bad at responding to comments on a frequent basis, and I intend to work harder at fostering actual conversation on Ogiue Maniax. Also, because I’ve been more review-heavy as of late, I’m wondering if this is steering away from the strengths of the blog.

As for this month’s post highlights…

First, at long last, is a final review of one of my favorite manga in recent memory: Mogusa-san. If you love food manga, this is right up your alley.

Second, out of the many films I watched over October, Miss Hokusai has to be the one I enjoyed the most. ALso, check out Kizumonogatari Part II and Shin Godzilla.

Third, I took a different approach to covering New York Comic Con this year, and have been writing response essays to things that caught my attention. If you like giant robot toys, check out my thoughts on Soul of Chogokin Voltron and Megazord.

Lastly, I wrote a bit about Star Ocean EX, and just how 2003 it is.

I’m not sure what I’ll have in store for November, but I’m thinking of devoting a significant chunk to talking about some of my favorite recent characters.

New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #2: Lucha Underground and Scripted vs. Unscripted Promos

I don’t talk about wrestling all that often on this anime and manga blog. Pro wrestling hasn’t been a staple part of my pop culture experience in over a decade. That being, said I do maintain a curiosity towards the state of its industry and its viewers. Who are the popular heroes (faces) and villains (heels)? What wrestling promotions are currently out there? What do the fans think? It’s this desire to keep a finger on the pulse of wrestling that prompted me to attend the Lucha Underground panel at New York Comic Con 2016, despite the fact that I had seen less than 30 minutes’ worth of material.

Lucha Underground is a current American television program that focuses on the high-flying acrobatics style of Mexican wrestling called lucha libre. The panel featured both writers and performers for Lucha Underground, most notably Rey Mysterio, Jr., the man who has become the icon of lucha libre itself in the United States. The panelists discussed what it’s like to work on the show and what Lucha Underground does differently compared to other promotions. Of these various comments, what stood out to me most was the fact that Lucha Underground is produced more like a traditional television series. Storylines are plotted out, many characters are created well in advance (with wrestlers having auditioned to fulfill those roles), and a lot of post-production is utilized to create a more cinematic experience. In other words, Lucha Underground is neither “live” in the traditional sense nor “live to tape.”

The reason I find this notable is that if you ask many current wrestling fans (and I imagine even fans of Lucha Underground) what’s wrong with WWE today, it’s that the show is too scripted. Individual wrestlers have their promos written for them, and only a select few are allowed to go off the cuff. This is a very different world from where wrestling was in eras past, where things like “Austin 3:16” and Macho Man’s “cream of the crop” were their own creations. It makes sense, given that wrestlers are in general not the greatest actors, but that they can be very good at crafting their own characters based on their own personalities, or taking a gimmick given to them and going the distance with it. The fact that Lucha Underground goes even further in the direction of being scripted (not just in outcomes, but also in long-term story planning) seems to fly in the face of this criticism.

However, I wonder if the issue is that promotions like WWE are caught in the middle, such that it lacks both the improvisational feel of old and isn’t refined enough in its narrative elements to really make sure its scripted elements are as tightly plotted as possible. This might just be a symptom of still being a live show on top of being the biggest wrestling show on air today. There’s a desire to avoid taking too many risks at the same time they understand that new blood and new opportunities are necessary, and if something awry happens they can’t just make it so that it never happened (even if wrestling storylines are always incredibly fluid). At the Lucha Underground panel, they mentioned how not having the show be live allows them to do multiple takes, and try crazy and untested ideas because anything that isn’t effective can go on the cutting room floor.

Given that this is how Lucha Underground is made, I find that this format ends up veering closer to sports anime, such as the current wrestling series Tiger Mask W. They can emphasize emotion and power in ways that don’t have to adhere to the semblance of realism (kayfabe) that still persists in other places even though everyone knows wrestling is “fake” now. By using creative camera angles, by making sure the mystic or occult elements of their universe don’t require you to suspend disbelief any more than you would a late-night drama, it perhaps allows Lucha Undeground to create an experience where its luchadores are truly “characters.” And by being characters, they can feel even more real.

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New York Comic Con 2016 Essay #1: Voltron, Megazord, and the American Soul of Chogokin

For this year’s New York Comic Con, I’m doing something a bit different with my coverage. Instead of doing a standard con report, with overviews and opinions on panels, artist alley, etc., I’m going to be writing a series of essays based on things I saw at NYCC 2016. Think of it like extended thought exercises and musings inspired by the con.

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As someone who loves giant robots, one of the highlights of New York Comic Con 2016 had to be the dual displays of Soul of Chogokin Voltron and Megazord. Created as high-end poseable figures with plenty of metal, show-accurate proportions and transformations, and as much articulation as their designs can allow, when something joins the Soul of Chogokin line it is like a rite of passage. It’s the pinnacle of mecha toys, and any fans of either robot likely already has them on their radars. Seeing them together, however, made me think about their significance to both American fans and the people responsible for the Soul of Chogokin line. These figures represent not only the fulfillment of childhood dreams, but are indicative of the complex interactions between nostalgia and specific cultural contexts.

Although I personally do not view Voltron or Megazord with the kind of near-religious fervor that grips so many other fans (granted Voltron was the show that introduced me to giant robots), I couldn’t help but be impressed by their designs. They’re both large, clearly very hefty, and capture well the particular quirks of both robots, perhaps even to the point that it would be jarring. For example, Voltron can look a little too squat, until you realize that it actually reflects the original design well, and the main reason we see it as being perhaps slightly lankier in proportions is because the iconic images of Voltron tend to be upward perspective shots.

Above each of the displays was a painting of the robot below, with a little information card on the side to provide some extra insight on the artist who provided them, Nonaka Tsuyoshi. Reading these, what caught my attention was that not only was Nonaka responsible for the original Megazord design, but he was also the man responsible for starting the Soul of Chogokin line in the first place! In a way, the birth of the Soul of Chogokin Megazord can be viewed as Nonaka’s homecoming.

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There was another detail that I found even more notable. When describing Nonaka’s founding of the Soul of Chogokin line, the card stated that the toys were born out of his desire to celebrate the giant robots of his own youth, such as Mazinger Z. They were what inspired him, and so he in turn has given them the star treatment. Extending this line of thought, one can view Voltron and the Megazord as essentially the “Mazinger Z’s of America.” Many countries are introduced to super robots differently, and in the case of the US these two in particular are deeply woven into the fabric of pop culture. Remember, the original Japanese version of VoltronKing of Beasts Golion, isn’t a particularly notable show. Zyuranger, the show that would become Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, is beloved among Super Sentai fans, but is considered one of many good iterations. In the United States, however, these robots are integral to introducing generations of kids to the wide world of mecha. Thus, the Soul of Chogokin line is doing what it was originally meant to, only in another cultural context.

Thinking further about the iconic aspect of Voltron and the Megazord, it’s fascinating just how lasting their presence is relative to the shows they came from. For example, because Voltron has that cool look and that place in American broadcast history, it can be remade again and again, most notably in the surprise hit Voltron: Legendary Defender. What’s even more striking about its presence, however, is that Vehicle Voltron is as absent from pop culture memory as Lion Voltron is enduring. In fact, notice how I’ve only said “Voltron” throughout this essay. I bet that, for many readers, they didn’t even notice that something was odd. There are a number of possible reasons why Lion Voltron is remembered whereas Vehicle Voltron largely is not: Lion Voltron came first, it aired on TV more often, and its colorful characters and overall design are more memorable (mouths for hands and feet!). Whatever the reason, what stands out to me is how fickle and unforgiving mass-nostalgia can be, even if there’s no real “blame” to go around.

Soul of Chogokin Voltron and Megazord are squarely aimed at the US market in a way that I’m not sure previous internationally beloved robots such as Grendizer (for much of Europe) and Voltes V (for the Philippines) previously were. In that respect, I predict this to be the start of a new relationship between Bandai and its potential consumers around the world. Given this potential, I’m rather curious as to what might come next. Perhaps we might someday see Soul of Chogokin representation for a robot that doesn’t even have its origins in Japan.

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Time for New York Comic Con!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2016

Every year I’m amazed that the people who run New York Comic Con manage to make it work. New York City is a notoriously difficult place to hold a convention, but it keeps growing. I hope that the recently announced Anime NYC will have similar success.

I’ll be heading to New York Comic Con this year for a couple of days, though given how gigantic the crowd is it’s likely I’ll end up never bumping into anyone I know. In terms of what I plan to attend I’m playing it sort of by ear this time around, but you’re likely to catch me at some European comics panels.

As mentioned last month, I’ll be seeing Kizumonogatari Part II in theaters! I happened to pick up the book recently, but I’m going to wait until the movies finish before I read it. I also updated Love Live! School Idol Festival to the newest version which its fancy overhaul and Aqours additions. One thing I like about it is that I can use my stickers to Idolize, instead of hoping in vain for duplicates. I finally got around to upgrading one of my Hanayo cards. Did you know that I’m quite fond of argyle patterns?

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As always, I’d like to thank to all those who support me via Patreon:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sasahara Keiko fans:

Kristopher Hostead

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

It’s been a review-heavy month for me, partially because a number of series are ending, but also because I’ve finally gotten around to finishing a bunch of shows I had on the back burner. I’m aware that series which are more than a season or two old tend to fade from people’s memories, but I think it’s important to not get too distracted trying to keep up with the Anime Joneses, as it were.

Love Live! Sunshine!!

Thunderbolt Fantasy

Kiznaiver

Yona of the Dawn

Ojamajo Doremi (final season + retrospective)

Kimi Nakare didn’t get a new chapter in August, which is why there was no review. It’s back, though, so expect to see something for October.

I also want to draw attention to this month’s sponsored Patreon post, where I discuss my favorite RPGs of all time. As someone who is fairly familiar but not neck-deep in the world of Role Playing Games, the list might seem a bit sparse. If you want to see me write about a particular topic, consider sponsoring me on Patreon. I have a reward tier specifically for guaranteed requests.I want to end off on a question for my readers: What do you think of the balance between talking about older series and newer series? What about manga vs. anime? I was mostly anime-heavy this month, and I’m curious as to how many of my readers are more on the anime side, and who favors manga more.So with that, a poll!

I don’t know how much this’ll change things, but I wanted to see for myself what is favorite among readers of Ogiue Maniax.