The Far Side Booth at New York Comic Con 2019

It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.

As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.

The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.

This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.

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.

[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.

soc-voltron

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.

soc-megazord

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?

hanayo_pure_sr248_t

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.

A Mission for Myself: New York Comic Con

General Thoughts

As New York Comic Con has come to rival San Diego Comic Con and become its east coast counterpart, the scope and demand of NYCC are constant points of consideration for any potential attendee. While the convention pretty much improves every year and little can be faulted for how it’s run, the guests they bring, and just the amount of stuff there is to do (aside from perhaps the inevitable over-emphasis on professional and industry panels), I find that there’s a certain evaluative process I notice my friends and me going through every year, which all boils down to the simple question: should I attend next year?

First and foremost, as an anime and manga fan I have to say that NYCC delivered, and in ways I hadn’t expected to affect me so deeply. This year, they most notably brought Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Uzumaki Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko and premiered Boruto: Naruto the Movie for the first time outside of Japan (see my review here). Aside from some hiccups in terms of the Hammerstein Ballroom venue—the overly strict no food policy went so far as to ban bottled water, and the concert-oriented seating obscured the screen for significant portions of the viewers—it was the most memorable part of the convention for me, and it brought me back to 13 years ago when I was at the height of my own Naruto fandom.

On top of that, the announcement of a Tiger & Bunny film helmed by Ron Howard was the biggest surprise by far of NYCC, and the opportunity to get a personal drawing from Attack on Titan animator Asano Kyouji was a rare treat. While I was unable to get Asano to draw Holon from Real Drive like I hoped (to be fair that show is 10 years old), this image of Sasha from Attack on Titan is the coolest thing I brought home from New York Comic Con:

However, my experience with NYCC made me realize just how disconnected I am from a lot of current fandoms. This isn’t to say that I disliked New York Comic Con, or what it does. I’ve always enjoyed the mix that New York Comic Con brought, between the opportunity to meet professional artists, the focus on entertainment media that has extended out from the superhero movie boom, and just the general celebration of nerd culture. However, partly because I was out of the country for four years, and partly because of my own general taste for things, I haven’t been as deep into certain popular works in recent years as I might have been in the past.

What really brought this point home to me was how much I enjoyed the Justice League Reunion panel. Seeing Carl Lumbly talk about bringing his cultural heritage to the role of the Martian Manhunter as an immigrant with a traumatic past, finding out that Justice League Unlimited was a clever and creative compromise with a soulless marketing engine that wished to use the cartoon purely as an action figure commercial, and hearing Kevin Conroy sing “Am I Blue?” flooded me with so many fond memories of what made that series great. It made me recall the character of A.M.A.Z.O. and how incredibly deep and interesting his story was, and the “Ask the Justice League” portion was downright hilarious, especially Martian Manhunter’s greatest enemy being “a villain made of flaming Oreos.” It made me want to find this feeling again within more non-Japanese works.

This is certainly not a criticism of the current state of animation; many fantastic works have been and are still being created. Rather, it has made me aware of just how much a connection to the “nerd mainstream,” as it were, fuels New York Comic Con. NYCC is a for-profit convention backed by the entertainment industry, and it will aim for the works that hit the widest audience, or at least the widest audience within a niche. This is what fuels the decision for a Firefly panel, or indeed inviting a manga megastar like Kishimoto. Rather it fuels my desire to expand my interests further than where they are currently, to get a better sense of the zeitgeist of current American (and non-American!) fandoms.

Exhibitor Hall, Artist Alley, and Panels

Again, when it comes to the actual con, there was much to enjoy. In the Exhibitor Hall, I got the chance
to try Street Fighter V, say, “Domo” to Ninja Slayer, and get that cool Sasha drawing from Asano.

The Artist Alley, as always, was a great place to meet artists, find out about new works, and see the trends that fuel the creators. Superheroes are a no-brainer, anime is less prominent but if it is it’ll be something that captured the imaginations of American fans, such as Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon. Stylistically, I made just one purchase at Artist Alley this year, issue 1 of a comic called Henchgirl by Kristen Gudsnuk, the premise of which is exactly what it sounds like. The Artist Alley filled with everything from amateurs to industry veterans, with talent abound. However, I tasked myself with a challenge, which was to find something that spoke to me, that didn’t rely on name recognition, and that wasn’t too tempered by my own preferences for specific types of characters or heroes. Gudsnuk’s drawings resonated with me the most because of the humor and soft, cartoony style. If you’re curious, you can read the comic online for free.

The other highlight of the Artist Alley might have been seeing a small kid, probably no older than 6 or 7, hand a copy of Days of Future Past to Chris Claremont.

As for panels, it’s no secret that a for-profit con like NYCC will have a different flavor from a fan-oriented endeavor such as Otakon. I generally enjoy the latter kind more when it comes to programming, but NYCC has a pretty consistent track record of quality, possibly because it’s such a big deal now and encourages industry hosts to bring their A-Game, as seen with the Justice League Reunion.

The Kishimoto panel was a rare opportunity to get into the mind of one of manga’s most successful creators. While the questions were curated, the host did a great job of opening up Kishimoto, and I’m sure that him no longer having to keep deadlines or worry about how his answers might influence sales of Naruto allowed him to give responses that were a bit more candid than what is usually seen from Japanese guests. Probably the best thing I found out from the panel was the friendly rivalry shared by him and One Piece‘s Oda as Shounen Jump‘s two frontrunners, as well as the titles that influenced him most. That said, I hope the audience that was mostly silent after hearing Kishimoto mention Tezuka Osamu’s Phoenix get the chance to find out more.

“Push Boundaries Forward: Gender, Diversity and Representation in Comic Books,” featuring Marjorie Liu, Darryl Ayo, David Brothers, Amber Garza, Jeremy Whitley, Joey Stern, and Shannon Waters was one of many panels over the weekend that focused on addressing the changing dynamics of comics creators and readers. Both the audience questions and panelist answers showed a strong desire to move forward, to learn, and to understand that greater diversity in comics is a multifaceted challenge that never ends, and is ultimately beneficial to comics as a whole.

The Felicia Day panel was pure Q&A, and that’s exactly what the audience wanted out of it. Incredibly charismatic in that awkward way that appeals to geeks most, Felicia Day genuinely engaged her audience with an attitude that was both deeply caring and kind of flippant, bringing a realness to her answers. The best moment was when she complained that you couldn’t have sex with her character in Dragon Age 2, which her manager had ordered the studio against.

The Sunrise panel showed once again that they’re one of the direct-from-Japan studios to really get what it means to throw a panel. In addition to the surprising news about Tiger & Bunny, their announcements were varied and spoke to different portions of their audience. By the way, if you heard a couple of loud guys cheering for Giant Gorg, that was me and Patz from the Space Opera Satellite Podcast. We were serious, too. Giant Gorg is a rare series directed by the character designer of the original Gundam, and had been in licensing hell for years.

GORG!!!

Yo-kai Watch is also a thing.

Finally, I decided to attend a screening of a Love Live! concert, partly to satisfy my curiosity about this particular aspect of Love Live!‘s media mix, and to see the fan reaction. What I got out of it is exactly something I mentioned in my review of The School Idol Movie: the series is extremely malleable by fans, going from a warm, inspiring story full of interesting characters to a mountain of instant memes at the drop of a hat. As people shouted at the character Ayase Eli, “DON’T LET YOUR DREAMS BE DREAMS,” I wondered if that could somehow be parlayed into the slogan of Love Live!: “Make our dreams alive!”

Cosplay

As with most con reports at Ogiue Maniax, I’d like to leave off with some cosplay. Truth be told, I wasn’t digging a lot what I saw, but Sunday really turned it around.

Rediscovering the Ninja Spirit – Boruto: Naruto the Movie

This review is part of Ogiue Maniax’s New York Comic Con 2015 coverage. Major spoilers for the Naruto anime/manga and minor spoilers for Boruto: Naruto the Movie are included.

Once upon a time, I was a huge fan of Naruto. Having both read the manga and seen the anime from the very beginning, I can still remember what got me hooked onto the series in the first place. The rich world of competing ninja villages provided the space for elaborate and creative battles. The fact that every character, hero or villain or somewhere in between, had their own stories and their own pasts that shaped who they are made it so that Naruto could be so many things to so many people. I wanted explore their society, to imagine what powers and characters would appear next. I have many fond memories of Naruto that can be best summed up by the fact that, even if he was never among my favorite characters, Uzumaki Naruto himself embodied not only a sense of tragedy but also the drive and empathy to move forward and help those who are similarly lost.

At some point, however, I fell off the Naruto fan wagon. Sure, I still enjoyed it to an extent, and I more or less kept track of what was going on, but I found that the continuously escalating power creep of shounen manga and the ever-growing and unwieldy cast just made Naruto feel as if it had lost focus. I don’t mean that it didn’t know where it was going, but rather that when the series became chapter after chapter of gigantic, virtually city-sized attacks, those humble beginnings of Naruto and his companions trying to navigate their world got lost in the shuffle.

This is why I actually enjoyed Boruto: Naruto the Movie so much. It felt like a return to the foundations of what made Naruto great, yet also does not deny all of the artistic and narrative development that happened since then, power levels and all. It encapsulates Naruto and eternal friend/enemy/rival Uchiha Sasuke’s growth by showing how they pass their experience on to the next generation.

At the start of the Boruto, it’s been many years since Naruto saved the world. Naruto’s son is Boruto, whose mother is Hyuuga Hinata (who is my favorite Naruto character). Unlike Naruto, who was an orphan and shunned by his community due to housing the fox spirit, Boruto must deal with the fact that his father is the world’s greatest celebrity. Naruto, who has since fulfilled his dream of being Hokage, is so busy that this leaves little time for Naruto to be a father, and Boruto lashes out against that. Understanding between father and son, as well as the value of hard work, are ultimately the main themes of the film.

When I say that Boruto feels like a return to the Naruto of old without shunning what it became, what I mean is that it really captures a sense of the inner struggles of its characters within their elaborate world of ninja fantasy, while also communicating the passage of time perhaps better than the manga itself ever did. For the younger generation, it gives a strong sense of what motivates each and every character, while remaining sharp and complete as a story. For the older generation, one can feel the developments, through their interactions and especially through the fighting, that brought these familiar faces to where they are now. Rather than being in the haze of hundreds of chapters or episodes, the movie conveys just how much these characters have grown over the years, both within their universe and as characters in a work of fiction. When Naruto harnesses his ultimate powers, what jumps out is the sense of hard work, pain, and joy that led him to this point.

While Naruto has always been a story of generations, particularly the young both surpassing and learning from the old, a story dedicated to exploring the relationship between father and son is something new to the series. Sure, there was the arc where Naruto finally meets his father, among other examples, but for the most part Naruto is generally a manga and anime where parents’ legacies are more important than the parents themselves, who are either dead or in the background. Naruto was an orphan, Sasuke’s parents were murdered by his own brother, Sakura’s folks were still alive but hardly relevant. Now, not only is it Naruto and Hinata with children of their own, but most of the rest of the characters as well, and it’s a joy to see the direct connection between generations play out in greater detail.

I watched Boruto as part of the 2015 New York Comic Con, which, much to the delight of Naruto fans, invited Naruto creator Kishimoto Masashi and Naruto voice actress Takeuchi Junko as guests. During his first interview of two, Kishimoto mentioned that he had remained true to his vision for the ending (which he came up with back in 2009), one where Naruto ultimately saves Sasuke from himself. Looking back, it made me realize just what Kishimoto had been going for at a point when Naruto as a story seemed to be getting crushed by the perils of long serialization (Naruto ran for 18 years). There was a point in the manga when it seemed to transform into the Sasuke Show, that it was it turn doomed to a fate of meandering and directional changes. Now, I realize that it was meant to show Sasuke’s descent into darkness so that Naruto could be the light that guides him out of it, but again, within that long weekly shounen struggle it’s all too easy to lose sight of the overall context.

In contrast, Boruto suffers no such issues, and that helps it stand out in a significant way. The movie keeps at a fine pace in spite of the gigantic cast of characters. It would be all too easy to falter by showing too many characters doing too many things, but this is really Boruto’s story in the end, and it’s a satisfying and heartfelt one.

The last thing I want to say is that, at certain points in the movie, I was on the verge of tears. Thinking back, I recall the same thing happening upon seeing the tragic story of Zabuza and Haku, Naruto’s first real antagonists, play out beautifully. It was at that point all those years ago when I realized that Naruto was something special, and Boruto feels very similar. A part of me, the part that remembers what it was like to first discover Naruto and to be fascinated by its world, would like the story of Uzumaki Boruto to go on, but overall I would be fine if this ends up being Naruto‘s swan song.

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