If Your Mother Knew You Didn’t Like Giant Robots, It Would KILL Her!

Over a year ago I explored the difficulties in recommending anime and manga to people, whether they were entirely new to the world of Japanese animation and comics or they were already in the fandom but looking for more. Since that time I’ve gotten a little better at the whole recommendation thing, but it’s still far from one of my strengths. Still, the dynamics of introducing new shows and series to people is a fascinating topic to explore, and seeing others’ recommendations posts as of late has revealed to me more and more of the tricky dynamics of suggesting shows.

Tim Maughan recently had a bunch of guest writers for his blog to provide content during his trip to Thailand, and among the articles was one by the Otaku Diaries creators the Reverse Thieves where they created a guide to introducing giant robot shows to people who are into anime but aren’t sure if they like mecha, or who avoid it entirely without knowing the variety of stories giant robot shows have to tell.

As if inevitable however, they received complaints that their list was not good because it did not contain enough of the classics, the things that brought people into giant robots over the decades. At that point, the problem became about the identity of the mecha fan. Shouldn’t someone who gets into giant robot anime like giant robots? But if they already like giant robots, then half the work is already done! The guide was clearly made for the people who don’t necessarily have that inherent potential to enjoy robot shows, the people whose interest in the genre has to be slowly cultivated over time. The classics are classics for good reasons, but they’re not beginner’s shows necessarily.

Over at comics blog Mightygodking, a more fundamental question was asked: “How do I start reading comics?” In his response, Mightygodking explains that, more often than not, comics fans go about it incorrectly, and make the same mistakes that many of those who questioned the Reverse Thieves’ guide did. He even lays out some criteria for recommending comics for newcomers, and though I don’t agree that a beginner comic has to be “fucking great,” I think he makes a very good point when he says:

…they’ll recommend something safe, like “you should read Sandman.” Or Watchmen, or Transmetropolitan, or [insert critically acclaimed comic by the Usual Suspects here]. Now, sure. These are great comics. But I’m not going to say “this is how you should get started with comics.” Watchmen should be nobody’s first comics read. Sandman has an impenetrable first volume. And Transmet is a commitment – not that Spider Jerusalem isn’t worth the ride, but I’m not going to introduce somebody to comics with it.

Even more than giant robot anime, COMICS!! can be such a gargantuan and daunting subject that even gaining the will to approach it can be an arduous task, and as such the problems with recommending the GREATEST gets magnified. And of course, this is in no way helped when the fans who are already there berate the potential new fans for not enjoying what they are “supposed” to enjoy.

I fully understand where people are coming from when they say the best place to start is with the classics. I have in the past recommended the ORIGINAL Mobile Suit Gundam when someone wanted to know where to start with the massive franchise. I have also lamented the fact that many newer fans in anime are unable to appreciate older shows because they cannot get past the older styles. But I also know that it is nearly impossible to attract people into a fandom or gain new enthusiasts by appearing obtuse and impenetrable. It’s one thing to have very firm ideas of what makes shows good or not, and to defend those ideas, but retreating into the folds of the existing insular fandom isn’t going to do anything but make it even more exclusive. It all comes down to how much you’re willing to not simply throw out suggestions from on-high, but to guide people, even if you can’t personalize it too much because you’re making broad recommendations.

In a way, I feel like recommending arguably difficult classics to beginners is not unlike being parents living vicariously through their children, like a soccer mom pushing her kids to the brink of competition.

“I never had it this good when I was getting into giant robots! I’ve boiled it down to everything you REALLY need to see!”

“But dad, I’m not sure I like giant robots!”

“How DARE you! I did not suffer through Magnos the Robot so that you could say you don’t like giant robots!”

But each generation is new, and casts off the bounds set by their predecessors, like a man with blue hair and stylish shades living in an underground village.

Somerset Somersault: AnimeNEXT 2009

This past weekend I attended AnimeNEXT in New Jersey. While held this year in Somerset at the Garden State Exhibit Center and conjoined Somerset Doubletree Hotel, in years prior the convention was held at the Meadowlands Arena in Secaucus. However, seeing as this was my first ever AnimeNEXT this did not have much of an effect on me beyond the fact that I was basically required to stay at a hotel, an experience which turned it from a commuter convention to a hotel convention, and perhaps turned out better because of it.

AnimeNEXT is a fairly small con whose guest list is comprised mostly of locals. There are no big name Japanese guests at AnimeNEXT but the convention doesn’t really pretend to be an Anime Expo or an Otakon. It’s in this environment that I was able to do my first two official con panels ever (I was a last-minute panelist on the Comic Market panel at Otakon 2006), and I managed to learn a lot despite attending relatively few panels myself. At a convention like this, fan-run panels really are the order of the day so that was the majority of my activity at AnimeNEXT.

Friday, June 12

Friday I arrived in Somerset accompanied by kransom from welcome datacomp and the Reverse Thieves. After finding out that my site was apparenty called “Ugiue Maniax” I went to the panels. Getting there too late to see the mecha panel or others that might have been of interest to me, I ended up going to the “Anime Through the Generations” panel, curious as to who would be giving such a panel with such a name. It turned out to be a group of girls who were fairly young but also fairly diverse in their approach to the fandom, and with the help of Rob Fenelon and other (seriously) old school fans it turned into an interesting discussion about how otaku relate to each other across age gaps.

Next was a panel about Anime Pirates, whose name was fairly confusing because I was unsure of whether or not it was a panel about Pirates in Anime or about Anime Piracy. It turned out to be the former…sort of. Apparently Gurren-Lagann totally counts as pirate anime because it makes Captain Harlock references.

Probably the highlight panel of Friday was Anime Princesses, or as the full title goes, “Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool,” run by the aforementioned Old Guard Anime Fans, which talked about female royalty in recent anime and how their portrayals as figures essential to the governance of their respective kingdoms contrasts heavily with the traditional portrayal of the damsel-in-distress Disney Princess. I noticed a lot of girls leaving once they realized that the panel was essentially about politics in anime rather than talking about princesses per se, but for those who stayed it was an informative hour. My only complaint with the panel really was that too much time was spent on too few princesses and there was a glut of video clips. Points that could have been illustrated with one or two videos were expanded to four or five.  Still, a fun panel.

At this point I’d like to talk about the game rooms set up for AnimeNEXT and how pleasant it turned out to be. They had six separate rooms dedicated to different genres with the most popular ones getting their own rooms out of consideration for said popularity. Most importantly, they never really smelled too badly. It was a well-run game room overall.

Saturday, June 13

Saturday began with the panel run by the Reverse Thieves and I, titled “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen This!” Though it was among the first panels of the day, running from 9am-10am, we still managed to get a fairly large crowd and for that I am thankful to you our panel attendees, whoever and wherever you are. It’s our hope that we could expand your selection of possible anime to watch and to go beyond what you know already, and people came away ready to look at the titles we recommended, among them being Kaiba, Rose of Versailles, and Kekkaishi. Again, thank you to everyone there.

Vertical Press also had their panel Saturday, led by Marketing Director Ed Chavez. In it, he tried to clear up misconceptions about Vertical Press, which is often touted as a provider of manga classics but should more accurately be seen as a provider of the widest range of material indicative of Japanese popular culture. Ranging from cook books to light novels to non-fiction memoirs and of course manga, no topic is taboo for Vertical Press. Having spoken to Ed on multiple occasions now, I have to recommend anyone who has an interest in manga or Japanese pop culture who has the opportunity to listen to Ed speak should take that opportunity. While a Marketing Director, he does not speak like a stereotypical spin doctor, and will fast convince you that Vertical Press is trying to sell you something worth your time. I know I felt that way at least.

The panel immediately following the Vertical Press one was a dub voice actor panel featuring Michele Knotz and Bill Rogers. The crowd was significantly larger than the Vertical Panel, which came as no surprise once it was revealed that both Knotz and Rogers are voice actors for Pokemon. Both are talented individuals, though the main reason I was there is because Knotz is the English voice actor for Ogiue. So naturally I had to ask Knotz for her opinion on Ogiue. Michele called Ogiue a “very interesting” character, and a type whom she had never played prior to landing the role of Ogiue. Recalling difficulty in achieving the right voice for Ogiue, Michele mentioned that the voice director told her to do a voice akin to “Wednesday Addams.” While I don’t think Ogiue is quite like Wednesday Addams (a more accurate description would be to imitate a girl imitating Wednesday Addams), it was interesting to see how she approached this most important and defining of roles in anime. Both of them also talked about how much they’re looking forward to Genshiken 2’s US release. There were other questions but as far as Ogiue-related topics were concerned this was it.

One of the panels that caught my eye on the programming schedule was “Restricted Rock Paper Scissors.” Anyone who’s seen Kaiji should be familiar with this concept, though interestingly only half of the people at the panel had even seen Kaiji. After a few hiccups and the panelists warning the half who didn’t see Kaiji to say away from the half who did, the game was afoot. I managed to be a finalist in both of the games I played, remembering that there’s no such thing as Honor in the ultimate gamble and to avoid the mental trap of “balance.” My prizes were candy and a tiny deck of Uno cards. Truly I was at the very least a Penultimate Survivor.

The highlight of Saturday by far was dinner, as I and other bloggers converged on the local Ruby Tuesday and chatted it up. Many of the bloggers were ones I met for the first time at AnimeNEXT and it’s always enjoyable to see new faces. Among them were the Reverse Thieves and kransom, my fellow Sunday panelists Omo, Super Rats, and Moy, as well as Anime Almanac’s Scott and Japanator’s Brad. I got the dry-rub Memphis ribs with mashed potatos and steamed broccoli, and followed it up with a decked-out baked potato.

After dinner I arrived just in time for the “Bad Anime, Bad!” panel, where we watched select clips from an old Toei animation called “Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned,” an entertaining movie which plays fast and loose with the story of Vlad Tepes and whose plot involves Dracula pretending to be Satan so he can trick Satan’s bride into marrying him. The movie managed to continually top itself in ways that few could imagine. It was also apparently based on a comic by Marv Wolfman, writer of the most famous Teen Titans run as well as many other comics.

Hisui from Reverse Thieves joined us halfway through Dracula, the other half having been spent at the “As the Otaku Grows” panel, which he informed us was a very misleading title as it turned out just to be a guy with a serious hard-on for 90s anime. He would declare that everything made before and after the 90s was worse by comparison, and would apparently give inane evidence to support his claims. I guess if we have so many people calling the 80s the greatest anime decade it’s inevitable we’d get one for the following decade. I look forward in 15 years when someone declares this decade of Zaizen Jotaro and Slap-Up Party Arad Senki to be the greatest period of anime ever.

Sunday, June 14

Due to rearrangements in the AnimeNEXT schedule, I essentially had my entire Sunday convention experience in the same room. Starting off with the History of Manga in the US panel, I learned a lot about not only manga translations in the US, but also the many attempts to either take existing manga properties and get American artists to draw comics based on them, or to draw a comic in a deliberately “manga-esque” style. It’s a side of the manga industry that isn’t really explored much and I learned a good deal, particularly in regards to how the companies constantly try to adapt to the shifting environment. My only regret was that I had to leave the panel a little early so I was unable to ask him about anything he knew in regards to Marvel’s Shogun Warriors comics. For those who don’t know, Shogun Warriors was a toy and comic line where popular Japanese super robots were brought to America with their stories entirely changed so they could fit in the same universe, somewhat similar to Super Robot Wars but not at all like Super Robot Wars.

US Manga History was followed up immediately by “Otaku Perceptions & Misconceptions,” and it turned out to be a panel by the same people who ran the Friday Anime Through the Generations panel. The conversation revolved around how not only others see otaku but also how otaku see themselves, and it eventually boiled down to how otaku could and should work to fight misconceptions, a topic I contributed to based on my own beliefs.

And then after that was the moment of truth, the “Anime Blogging Basics” panel. As expected from a 1:30pm panel on the last day of a con, barely anyone we did not know showed up, but again that was hardly a surprise. We talked mainly about the “Why” of anime blogging, which turned out to be quite interesting because of the level of variation between our blogs and our styles. Omo enjoys focusing on the fandom (he mentions that his feed contains over 400 anime blogs), Super Rats concerns himself primarily with anime figures and photographs of, Moy’s blog has gone through many variations until it settled into something more personal, and my own blog is defined by the description you see at the very top of Ogiue Maniax. Omo described my blog as the evolution of those old character shrines from 90s online fandom, a description I can’t quite disagree with. In the end, I think we managed to lay down some solid thoughts and opinions on blogging and perhaps helped the two or three guys we didn’t know to engage in their own blogging adventures.

With the con over, I and the others had lunch at Marita’s Cantina, which turned out to be a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant, and one that I would recommend if you are ever in New Brunswick. After eating to our content, we took the train back to New York.

Final Thoughts

AnimeNEXT as mentioned in the beginning is not a widely attended convention, but it still managed to attract a lot of dedicated anime fans. While I did not focus much on cosplay, I did notice a lot of dedicated cosplayers, and to those of you who dressed as Eureka Seven characters I salute you. I do not know if I will attend again based on circumstances beyond my control, but I would recommend it if you live in the area. It’s not the most exciting convention but it’s certainly not a nightmare. AnimeNEXT is the type of convention where being around good people and great friends can magnify your enjoyment of the con tremendously.

Oh, and if you’re taking the train to New Brunswick to get to the con, watch out for bums. Just a warning.

Idea: A Comprehensive Guide to Essential Episodes

Mazinger Z. Galaxy Express 999. Ranma 1/2. Astro Boy. There are a lot of anime out there that are considered classics (and rightfully so), but the problem with getting into them is that they can be very, very long with anywhere from forty to two-hundred episodes and beyond. Because of this, trying to experience what made these shows great becomes a daunting task, especially when not all of them are “serial,” and instead have large chunks which are simply episodic and, while perhaps decent episodes, are not the ones that can really grab people by the heart and the lungs.

What I am proposing then is that a guide to these long shows be made, pointing out the episodes which are considered, while perhaps not “necessary” to the viewing experience, to be the apex of the show. That way, anybody who just wants to sample the show but in a meaningful way (not just watch the first episode or two and be done with it) can do so and fully understand the reasons that show is called a classic.

But I can’t do it alone.

When the main focus is to be absurdly long shows, no one person can watch everything to make sure that all bases are covered. I would need help. Possibly, I would have to get one or two people watching any given show and have them report back to me what they consider to be the “big” episodes, and then check it out myself to see just how good they are. Something like that.

Maybe this can apply to manga too.

I don’t have any episode lists to recommend at the moment, but I-

Wait, maybe I do.


(Seriously, watch the entire show)

The Most Difficult Question

“What anime/manga would you recommend?”

At some point this went from being a fairly simple question to being an incredibly complex one that leaves me puzzled for long periods of time. As I absorbed more and more shows and comics into my being, as I began to expose myself to more and more types of fans and non-fans, the number of variables just kept increasing.

How long has this person been watching anime, if at all? What titles do I think are good? Out of those, which do I think the person asking me would like? What non-anime genres is he or she already into? How open is he or she to new genres? Different visual styles? How familiar is the person with digital downloads, bittorent, etc?

I know in a previous post that I recommended Slayers, but that is more of a generalist approach. The difficulty arises when I try to tailor my response to that individual. Everyone is unique, and I can’t rely on my own taste to sell a show to another.

An equally difficult question is “Which shows do you like?”

How familiar is this person with anime? If I say a title, will they understand what it is? How open are they to explanation?

And it’s not like I’ll lie or anything. I just prefer to pick an answer that will most accurately describe what I like in anime as efficiently as possible to the person in particular who’s askng.

Or I can just say “Rose of Versailles” and see what happens.