Uwa…! New York Anime Festival 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can see the good times.

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.

So I Don’t Know About You, But My Questions to Tomino are Pretty Awesome

‘s all I’m sayin’.

Otakon 2009: When Guests Are the Real Deal

Otakon 2009 was punctuated by a number of personal differences and changes in my life, not least of which were a new method of travel, as well as a variety of new travel buddies. It was also my first year at Otakon as a member of the Press (thanks to the existence of this blog), and while I can’t say that it was as rockin’ as last year’s Otakon, I can tell you that it was a fine experience where I never felt like there was too little to do.

My trip began Thursday afternoon, where while on the bus to Baltimore and then on the city bus to Downtown Baltimore we argued about moe in all of its forms, seeking to wrestle the elusive beast to the ground with mixed results. Baltimore that day was a breezy 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the kind of weather perfect for strolling through the city carrying luggage. Dropping off our belongings at the hotel, we went off to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and met up with esteemed guests such as Patz, Ed Sizemore, and Clarissa from Anime World Order. A variety of fine topics were discussed, such as the joys of showing little kids the Real Power Rangers and the deliciousness of beef (conclusion: it is very delicious).

Upon returning to the convention center to get our badges, we realized that there was a line still snaked around the building that normally would not be based on past experience. I luckily had my badge waiting for me at Press Ops, but many were not so lucky. It was yet another sign that this year’s Otakon was Different. The lines would continue throughout the weekend.

The Pre-Registration Line for Otakon 2009

I also had dinner with people on Friday and to a lesser extent on Saturday, meeting the rest of the AWO crew, Erin from Ninja Consultant and others who I can’t quite remember because the table was quite long. If you’re willing to sit down and relax, the downtown Baltimore area is good for food, and if you’re able to travel further out there are also some excellent restaurants. If you want fast food, that’s also available, and if you want to save money on food I recommend Grape Nuts and Parmalat. Grape Nuts is a dense cereal in a small box and is very filling and nourishing. It has the Ogiue Maniax seal of approval.

Food aside, there were so many events each day that they’ve started to blur in my head, and instead of discussing what happened chronologically I’m going to talk about things more categorically.

Industry and Otakon-related panels I attended were the Funimation panel and the Opening Ceremony panel. Funimation, as you might know already, announced some big-deal shows, namely Casshern Sins (which I reviewed here), Eden of the East (one of the best shows of last season), and the “Dragon Box” master edition remastering of Dragon Ball Z just like the one the Japanese have.

The opening ceremony also marked the second year that Madhouse animated a special opening for Otakon, akin to the Daicon IV opening of legend. This year’s animation incorporated the entire Otakon staff and had numerous references both eastern and western. If you wanted to see the Enterprise duke it out with the Yamato, this was your chance. Unfortunately, we were given the news that the director of the Otakon 2009 Opening Animation, Endou Takuji, had died the week prior, and our condolences go out to a man who reached out to American fandom so readily. Endou was also the director of Record of Lodoss War, a show which many fans in America consider vital to their beginnings as otaku.

As you might guess from the title of this post, guests this year were remarkably good in their decision to not constantly dodge questions and defer to others, though it still happened occasionally when it had to.

Yamamoto Yutaka, aka Yamakan, dropped down answers to questions which clearly showed him putting in some genuine thought and not just defaulting to stock answers. One person asked him how he got to be a director, and his response was that he wanted to be an animator but then couldn’t draw so he had to pick something else that would let him work in anime without drawing talent. To follow up, I asked what he thought of Takahata Isao, director of Grave of the Fireflies, because Takahata is also a director who cannot draw. Yamamoto answered that Takahata is one of the two directors who inspired him to get into anime, and that he considers the Anne of Green Gables anime directed by Takahata to be pretty much THE finest example of an anime TV series and how to tell a story in that format. Sadly, he would not reveal the second despite prompting.

I also asked him about Tonari no 801-chan’s anime debut, and he said that the original author asked him personally to do it, and that he felt destined to do it. Other highlights from Yamakan include his belief that what’s most important in animation is having characters stay “in-character” (and anyone who’s seen Tsugumi in Kannagi can attest to him putting his money where his mouth is), his desire for fellow anime creators to be capable of being creative with each other so that they may grow and improve, and his belief that today’s anime creators lack strong enough personalities akin to Miyazaki, Tomino, and Anno. As you can tell, he was not a “normal” Japanese guest and I am grateful for that.

Oh, and as for his definition of moe: If you like it, it’s moe for you.

Frederik L. Schodt

Frederik L. Schodt (apparently pronounced “Shot”) meanwhile revealed very good knowledge of the scanlation scene and an understanding of its appeal, as well as being good at handling the audience at his Astro Boy panel. At his Q&A panel, I asked him about instances where either American culture values in Japanese comics made them unapproachable by an American audience and vice versa. For the manga example, he pointed out how works are still censored to an extent, and that some companies are forced to claim the girls in their media are 18+ when they clearly are not given the context of the story, and that most of the genres of manga in Japan never come to the US, such as mahjong manga. His answer for American comics that were deemed not appropriate for a Japanese audience was even more interesting.

Schodt had accompanied the great Wil Eisner of all people to Japan, as Eisner was interested in publishing his works there and and there was a Japanese publishing company which published non-Japanese artists. However, when shown the work of Eisner, the company said that he had to rework it to flow more like a Japanese comic and have it read right to left. Eisner, who was over 80 years old at the time, naturally did not want to entirely redo one of his comics which had sold successfully internationally for decades and so the deal was off. He also talked about how much he likes The Four Immigrants Manga by Japanese immigrant Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, a comic from California in 1927 which is written in a sort of simultaneous Japanese and English (thus requiring knowledge of both to read properly), and is arguably the first existence of a comic book in America, as well as predating Tezuka’s debut by a number of years. After the panel, I got Schodt to autograph my copy of Dreamland Japan.

While I did not manage to score any one-on-one interviews, I did attend some very informative press conferences. There was a sudden press conference with Maruyama Masao (head of Madhouse), Ishiguro Noboru (director of Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes), Kikukawa Yukio (producer of Legend of the Galactic Heroes), and Matsubara Hidenori (character designer for the Ah! My Goddess anime), which started off with Ishiguro and Maruyama deciding to just sit in the audience and act like they were members of the press. At this point we had some fun interviewing the translator in the room, asking him throwaway questions such as, “Who are your translating influences?” and “What made you decide to become a translator?” When the press conference actually began, as it were, it turned out to be one of the most informative hours of my life. This press conference will most likely appear online in its entirety at some point so you don’t have to worry on that front, but there are a few highlights I’d like to mention.

From left to right: Kikukawa, Maruyama, translator, Ishiguro, Matsubara

One interesting set of answers was everyone’s response to the anime they would love to make if they could. Matsubara said he would love to adapt the Tezuka manga Dororo into an anime, and even has the support of Maruyama. Maruyama meanwhile said that there were so many he’d like to have made and that’s why he makes them. Ishiguro wants to make a story set in Tokyo in 1948 that he’s been wanting to make for 30 years and even has the entire story plotted in his head. Kikukawa’s dream anime is to adapt the Darkover series of science fiction novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Another interesting answer was one to my own question, where I asked Ishiguro to talk about his experiences with the deceased Nagahama Tadao, creator of Combattler V, Voltes V, and Daimos, as well as one of the directors of Rose of Versailles. Nagahama, as it turns out, was actually in puppet theater of all things before he became an anime director. Also, when working as a director he would act out every part, male and female, in the script to give a better idea to his staff as to how the story should go. Finally, because he had no talent for drawing, whenever he wanted to make corrections to a key animation (and he inspected every single one), he would write a detailed description on the back as to what needed changing. Nagahama is not terribly popular in the US even among old school fans so this was an amazing bit of information to find out. I personally cannot wait to ask Tomino this question at New York Anime Festival.

While the other press conference I attended with MELL was not nearly as informative, what I found was that MELL opened up to us much more than I would expect from a musical guest. We found out that, despite the heavy use of English in her songs she was never good at it in school, she had her first band at around the age of 15 or 16 where she sang for a college band, and that she mistook a guy for a girl due to his elaborate cosplay of a Victorian era character.

MELL was also one of the concerts I attended at Otakon, the other being the Tamura Naomi concert, and both were beyond my expectations. I am no music expert and my music vocabulary is entirely lacking, but I will say that MELL and her band knew very much how to perform and keep the audience in the mood. She sang songs from Black Lagoon and Rideback, and showed off why she’s well regarded among fans.

Sunday’s concert with Tamura Naomi showed how incredibly powerful her voice can be, as she demonstrated that the notes she hits in those opening themes she sings are notes she can hit in a live performance. Highlights of the concert include her own rendition of the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There, and her Rayearth songs, namely Yuzurenai Negai (1st series opening), with which she ended her concert.

I also held my own concert on Sunday where I sang the theme song to the Golgo 13 NES games. In case you didn’t know, the song actually has lyrics!

My dealer’s room experience was also a most pleasant one as I managed to get everything I was looking for, specifically Ogiue-related…merchandise… as well as the recently released Revoltech Souther from Hokuto no Ken, or, as he’s known on the box, “Thouzer.”

On the fandom side of things, while I did not pay much attention to cosplay I was glad to see a good variety of costumes. While you had your endless Sora from Kingdom Hearts and the general love for Naruto and Bleach you usually expect, I also got some pleasant surprises, such as a cosplay of Kitarou and Nekomusume from Gegege no Kitarou.

Something I did not approve of was the near-total lack of Tainaka Ritsu when it came to K-On! cosplay. I like Mio too and all, but the ratio of Mio to Ritsu was unacceptable. I’m just saying.

The fan panels I attended were all well-run and had people who at least to some extent knew what they were talking about. The Neo-Shounen panel run by Daryl Surat succeeded in its goal of showing how Shounen as a concept changed over the years, mainly in its desire to appeal to both male and female readers, and the Lost in Translation panel was a good beginner’s panel for those interested in seeing some of the difficulties of translating from Japanese to English. The Mecha Appreciation Panel had knowledgeable panelists, but the format was a little haphazard and could have used some focus. If you ran this panel, I was the one who said “King J-Der” for coolest Gaogaigar robot.

I also went to the Anime Recruitment panel by the Reverse Thieves, which provided very good advice for how to get people into anime without scaring them off, offering tips such as, “If your first attempt fails, don’t press the issue. Instead, give them time to cool off, like three weeks or however long it takes.” I’ve spoken before on how difficult I find recommending anime to be, so I will take this advice to heart.

I had a personally vested interest in attending the Otaku TV and Genshiken panels, both run by Viga the Otagal, and was curious as to how these panels would go. Overall, they did a good job of showing the audience what these shows are all about, though I think Viga was a little too spoiler-friendly and it could scare off people who would want to see these series otherwise. Still, I was very glad to see such significant attendance for Genshiken-related panels. After the Genshiken panel, someone in the audience actually greeted me as a reader of Ogiue Maniax and asked to take my picture. Whoever you are, that made my day and I thank you.

Viga said in her Genshiken panel that she believes “The Psychology of Ogiue” would provide enough material for an entire panel, and I am inclined to agree. Keep on the lookout for that.

Overall, I have no serious complaints about Otakon this year, as I feel that the events I would have complained about I simply did not attend, such as the apparently misleading title of the “Sailor Moon’s Influence on Hentai” panel. The fact that Daryl Surat’s Anime’s Craziest Deaths got shut down because no one actually knew what Apocalypse Zero was disappointing, but I’m sure both sides will know how to better handle it next year. As a member of the Otakon press, I also would have felt better if I was told in advance that I would not be getting any interviews, rather than being left dangling. However, because this year’s Otakon was so packed with activities and intriguing and intelligent guests, I can say that this was one of my finest convention experiences, and everyone I traveled to Otakon and back with agreed wholeheartedly.