At this point, having gone to Otakon for the past four years, I feel it safe to call myself an Otakon veteran to some degree. In terms of what to expect, this year didn’t feel that different from all the previous times I went, but a lot of things have happened to me over the past year or so, makes me think I’ll reflect back on Otakon 2010 particularly fondly.

Ogiue Maniax’s Panelist Debut

Otakon 2010, from July 30th to August 1st, was the first time that I came to the convention as a panelist. And I had two to boot!  It may have been obvious from all the posts I made about panel preparations, but I really wanted to do a good job and I really wanted people to come to the panels, so up until I finished both of them, I had been very nervous.

The mahjong panel, titled “Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You” was a collaboration between me and Sub over at Subatomic Brainfreeze. With a 9:30am Friday timeslot when a good portion of the con hadn’t even been registered, and a fairly obscure topic like mahjong, we were both worried that our panel attendance would amount to our friends and acquaintances, and while we would have been glad to teach them about mahjong, our real goal was to reach those people who were only barely familiar with mahjong anime. Fortunately, the turnout was better than we had ever expected, and while I am to understand that our panel room was the smallest of the bunch, we still managed to pretty much fill the whole room, getting approximately 160 people to listen to us talk about an old Chinese tile game and the way it works in Japanese cartoons.

The Riichi panel itself also went far better than we expected. Knowing how much information there was to convey despite the fact that we had already decided to cut large amounts of information, we had practiced the panel on multiple occasions, barely finishing on time. But while our practice sessions felt kind of strange and awkward, the actual panel itself had an amazing energy to it. Both Sub and I were playing to our strengths, playing off of each other, and we managed to give all of the information we wanted to while also keeping the audience entertained. We even finished early and had a good amount of time for questions! From this experience, I have learned that Sub and I make a good paneling team and I look forward to the next opportunity we have to do a panel together.

By the way, for those of you who were at the mahjong panel but were unable to copy down the URL for the additional mahjong resources, here it is.

My second panel was also on Friday, but at the opposite end of the day at 11pm. Entitled “Portrait of a Fujoshi: The Psychology of Ogiue Chika,” this joint effort between myself and Viga the Otagal was in many ways a culmination of what I had been doing on this blog. Last year, Viga challenged me to do a panel all about Ogiue, and that’s how we ended up on stage.

I understoood well that even if a good portion of the convention was into yaoi and Hetalia and the like that they would not be interested in deep character analysis, so while the panel attendance wasn’t as high as it was for the mahjong panel, it was still quite impressive, and once again we managed to play off the energy of the audience and each other and give a good presentation, with me giving a more subdued approach. Also, once again, where practice netted us a panel that had about 10 minutes worth of Q&A, the actual thing gave us three times the amount. While I wish we had prepared more, I think we did a good job of expressing what makes Ogiue such a great character and why we connect so well to her (and why you should too!).

When I think about it, doing a panel on a single character is unusually rare at an anime con. You have panels about Evangelion, but never is it a panel specifically about Ayanami Rei. I hope we can start a trend at anime cons, as I think it’s a worthwhile way of running things.

I don’t know if any video recordings are available so I apologize for those of you who were unable to attend but wanted to see them. I also want to say thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who attended my panels. I hope you enjoyed them.

Now having panels at both extremes of the day has its drawbacks, but it also had the great benefit of avoiding conflict with the majority of events, thus freeing up the rest of the con for me. As is the case with every year, my primary mode of entertainment at Otakon is the panels, both industry and fan. Fortunately or unfortunately however, I found that there was still too many entertaining things crammed into a single weekend and I still had to sacrifice one panel for another.

Industry Panels

In terms of guests, I was not looking forward particularly to any of them this year, but I’m glad I attended the Q&A’s that I did as all of them provided incredible insight into the industry, with Mitsuya Yuji’s panel perhaps being the most informative of all. Attending his Friday panel, the voice acting veteran told us how voice acting became a “profession” rather than a side job for dramatic actors and how voice acting should come from the entire body and not just the voice. He also talked about how in the old days, if you flubbed a line, rewinding the film reel and readjusting everything was a huge pain, so mistakes were a big deal.

Throughout the panel, Mitsuya showed us what it was to truly be a voice actor, from passionate yells (he delivered a passionate “CHOUDENJI SPIIIIIIN” on more than one occasion) to voice changes to even the change in jobs given to you as you age and can no longer be the handsome male lead. Also, seeing as his debut voice acting role was as Hyouma, the main character of Combattler V, I asked him the question I had asked of Macross director Ishiguro and Gundam creator Tomino: What were your experiences with legendary anime director Nagahama Tadao?

Mitsuya gave us the impression that Nagahama was an incredibly passionate man. Gentle and understanding, he took his role as director very seriously and pushed Mitsuya to improve his performance. Mitsuya had originally tried out for both the lead Hyouma and the rival Garuda, and Nagahama made him redo his Garuda takes ten times. When asked if this was typical of a mere audition, everyone said that this was highly unusual. Mitsuya would later find out that all of this, from the audition to the strict voice sessions, were all signs of the fact that Nagahama had seen the amazing potential Mitsuya had and wished to nurture it into something greater.

Maruyama Masao was back again this year. The head producer over at Studio Madhouse, in my opinion the best anime studio there is, Maruyama is a staple of Otakon, but despite the fact that he comes pretty much every year, I look forward to it every time. This year we finally learned that Redline, the series he had been working on for six years which he also mentioned at numerous past Otakons, is finally getting a theatrical release in October, though its director also passed away before it could debut. Redline is  high-intensity anime, resembling the most elaborate portrayal of F-Zero ever, and Maruyama claims it will be the last truly hand-drawn anime ever.

Otakon was also the American debut of Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW, a feature-length film from the animation team which brought us Read or Die and Kamichu. As such, the creators were also there at Otakon, and managed to have an informative Q&A session. I gave a question targeting mainly Ishihama, the character designer, asking if he felt there is a trend in anime films to move towards simpler character designs which lend themselves towards looser and more whimsical animation. Ishihama responded that he believed there is indeed such a trend, but that there is also a counter-trend present, where more detailed, less fluid animations are also becoming popular.

As for Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW itself, the movie is quite fun but is too unfocused. The story of kids who travel into outer space in a way reminiscent of Galaxy Express 999, the film had opened up many good directions the story could have gone but ended not taking very many of them and losing a good deal of its potential. The film also dragged on after a while in a way where even the expertly animated sequences and wonderful set of aliens felt less exciting overall. At the Q&A session, we learned that this was the team’s first feature-length work, and in hindsight it really showed.

The only American industry panel I ended up attending was the Vertical Inc. panel with Ed Chavez and Peepo Choo author Felipe Smith. Ed, responsible for all of those Vertical Vednesdays I keep talking about on the blog, is about the most personable marketing guy in manga. While giving hints at interesting new titles coming in the future (including another Tezuka title), he also showed that he has some strong opinions on manga, stating that Vertical would not license Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou because “I don’t like it.”

Fan Panels

I had a lot of fun with the fan panels I attended, which mainly focused on exploring elements of anime and manga but I also attended some fun ones too. In the “elements” category there were three panels:  “You Don’t Like Moe and Here’s Why,” “The Changing Faces of Anime,” and “The Life and Times of Akiyuki Shinbo.” In the “fun” category, there was Anime World Order‘s “10 11 Anime You’ve Never Heard of But Must See,” the “Mecha Fan Panel,” and Megaman in Anime and Manga.”

The moe panel focused on the concept as a phenomenon and the meanings it gains as it has become a part of the industry itelf. It took a while to get off the ground but eventually found its footing, and the best advice I can give to the panelists is that more can be done to bridge the gap between what they are talking about and what the audience understands.

The Changing Faces of Anime panel, run by Evan Minto of Ani-Gamers, was a literal look at faces in anime, discussing changes in character designs over the years. It was a good panel which generated even better discussion, and it’s a difficult topic to tackle in only an hour.

The Shinbo panel, presented by wildarmsheero, showed that he had clearly done his research on the eccentric director and took a look at all the stylistic elements Shinbo loves to employ in his works. It ran a big long, forcing the Q&A session to be cut.

The “Must-See Anime” panel was very entertaining, though it was focused less on recommending good shows to anime fans and more about showing amazingly obscure anime that were difficult to obtain and had a lot of excitement value (but could still be good shows). I know that I’m going to track down Natsuki Crisis and other titles. Also, while obviously the clips themselves say a lot, it also doesn’t always convey some of the more overarching positives of a title, so more talking might be a good idea.

The Mecha Fan and Megaman panels meanwhile were fairly similar, giving the history of mecha and Megaman in Japanese graphic fiction. I won an old issue of Nintendo Power at the Megaman panel, and enjoyed the liveliness of the mecha panel, but I think that both could benefit greatly from delving even more into their topics. The Megaman panel also suffered from everyone reading from their scripts too much. It was very obvious that everyone at the panel was an expert in the field of Megamen, and I think removing the script would have made it more personable. On the other hand, it also showed the best Rockman.exe opening, so it’s all good.

Entertainment

While neither was truly the start or the end of the convention, I find that the opening ceremony and the Home Made Kazoku concert act as nice bookends to the con proper, mainly because of the positive impression Home Made Kazoku made on the audience at the former, which led to great anticipation about their performance for the latter. A hip hop-oriented Japanese group, their music and live performance was really infectious, and I think that music-wise it was a great success for Otakon this year, especially when I found out that the shamisen-playing Yoshida brothers managed to fill the concert area so tightly as to nearly be a fire hazard.

Speaking of fire hazards, the talk of the town was clearly the fire alarm Saturday Afternoon which forced all of the nearly 30,000 attendees to evacuate the Baltimore Convention Center. Given the general immaturity of the con crowd (including whoever actually pulled the fire alarm), I was pleasantly surprised to see people doing the right thing in the even of the fire: leave in a calm and orderly manner. Even the most rambunctious anime teen knows not to mess with this sort of thing, which brings a smile to my face.

Food and Friends

But going to a con isn’t just about the anime or the guests, it’s about meeting people and having a great time doing so. The con begins on Friday, but the con experience truly begins the Thursday before, from the point the bus arrives, and only really ends when we get back home. This year’s Otakon featured the return of glorious Brazilian Buffet, being amazed at the evergreen awfulness of G-Saviour while watching it in the hotel room, large gatherings with people relaxing and joking about, and amazingly deep discussions about everything anime and manga.

As I rode the bus home with my travel companions, we discussed for about four hours straight the very nature of enjoying anime and manga, as well as their qualities as creative forms of expression, and it made me realize just how much better conventions are when you add the human element to it.

I love it, and love makes Otakon better, I can guarantee you that.

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