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Ogiue Maniax is returning to Otakon in Baltimore this year to cover the biggest anime convention on the east coast and to have some fun. My schedule isn’t set it stone, so there’s probably not much point in saying where I maybe might sort of be, but there’s one place you’ll definitely be able to find me:

GREAT UGLY MANGA

Sunday July 26

10:15-11:15am, Panel 3

Some manga are praised for how gorgeous they look, while others are beloved in spite of their drawings, but what about those manga that are made BETTER by the awfulness of their artwork? Join Carl from the Ogiue Maniax blog and Ed Chavez as we look at some of the best and most entertaining ugly manga out there, and see why there’s no irony when we say that these manga are great.

 

Intro

Six years ago, I attended my very first AnimeNext and had a hell of an experience. Six years later I returned to the Somerset, NJ convention, only to find out that it’s the very last AnimeNext before it moves to Atlantic City in 2016. I feel glad that I could see it one last time before the big move!

Overview

AnimeNext in 2009 was well-populated, but it’s amazing how much it’s grown since then. Last time I went, I stayed at the Somerset Bridgewater Hotel in order to be close to the convention. This time around, it was part of the convention. As expressed to me by both my friends with whom I traveled and by AnimeNext staff, the convention had simply outgrown its space, necessitating the move to a more spacious location. Thankfully, aside from a terribly hot and humid first day, the weather was surprisingly manageable, which made the outdoor space between the three locations (Bridgewater, Double Tree, Garden State Exhibit Center) a nice reprieve between events.

Events

This year I helped out Waku Waku +NYC, an upcoming New York anime con this August 29-30, which made it so that I couldn’t attend quite as many panels and events as I normally would. However, the ones I did see where all quite interesting. The Penguindrum panel by the Reverse Thieves showed how the train imagery of the series incorporated both classic Japanese children’s literature and traumatic real world events. Land of Obscusion‘s “Greatest Anime We Never Got” told fans to find Sexy Commando, which I’m all for. The FLOW concert was fantastic, and I found myself singing along to the first Eureka Seven opening, even though I swore I didn’t know the lyrics. I even got them to autograph my anime DVD box set, alongside the Satou Dai signature I obtained back in 2009, not long after I attended AnimeNext.

Studio Trigger

Speaking of autographs, the highlight of the convention had to be Studio Trigger, creators of Inferno CopNinja Slayer, and Kill la Kill. I had heard how fantastic they were as guests last year, and so I had to speak with them. In addition to getting their autographs (Koyama Shigeto’s on Eureka Seven with a little Nirvash Spec3 sketch), most of the rest of the staff’s on Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, I also joined in on their press conference and attended their 2-hour panel on Saturday evening. One thing that was clear from the press conference and the autograph session was that the people at trigger loved Panty & Stocking and sincerely wish they could make more.

The press conference itself was brief but amazing. At one point, Koyama introduced himself in Japanese as the designer on Inferno Cop, to which the translator “assisted” him by interpreting his line as “designer on Big Hero 6” (which is true). They explained how Inferno Cop actually came out of a commission by Google of all things, which is made all the more surprising by how much money Google is known to have and how little money and effort was placed into Inferno Cop. This isn’t a knock at Trigger, as they themselves mentioned that they set a rule that they could only spend two hours a week on Inferno Cop, which, according to Koyama again is a very original series about a hero of justice with a flaming skull that is 100% original in every original way, really and truly. They also mentioned how their original idea was the story of an ordinary guy in a superhero academy, which they would’ve called Superson, except that it was a “crappy anime,” in their words.

As a final question at the press conference, I asked Studio Trigger about one of their more obscure works, Turning Girls, or more specifically how it came to be. The story of its creation turns out to be one of the greatest tales ever brought forth by humankind.

Turning Girls, which is named so because it’s about girls who are about to turn 30 and have hit a transitional point in their lives, is created and produced by the non-animator female staff of Studo Trigger. Essentially, they wanted to see how people with no experience in animation would make an anime. Though the series did not attract much of an audience abroad, the sponsor who asked them to do it in the first place keeps asking for more, against their expectations. During the Q&A session at their panel, I casually commented that they should produce more Turning Girls as well, to which they responded with “NO” in English. Also, it’s important to note that all of the girls are apparently based on the staff members themselves, and that one of them indeed carries shades of Kaerun, the highly abrasive aspiring idol from Turning Girls.

If there’s one major highlight of the entirety of AnimeNext, however, it has to be the return of Inferno Cop. This wasn’t just any episode of Inferno Cop, though. It was, in fact, an Inferno Cop x Little Witch Academia crossover. Sucy Manbavaran made an appearance in the episode while drawn (and voiced!) in the signature Inferno Cop style. While they showed a number of animated shorts created by the staff, this had to take the cake.

Thanks to Ani-Gamers and All Fiction for asking good questions at the press conference, and to Ani-Gamers in particular for providing the audio.

My Panels

I ran two panels at AnimeNext alongside my friend Alain from the Reverse Thieves. These were “Precure Party” and “Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha.” The first covered the history of the immensely successful Precure franchise, which we might rename if we ever bring it back to make sure that people know that Precure is a mahou shoujo series. The second was about giant robot anime that focused heavily on romance and romantic relationships, taking us through a strange path from Toushou Daimos all the way to today.

If you attended either panel, thank you. The turn-out was somewhat small though I suspect that the inconvenience of getting to the Somerset Bridgewater where the panels were both held played a role. I definitely enjoyed running the panels, including the extra time we had to show fun clips for the audience at the end of the robot panel. I feel glad to be able to talk about two of my great loves, magical girls and giant robots, all in the same weekend.

Criticism

Aside from the location issues, which AnimeNext has been well aware of for years now, my only real complaint was that often the staff and volunteers weren’t much help. This isn’t painting all of the volunteers with the same brush, but on multiple occasions I had asked questions (best way to get to a location, where to line up for FLOW autographs), only to receive the response of “I don’t know.” Sometimes it was “I don’t know, let me check,” only for the volunteer to disappear into the aether never to return. Of course, a volunteer is a non-paid position, and I’m sure many of them were new, but after the 5th time it started to grate on my nerves. We all have to start somewhere, though!

Food

As my friends last year came back from AnimeNext, all I heard about was the gloriousness of the hot dogs at Destination Dogs. Seeing as AnimeNext was leaving the area after this year, it was a must-try place for me. I ordered the Boston (beef frank, baked beans, cole slaw), the Swede-Dreams (bratwurst, mashed potatoes, gravy), and the Charles Dog Gaulle (duck sausage, duck confit, foie gras). It’s tough for me to decide which one I like more, the Swedish dog or the French one, but the redundant duck action and the delicious yet controversial foie gras (which I had for the first time!) makes the latter feel more special. Will there be an adequate replacement for Destination Dogs in Atlantic City, or will we be doomed to always pine after it?

Cosplay

I usually leave cosplay for last in these con reports just so I can segue into a large cosplay image dump, but this time around I think it’s important. For one thing, this is literally the first time I’ve seen Precure cosplay on the East Coast! For a series that is over 11 years old and outperforms things like Sailor Moon, it is a shock that more people don’t know Precure. That’s why we threw the panel.

Other big trends were Kill la Kill, due in no small part to the presence of Studio Trigger, and Love Live!  As a fan of the Love Lives, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many μ’s copsplayers around. Quite intelligently, many of them wore summer-centric costumes to fight the heat. The most popular by far was Kotori, followed by Nico. Sadly there was only one Hanayo cosplayer I could find, but I’m grateful that she had the wisdom and unbeatable sense of taste to pick the best one.

So, see you in Atlantic City?

How do you make a convention or event feel big and small at the same time? There’s a combination of intent and circumstances at work, including how it looks, to how easily people can move around, to how interactive both fans and guests are. Some things are simply out of a convention’s control, and even the idea of “massive yet humble” can be a double-edged sword. For better or worse, this is what Special Edition NYC felt like. Set at a warehouse (or something like that) that gave the event an industrial feel that harkened back to the days of comics as less of a mainstream presence, yet still on some level undeniably a different world compared to those times.

Special Edition NYC is an event run by Reed Pop, the people behind the massive New York Comic Con. According to official material, the point of Special Edition is to focus on the comics themselves, rather than the movies, the TV shows, and all of the media and publicity that has come from the comics. Away from the massive signage labeling entities as “DC, Marvel, or other,” (though at this point do they really need it give the iconic nature of their characters), it was interesting to be in an environment where artists didn’t really have to associate themselves too much with one company or identity. After all, many artists or writers do both independent and company work at one point or another, and this allows attendees and creators to be about the people themselves. It’s a nice feeling.

Because I was away in Europe for so long, and because I primarily devote my increasingly scarce free time to manga and anime, I have felt something of a disconnect with American comics. While I can’t ever totally remedy it, I did approach Special Edition both with a desire to learn more and perhaps break some of my lingering preconceptions about American comics while still aware of the fact that superheroes are less an actual dominant force in American comics and more just woven into the fabric of American culture that it’s what people often mentally default to. To that effect, I made two purchases. Battle Bug by Joven Tolentino, Aleksis Shi, Sekou Noel, and Dante Crayon from Hijack Press is a loving send-up of the localization of Kamen Rider Black into Masked RiderEmily and the Strangers: Breaking the Record by Rob Reger, Mariah Huehner, and Cat Farris from Dark Horse Comics is the sequel to Emily the Strange, and about trying to start a new band with an occult guitar. It has has a cute, vibrant style I really enjoy. I also attended the Image Comics panel run by David Brothers, and I find it amazing that his genuine passion for comics motivates people to find out more. It’s the kind of marketing I want to see more of.

There are two criticisms I have for Special Edition NYC, one more from what friends and other fellow attendees informed me, and one more personal. First, many people went to Special Edition just for the chance to purchase a ticket to this year’s New York Comic Con, and had to line up for hours and hours. While this is on some level inevitable, I heard that the people running the line sold tickets at an awfully slow rate, exacerbating the situation. Second, the ventilation at the venue was significantly less than ideal. Towards the back of the place, I could actually feel myself getting light-headed. At first, I thought it was due to a lack of sleep or perhaps an illness coming on, but as soon as I stepped outside it went away. I really hope they fix that problem, if only because it prevents people from being able to discover more.

I’d definitely like to come back next year, and it’ll be interesting to see if it grows further. I’ve heard that last year the event was sparsely attended, but this year there was a clear and obvious population increase. The spirit to focus on the comics themselves is quite welcome in a world where comics are becoming in a way more about movies than actual sequential art.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Also, if you’ve been looking for an event to fill the hole left by the absence of New York Anime Festival, check out Waku Waku +NYC.

 

After a five year hiatus due mostly to not be in the United States, I am making my triumphant return to AnimeNext in Somerset, NJ from June 12-14. I also have two panels I’ll be running alongside the Reverse Thieves’ Alain.

Precure Party

Friday 2:15pm -3:15pm BW Panel 6

We’ll be talking about the crazy enormous Precure franchise that’s now 11 years old and even more popular than Sailor Moon ever was in Japan. Whether you’ve never heard of Precure or you’re a die-hard fan, we think you’ll have a great time seeing magical girls punch monsters in the face.

 

Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha

Sunday 11:15-12:15pm BW Panel 6

Love triangles and star-crossed lovers are a common trope of giant robot anime, but this panel focuses on the series where romance is of central importance to the story. See how love has evolved over time in the world of mecha. We’ll be featuring shows such as Macross, Aquarion, and more!

 

Also, I’ll definitely be at this panel if you want to chat in person

 

Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop, and [Redacted] with Studio TRIGGER

Saturday 9pm-11pm Panel 1

 

See you there! I hope we can all sing the Inferno Cop theme together. Also, if you’re cosplaying Fight Club Mako, I’ll give you a high-five.

New York City Anime/Japanese Pop Culture Festival Waku Waku +NYC recently announced the appearance of Inafune Keiji as a special guest, known for his work on Mega Man and Mighty No. 9, and I got the opportunity to write a piece on Inafune.

ALSO IF YOU BUY A VIP PASS BY 11:59PM EST ON JUNE 7TH YOU’LL BE GUARANTEED TO MEET INAFUNE

A lot of people probably know his story already, and if you’ve followed Ogiue Maniax over the years, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Mega Man and Inafune, whether it’s analyzing the sprites in terms of their usage of black pixels, creating my own Robot Masters, or creating a guide on how to use Mega Man in Super Smash Bros. I pledged to the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter almost as soon as I could.

I know it’s not the first time he’s been to the US, but if you’re on the east coast especially, I think it’s worth it to come meet Inafune in person.

A lot of things have happened over the past month at (or around) Ogiue Maniax. Observant folks might have noticed that I’ve started linking to other posts on this blog. That’s because I’ve started contributing to the social media for an upcoming convention in New York City, Waku Waku +NYC, and this includes writing blog posts for them. I hope you enjoy the extra material, as while they’re not quite the same as what I’d normally write for Ogiue Maniax, they’re still intended to be fun, informative, and promote discussion.

However, if you look at the actual Patreon page, I don’t include those extra blog posts in my creations, as I believe it’s not quite fair to bolster my numbers like that when it’s all content supported by another organization not explicitly for Ogiue Maniax. Readers, do you agree, or would you rather see everything I make go on there?

This month’s special sponsors are:

Ko Ransom

Alex

Johnny Trovato

Anonymous

May was actually the first month where I wrote two sponsored posts:

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Holograms (At Least Not All the Time): Voca Nico Night

An Acquired Taste that Gets Better with Time: Mysterious Joker

I definitely enjoyed writing them, and they got me to look more into topics I’ve had only passing familiarity with, and if you like what you see, why not consider becoming a sponsor? At $30 a month you can request topics as well.

I’m also still putting consideration into a new sponsor level, which is to have Skype conversations with me every week, and a milestone, which will involve me writing a negative review of Genshiken just for fun. The goal would not be to exaggerate, but to fairly state the flaws of my favorite series. What do you think? Would that be fun?

I’ve written a blog post on Sailor Moon as my introduction to Japanese food over at the Waku Waku +NYC official blog. If you’re interested in me waxing nostalgic and rambling the way you expect out of Ogiue Maniax, take a look.

Sailor Moon Was My Gateway into Japanese Food

I’ll be a regular contributor to the Waku Waku +NYC blog from now on, so look forward to more posts from there in the future. As always, I will continue to devote myself to Ogiue Maniax as well.

If you’re curious, Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese popular culture festival from August 29-30 in Brooklyn, NY. Unlike a lot of anime cons and Japanese events, this one looks to more thoroughly integrate food with Japanese anime, games, fashion, etc. If you’re even half as interested in eating and watching anime as I am, it might be worth your while.

New York Comic Con 2014 was my first in five years. I wasn’t around for the dissolution and complete integration of New York Anime Festival. I did not see the claustrophobia-inducing crowds created by people sneaking in that nearly drove some of my friends to never, ever go back. I was not around as the aging Jacob Javits Center itself expanded as best as it could to account for not only this convention but others as well. My experience with NYCC 2014 is almost that of a time traveler, as what I have to mainly compare it to is an old existence, before this convention was being labeled as the San Diego Comic-Con of the east coast.

As much as a convention should be about being a magical and informative experience where fans connect to the media they love as well as to their peers, the first thing worth mentioning about NYCC 2014 is its use of RFID badges. I was informed of their inaugural usage last year, but seeing them in action made me fully aware of the boon they provide to both the convention goers themselves and the staff running the entire thing. Essentially, attendees must use a card to check in and check out of the convention area, which not only cuts down on the number of people who shouldn’t be there but means that there are plenty of opportunities to actually relax and take in the con experience. Just having a space that is outside the convention building itself but still part of NYCC was so beneficial, as it allowed attendees to catch some fresh air if they needed it. Though I didn’t know anyone personally who had difficulty handling large crowds (and the NYCC attendance population is around a staggering 100,000), I suspect having not only the front entrance but other outside spots may have been a life saver for some.

Of course, all of this is not to say that New York Comic Con 2014 was neither magical nor informative, as I found it struck a fine balance as a convention of industries, artists, and fans in terms of activities and opportunities. New York Comic Con is a for-profit venture, designed to make money and to benefit all of those who take part in it on the industry. For one thing this means greater industry presence in both the panels and the showroom floor, and fewer fan panels where enthusiasts can analyze and discuss particular interesting angles of the things they love. However, as much as I’m used to industry panels being fairly by the numbers affairs about shilling products (not that there’s anything wrong with it), at NYCC these panels, although different from fan-run events, still carried with them a lot more meta-discussion of the industry and what it means to be “in” comics. You have to expect the sales pitch to some degree, but it was rarely much of an issue.

For example, I attended a couple of panels about women in comics (be they characters or creators or fans or anything else), and it involved industry professionals of all sorts who didn’t necessarily all agree with each other discussing an important topic in a way that encouraged further conversation instead of necessarily having as their primary agenda the sales of their own products. In the “Women of Color in Comics” panel, for instance, you had both industry veterans and independent creators. One veteran emphasized the idea that if you want to change how the big companies see women, you have to know how to communicate in their language, bring portfolios that old white men would understand, while some of the freelance artists stressed the importance of being able to work for yourself to create the characters you want.

The women in comics panels were illuminating and informative overall, though I do have one criticism for a prevailing sentiment I saw: when asked about how to deal with men who aren’t even aware that there is sexism and discrimination in the industry and its fandom, the answer I saw most often was “who needs those guys, forget them.” I understand that dealing with ignorance getting asked “what sexism?” for the 1000th time is a trying, perhaps soul-draining experience, but I do think that it’s still a group of people who need to be addressed and who might honestly just not know.

It’s actually quite impressive how supportive of female fans and creators New York Comic Con was. In addition to the panels, there were large “Cosplay is Not Consent” signs that were noticeable but not terribly intrusive which aimed to prevent sexual harassment of cosplayers by appealing to the human brain’s ability to think ahead. I hear it was largely effective, though without context I do wonder if some people thought that the signs were saying that cosplaying was not okay.

Maybe this has to do with the number of artists, writers, and creators as guests instead of marketing folks, but in a lot of the panels I attended I felt that the audience was let in on their creative processes at least to some extent. Obviously they’re not taking advice from attendees, but it seemed like the answers reflected the personalities and styles of those who gave them. Notably, when manga artist Obata Takeshi (Death NoteHikaru no Go) spoke, it was clear that he was not a people person, and was unaccustomed to the spotlight. When he explained how he worked, his answers were muddled like so many other artists I’ve met. In contrast, at one of the Image panels, Matt Fraction could talk up a storm and really present the job of comics writer as something not so much glamorous but intense and personal. While obviously I can’t agree with their sentiments, seeing the panelists at the European Comics Artists panel thinly veil their displeasure towards manga was also similarly revealing.

Before going to the con, I received some useful advice for attending panels: always line up an hour beforehand. It doesn’t matter how small a crowd you think a panel is going to get, because more likely than not you’ll be on the wrong end if you don’t play it safe. Bizarrely, the lines felt rather relaxing. They were times to rest one’s feet, to chit-chat with friends and sometimes strangers, and in my case to play against other people in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. I matched my Mega Man against others and had an exciting time. More importantly, though, the fact that the lines were able to remain these fairly civil affairs (aside from The Walking Dead panel according to what I heard at con feedback) indicates how effective this year’s organization was. At Otakon one year, I had a friend from England who found it mind-boggling that a place could be so bad at queueing. While I don’t know if NYCC could hold up to his superior English line standards either, I think it would have at least gotten a higher grade.

Overall, what might be the strangest thing about my NYCC 2014 experience is that I expected a rushed, frantic time where I would feel overwhelmed to the point of some bizarre euphoria. At times, coming down the escalator and seeing the absolute mob of people in the main lobby made it seem as if I were about to descend into a pit of madness. However, what I actually got was a relaxed, comfortable experience learning about the things I love and trying my best not to spend all of my money. Now if only I didn’t have to buy four 1-day tickets because all of the 3-day tickets sold out in like two minutes, then it would’ve been a lot better.

To conclude, here are some of my convention highlights.

  • Attending my first Avatar (Legend of Korra) panel only to realize that it might be the last Avatar panel ever.
  • Getting Obata Takeshi’s autograph on Volume 1 of Hikaru no Go.
  • Obata would have liked to draw Otter no.11 as an actual manga.
  • Meeting at last my long-time internet friend David Brothers.
  • Asking Juanjo Guarnido (author of Blacksad) about whether the extremely popular comics that the Franco dictatorship in Spain used as propaganda still had any influence today (his answer was no).
  • Being like, maybe one of two people to cheer for Tribe Cool Crew at the Sunrise Panel. I yelled so loudly one of the panelists immediately looked at me. Also, watch Tribe Cool Crew. My review of it is pending.
  • TURN A GUNDAM LICENSED (also First Gundam). I was actually repeating Turn A Gundam like it was a mantra, as if I were trying to cast a magic spell. I guess it worked?
  • Seeing all of the animators’ demo reels at the Kakehashi Project (The Bridge for Tomorrow) panel. A lot of the work reminded me of the more visceral art that often appeals to me yet is rarely found in anime. I especially liked the work of Shiroki Saori.
  • Watching the US premiere of the Kill la Kill Episode 25 OVA. It was a great revisit of the series, and in one brief moment during one of Mako’s speeches I swear she transforms into Baron Ashura from Mazinger Z.
  • Playing all that Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS with people.

Tomorrow is the start of New York Comic Con 2014, and I for one am pretty excited. Though I’ve attended NYCC in the past, it’s actually been five years since I was last able to attend, and I’ve heard from people that it’s changed a lot. Heck, people over the past couple of years have been talking about how it rivals San Diego Comic Con now, and that is certainly not the convention I left back in 2009.

I know that at a con this big I won’t be able to do everything I want, but here’s some stuff I’m considering.

Thursday

Walt Disney Studios Tomorrowland and Walt Disney Animation Studios Big Hero 6. 1-2:30pm, Main Stage 1-D

Comics – What We’ve Lost, What’s Ahead. 2:15-3pm, 1A01

Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra: Book 4. 5:15-6:15pm, Empire Stage 1-E

 

Friday

“Marry, Do or Kill?” What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics? 11:15am-12pm, 1A05

Voltron: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Presented by Perfect Square. 2-2:45pm, 1A21

Weekly Shonen Jump Presents: Takeshi Obata. 5-5:45pm, 1A10

CBLDF: The Battle of New York – Creativity, Censorship & the Comics Code. 6-6:45pm, 1A18

 

Saturday

Sunrise Official Panel. 1-1:45pm, 1A21

The Mary Sue Presents – Strong Female Characters: The Women Shining in Geek Media. 1:15-2pm, 1A01 (Conflicts with above)

Vertical Manga 2014. 5:15pm-6pm, 1A14

Kill la Kill Episode 25. 8:15-10pm, 1A06

 

Sunday

Image Comics: I is for Inventive. 12-12:45pm, 1A10

Kakehashi Project – New Japanese Animation Talent. 1-1:45pm, 1A21

Kodansha Comics. 2-2:45pm, 1A18

The Mary Sue Presents – All on the Table. 3-3:45pm, 1A21

otakon2014-nicohanayo

General

Fortune and misfortune came in roughly equal parts at this year’s Otakon, as the best weather in years for the convention mainly served to provide some reprieve for the long and grueling ticket line. Some technical difficulties forced the registration to extend all the way until Friday at 4pm (registration began Thursday). Being press I did not have to deal with this myself, so I don’t want it to sound like I am speaking entirely from personal experience, but I did accompany a couple of friends as they moved through what was a seemingly unending parade of otaku before giving up at roughly the 2-hour mark and waiting for the next day.

otakon2014-preregline

Some panel room shuffling this year meant that panels could hold larger audiences, while little details like dividers helped traffic flow along. The bottleneck sky bridge between the Baltimore Convention Center and the Hilton could still get backed up at times, but not quite as much as last year. Again, the weather was a major boon as it meant that even if certain parts of the con got jammed, it was a simple matter of leaving the con center and entering at a different point. Unfortunately, many of the presentations also had tech issues that mostly seemed to stem from the Otakon equipment rather than presenters’ laptops and such. However, Otakon smartly implemented 15-minute breaks between panels, which gave people time to set up and mostly work through any problems, and even if things still went awry it at least only ate into their time somewhat.

Once people actually got into the convention though, Otakon turned out for the most part to be as great as ever.

Industry Panels

This year, due to still recovering from jetlag, I took a more relaxed pace compared to previous Otakons. Having no panels to run for myself made this easier, and while the guests were good, none of them were must-see for me. Of course, even simply picking and choosing means that there are still a number of interesting panels. The best industry panels this year had to be the Q&As with director Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle), Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao, founder and former producer of the anime studio MADHouse and current founder of MAPPA (Kids on the Slope, Teekyuu), and character designer/animator Matsubara Hidenori. Their new project is a film adaptation of the manga In this Corner of the World (previously released on JManga as To All Corners of the World) by Kouno Fumiyo, about a young girl living in Hiroshima during World War II. Kouno previously received critical acclaim over the similarly themed Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, and having read In This Corner of the World myself, I have to say that I am extremely looking forward to this project.

otakon2014-katabuchi

I managed to ask a couple of questions of Katabuchi. One had to do with some criticism of Kouno’s work I’ve seen in the past, where people accused her of not being directly critical enough of the Second World War and issues such as Japan’s militarism at the time. While it’s clear upon reading the manga that the work is actually quite critical and is merely subtle in its approach, I wanted to know if 1) they were aware of this criticism 2) they were prepared to address it. Katabuchi’s response was quite satisfying in this regard, as he himself gave an example of how the original manga does portray a larger world with many political issues but through the eyes of a young girl who isn’t necessarily aware of everything around her but is nonetheless affected by it in her everyday life.

In particular, Katabuchi pointed out how the main character’s desire for a yo-yo is actually a reference to the fact that yo-yos had become popular in Japan at the time, but the manga does not bother to mention this because a little girl would not be thinking about the significance of popular trends to a society. In other words, while this yo-yo example says nothing directly about the political climate at the time, it shows the awareness that the work has about what was happening in society. Given this response, and the fact that an elaborate art exhibition of their layout and design work for the movie showed just how much research they were putting in to depict a pre-atomic bombing Hiroshima, it gives me confidence that the movie will properly tackle its difficult subject matter. While Miyazaki Hayao’s The Wind Rises drew a similar kind of controversy (the criticism that it had whitewashed Japan’s role in history), I feel that, similar to Miyazaki’s film, that this will not be a simple black-and-white anti-war film.

The other question had to do with the fact that he actually worked on the, shall we say interesting, American Street Fighter cartoon. No, not the anime film with the dub soundtrack featuring Korn, nor Street Fighter II V, but the one best known for its M. Bison memes. I basically asked if he had any recollection of his experience there, and he said that it had been so long ago that all he remembered was drawing Chun-Li at some point and eventually feeling like he should have been in charge of the whole thing. At another point in the panel, Katabuchi also mentioned how he has an advantage over Miyazaki because Miyazaki is never allowed to direct something like Black Lagoon but everything is fair game for Katabuchi himself.

As for Maruyama, it’s more or less the case every year, but the man is arguably the most important person at Otakon every time he attends. In This Corner of the World is a MAPPA production and so a lot of the focus was on that, but he was of course open to questions in general. I asked him if his production style had changed now compared to his early days at MADHouse on shows such as Aim for the Ace!, but he responded that his approach to production has changed little in the 3+ decades since, as he prefers to give the creators themselves freedom to work. The only drawback is that it means he’s not the best with finances, which is why MADHouse was eventually purchased by Nippon TV.

Another interesting question courtesy of Kate from the Reverse Thieves was whether the subject matter of the current anime Terror in Resonance (terrorism and nuclear weapons) had caused any controversy or run into any problems. Maruyama responded that both he and the director Watanabe Shin’ichirou (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope) had concerns that the TV stations would refuse to air the show, but that the two of them went forward with it anyway because that’s their style. It reminds me of the production issues that the Coppelion anime ran into that caused it to cover up all overt references to radiation, and I’m personally happy that the same fate has not befallen Terror in Resonance, or at least not yet. Overall, I have to stress that going to a Maruyama panel is always worth it, and as sad as it sounds the man is not getting any younger. That said, he did joke that he’s the same age as Miyazaki but whereas Miyazaki retired Maruyama is doing more work than ever before. Maybe it’s a MAPPA trend to make jokes referencing the famed Ghibli director.

The last guest to attend the convention that was related to In This Corner of the World was Matsubara Hidenori, known for his character design work on the Sakura Wars games and more recently for his animation work on the Rebuild of Evangelion films. He was a guest in 2009 as well, and after having heard how interesting his Q&A was at the time I made sure not to miss it. Sadly I couldn’t ask him any questions myself, but his responses in general were quite informative. In particular, he talked about how glad he was to not have to necessarily draw young, cute girls all the time anymore, and that one of the works most influential to him is the World Masterpiece Theater series En Famille or The Story of Perinne. He also mentioned that while he once tried to switch to using a drawing tablet, in the end he had to go back to pencil and paper.

I briefly mentioned the In This Corner of the World art exhibition, but it really deserves at least is own paragraph to talk about how amazing it is. I’m actually a little sad that photos weren’t allowed because the amount of work and research that went into them is nothing short of astounding. In order to properly capture the Hiroshima area of World War II Japan, they did things like find out how seaweed was dried using bamboo instead of reeds, and they even looked into the train schedules at the time to see what times would be accurate for trains in the backgrounds in certain scenes. A lot of this work would arguably be unnecessary and very few people are even alive today who remember that period, but it shows just how much they want to capture the feeling of living in that environment.

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otakon2014-kozaki2I also attended the panel for character designer Kozaki Yuusuke, and while I’m not quite the fan that others are (having only barely played No More Heroes and never having played Fire Emblem: Awakening), it was fun to see him take audience drawing requests. The two images above were the result of this, and it turns out that Kozaki even drew the cover art for the Otakon guidebook this year. This was quite noticeable as generally the artwork for Otakon stuff has traditionally ranged from subpar to mediocre. It also made me really want to read his manga Donyatsu, which is about donut-shaped dogs and cats in an apocalyptic world; in one of the images above, Donyatsu is featured being eaten by a Fire Emblem character. The main reason Kozaki was at Otakon, however, was to promote a new anime project, Under the Dog, which based on its initial material is trying to invoke a Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-type feel but with more action. In fact, at the panel they mentioned getting an animator who worked on GitS. If you want to help make it happen, a Kickstarter went up just this past week.

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Fan Panels

While the guests are generally great at Otakon, it’s the fan panels that are in my opinion the heart and soul of the experience. Compared to Anime Expo, for example, Otakon boasts a much larger set of non-industry panels, which results in a general sense of genuine enthusiasm over the experience of watching, reading, and thinking about anime, manga, and related topics.

The first panel of the convention that I attended was the Intro to Josei panel, and it was clear that they were inexperienced as presenters. The panel had two parts to it, a brief history and rundown of the significance of josei (manga for older women), and then some examples of interesting titles. Their intentions were good, but the panel had two main problems. First, it felt like two panels in one, with the seam between the history and the examples made especially visible by the fact that the first and second halves just felt completely different. Second, it was more of an introduction to J-Drama panels than one about josei anime and manga, as all of their visual examples came from dramas, even in cases where anime counterparts were available (like Nodame Cantabile). The result was that the panel didn’t feel like an introduction, but more a brief gleaning of what’s available. If they could include more anime and manga and really figure out what they want to say, then I think it would be much improved for the future.

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I’ve known Daryl Surat for a long time now, and have listened to the Anime World Order podcast for even longer. As was the case last year (and possibly the years before that, I can’t remember), Daryl was a featured panelist at Otakon, and he always manages to have a strong mix of smart and stupid that keeps things fresh, entertaining, and even educational. While his Anime’s Craziest Deaths panel is an Otakon mainstay at this point and pretty much always delivers exactly what its title states, he also did a panel on ninja in anime, one on the long relationship of influence that exists between pro wrestling and anime, and one on showing some of the many references in Kill la Kill. The ninja panel was the lightest in terms of content and was more about seeing how wide and varied the perception of ninja has become to include just about anyone doing anything as long as they’re called a ninja. The pro wrestling/anime panel approached that connection from a unique angle, positing the idea that, more than simply being about one referencing the other and vice versa, some of the very fundamental storytelling aspects of anime and manga (particularly shounen fighting works) are influenced by the wrestling storylines that were popular when television first emerged in Japan. It also went into detail about the female pro wrestling scene in Japan and how it was for a long time not about appealing to men through sexy outfits but about giving girls idols to aspire to, which then created certain archetypes in anime and manga as well. Really great panel, I recommend going even if people don’t have an interest in pro wrestling.

The Kill la Kill references panel 1) made me want to watch Sukeban Deka, the show about a yo-yo-wielding delinquent girl that inspired much of Kill la Kill 2) emphasized that what makes Kill la Kill work is that it does not live or die by its references but uses them to enhance the experience (something I agree with). It was fun to see the audience’s brains light up as they realize how many things went over their head, and also great to see how many Kill la Kill fans were at Otakon (more on that later). I have to give a very personal thanks to Daryl, because while he mentions appropriating this post of mine on the puns and wordplay in Mako’s spotlight scenes, he gave me full credit for it and even encouraged people to come read Ogiue Maniax. The applause I got at the panel was one of the best moments of the con for me.

I also attended two of the fan panels run by members of the Reverse Thieves, “The Visual Stylings of Kunihiko Ikuhara” and “The Measure of a Man. The Nature of a Hero: A Fate/Stay Night Panel.” The Ikuhara panel focused on the Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum director and the unique flair he brings to his work, tracing his visual motifs from his days on Sailor Moon to his more recent work. One thing that they really emphasized was how important pattern and repetition were for Ikuhara, which along with his use of visual cues from dramatic theater really shows how Ikuhara values graphic design in his animation work, and doesn’t treat it simply as “drawn film.” As they mentioned, it’s easy to believe that Ikuhara does things purely for style’s sake and that it doesn’t contribute to the overall narrative at all when in fact it very much does, but it could have been highlighted even better. Although there were some technical mishaps, Alain’s Fate/Stay Night panel was also quite successful. In showing how each of the three main story paths in Fate/Stay Night follow a different philosophy in terms of what it means to be a “hero,” Alain pointed out how attempting to mash them all together for the first TV series led to its downfall because it was literally putting three conflicting sets of ideas together. I remember years ago seeing fans of Tsukihime being similarly upset over that anime, and given that it is also a Type-Moon property I can’t help but feel a similar thing happened there.

Other Panels

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This might not sound especially different from the panels I normally attend, but by being less focused on must-see events, I also was able to be more experimental in my con experience. For example, while a former boss of mine was big into sumo, I had never really gotten into it myself. However, being somewhat aware of the fact that sumo takes a lot of skill, going to the Sumo Demonstration on Saturday was actually pretty informative. There, five-time US sumo champion Kelly Gneiting took on the world’s largest Japanese man, Yamamotoyama Ryuuta, and showed the flexibility and strength required to be a sumo wrestler. To give you an idea of what it takes, imagine trying to lift 500 lbs. that is actively trying to push itself against you, adding more weight and stress to your attempt. It’s no wonder that matches last only a short while and require long breaks.

Another unusual panel that leaped out of the schedule was something titled “Gunma Prefecture Office” with no description to accompany it. What could it be? Was it actually people from Gunma’s tourism division? It turns out that it was something along those lines (though not in an official capacity), as former Otakon president Alice Volkmar introduced the crowd to the Gunma Prefecture and all of its little details. The things I got most out of it were that hot springs are a big deal there (which of course makes me want to visit), and it’s known for its three mountains, all of which are featured in the intense races of Initial D. Truth be told, I was originally considering just asking Initial D questions the entire time.

The last panel I will mention is the Otakon Game Show, a perennial Otakon feature that has both contestants and audience participating in a battle of who knows more about anime. It’s generally fun, though I feel like the questions are too geared towards knowledge of minutiae from popular shows and not so much a well-rounded knowledge of anime, and the ask the audience section needs to go. I also had problems registering my phone for the audience participation section, and many of my answers did not go through. Other than that, it was a fine time.

I do have to say, though, and this might just be me nitpicking, but yaoi does not rhyme with kazowie. That’d be like saying Aoi rhymes with Howie.

Concerts

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I was originally not planning on attending any concerts this Otakon, but upon remembering that the band Altima consisted of not only one of the singers from Fripside (A Certain Scientific Railgun) but also motsu from the recently disbanded group m.o.v.e. (Initial D), it meant I had to check it out if only for a little while. This wasn’t the first time I got to see motsu as I actually attended another con where he was a guest, Anime 2012 in the Netherlands, so I knew that the man brings the hype. The music really got me pumped up, but I actually had to leave the concert early as I could feel it destroying my ears (I failed to bring earplugs).

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I am also not big into J-Rock, but X-Japan member Yoshiki has such a reputation about him that when I managed to get a ticket for the concert I also decided to see what he’s all about. You may have to forgive me for being ignorant when it comes to X-Japan, but I had no idea that their style was a mix of heavy metal and classical. Yoshiki was there more for the latter side, performing primarily classical-style pieces on piano while accompanied by a string quartet and a singer. The highlight of the concert was when he played a song in tribute to two members of X-Japan who had passed away over the years, a long, 10+ minute torrent of emotions that culminated in Yoshiki smashing the keys as if he was trying to shove them through the piano itself. This was actually a transition from his classical self to his metal self, as suddenly two other X-Japan members made a surprise appearance and rocked out. I apologize for not knowing their names.

Overall

Because of the fact that I personally did not approach Otakon as frantically as I had in previous years, in a way it would have been difficult for the convention to have disappointed me. That’s not to say that Otakon made no effort to make this year as enjoyable and as comfortable as they could, but I did not run into any major problems that ruined the con experience. The only thing that is a concern is the gradual countdown until the move to Washington D.C. in a few years, and the farewells we’ll have to bid to Baltimore and its food.

I’ll sign off here with a collection of cosplay photos. Shout outs to the Nogami Aoi cosplayer for referencing something as cool as Zettai Karen Children, the Yazawa Nico and Koizumi Hanayo (Love Live!) cosplayers in the photo all the way up top, the impromptu and unintentional VGCW match, and all the various Jakuzure Nonons that attended. Given that she has more outfits than just about anyone else, it was fun seeing how many variations of Nonon I could photograph.

 

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BONUS: motsu achieving the speed of light

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Interested in Supporting Ogiue Maniax?

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