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I found Otakon 2015 to be something of an unusual beast, in the sense that a normally fierce dragon might seem uncharacteristically docile. At first I thought that this might be due to my unusual circumstances. While in years past I was able to attend Otakon all three days, this year I had to skip out on Friday. However, rather than it affecting my perspective in an adverse way, I realized it actually made a truth all the more clear: attendance was significantly down compared to previous years, from an average of 33,000 over the past five to about 28,000 for 2015. This is why, when I began my Otakon attendance on Saturday, what would normally be the most heavily populated day of the con was…surprisingly easy to navigate.

Given the continuous growth of Otakon prior, this might all come as a surprise. However, after discussing it with some friends and fellow fans, we came up with a few possible reasons. First, the music guests this year were not A-List, and this would mean that the attendees who normally came to Otakon for the concerts might have skipped out. Second, and probably more importantly, Baltimore was in the news not so long ago, and as many anime con attendees are fairly young. It would not be surprising to see parents fearing for their children’s lives, even if they allowed them to attend Otakon in years past.

Thus, less traffic, less tension, though for those who did make it, a relatively more relaxing experience… unless you were going for the Romi Park autograph line. In that case, it was probably a no holds barred slugfest with the winner getting the right to hear Ms. Park recite a line by Edward Elric, Shirogane Naoto, or any of her other famous roles. To the victors, it would of course have been worth it.

Park Romi’s Wild Ride

I was originally not planning on attending the Saturday press conference for Park Romi. At the last second I changed my mind, and it turned out to be the best voice actor press conference I’ve ever seen. Normally, seiyuu tend to give very safe answers. All of their characters are their favorites, they can’t give too many production details or insider secrets, and overall it’s just an opportunity for them to promote themselves in a benign, marketable way. With Romi, her personality gave the impression that she would never be able to play that safe route, even if she tried.

She talked about blacking out while auditioning for Air Master after uttering the most fierce battle cry. She pointed out how she loves Syrup from Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go and the fact that he’s a walking contradiction (a penguin that flies, that’s innocent yet also cynical). She mentioned going to the karaoke box to wear her voice out in order to portray the pain and trauma that drives Edward Elric in every situation (she described him as her most difficult role ever). She even talked about what it was like to grow up Korean in Japan. Throughout the Q&A, what impressed me the most is that we gradually got a well-rendered image of Romi as a person and a voice actor. As someone who’s always felt a little bit on the outside, perhaps due to her upbringing and ethnic background, she’s been able to connect to characters who do feel a little off, or feel like they go against the grain. She mentioned always playing villains as if they’re the heroes in their own mind, and it pretty much all clicked into place.

One thing that many people will probably be talking about for years to come is that “Edward Elric” is a HUGE Adventure Time fan, a show where she voices the main character Finn for the Japanese dub. Normally one might think of this as a promotional ploy, but her passion for it was oozing. I heard at the previous panel on Friday that she mentioned her favorite show she’s worked on is Adventure Time. When asked what show she’d like to do more work on, the answer was Adventure Time. Which characters does she like the most? Finn, and Lemongrab. In her own words, “I like violence.”

I was able to ask her one question, which had to do with her work on the anime Ojamajo Doremi:

Ogiue Maniax: You play the role Majo Ran on Ojamajo Doremi. What was it like working on the show and with Director Satou Jun’ichi?

Romi: It was a fresh-feeling place there. Lots of cute girls!

Satou was a man who was very deep. He put a lot of thought and passion into everything he did. He was like a big brother type. But he did care a lot about details. Details, details, even more details. So you can guess that the recordings took many, many hours. (In English) Many, many hours.

However, the absolute highlight of her press conference was when Alain from the Reverse Thieves asked what it was like to work with director Tomino Yoshiyuki on the series Turn A Gundam. Tomino, who appeared at New York Anime Festival back in 2008, is famous as being a rather eccentric personality, and it’s always interesting to hear stories about him. Romi Park added to the legend of Tomino by describing to us her experience working with him on not just Turn A Gundam but also a previous show, Brainpowered.

During the recording for episode 1, Park recalls delivering the main character Loran’s famous line, “Everyone, come back here!” as he shouts to the moon, imploring his people to return to Earth. After first delivering the line, Tomino BURSTS through the door of the recording studio and begins to shout at her, to put more emphasis into it. “HERE! HEEEEERE!” he shouted, as he had his arms stretched out to the side. In episode 2, when Loran hits his privates accidentally, and Park delivered an unconvincing impression of it (having no direct experience), Tomino came bursting through the door again, exclaiming to her that this particular kind of pain is extremely intense but fades quickly. What was most telling about this was the fact that the Japanese MAPPA staff that was on the sidelines (Romi was here as promotion for the anime GARO) could be seen snickering, unable to fully control their laughter.

A few hours later, I also had a chance to interview Gundam X director Takamatsu Shinji, who had also worked with Tomino before, to add to the bizarre portrait of the creator of Mobile Suit Gundam. You can read that interview here.

Panels

Otakon is famous for its strong programming track, full of passionate fans who do extensive research in preparation for their panels, as well as industry panels aware of the fact that Otakon attendees tend to be savvier. For me, it’s one of the absolute highlights of going to Otakon every year, though this year I was only able to attend a few. And yet, from what I heard, I wasn’t alone.

It turns out most of the panels this year were either mostly full or at max capacity, which is rather unusual because generally only the biggest guests and the well-known, charismatic panelists get that much attention. To give a clearer image, usually the Studio MAPPA panel is sparsely populated. 10, maybe 20 people tops who know what a wonderful guest Maruyama Masao (founder and former head of Studio MADHouse, current MAPPA founder and president) is, and how insightful his responses are, but this year I heard that the MAPPA panel was impossible to get into. Now, keep in mind that this is also the year where attendance was down (early reports say the attendance was over 28,000 whereas Otakon these past few years has seen attendance records of over 30,000), a situation that brings up quite a few questions about the demographics breakdown for Otakon attendees, as well as their behavior.

Could it be that the Otakon attendees who normally would have made that extra 2,000+ wouldn’t be the ones attending panels? Perhaps the less famous music acts also meant people looked for something else to do and filled the panel rooms instead. Maybe the overall audience has been getting older and more appreciative of panels. In the specific case of MAPPA this year, it might be the case that people have begun to appreciate them more after they released two high-quality action/fantasy shows (GARO the Animation and Rage of Bahamut: Genesis), and I’ve heard that the success of SHIROBAKO and its reference to MAPPA founder Maruyama Masao (“Marukawa Masato”) was a significant factor as well.

In terms of fan panels, I attended both of the Reverse Thieves’ panels this year. I consider them good friends, but it’s not simply because I know them that I decided to sit in. They do good work and always capture the audience’s attention. Most importantly, they encourage people to check out anime they had no idea about, and expanding people’s knowledge about anime and manga is something i’m always for. Between the new “I Hate Sports: A Sports Anime Panel,” and their staple “New Anime for Older Fans,” the fact that these panels filled rooms with both people and their delightful reactions shows that fans aren’t stubborn when it comes to looking for shows beyond what’s familiar to them; they just need the right guides to get through the darkness and the seemingly infinite possibilities that come with the new slew of titles every year.

I also attended Mike Toole’s “Bootleg South Korean Anime” panel, though sadly could not attend its spiritual companion ran by another individual, “DPRKartoon: Anime from North Korea” (see above comment about panels filling up more quickly this year). Mike is known for being an excellent presenter, and he showed his chops not only in this panel but also his moderation for the Discotek Industry panel immediately afterwards, though I felt like the South Korean Anime panel wasn’t as tightly tuned as I’ve come to expect from a Mike Toole panel. Nevertheless, it exposed me to the unique history of Golden Bat in Korean animation, a superhero from the pre-manga kamishibai era of Japan, whose later anime was allowed to air in Korea in spite of bans on Japanese media because Korean staff had worked on the show. When a later iteration of Golden Bat appeared in Korea, he resembled a certain much more famous Bat-themed superhero, except that this “Bat-like Man” (though Golden Bat originally looked more like Ghost Rider with a cape) flew, laughed like a maniac, and show lasers from his fingers.

Otakon was the inaugural industry panel for Discotek Media, and I had to attend to know just what kind of minds were responsible for licensing Mazinger Z AND Shin Mazinger. It turns out, the aforementioned Mike Toole works for them, though he cites the owner of Discotek being a fan of good ol’-fashioned violent cartoons as a major contributing factor. The panel reminded me that I need to own Horus: Prince of the Sun, and even though I’m not a huge Gaiking fan or anything, the announcement of its licensing drew me towards it, rekindling my old desire to watch “all of the robot anime.” What was perhaps most impressive about the panel was finding out that they got an artist to faithfully recreate the bad-looking American Street Fighter cartoon art for their DVD box set. Given how badly that often turns out (have you seen the old boxes for the 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon?!), I am truly impressed that it looks so great and terrible at the same time.

One set of panels I did not attend due to advice given to me was the panels run by Pony Canyon for their new shows. Bringing directors known for their extensive and storied catalogues, it turns out that questions were restricted to only being about the shows they were there to promote. As someone who loves exploring the history of anime and picking creators’ brains, that was an instant turn-off. I hope that Pony Canyon learns their lesson for next time.

One More Panel: Mine

Last year, due to time constraints and fear of not finishing my thesis, I decided to skip out on preparing panels for Otakon. This year I submitted a couple, and fortunately the one I really wanted to do made it through. That was “Great Ugly Manga,” inspired by my love of 81 Diver, and the fact that the concept of “bad-good” is still relatively foreign to a manga-reading audience (though less so a comics-reading audience in general). I worked with super ultra manga expert Ed Chavez (who also has an appreciation for the awesomely ugly), and together we worked to try and convey the idea that sometimes “bad” artwork enhances the impact of a manga, whether intentionally or not. The panel ran a bit quickly, finishing early, which makes me wish we packed it with more stuff, but that’s a lesson learned for next time. I do really want to do the panel again.

Artist Alley/Dealer’s Room

I came to Otakon this year a little more prepared to spend money on trinkets and goodies, but ended up getting less than I expected, which is probably best for my wallet. Of the purchases I made, the one that sticks out most is an excellent little double-sided charm from Suzuran, which now adorns my recently-purchased smartphone. In terms of official merchandise, most of my purchases actually came from the Pony Canyon booth. I did not go for their extremely expensive bluray sets, especially because $75 per disc sounds absurd to my ears, but I like the shows that they’re involved with a lot, and wanted to support them in a way they might potentially understand. I came away with a t-shirt and poster of Sound! Euphonium, as well as a CD from Rolling Girls, both anime that I highly recommend. As an aside, I also ended up with a free Love Live! School Idol Movie poster for some reason I still don’t quite understand. Will I frame it and carry it with me to the New York premiere of the Love Live! movie? Only time will tell.

The Real Hero of Otakon 2015: Crab Cakes

So anime is cool and all, and Otakon is the largest anime convention on the east coast, but Baltimore is supposed to be known for their crabcakes, and it’s supposed to be a part of the Baltimore experience to eat some awesome ones. Unfortunately, in the past the ones I had were more decent than incredible, but this all changed when a truck decided to carry some of the best crab cakes ever, and parked itself in front of the hotel I was staying at. To describe how good Flash Crabcakes are is to mention that I regret more than ever the fact that Otakon is leaving Baltimore in a couple of years. I also learned that things named Flash tend to be amazing, whether it’s the superhero, the Starcraft player, or indeed the super lump crabcake. The program that spawned Animutations gets a pass for its accomplishments, even if it’s become a bit senile and deranged.

Countdown to the Beginning of the End

Despite the fact that this Otakon didn’t seem quite as outright exciting as previous ones, I came away from it having two of the best interviews/press conferences I’d ever conducted. It was truly a pleasure to pick the brain of two industry veterans, and my only real regret was not being able to attend any Maruyama Masao panels due to scheduling conflicts.

I also left this year’s Otakon aware of the fact that only one year remains in Baltimore. While I think the move to a larger convention center in Washington, DC is probably the right move, I do feel some concern for the city of Baltimore itself. After all, Otakon is a huge money maker for them, and even if attendance was down, there’s a difference between losing 5,000 tourists and losing 33,000, all of whom want to eat in the area. Will there be another convention that tries to fill the vacuum left by Otakon? The battle for MD/VA begins.

Best Duo

Best Couple

Bester Couple, Oooooh Yeahhhhhh

The previous chapter of Genshiken ended with most of the characters pairing off in unexpected ways (none of them romantic), setting up the anticipation that there would be some intriguing interactions that go outside of the normal range that Genshiken has been using as of late. In this regard, Chapter 113 is far from being a disappointment.

After Yoshitake finally reins in her history otaku nature and ceases to be a tour guide through the shrines of Nikkou, all of the groups do their own special thing. For this reason, for this month’s review I think it’s worth talking about each notable pair on their own.

Madarame and Yoshitake

In a lot of harem manga, the characters that act as if they’re stringing the main character along through feigned expressions of affection often fall into the category of the harem as well. Because they show the possibility, they’re part of the fantasy too, even if they’re supposed to be tongue in cheek. Not so with Yoshitake. She drags Madarame away not only to spark the fire among the characters who actually are interested in Madarame, but also slyly manipulates Madarame as well by making it seem as if she’s also into him. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the reaction on Madarame’s face seems less like surprise and more like, “Oh no, not again,” which when you think about it is a far cry from where he was originally in Genshiken.

Yajima and Kuchiki

Kuchiki wants what Madarame has but he’ll never get it because it’s hard to imagine too many girls who would like Kuchiki’s personality (then again he did have a girlfriend once upon a time). At the same time, their mildly venomous conversation has a lot of grains of truth being sifted. Kuchiki mentions the appeal of the girl-boy, which is that you have the physical attraction of a female without the seeming mystery of trying to figure out how they think and feel. This actually isn’t far off from what I’ve read about the appeal of certain, shall we say, “alternative” forms of adult entertainment in anime and manga, and it even reflects something I’ve seen before in an old Ann Landers/Dear Abby, which had to do with a wife questioning if her husband was gay. Long story short, that aspect of being able to directly understand the feelings of another, whether that’s more spiritual or more physical, is something that’s understandable when you think about it. As for Kuchiki almost figuring out Yajima’s feelings for Hato, that probably has less to do with Kuchiki being perceptive and more that Yajima is often an open book (see her first meeting with Yoshitake’s “brother”).

Hato and Keiko

It’s been established that the two don’t really get along, and this chapter I think really shows the foundation of why that’s the case. Essentially, both Hato and Keiko believe that the other is somehow manipulating Madarame. Hato believes Keiko is just stringing him along, while Keiko sees Hato’s personality as an ideal construct, pleasing but artificial. Together, they both open up to each other in an antagonistic manner, giving details as to what transpired in each of their respective close encounters with Madarame. Now they both know the approximate truth, and while it can’t be said that Madarame is a two-timer, I do think Hato and Keiko have bonded in a rather bizarre yet understandable manner. That said, I think their lowered opinion of him comes from somewhat different places; with Hato it’s because of how easily Madarame was enticed, and Keiko because it connects to the whole thing about Madarame being happy about Hato’s chocolates.

And then…

I think there’s something to be said about the way that the characters of Genshiken try to exert their wills in this chapter. Yoshitake temporarily dons the role of a fawning admirer to mess with Madarame, Keiko intentionally withholds the fact that Kugayama was at her club too to make Hato think that Madarame came of his own accord, and Hato throws the events of the previous night in Keiko’s face. Nowhere is this clearer than with the fact that Angela’s time has arrived, and she’s come prepared for bear, so to speak. As soon as she finds out she’s pairing with Madarame, out come her noble familiars, barely constrained and ready to serve their master.

I’m not sure if it’s clear from my previous posts, but I love the idea of Madarame and Angela, if only because to me it’s the most hilarious. This chapter begins to prove why that’s the case, even if she probably has the slimmest chance out of the four. Will next month be the most fanservicey chapter of Genshiken ever?

Speaking of Angela and Madarame, or rather the renewed kujibiki drawingI do find it interesting that Yoshitake’s plan to see the temple Youmeimon, the culmination of her trip to Nikkou, is derailed by construction much in the same way that her original plan to mix the group up into new and exciting pairings also backfired in terms of its original intent. It makes me wonder if this second lottery is going to also be reflected in Yoshitake somehow encountering an even more amazing sight.

Last thing of note: as seen in the first image in this post, this chapter clearly used photo references for its color pages that lend a greater amount of realism to the backgrounds, to the extent that it feels like the chapter is actually promoting tourism for Nikkou. I don’t think that’s actually the case, but Genshiken rarely goes for that look.

tribecoolcrew-kanongrowth

Tribe Cool Crew doesn’t get a lot of attention, at least in English media on anime. Sure, it runs on Crunchyroll, and I won’t deny that every time I tweet about the show I do get a few responses. I know my fellow fans are out there. However, because I mostly tend to talk about a particular series only a few times (the main exception being, of course, Genshiken), I often find that I’m not contributing all that much to the general awareness of a series until it’s, in a sense, too late. While I also strongly believe in giving a show a fair shake before passing a thorough judgment on it (snap judgments are okay if acknowledged as such), Tribe Cool Crew has also hit a point that reminds me more than ever of why I got into the show in the first place. So, I want to talk about it.

In Episode 33 of Tribe Cool Crew, the female lead Otosaki Kanon is having a problem. Even though she’s at this point more than established herself as a skilled and talented dancer, something feels off, as if she’s being weighed down. Over the course of the episode, Kanon is informed by multiple people that she’s not getting worse at all. Instead, she’s getting so good that, in an effort to keep in sync with everyone, and to maintain the presence of the “group” in terms of stage performance, she’s subconsciously restricting herself.

Kanon’s becoming too talented so to speak, but it isn’t jealousy that lies at the heart of the conflict of the episode, but rather Kanon’s own desire to keep everyone together. She feels herself to be the outlier in this situation, and as someone extremely self-conscious about her height (yet at the same time cognizant enough of it to use her long limbs to accentuate her dancing), the fact that she’s grown even taller and thus has even greater potential to become a “star” (what Tribe Cool Crew calls individual performers rather than dance crews) is frightening to her. What I find fascinating about all this is, then, is that it’s something of an unusual problem to have in anime.

There are plenty of anime and manga where characters have to overcome personal challenges that are defined by their own history and development within an activity. For example, Masumi in Swan, despite her talent, has to re-learn the basics of ballet because she was taught incorrectly and thus has to undo all of her bad habits before she can progress. Amuro in Mobile Suit Gundam begins to outperform the Gundam itself, but that’s more man overcoming machine. In fact, he closest thing I can think of that resembles Kanon’s predicament in recent memory is actually Aomine Daiki in Kuroko’s Basketball, who finds that his skill level becomes so overwhelmingly untouchable when he puts in actual effort that it makes the opponents give up, thus making the game of basketball itself less enjoyable. However, I find Kanon’s plight to still be unique, because the competitive aspect of street dancing doesn’t play so much into it.

In saying that Kanon might be better suited as an individual dancer, it does make me wonder if the series would ever make her the center of the team, as opposed to the main character Haneru. That would be quite the daring move indeed.

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?

precure5gogo-team

The original Yes! Pretty Cure 5 was in certain ways a radical departure back to the familiar. Whereas the previous Pretty Cure shows had focused mainly on duos, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 went with the five-girl sentai team, reminiscent of Sailor Moon. In execution, it ended up being neither a better or worse decision in that each character still received plenty of the spotlight, but what really made the series stand out to me were the unique villains (a literally evil corporation with company hierarchy and everything), as well as a dedication to showing its heroines eating that surpasses even the likes of K-On!

The sequel, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, brings a fresh coat of paint that keeps with the spirit of its immediate predecessor. Right from the first episode, the new outfits are much improved from the bizarrely beige/yellow costumes from the previous series, and the attacks are flashier and more impressive: Natsuki “Cure Rouge” Rin’s “Pretty Cure Fire Strike” involves kicking a soccer ball made from flames, for example. The characters’ personalities still provide plenty of humor and opportunities to talk about food, as well as some nice moments of development. The new characters bring excitement and intrigue, especially the mysterious Milky Rose, who comes to save the Cures but initially positions herself neither as ally nor enemy, and eventually starts shooting rose-shaped clouds of shrapnel.

precure5gogo-lemonade

Overall, Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go is actually a sequel that improves on the original, as rare as that is.  The show takes the time to how far the characters have come from the previous series, like when protagonist Yumehara Nozomi (Cure Dream) ends up tutoring Rin’s younger siblings and introduces to them her unique approach to learning. It also continues to do a great job of just showing how the characters are more than two-dimensional, like how Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) is clever yet surprisingly naive at times, and how Akimoto Komachi (Cure Mint) takes her writing very seriously. That said, I can’t help but feel it lost a couple of important gems in the process.

The first is that the new group of villains, even if some of there are individually interesting, aren’t quite as memorable as the Nightmare Corporation from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. While an evil museum collector is a nice concept, and his assistant Anacondy brings in some of that much-loved evil bureaucracy (you can’t be truly evil until you’ve mastered evil paperwork), it just doesn’t feel quite on the same level. The second oversight is just a lack of Masuko Mika the school reporter, whose insatiable appetite for journalism and a desire to find out the secret identity of the Cures led the way to some of the funniest and most heartfelt episodes of the previous series. In fact, her doppelganger Masuko Miyo (intentionally a reference to Mika) probably gets more appearances in HappinessCharge Precure! than she does in Go Go.

If someone liked Yes! Pretty Cure 5 it’s hard to think they’d vehemently dislike Yes! Pretty Cure 5 Go Go, and I even think the sequel can be viewed on its own without any prior exposure to Precure in general. That said, I do think that watching the first series can help, as it does a much better job of showing where the girls came from and how they developed over the course of their narrative.

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There are two things I want to mention at the end. First, one of the most memorable gags for me is the gag above, which reminds us that Minazuki Karen (Cure Aqua) is indeed extremely wealthy. Second, if anyone ever wondered who the animators’ favorite character was, the exquisite fight scenes with Kasugano Urara (Cure Lemonade) removed any and all doubt.

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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.

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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.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road has received immense praise from critics like few films, both of its type and in general, have ever received. With an astounding 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a long and difficult production history, it’s the kind of movie that I would say was easily worth the wait, had I actually realized it existed prior to opening day. Even then, I didn’t even see the movie until a week later, when half the people I follow on Twitter repeatedly sang its praises and articles talked about just how well-executed a film it is, visually, conceptually, and in terms of narrative.

This would normally be the point where I throw in a “however,” but I really can’t. Mad Max: Fury Road lives up to the hype and then some, even to someone like myself whose only knowledge of Mad Max is that it’s a heavy influence on Fist of the North Star. As a newbie to the Mad Max universe, I was taken in by a story that’s fun yet profound, the creative action sequences that give a true sense of continuity as well as cause and effect that never leaves you confused as to what’s actually going on (no shaky cams here), and a cast of characters that are surprisingly largely sympathetic. Mad Max: Fury Road leaves a lot up to the audience to read between the lines, but gives enough so that interpretations aren’t shots in the dark.

One major aspect of this movie that’s gotten quite a bit of attention is that its story can be interpreted as being quite feminist. On the surface this can be surprising, given that the aesthetic of the Mad Max world is centered around machismo cranked up to 11. Arthur Chu at the Daily Beast argues that Mad Max has always been critical of violent, belligerent masculinity and that the greater presence of female characters able to take a broader perspective on history in Fury Road is what finally make this directly obvious. Again, I have no experience with the franchise so I can’t agree or disagree, but along these lines I think there’s an additional component to the movie and its use of female characters that gives the movie a kind of feminist foundation.

The world of Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where water and other supplies are scarce and death is a common sight. In Fury Road, the antagonist Immortan Joe is the cult leader of a religion that combines emphasis on vehicles and technology with Norse mythology, and the result is a bunch of pale zealots spreading violence and destruction wherever they go. Deserts, blood, and bullets are what make up the environment, and what Fury Road does is say, “Well, of course women can be gritty, seasoned veterans of a war-torn Earth.” In this way, it’s kind of like how the anime series Precure assumes as a matter of fact the immense power of its female characters, though Mad Max: Fury Road takes it a number of steps further by removing much of the glamor, and being very deliberate in where the remaining bits of beauty and eroticism come up.

Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is just as much a fighter as the eponynous “Mad” Max, and the elderly female nomads who appear later show their decades of experience fighting both people and their harsh surroundings. Even the five wives of Immortan Joe, characters crucial to setting off the main conflict of the film who were locked away and are highly sexualized (what else would women selected by a cult leader specifically to bear his children be?), but they also show their desire to learn more about the world they were hidden away from, and the fact that their skin is so perfect and their clothing barely hides anything is more a contrast with the world than the sole image of women in the film. The film features women participating in this classically hyper-masculine setting as men typically would, and in doing so argues that it need not be considered a “man’s world” at all.

Another interesting point about the five wives is that, while their original purpose was to be sex slaves, this also affords them the power of knowledge: outside of Immortan Joe’s own family, they are the only ones who know that he is not an immortal god descended from Valhalla, but merely a weak, decrepit old man whose seemingly powerful appearance is a lie. Vulnerability is a persistent theme in Mad Max: Fury Road,  from the fact that Max is haunted by the memory of his dead daughter, to the fact that one of Joe’s fanatical followers, Nux, keeps ending up in different situations that force him to confront his own identity even as he struggles to please his god-king.

The story on the internet is that men’s rights advocates are upset at Mad Max: Fury Road, and while I don’t know how far that stretches even within that particular community, I can see why it might be a cause for alarm in that world. The film utilizes a setting that classically exploits women and views them as play-things (though that’s not to say such stories are inherently bad), and flips it on its head. All the while, the sheer sense of action and excitement is of a level higher than probably any movie in recent memory, so it’s not like focusing on female characters detracted from the presentation. If anything, it’s made Mad Max into something that can bridge generations.

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A comedy/adventure anime about a phantom thief named Joker and his bumbling ninja sidekick, Mysterious Joker (also known simply as Joker) is one of many anime derived from the Arsene Lupin-inspired archetype. In fact, this anime began the same season as a similar show, Magic Kaito 1412, and in that respect Mysterious Joker initially seems pretty unremarkable. Having watched the first 4 episodes, however, I noticed a couple of interesting qualities about the series. First, is that the visual designs of its characters are really indicative of a comics lineage that gets somewhat less attention from English-speaking audiences. Second, is that each episode has been better than the last.

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In regards to the first point, I’m referring to the fact that Mysterious Joker was originally a children’s manga. However, when people talk about a category like “shounen,” they probably think of series like Dragon Ball or Naruto. Though titles like those are indeed meant for children, what some might be unaware of is that there are also manga magazines dedicated to very young kids, and chief among them is Corocoro Comics. This is where Mysterious Joker (created by Takahashi Hideyasu) comes from, and while the anime cleans up the look of the characters for consistency (generally a must when it comes to commercial animation), their appearances remain colorful and bombastic, with large facial features beyond even what people typically expect out of anime.

The reason why I bring all of this up is that I think it can make Mysterious Joker feel somewhat odd even for those who are accustomed to most other anime that are targeted towards children, as many of them, even if they do not expect an additional older readership, have qualities that almost inherently appeal to a roughly 15-21 demographic. This is not to say that Mysterious Joker is a show that can only be enjoyed by kids, as it can be quite clever in how its mysteries and puzzles play out, and the humor is delightfully crass at times without being crude, but it requires on some level an acknowledgement that it is indeed a kids’ show and that older viewers may not even be taken into consideration. I think this can be a sticking point for a lot of anime fans, particularly teenagers, and so enjoying Mysterious Joker, even on a basic level, requires something of an open mind.

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As for the second point, which is about how the show seems to improve with every episode, it’s as if each episode adds a bit more to the story and the world of its characters, and motivates viewers to keep watching. I originally planned on stopping at Episode 3, but then saw the reveal of a female rival phantom thief, which compelled me to see how that turns out. Episode 4 doesn’t feature her in any way, but it explores the friendly rivalry between the main character and another established in the previous episode, and in doing so gives even more reason to keep watching.

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I looked up the staff for Mysterious Joker and was surprised to see that Satou Dai of all people is responsible for series composition. While I can’t say how much of the story’s quality comes from the original manga and how much Satou himself is a factor, from my experience with his work I think you get a true sense of what it means to be responsible for series composition. Eureka Seven, another show of his, builds upon itself beautifully. Satou wasn’t around for the sequel, Eureka Seven AO, and it really shows. A more relevant work of his Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin, which took the humble card game anime and made it into something more substantial and mature, yet still very attuned to its young audience. While I’ve not seen all of Mysterious Joker, I would not be surprised if it ends up developing in a similar way.

 

If you were to ask me about my favorite fujoshi-themed manga, I would predictably answer that it’s Genshiken Nidaime. However, if you were to ask me this question before 2010 (when Genshiken re-started), I would have said Fujoshissu!: Maniac High School Girls Comedy by Okachimachi Hato. I’ve mentioned it a few times over the years on Ogiue Maniax, and have even devoted multiple Fujoshi Files to its characters, but I’ve never really spoken about it to any major extent. Now that the manga has concluded after seven years of publication, I find that it’s all the more important that I share what has been one of my favorite manga in recent memory.

Fujoshissu! (meaning “We’re fujoshi!”) is the story of three fujoshi friends who have to navigate high school while in different stages of their romantic relationships. Satou Megumi is the artist of the group and meets a classmate working at a convenience store and developing a mutual attraction. Aoi Yuki is the resident cosplayed, who begins the series already dating her childhood friend. Yoshizawa Eri is the writer, and who finds herself attracted to her younger brother’s best friend.

Though this seems to follow more or less the formula of so many other manga and especially fujoshi-themed manga, what appealed to me about Fujoshissu! from the very beginning was its approach to portraying its characters, as well as their connections to both each other and their respective boyfriends. In many manga about female otaku, be they fujoshi or otherwise, characters are portrayed as having their fandoms factor extremely heavily into how they find significant others. Boys will fall in love with fujoshi because they love their honest enthusiasm, or girls will work actively to hide their BL fandom. Though generally meaning well, these series often reduce their characters to bare-bones elements, with little characterization beyond the extent of their fandom.

Though this has changed since 2008 when the manga first began, I do think it’s important to note how much Fujoshissu! treats the fact of their fujoshi identities very naturally, especially in the development of their respective romances. Being fujoshi is shown to be very much a part of their identities, yet it is not their sole defining trait or the only impetus for their interactions with others. Their relationships do not hinge on whether or not they can accept their fujoshi selves or whether or not the boys are either attracted to or learn to love their energy, but are more multifaceted concerns having to do with topics such as concern for the future, worrying about personality compatibility, body image, among other things.

In regards to body image in particular, the character Eri is focused on extensively, and her story really explores the idea in ways that are frequently ignored in manga in general. Eri is depicted as short and chubby, and not just “chubby because the manga says she is” as one often finds in series (Yomi in Azumanga Daioh being a notable example). Though not lacking in fashion sense, she reveals over the course of the manga that, due to having internalized a great deal of bullying she experienced when she was younger, she doesn’t believe herself to be beautiful. To Eri, her fashion choices compensate against her own self-perceived ugliness, and she doesn’t even believe her own boyfriend when he says he finds her to be attractive. The combination of not just having this subject talked about but having a character who at first glance reasonably shows through her design why she would come to this conclusion is remarkably poignant, as is the ultimate resolution of this particular narrative.

Even with subjects this emotionally heavy, however, the manga always feels delightfully romantic and fun because of how close and invigorating the friendship between the three main girls is depicted to be. The depths of their personalities come across in times of joy just as much if not more than in times of pain, and their shared hobby of anime, manga, and BL becomes the lens through which we see this deep friendship. It also embraces a manga aesthetic that for the most part can be called shoujo, but the roughness of the artwork is not quite the same as what you’d normally see, more of a BL style that’s been re-translated back into shoujo such that it embraces the expressive qualities of its own lines much more thoroughly.

Interestingly, Fujoshissu! runs in Sylph a magazine largely devoted to BL stories. While the subject matter of fujoshi isn’t that far off, it also shows that a manga title need not be entirely beholden to its own magazine’s themes, and that readers of BL can have just as much interest reading manga about other topics. This isn’t exactly a revelation, especially with magazines such as the recent Comic it, which advertises itself as being manga for female otaku that aren’t so obsessed with love, but the fact that Fujoshissu! successfully ran for seven years shows that this quality is appreciated.

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Chapter 111 of Genshiken II more or less features Madarame on top of Hato for the entire duration. Is it a sign of Madarame’s feelings gradually changing, an extended comedy scene, a heart to heart pep talk, nerds nerding it up, or something more?

I find it very appropriate how the conversation between Madarame and Hato goes, with respect to the mix of anime/manga analysis, sexual confusion, genuine desire to help, and how all of this connects to the basic premise of Genshiken as the story of a club of awkward otaku. Almost as soon as Madarame accidentally falls onto him (see last chapter), Hato starts to talk about Madarame as a “lucky pervert” (lucky sukebe), the trope often found in anime and manga (especially harem series) where guys and girls will accidentally fall on each other in compromising positions. Like gusts of winds blowing skirts up, it’s generally regarded as something that only conveniently happens in fiction. By mentioning it, Hato attempts to deflate situation and, as we can later see, to avoid having his imagination go wild. “It finally happens, but it’s when I’m a guy. How unfortunate for you.” While “This isn’t manga!” has itself become a trope of Japanese comics, here I think it’s used to different effect as a way to highlight Hato and Madarame’s characters.

I believe the fact that Hato is a guy during this situation is an important factor, and not simply for the possibility that Madarame might be feeling something for Hato even without his female guise. Rather, it’s because Hato is a guy that Madarame can speak comfortably to him in this situation and even encourage Hato to not be so down on himself. Madarame basically says to Hato to stop mentioning “reality” as if it’s the final destination, the end of hope, the cruel master that rules over him, and uses his own feelings about Hato giving him chocolates as the example of how Hato’s actions have meaning, pperhaps playing into the idea that reality is a social construct and that people can attempt to change reality through the same channels. At the same time, he engages in a dialogue with Hato that follows a similar flow to the typical Madarame/Genshiken discussion over anime, manga, moe, and other otaku topics. In a way, because Madarame has a tendency to freeze up when confronted with the opposite sex, even though it’s clear that he is attracted to them, all of this could only have happened when Hato was a guy.

As mentioned above, Hato tries to use otaku talk to deflect, but Madarame actively engages with it to bring the situation back to “reality.” I think it’s because, while Madarame certainly doesn’t confuse fantasy for reality, he long ago embraced his 2-D complex and his love of anime for all of its worth, seemingly at the expense of his connection to the real world. Of course, the current arc with its emphasis on potential romance for Madarame is partly about how much this has changed, and the more I think about it, the more I find it interesting just how these two characters, as well as every other character in Genshiken, approaches that anime/fantasy vs. reality question in different and fascinating ways. It’s actually one of the topics that’s been with Genshiken throughout, and perhaps it should be the subject of a future post. It’s been a long time since I wrote about Genshiken outside of these chapter reviews, after all.

I think at this point it’d more than make sense for Madarame x Hato to happen, but at the same time I find that the other girls have their own interesting interactions with Madarame as well, so it’s not like this one outshines the others. In that sense, perhaps Genshiken provides more of a “harem” feel than most actual harem series, because often times those will have one girl clearly stand out among the rest as the “main heroine.” For Genshiken, all of the possible Madarame romances have potential, and all operate under different dynamics. Connected to this somewhat, when Madarame brings up the topic of BL, which Hato tries to mentally resist, he says that this situation isn’t right for Madarame, who’s supposed to be an “uke.” While admitting that he doesn’t really know anything about BL in the first place, Madarame replies that Hato is the only person out of the “harem” where Madarame would probably be the aggressive one, even if alcohol were to be involved.

Upon reflecting on Madarame’s words, I find that he’s actually right. Only Hato would end up in this situation because Angela, Keiko, and Sue are very strong-willed. With any of the three girls, with the possible exception of Sue, it’s hard to imagine them even in that position, and if Angela and Keiko were it’d probably be of their own devices, an intentional seemingly passive action to appeal to Madarame’s otaku senses/fear of women.

In any case, I feel like this is a point of no return for Madarame and Hato, not least because they were “interrupted” by Kuchiki, rather than breaking apart of their own volition. Whether or not it ends in love, pain, or just mutual yet awkward friendship, they’ve arrived somewhere new.

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