First Alphonse Elric I’ve ever seen = WIN.
I am rather amused to admit that this past weekend (August 8th – 10th) taught me something very interesting about myself: three days with no Internet access and no way of checking THAT is enough to drive me up the wall. I really, truly adore you traps, Net vamps, digital boob-chasers and lolis. It’s great to be home!
If you can’t guess from the title, I’m back from my annual trip to the United States’ second largest confluence of fanboys and fangirls — the one, the only, OTAKON!!! According to a recent article by Anime News Network, Otakon 2008’s attendance hit a record high of over 26,000 full-time attendees. This figure does not include the drifters, who typically boost the headcount to upwards of 60,000.
Being something of a veteran who has faithfully haunted cons since the ripe young age of twelve, I have to say that this year’s Otakon was a very different experience. For the first time, I approached the con from an acutely journalistic standpoint, focusing my attention on Q&A panels and industry announcements instead of leaping headlong into the usual ‘watch-anime-till-my-eyeballs-rot-and-fall-out’ routine.
Um, WHAT? And the eye in the middle was glowing red, too! INSANE!
Nothing beats watching the Baltimore harbor be invaded by legions of otaku. Like the monsoon, or seven-year cicadas, Otakon is a highly-anticipated (and dreaded) force of nature that unfailingly sends downtown Baltimore into a panic, year after year. For the restaurants, street vendors, and small businesses in the periphery, Otakon is a field-day; for local residents, it’s a nightmare.
Coincidentally, a engaged couple had planned a decently sized wedding (around 30 to 40 people, I’m guessing) in our hotel, complete with tuxedos and live music in the ballroom. Well, surprise surprise, the Radisson Lord Baltimore just happens to be one of the hotels that publishes a discounted con rate every year. You can imagine their horrified facial expressions while seeing hordes of cosplaying otaku shuffling in and out of the hotel lobby all night long. It was priceless watching a guy dressed in a tux awkwardly worm his way into an elevator full of sweaty fanboys holding cardboard swords. Talk about bad timing.
Speaking of bad timing, my decision to change this into a reconnaissance mission was rather poor timing on my part for two reasons: 1) the attendance number was through the roof and 2) the Otakon staff were stricter than ever about following safety codes to the letter, conditions that translated into hour-long lines congregating in front of panels that consistently shut out about half of their would-be participants. I’m talking about lines stretching WAAAY down the bigass hall connecting the two sections of the Baltimore Convention Center, all just to squeeze into a tiny room for official Bandai announcements or the like.
Behold, the legions of FANDOM!!!.
Apparently, the days of standing in the backs of the rooms and crowding the entrances are over. Otakon’s upgrade was a double-edged sword; on one hand, the Otakon staff did its best job to date in keeping things orderly; but on the other hand, you were S.O.L. if you didn’t have a DSLite to keep you occupied (thanks Extrange!) and a wristwatch to keep on top of the schedule. Events started on time, drinking water was abundant, the air conditioning was on full blast; things moved like clockwork. My advice for Otakon 2009: get a DS and headphones, bring a watch, plan to dine in the Harbor, and reserve a room at the Days Inn as early as possible, which sells out fast because it is right across the street. Why, I’ll be reserving my room tonight ;-).
This post will include the best of my cosplay pictures (please don’t hate me for being a horrid photographer), a few tidbits about my experience and massive purchases (*w00p w00p* FANBOY alert), and most notably, a transcription of my notes from the industry panels, the highlight of which was an open discussion/clash of the titans between famous fansubbers and U.S. licensing companies. Skip to whatever tickles your fancy.
Maipeisu’s Highlights and Other Fun Stuff
So, here is a quick rundown of the activities I made it to, with some brief impressions…
[Friday (08/08)] Freedom Project Episode 1-2 (HD theater), Media Blasters Q&A (industry panel), Kappei Yamaguchi Q&A (industry panel), avoided the Naruto Fan Panel like the plague, GaoGaiGar Episodes 26-32, Ultimate Hellsing Panel (fan panel), and Friday Night Fan Films. Friday was probably the most difficult day because I was struggling to use my nearly-defunct cell phone to keep in touch with my two friends, as well as ramming my skull like Eva Unit 00 against the harsh realities of lines, room capacities and fire hazards.
Checking out Media Blasters was tons of fun. They are definitely one laid back anime company, and it was very reassuring to infer from the discussion that true fans were at the helm of their important marketing decisions. The truth is, the big boys in the anime market are not always the big fans. Business is business and numbers are numbers, so if you can produce results, that’s all that really matters. However, for MB, licensing anime thankfully does not seem to be all about profits. More on the Media Blasters panel later.
Code Geass’s finest, complete with Pizza Hut.
Yamaguchi, a PROLIFIC seiyuu who has performed a long list of famous roles like Ranma, Inu-Yasha, and L, was surprisingly down-to-earth for a voice actor who has worked so extensively in the anime industry. I’ll admit, I expected a very different type of individual; his youthful enthusiasm took me by surprise. Yamaguchi-sensei gave some very interesting responses to deeply personal questions about his experiences, such as a brief tale about how he accidentally locked himself out of his hotel room, nude, during a business trip for one of his earlier roles, and how on a human level, he strongly relates to certain characters he voiced.
Oh, and GaoGaiGar is a fricking AMAZING ‘transforming robots’ mecha anime that is required viewing for all fans of big robots. The designs and mechanoid fusions are outstandingly intricate. After listening to Ms. Mulroney go on and on about it and seeing a few episodes only hours later, it probably won’t be long before I grab the box set.
[Saturday (08/09)] Masao Maruyama Q&A (industry panel), AMV Contest (main events), the long-awaited Fansubber and Industry Discussion (industry PLUS fan panel), Saturday Night Fan Parodies, and Excel Saga Episodes 22-26 (after a hard decision to skip out on The Machine Girl and the infamous “drill bra”). In my opinion, which possibly contradicts that of the populace, 2008 was one of the first years in which the Upbeat and Comedy AMV categories were stronger than the Action and Drama ones.
Factually, this was probably the first year that Otakon copped out on the Parody category because their legal counsel advised against displaying several of the entries… at least this is the first year I recall it happening. My favorite video, the champion of the “Upbeat” category, was an amazing mash-up of various anime called “Word Play”, and was set to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk. Another goody, a yaoi-parody set to Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” entitled “The Harassment of Kyon” took the grand prize for 2008’s AMV submissions. Regardless of what you may feel about the song (wink wink), it definitely deserved the recognition it received.
Not sure who the HELL this is, but I had to get a snapshot of her anyway!
Masao Maruyama’s second panel (the one I made it to) was probably much less crowded than the first, but it was nonetheless engaging. Maruyama-sensei’s outwardly carefree demeanor and sanguine disposition belie his identity as Madhouse’s renowned animator giant, a man who was worked on an endless list of extremely popular and successful titles. He walked in and sat down a row away from me so casually, I thought he was another attendee until he climbed onto the stage. Although this is the first time I’ve seen him speak, he is a frequent guest at Otakon, with 2008 marking his sixth appearance.
After a brief DVD preview of some upcoming titles, Maruyama expressed that he is a HUGE Stitch fan and is very excited to be working on the Japanese rendition of Sutichi; he also explained, in response to a question about his feelings on working with Disney, that because Walt Disney was like a father to Osamu Tezuka (who in turn was like a father to him), he is also very honored to be involved in the project. I scoff at Stitch in the Fall Preview (as you will see), but having been moved this man’s charm and humble insight, I am now more than willing to give it a chance. The DVD preview of Stitch was cute in a way that was both Japanese and heartwarming the way a good Disney film ought to be.
[Sunday (08/10)] Bad Anime, Bad! (fan panel), Urusei Yatsura TV, State of the Industry (industry panel), and the (perhaps) most-awaited ADV Announcements (industry panel). Bad Anime, Bad!’s victim this year included Vampire Wars, which amounts to little more than a supernatural action plot clothed scantily in an utterly illogical vampire romance. I’m definitely watching it for lulz!
Since no one else showed up for the State of the Industry panel, it metamorphosed into another Q&A for FUNimation. Good for me, because I got squeezed out of the first one. Also, I burned an hour pwning an octopus monster (on the new FFIV DS) waiting to get into the ADV panel, which turned out to be a bit of a letdown. My condolences to all the fans who waited patiently to hear substantive news from ADV; we will need to hold out until AWA 14 for the big scoop. More on this later.
Very cool. These types of cosplay are quite rewarding for con shutterbugs like myself.
The gaps between events listed above were spent either running back to the hotel to make onigiri (thanks again, Extrange!) with my handy-dandy, kawaii Zojirushi rice cooker that I decided to bring to the hotel; slithering across the 25K square foot dealer’s room hunting for rarities; or waiting hour in line for panels that I may or may NOT have gotten into. Those that I missed I will conveniently omit from this post out of a mixture of disgust and despair.
The Spoils of Battle
And out of sheer embarrassment, I am NOT going to discuss the amount of money I spent nor the full extent of my purchases, especially when I have bills to pay and owe someone money for accidentally backing into their car O_O;. Twenty-five thousand square feet of space transforms Otakon’s dealer room into nothing less than a bazaar of vendors, with a bazaar-appropriate amount of garbage and ripoffs lingering at every turn. But therein lies the adventure in the whole experience; getting lost in the dealer’s room for hours on end hunting for that special thing that catches my eye is a must-do for every Otakon.
I subsisted almost entirely on a diet of freshly-made onigiri, water and Japanese snacks. Bringing the rice cooker to the hotel proved to be an excellent strategy to save food money typically wasted on the $10/slice pizza that’s sold in the convention center. My friend, a native of Japan, taught me how to make onigiri for the first time.
No, I am not the type to hurl wads of cash at the first Nyanko-burger plushie or ugly PVC figurine sporting non-separated ‘flesh mittens’ for hands that I see. As much as possible, and leaving aside the obligatory DVD and manga purchases that I feel I owe the industry, I aim for rarities, relics and “true” collectibles. I long for the good old days of laserdisc boxsets with gatefold art, and cheaply-priced animation cels. Nowadays its all fake katanas and Star Wars posters.
A classic. Couldn’t resist the radiant yellows and amber reds. This is not the kind wall scroll made for public consumption, but a kind manufactured specifically for conventions; I was in the mood for Ranma after hearing my friend rave about the manga and listening to the original seiyuu’s praise for the anime
Fortunately, I found some interesting things. My highlights for this year’s purchases were a brilliantly yellow Ranma 1/2 event wall scroll, an even larger, vinyl Urusei Yatsura event poster (probably the only of its kind in the world), a Record of Lodoss War draft cel of The Grey Witch (the lady first possessed by the crown, rather) called a dokan if memory serves, and a Yoshitaka Amano artbook for Vampire Hunter D. I had NO idea that the same genius that drafted the characters designs for Final Fantasy 6 was responsible for Vampire Hunter D as well. Supposedly, this artbook is now out of print. Needless to say, these lovely goodies have found a new home with MP.
Another classic. Urusei Yatsura is a fantastic show, by the way.
Finally, the good stuff. These are the news bytes that I gleaned from my note-taking in the panels. I’ll save the best for last.
[Media Blasters Q&A] Listening to representative Meredith Mulroney bubble on enthusiastically about Voltron, old school mecha anime and the Alteil card game probably made Media Blasters the most interesting of the industry panels that I made it into, and definitely gave me a clearer perception of Media Blaster’s niche among U.S. licensing and distribution companies. They are on record for admitting that they have successfully weathered the rash of recent Internet fansubs by selecting titles that are either less well-known or not in danger of being fansubbed into oblivion before a legitimate product can be pushed past Japan’s red tape and into domestic markets.
This includes (obviously) old-school mecha anime such as GaoGaiGar and a slew of yaoi/yuri that other companies are too chicken to lay their hands on. Kudos to Media Blasters for enduring the blistering financial climate of the U.S. anime market. Although not verbatim (due to me taking notes with my DS), here are a few paraphrased questions and answers that popped up during the panel:
Before the question and answer session, the company played a preview of a dubbed release of Seirei no Moribito, a masterpiece fantasy anime produced by Production I.G. that I plan to review in the near future. Seirei no Moribito will be airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim this fall. In addition, they also heavily promoted the Alteil card game and are currently working on Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan, Magical Witch Punie-chan, Kujibiki Unbalance, a yuri manga entitled Maka-Maka and another manga called Akihabara@DEEP.
[ADV Q&A] Word has it that many people came to Otakon 2008 just to see what big news ADV had to drop in this panel. Well, the big news is that ADV was unable to announce one single anime title other Indian Summer due to binding contractual agreements; the disclosed list consisted of five live action titles. …So much for my hour-long wait. ADV also noted at least twice that they would be able to reveal more during Atlanta, GA’s Anime Weekend Atlanta Convention, which is only about a month off. At any rate, without further delay, here are some of the questions and answers:
ADV has plans to license five live-action titles including Attack Girl Swim Team vs. The Undead, Cruel Restaurant, Gluttonous 1 & 2 (a double release), Female Prisoner Epsilon, and another Kunoichi movie. The remaining animation titles will be announced sometime in the next month or so.
[Fansubber and Industry Discussion] What could have easily degenerated into a bloodbath was actually a surprisingly well-mannered, moderated discussion of the effect of Internet fansubs on the anime industry, both in Japan and in the United States, as well as a bit of brainstorming for possible resolutions to the conflict between legitimate anime distributors and illegitimate fansubbers. As expected, the massive Panel 4’s auditorium was packed to the very last seat with curious otaku gathered round to witness the bizarre and yet exciting spectacle of industry giants and Internet giants coming together for 90 minutes of civil discourse. A sight to see, indeed.
It would have been incredibly unrealistic to expect this panel to produce a neat resolution. The Internet is large, the Earth is large, and the problem, too, is large; one that runs far and deep, and portends rippling consequences for many different layers of the industry. Yet, while none rose to slice the Otakuan Knot with the same grace and singularity of Alexander the Great, what we all gained from attending was a broader perspective on the present condition of the worldwide industry and an understanding that each of us — corporate high roller, torrent-hording brat, or otherwise — shares a common interest in Japanese animation and that we should assume some degree of responsibility in our conduct if we want to see the tradition continue.
For example, this means that fansubbers should be aware that animators deserve to be remunerated for their hard work, and at the same time, companies need to be equally aware of consumer demands, and ready to adapt accordingly. In the world of economics, the consumer’s preference reigns supreme. I do not think this is a matter of right and wrong so much as it is a clear comprehension of the facts. One consensual observation that emerged from the discussion is the fact that the industry is in a state of flux, and that innumerable things will continue to change over the next few years.
Guests included YaoiBoy and GetFresh of LiveeviL, Interactii of Dattebayo, Hisho of Shinsen Subs, Marketing Director Lance Heiskell of FUNimation, John Sirabella, CEO of Media Blasters, and another MB representative henceforth known as (7) because I do not have his name handy at the moment. Questions (scripted beforehand) and answers follow:
A few other interesting facts were traded here and there, such as how the fansub groups represented in the panel do their utmost to control the spread of torrents from their websites, try to remove shows from the Internet once they become licensed, and the reasons why doing so is beyond their control most of the time.