Category: Commentary

Top 5 Anime of 2012

 In some ways 2012 was a great year for anime. But that came in the form of long shows and unfortunately, two of the shows I’ve watched and enjoyed the most in 2012 didn’t end and don’t qualify for my list. While I haven’t watched a lot this year, what I did get to was some incredibly fun and innovative stuff. While I’m disappointed that my own rules don’t allow some of my favorite shows to make the list, what is included are shows that definitely should not be overlooked.

  5: The K-On! Movie

K-On! deserves to make the list for one spectacular reason: It’s the best K-On! that has yet been released. The K-On! Movie tosses the characters into more conflict than in both seasons of the TV show combined. Watching the characters get lost in London and attempting to speak english sis both adorable and extremely satisfying. Those aspects combined with the stellar animation quality that Kyoto Animation puts into a theatrical production and K-On! The Movie is the ultimate experience of the franchise. For that reason alone it deserves to make the list.

 4: Mouretsu Pirates

Mouretsu Pirates is one of those shows that attempts to serve a dual audience, fans looking for serious science fiction and fans looking for moe. It suffers from the problems that all those shows suffer from, while it has some interesting science fiction and good action the tone is constantly spun from serious to a light school comedy and the effect is jarring.

While Mouretsu Pirates is hard to take seriously as a work of science fiction when it is deep in its action sci-fi mode it’s a lot of fun and it plays with some new concepts for space pirates. On the other hand the moe elements are also fun, and I’d love to spend more time with all the characters. So while it is harmed by it’s duality it doesn’t disappoint on either front.

3:  Natsuyuki Rendezvous

The strength of Natsuyuki Rendezvous comes from the strong, realistic relationship built around the main characters. The telling scene is early on when Hazuki confesses his love to Rokka and it isn’t treated like the massive bomb that you’d normally expect in a romance anime. Rokka simply nods, says she’ll think about it, and they go and have lunch then go back to work. They react like adults, and that alone puts Natsuyuki Rendezous in a special category.

On top of the romance there is the hilarious relationship between Hazuki and the ghost of Rokka’s husband Atsushi. He hangs around, unable to let his wife go and the only one who can see him is Hazuki. So he tries at all opportunity to get between the budding romance.

While the middle sagged a bit, the characters and relationship does more than enough to qualify Natsuyuki Rendezvous for this list.

 

 2: Kids on the Slope

Jazz, the 1960s, a male friendship at the core of the story. A theme of my lists have been shows that have elements that make it stick out among most of the anime that we get from Japan. Kids on the Slope ignores most anime tropes, choosing instead to deliver a realistic narrative grounded in a set time and place. The show we get doesn’t even have to be animated, but I’m glad it gets placed in the skilled hands of director Shinichiro Watanabe and the music of Yoko Kanno.

The animation is absolutely beautiful and the characters and narrative are superb. The show is also extremely dense with time flying by as these eleven episodes attempts to cover two years of the characters high school career. Often single episodes feel like two episodes shortened and jammed together. I’d assume that the show might have been planned for a longer run but they worked with what that had, condensing where they could. That might be the only complaint, the show tries to do so much over a small span of time and pieces of it just get lost or left hanging.

There was a note in the penultimate episode during the preview that hinted that this show barely got made. It was one of the most genuine notes I’ve seen come from a production team and it showcases just how difficult it is to get compelling animation made in the current anime marketplace.

 1: Chihayafuru

No one who has heard me rave over Chihayafuru this past year will be surprised that it is my pick for the best of 2012. The show does everything near perfectly. There is a type of show that forces me to become so involved with the characters and narrative that I can’t help breaking down emotionally. There is a stretch in Chihayafuru that I was brought to tears at the end of nearly every episode. Either that shows how good this show is or how easily manipulated I am.

The success of the show is mainly because it hits so many of the most popular tropes of anime over the last few years. There is a club where the characters can interact, there is a shonen sports aspect, and there is a romance piece that features a love triangle with a childhood friendship! The key is that Chihayafuru is able to make all of them work independent and then interweave them to make the whole so much stronger than the sum of its parts. It’s a homerun, and a must watch for anyone who loves anime.

The Death of the Anime Convention Part 1: Goodbye New York Anime Festival

Today New York Comic Con announced that New York Anime Festival will no longer exist. Attendees of the convention weren’t surprised at the news, but disappointed. This means that there is no large anime convention in New York City! How insane is it to think that the most populated area in the country lacks an Anime Convention?! How did this come about? Some of us had hope when they announced the merging of the two conventions, but it was quickly clear that the two cultures couldn’t co-exist. 

Attendees of the past two New York Anime Festivals have been more than vocal about how dissatisfied they were with the event. In 2010 the event was shoved into the basement of the Javits convention center, quarantining anime programing; artist alley; and the mass of anime fans away from the pop culture convention going on above. It was a suitable solution to the problem of combining the two conventions, but no one was completely happy. In 2011 fan run anime panels were nearly abolished entirely while the artist alley was moved to the top floor of the Javits center. The “anime ghetto” returned and it was clear that the two conventions would never be able to live side by side. While anime’s presence at the convention grew ever smaller, the convention itself was bursting at the seams with people interesting in comics and the other pop culture events going on. The tiny anime convention that happened inside the massive New York Comic Con went by unnoticed by the majority of attendees.

Reflecting back, New York Comic Con 2011 was mostly a miserable experience. It was fantastic to see “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below” and all the events around Makoto Shinkai, including my own interview with the famous director, are experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But the convention itself? It was loud, hard to navigate, and even on the slowest days of the convention was packed with people who were more interesting in the shopping bazaar than in the culture of the convention. 

One of the problems is that Comic Con has become a hype factory. The event is built around people wanting to stand in line for hours at a time to see celebrities and/or clips from upcoming media that will be out in a few months. The most confusing one was the Batman Arkham City panel having a line out the door when the game was only a week or two from release. That kind of hype doesn’t exist in the anime world because of the distance between Japan and the licensing companies. Until recently most anime convention attendees had already seen shows the licensing companies were showcase. Even with simulcasts licensing doesn’t happen until weeks, at the most, before shows are released which doesn’t give anime licensors time to hype at conventions.

Anime conventions are more focused around the community and gathering with friends. That is why costume contests, masquerades, pan panels, and an Artists’ Alley are all staples of anime conventions but are worth considerably less at the larger pop culture events. The two cultures are far too different for them to ever had existed in the same space. The larger corporate interests were always going to run the dedicated anime sections out of the Javits.

 Not to say that this isn’t going to be a benefit to the anime companies. A more integrated Comic Con means that Funimation and Crunchyroll will be billed with the same weight as Marvel and other of the large players, ideally. We’ll have to see how well the complete integration actually plays out and if Anime even gets the nod that New York Comic Con is promising. However, the anime companies being present at the previous NYCCs gives them more of a chance of getting a decent slot in programing. More eyeballs can only benefit the industry.

So yes, the death of New York Anime Festival is tragic but it gives some hope that the complete integration will give some benefit to the industry and the fandom. They gave a lot of time to Makoto Shinkai last year so it wouldn’t be shocking if they allowed an equally important Japanese guest the same privilege even without NYAF being a named part of the convention. What it harms is the culture that anime conventions thrive on. There won’t be any anime fan panels, there will only be the largest of anime artist in the NYCC artist alley, and the kids will have lost a place to hang around with their friends. Will I be attending Comic Con next year? They’ll have to show me some impressive anime guests for me to even consider it at this point. Unfortunately, Comic Con just isn’t a part of nerd culture that I feel the need to subject myself too without decent anime content. Comic Con grows as a mega culture event, and a single anime convention bites the dust.

But looking at the state of anime conventions, will it be long before we start losing more and more of them? Check back for part 2 in my “The Death of the Anime Convention” series “The Homestuck problem” for my thoughts.

The Death of the Anime Convention: Goodbye New York Anime Festival

Today New York Comic Con announced that New York Anime Festival will no longer exist. Attendees of the convention weren’t surprised at the news, but disappointed. This means that there is no large anime convention in New York City! How insane is it to think that the most populated area in the country lacks an Anime Convention?! How did this come about? Some of us had hope when they announced the merging of the two conventions, but it was quickly clear that the two cultures couldn’t co-exist.

Attendees of the past two New York Anime Festivals have been more than vocal about how dissatisfied they were with the event. In 2010 the event was shoved into the basement of the Javits convention center, quarantining anime programing; artist alley; and the mass of anime fans away from the pop culture convention going on above. It was a suitable solution to the problem of combining the two conventions, but no one was completely happy. In 2011 fan run anime panels were nearly abolished entirely while the artist alley was moved to the top floor of the Javits center. The “anime ghetto” returned and it was clear that the two conventions would never be able to live side by side. While anime’s presence at the convention grew ever smaller, the convention itself was bursting at the seams with people interesting in comics and the other pop culture events going on. The tiny anime convention that happened inside the massive New York Comic Con went by unnoticed by the majority of attendees.

Continue reading “The Death of the Anime Convention: Goodbye New York Anime Festival”

His and Her Circumstances: Building on top of Evangelion

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His and Her Circumstances, or Kare Kano for short, is famous among Otaku for being the final piece of animation directed by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno, who left the project before it had finished due to disputes with advertisers and the author of the original Manga, Masami Tsuda. Which is strange because she, supposedly, claims she was unhappy with Gainax’s focus on the humor and not the romance. After watching the show I doubt that was the only thing she was uncomfortable with in the adaptation.

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Kare Kano is an odd show, not odd in the sense that it’s a weird or hyper active like some recent Gainax titles. It’s odd because the core of the story is a generic Shoujo anime. Yet, Anno takes what could have been a simple romantic comedy and transforms it into a commentary on the nature of relationships and how they effect and charge individuals. A few episodes in the post-Evangelion style of Anno is apparent. Elements reserved for some of Evangelion’s more spectacular episodes are used in Kare Kano with abandon. These include sketches, dialogue as text for emphases, still frames, long sequences of inner monologue, manga frames, and abstract animation meant to symbolize a character’s mental state.

Lets try to go back to the time and place and get into the head of Anno as he starts to direct Kare Kano. It’s the year 1998 and he just finished creating one of the most influential anime of all time, one that’s colossal impact is still being felt over fifteen years later. Then he was allowed to refinish the ending of his masterpiece with a huge budget and again creates a masterpiece that pushes animation forward narratively and stylistically. Gainax will never raise higher than the peak they reached in the wake of End of Evangelion. How is Anno rewarded for these accomplishments? He gets to adapt a Shoujo manga.

Kare Kano is unique for Gainax. It’s the first straight Shoujo title that they’ve done and the first time that Gainax has ever adapted a previously published work. So Anno was being challenged in one respect, but he was also being restricted to a set source material. Not that it stopped him from being Anno.

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I’m going to a bold statement: Kare Kano is one of the most innovative piece of animation I’ve seen. I’m not saying that Kare Kano is a better show than Evangelion or Anno’s previous works but the way he approached Kare Kano is able to turn what is a rather generic Shojo into a visual and emotional thrill ride. The way Anno works with the characters and builds the relationship is unique, especially in Shojo, and taking a simple romantic comedy and transforming it into a physiological character study that Anno perfected in Evangelion.

I wouldn’t be a proper Evangelion fan if I didn’t notice the constant references to Anno’s previous work. The first one happens only minutes into the series where Yukino’s is giving her opening monologue and strikes a pose that emulate’s Rei standing over the earth in End of Evangelion while a glowing white ball appears in her hand to make the picture complete. Anno reuses Evnagelion sound effects, music, recreates pieces of animation, and references Evangelion throughout the series. The chief reason these are in the series, I believe, is to give a nod to the Gainax fanboys and allow Anno to trumpet his own work. There is also a note of sadness to the Evangelion references, as if Anno lamented it being over and regretted working on his current project, but I might be projecting.

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It’s clear why Anno would have been interested in Kare Kano’s narrative. In Evangelion, Anno dealt with a handful of characters who are defined by their duality. Shinji built up a wall around himself in order to hide from his Father’s rejection while pretending to hate him and Asuka coveted the praise of others because of her own struggles with an absent Mother. Kare Kano’s two main characters deal with similar issues. Yukino loves to be praised and adored so she puts on the persona of the perfect student. Flawless appearance, perfect grades, willing to help, member of every committee during special events, and beautiful. However, when that position is challenged by the equally smart Arima and she losses first place her entire persona begins to unravel. She has to work even harder to maintain her grades because holding that number one position is the basis for the entire character she constructed for herself. The breaking point only comes when she learned that Arima, the seemingly perfect Arima, is putting on a show of his own.

Arima’s desire to hide his true self comes from an abusive childhood which ended when he was taken away from his parents and sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle. Feeling ashamed at himself for his own childhood and carrying the burden of his parents, Arima attempts to make up for those aspects of himself by excelling at school and sports while attempting to not being a burden on his adoptive family.

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The two characters struggle with their duality in some breathtaking scenes which explore the character’s personalities and back story in amazing detail. Anno doesn’t hold back in exposing these character’s flaws, completely cracking apart what had previously been presented to the audience. That is the exceptional aspect of Kare Kano, it goes far beneath the surface of the characters and roots the relationship deep in the psychology of the characters. They become the only people who they reveal their true selves to and in doing so the two share a connection that Yukino has only had with her family, and Arima has never had with anyone.

The most impressive part of Kare Kano is that it’s the most realistic romance anime I’ve ever seen. The relationship progresses smoothly; Yukino and Arima start off hating each other, then they become friends, followed by falling in love. Even after they admit their feelings the progress continues to dating, to needing to be around each other, and finally through the stages of a physical relationship. The majority of Shojo spends far too much time on the first few parts of the relationship, so much so that most series end after the main characters confess their feelings for each other or share a single kiss. When I hear romance anime I think of misunderstandings, love triangles, and endless dead ends. Kare Kano gets through that in the first ten episodes. Of course the narrative is the work of Masami Tsuda, but the way Anno builds the characters before the relationship even begins makes the progression of their relationship all the more satisfying.

H%26H004.pngAnno also takes some serious risks with the animation style. My experience with Shoujo is that directors traditionally don’t get excessively artistic but rather play the animation straight and add a healthy amount of sparkles. Outside of his Evangelion-esque psychological scenes there are episodes that feature heavy use of still images, sketches of characters with text, and was able to sneak in still photography.

The most interesting episode, Episode 19, comes from one directed by Anno’s protege Kazuya Tsurumaki, who took over the series once Anno left. It’s a completely insane mash up of styles using photographic backgrounds, featured all the characters in a crayon like style, and had hyperbolic scenes animated using paper cut outs on popsicle sticks. The episode probably represents a time crunch caused by the departure of Hideki Anno, but it certainly is left as a testimony to the abstract levels in which Gainax is capable. Not until Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt have I seen them use alternatives to standard animation, yet here they combine standard animation with a host of other styles to create a visually jarring and yet thought provoking piece of art.

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Much of the nonromantic aspects of the seres pale in comparison to how Anno handles the characterization and relationship between Arima and Yukino. The middle of the series concerns side stories where Arima is noticeably absent, and Anno seems to adapt these episodes straightforward as opposed to making them his own as he did with the first half of the narrative. It doesn’t matter anyway, as the series abruptly ends and will never be continued by Gainax, as requested by Masami Tsuda. It’s a shame Anno didn’t get a free hand to do whatever he wanted with the series as a whole piece, but even beyond that, the anime no ending but just closes in the middle of the “14 day” arc where Yukino and friends are preparing a play for the cultural festival. The anime covers the preparations for the festival, but ends right before the festival begins. The play sounded like a new opportunity for deep character study and while I could read the manga to find out how the “14 days” arc plays out I would have liked to see Anno or Tsurumaki tackle a play within an anime that reflects on the characters. That seems like an ideal situation for the director to craft. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Kare Kano is, ultimately, an experimental anime for Anno that ended poorly. The core story and characters are solid but enhanced by the narrative and visual techniques of a master animator. Anno brings his craft as a director and the Gainax staff to their absolute highest and it’s a shame that the unstable Anno was unable to finish working on the series and, until the first Evangelion remake in 2007, retired from animation all together. If Anno ever returns to the Directors chair, for something that isn’t Evangelion, I think the world is in for a treat.

Top 5 Anime of 2011

luckystar01.jpeg2011 turned out to be an interesting year. It seems the moe craze is starting to dimmish a bit with a few notable failures; Yuru Yuri I’m looking in your direction; but overall 2011 turned into a pretty good, especially for Funimation with them pushing out two of the titles on this list on top of their exceptionally successful FLCL rerelease.

The titles on my list paint 2011 as a year where Japan returned to attempt reaching a western audience, where an auteur director came of age, where artistic exploration reached a new pinnacle, where sweet and simple narratives play with our emotions, and where Japan proves they are still capable of creating some of the finest Science Fiction in the world.

Each of the titles on the list represent different reasons why I’m an anime fan. The chief reason among them being how much depth the medium has to offer. The qualifying rules are simple, a series had to have finished airing in 2011 and a film has to have been released on DVD or screened in the United States at some point in 2011. Now, on to the list!

5. Tiger & Bunny

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Tiger & Bunny stands apart from other Japanese attempts at superhero stories because it relies so much on the characters. They are beautifully drawn and full of life, so much that I desperately await more stories set in the universe. Tiger & Bunny has the potential to be the new gateway drug for the next generation of Anime fans just as Cowboy Bebop was for my generation. It has themes that appeal to a western audience but enough anime tropes to prepare an unsuspecting audience before jumping into the vast world of the medium.

Above all else Tiger & Bunny could keep me on the edge of my seat with excitement though the majority of the final arc and allow me to build a strong enough emotional connection with the characters to have me break down in tears. For an action show to do both of those things elevates it above the majority in its genre.

4. Summer Wars

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Mamoru Hosoda made a huge affect the industry with his film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Summer Wars represents the first time Hosoda directs an original script and it definitely shows off the level of creativity of which he is capable. The imagery is stunning from the rich and full virtual world of OZ to the subtle beauty of rural Japan. The narrative pits old world family values against the need to be connected through a digital world and the stark difference between how the two worlds look aids the theme in profound ways.

The greatest achievement of Summer Wars is Hosoda’s handling of characters. The family depicted in the film easily contains two dozen members and yet with a few short scenes the audience feels as if they understand the make up of the family, and the character of even the most minor players. This is done by relating universal experiences and allowing the audience to fill in gaps with their own experiences. Truly, a magnificent style to immerse the audience in your world.

3. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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In an attempt to describe Madoka Magica I called it “The Dark Knight of magical girl shows” and indeed I believe that it took a genre that had been traditionally for young girls and transformed it with gritty realism and dark characters that left the idea of escapism normally associated with Magical Girl shows far behind, instead turning the idea of “Magical Girl” into a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. This isn’t the first show to turn Magical Girl tropes upside down but it certainly did it in a lasting and profound way.

The greatest achievement of this show is the direction of Akiyuki Shinbo as he weaved his fantastic cut out art style into the show which gave a stark contrast between the evil witches and Ume Aoki’s adorable character designs. The dark shadow filled world he crafts work to create the sinister undertone that drives Madoka Magica forward as it slowly destroys the emotional stability of the audience.

2. Usagi Drop

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I can’t stop talking about how much I love this show. Compared to all the other shows on the list it might seem like nothing special. The animation is simple and the story is almost nonexistent, being a slice of life drama. So how can it compete with shows that have innovative animation and narrative techniques? With pure heart. The show is the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen and it handles it’s subject, a single guy taking in a little girl, with sincere realism. The characters are so beautifully and realistically constructed that one cannot help falling in love with all of them, even the annoying bratty kid who befriends Rin.

Usagi Drop is a beautiful, universal narrative which succeeds because of how honest and true it is executed. It transcends the medium and is a product that shows a universal human experience no matter what age or disposition from which the viewer approaches.

1. Evangelion 2.22

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Evangelion 2.22 took the number one spot late and pretty much by default. It wasn’t until I was compiling the list and went over my rules that I realized that Evangelion 2.22 qualified, and that’s why it wasn’t on last year’s list even though the first time I saw it was in 2010.

Evangelion 2.22 is an amazing accomplishment chiefly because it takes it’s source material, the Evangelion television series, and improves on it. There are few anime series that come close to the complexity of narrative and depth of character development that the television series accomplishes and this film comes to much the same place using much tighter and complete character arcs. Not only is the structure of the narrative better but the visuals and action are perhaps some of the greatest ever seen in Japanese Animation. The style of the opening fight with Evangelion Unit 2 accomplishes what took the television series needed twenty minutes for in seconds. The intensity of the final battle with Zeruel seeds doubt into the audience as to what the outcome will be, and this is a remake of a much loved series! Hideaki Anno has improved on his own masterpiece and there is no question that Evangelion 2.22 takes the top spot for Anime released in 2011.

As always, I look forward to what next year will bring. Another year, another fantastic list of shows to represent the medium. I hope you enjoy.

 

Correction: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time was not Hosoda’s first film. I know Digimon exists, I just temporarily forgot about it. 

Convention Report: New York Comic Con 2011

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It’s hard to say anything about New York Comic Con that hasn’t already been said, or that isn’t a repeat from what I talked about last year’s show. The event was definitely bigger than last year and the space was far better utilized than last year with them opening up the North Hall for the autograph area. Of course, this being Comic Con, even with the large show space the crowding was horrible. Building a multi-genre show has its positives and negatives but I fear that Comic Con may have finally crossed the line into being more of swap meet with a theater showing clips from upcoming pop culture hits rather than a space to celebrate any type of fandom.

IMG_1777.jpgThe main component of New York Comic Con is undeniably the show floor. A massive space that serves as both a dealers room and a place where marketing professionals can attempting to push their new products on con-goers, a space for meeting your favorite artists and writers, or check out some fantastic indie art pieces. The show floor comes with all the spectacle that you’d expect from a geek event that takes place in one of the largest cities in the world. This is, unfortunately, a double edged sword. While the show floor is so large as to keep attendees busy for an entire weekend it is also the main place where the majority of people will be concentrated. Over all three days it was difficult to get from one end of the floor to the other. There is a constant fight against the raging mod to see anything and if you happen to be stuck behind someone who wants to take a photo the halls immediately get blocked with dozens of people fighting, not realizing that they’ve been halted by a guy with a camera phone and desire to get a third picture of Captain America. They’ll always be something to enjoy on the show floor, but be ready to fight in order to see it.

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Surprisingly, this is an improvement over last year. The anime section of the show floor experienced a massive traffic jam making that entire area impassable. This year the anime booths were spread throughout the floor, making it hard to hit all of them but it ensured that they were actually approachable. Overall, space between booths was much improved and even though the crowds were difficult to move through there were no complete jams like last year. It seems they did everything possible to increase the flow of traffic, if only they could prevent people from stopping and gawking at

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costumes.

The biggest question hovering over the convention this year was if the anime section would be improved or continue to become a shrinking piece of the convention. Well, while anime artist alley was moved from the basement to the gallery at the very top of the convention center it was still a difficult place simply to stumble upon. One needed to go up two escalators, following large signs, even to get to the area. Once there the artist alley was spacious and easy to browse and at the end of the gallery was a massive space which contained dozens of tables, some snack vendors, and the dreaded anime stage. Last year New York Anime Festival had a decent assortment of fan panels in small rooms. This year the only anime fan panels excepted were forced to perform on a stage, which forced the presenter to speak to a massive room where the majority of people were just sitting and chatting, not even caring what was happening on the stage. This worked for some of the game shows, like cosplay dating game, but I cringed through Aaron Clark’s Evangelion Deconstructed panel as he attempted to present serious analysis over the low rumble of crowd noise and the shouting of memes.

It’s clear that the anime fans and the comics fan simply don’t mesh together. New York Comic Con is evolving to become closer and closer to San Diego, a direction that I dread. Instead of eagerly waiting for fans speaking to fans and building a sense of community San Diego Comic Con is about room sitting all day to hear actors talk about films and television shows that are due to be released in the next few months. That isn’t a convention to me, the same task can be accomplished by reading an interview or checking a Hollywood news site. I go to conventions for the community, to see people I only know online and to experience fans speaking about their passion.

There are two main reason for the divide between the anime and comics fans. The first is simply age. Anime convention attendees tend to be younger and are more focused on hanging out with their friends than browsing through rows of comics looking for a rare issue. The other, and more important, reason behind why these two groups can’t seem to coexist is a difference in philosophy when it comes to the art. Comics fans come to these conventions to see footage of upcoming movies and get exclusive comics from the big publishers, they come to these conventions as consumers of media. Anime fans have developed a culture where they get most of their content for free on the internet, be it through illegal fan subs or the many legal steaming services. There is no surprising an anime fan with new titles or “exclusive” content because of the delay, even with simulcasting, it takes to licenses and release media from Japan. Anime fans don’t come to conventions to consume anime, they come to participate in the fandom, hang out with their friends, and buy additional merchandise.

The unfortunate fact about New York Comic Con, to quote Christopher MacDonald from Anime News Network at Sunday’s ANN Q&A panel: “It’s really good for the industry, it kind of sucks for us. Well, it’s good for me as a business but it’s not so good for fans.” The sheer number of people walking through the show room floor is always going to be good for the licensing companies and allows them to expose their titles to fans outside the group that normally goes to anime conventions. That being the case the way New York Comic Con was this year will probably be the way it’s going to stay, and as much as I might not like the state of the convention if this draws more fans towards the medium than it is completely justified. We’ll always have Otakon.

Panels

Anime News Network

Anime News Network panels are always fun as they allow the people fans have come to know through their writing to interact and answer questions. In New York there were some extremely well thought out questions asked to the panel, as well as the normal awkward “how can I write for ANN” questions. For a group of writers they are surprisingly adept at handling their interesting fan base.

Evangelion, Deconstructed

As always Aaron Clark put on an excellent panel going over some of the visual, cultural, and narrative references used the Neon Genesis Evangelion. Clark seems to have an endless supply of knowledge on the subject and will always surprise even the longest Evangelion fans with some tiny tidbit. The anime stage wasn’t the ideal place for his panel to be held as he was being drowned out by the low rumble of the mass of fans sitting and going about their business. He handled the situation professionally, not even letting a minor technical glitch to get in his way. If you like Evangelion his panels, and his website are highly recommended.

Makoto Shinkai

The highlight of the convention of me was getting to meet Makoto Shinkai, sit down for an interview with him, get an autograph, and watch his newest film “Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.” I’ve been a huge fan of his for a few years and it was a great honor and opportunity. If Shinkai hadn’t been a guest at this convention this report would be a lot more negative. Read my interview with him, watch the excellent Makoto Shinkai spotlight panel with Roland Kelts, and I’ll have a review of “Children Who Chase…” up in the next few weeks.

Hiro Mashima Interview

I was able to sit down with Fairy Tail mangaka Hiro Mashima. It was an interesting talk especially since I was paired with two bloggers from South America who made the long trip to New York Comic Con!

Photos

Comic Con is a difficult place to take photos because I don’t want to be like the people I mentioned above. So I was reserved, far more reserved, than I usually am. I did get lots of very pretty photos of toys though!

My Loot

I didn’t pick up much at New York Comic Con because of the logical problem with bringing loot back on the train. But I did get a few really cool items.

This adorable Kagami figure who is looking her most Tsundere.

A wonderful Squid Girl art book complete with a flipbook printed onto the side of the pages.

Makoto Shinkai autographed copy of 5 Centimeters Per Second. Now the crown jewel of my Anime DVD collection.

 

More New York Comic Con 2011 Coverage

Interview: Makoto Shinkai

During New York Comic Con 2011 I had the privilege to sit down with Makoto Shinkai; director of Voices of a Distant Star, 5 Centimeters Per Second , and his newest work Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. This interview took place, unfortunately, before the screening of his new film so my questions focus on his previous work.

We start by talking about some of the influences and themes of Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below, then I transition into some specifics about the creation of 5 Centimeters Per Second and the upcoming manga that Kodansha is bringing to the US market. We end the interview by asking about his attention to background detail, his thoughts on the state of the Anime industry, and his advice for upcoming Anime creators.

My questions are indicated with “Otaku in Review” and the other interviewers present are indicated simply by “Press.”

We began the interview by introducing ourselves to Shinkai-San. He then humbly introduced himself to us:

Makoto Shinkai: I’m Makoto Shinkai. I’m a director. 5 Centimeters per Second is, I think, my main title.

Otaku in Reivew: So you think 5 Centimeters Per Second is your greatest work?

MS: Many people say so but it’s been four years since its release and I’d like more people to pay more attention to Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. The two titles are completely separate they have different styles and topics so some like one over the other.

OiR: Unfortunately I haven’t seen the new film yet, I will be at the screening tomorrow. Reviewers have compared the styling to Studio Ghibli, is there any influence?

MS: There is no Japanese Animation creator who hasn’t been influenced by Studio Ghibli. That’s the atmosphere that we live in.

Press: What is your influence? Is there anything in your past that influences your work?

MS: During University days I was studying Modern Japanese Literature and I am a big Haruki Murakami fan. I think that influenced my storytelling a lot because I read his novels over and over again.

OiR: The theme of your first three works seems to be “relationships through distance and time,” why does this theme resonate with you?

MS: When I was making those three films I was thinking a lot about human relationships and at the same time new technology was coming into play. Human relationships and how people communicate was a theme I was thinking about a lot so when I made Voices of a Distant Star that was when people were just starting to use Cell Phones in Japan a lot and they were sending mail, short messages, and because of that technology sometimes a message would come five minutes later, two hours later, or maybe in a day or even, in the case of Voices, like a few years later. I was thinking of the way new technology effects the way relationships develop.

Press: I’d like to ask you to talk about Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. What was your underlying theme for this film? Was it also a study in human relationships and how people communicate?

MS: The biggest difference is that this is also about human relationships, how people relate to each other, but this time it’s about the relationship between a living person and a person who has already passed away. That’s the biggest difference. It’s still about human relationships but this one is about the relationship with someone who has already passed on.

OiR: I have a couple about 5 Centimeters because I have yet to see the new film. Masayoshi Yamazaki’s “One more time, one more chance” plays a prominent role in the ending of 5 Centimeters Per Second. How did it play in the creation of the film?

MS: We made 5 Centimeters I wasn’t planning on creating a new song to match with the story. I was telling a story that happened in the 90s so I looked at a bunch of pop songs that happened in that era. When I heard Masayoshi’s “One more time, One more chance” I thought it fit the story perfectly and it was extremely popular when it was released so everyone was familiar with it.

OiR: At the beginning of Episode 2 of 5 Centimeters Per Second there is a magnificent image of the sun rising behind the earth. (image above) Can you talk about creating that image?

MS: Takaki, the male character, had dreams of this girl he liked who was very far away. In the image they’re both on a distant planet that is far away, so he’s dreaming that he’s with her even though she’s in a far away place. That image came from something a bit different. When I was in High School I had a recurring dream where I became lost on a faraway star.

When I was in high school I was really into Science Fiction and I used to read a monthly magazine called “Newton,” a science magazine. Today the images in science magazines are computer generated but at that time they were hand drawn and I thought they were really cool. So I was thinking about those a lot and had those dreams.

OiR: The 5 Centimeters Per Second Manga will be coming to the US soon. How do the manga and the film pair with each other?

MS: Normally in Japan there is a manga first and it gets popular, sells millions of copies, and then they make the anime. The story behind the 5 Centimeter manga is like this: First when I came up with the story I made the anime. Then after I made an anime there were a lot of things I wanted to improve on so I wrote a short novel and in it I fixed the elements that I thought were weak in the anime. Shortly afterwards I was approached by Kodansha and they asked if they could make a manga out of the short novel. The manga is actually a culmination of both the anime and the short novel so I believe it’s the best representation of the work I wanted to make. It mixes the best elements of the anime with the best elements of the short novel together. I recommend people check it out.

Press: I’d like to ask your opinion on the Japanese animation industry in general. What’s your opinion on the recent trends and the thematic elements used in recent anime?

MS: Right now in Japan there is a lot of anime being made for lots of different tastes and that’s a good thing. There are new styles of anime, for example the noitamina slot on Fuji TV. Noitamina is animation spelled backwards so they take anime and they try new things all the time. I don’t know if this works economically and I don’t watch much anime myself, but I know what’s going on. In the old days the anime was very similar and everything was typical so I think the new varieties of anime is healthy for the industry. However, in the long term it’s a question mark as where 2D animation is going in Japan. As we see in the United States 3D is taking over and becoming more popular. I think that will eventually happen in Japan as well which means that what we know as anime today may go away because of 3D coming in and because there are less and less people who can actually make anime these days. That’s a little bit sad but it’s just evolution and it’s the way things should evolve in the future.

Otaku in Review: In the last ten or fifteen years the people who do background animation are retiring or leaving the industry. Yet you focus a lot on background detail and the tiny elements in a scene. Such as She and Her Cat which is compact and beautiful and yet is filled with vibrant detail, even small elements like the kitchen. Why are those backgrounds so important?

MS: When I made She and Her Cat I was working on a Fantasy Role Playing Game during the day. In a fantasy role playing game your surroundings are very rich and detailed. But I was living in a typical small Japanese apartment and around the apartment building were concrete telephone poles with lots of electric wires. That’s a typical kind of surroundings we have while living in a very small place. Even though the surroundings may be jumbled with ugly things I wanted to find the beauty in the things all around me. Even living in a small apartment surrounded by electrical lines I wanted to make it look detailed and beautiful to express that it was ok to live in such a situation. That’s why I believe I focus on all these background details.

OiR: Has your time in England inspired your work at all?

MS: I lived in London for a year and for the first six months I was going an English school, even though I was thirty-five years old I was going to school with a bunch of college kids. The next sixth months I spent working the script for Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below. During that time I was able to visit all the museums, I especially enjoyed the British Museum of Art and the World History Museum where they had ancient artifacts. When you see the film you’ll see ruins of ancient societies so going to museums influenced me that way. But when you watch the film you won’t think it has a British influence, while I was in London I was able to explore some global things.

OiR: For upcoming animation directors do you recommend the independent route or should they go the classic route, start at Key Animation and climb up the ladder while working in the industry.

MS: It’s difficult to suggest the best way right now because there are no barriers to entry. If you’re an artist and want to create something and put it on the internet and everybody can see it. But there are some demerits for that because you feel like your job is done, you’ve shown everyone your work. It’s different from the old days where you’d make something and take it to a publisher to see if they’d publish it. They’d be a lot of back and forth and negotiations required to get your work out. In that sense it’s good so you can get your work out quickly but it’s also still good to work for a studio and climb the ladder that way because in the old days you’d have had to brush up your work before it went out into the public. You had to work hard before you could show it to the public. Now it’s so easy you don’t even have to work too hard.

Maybe the best was it to make the best possible thing by yourself and get it out there and then from there it’ll make it easier to talk with studios and then you can enter a professional studio and work on things. Maybe that’s the best way

 

I’d like to thank Makoto Shinkai for taking the time to sit down with me during his busy trip to New York. I’d also like to thank Crunchyroll’s Vincent Shortino for helping bring Shinkai-San to New York Comic Con and for help with translation.

Also check out video of Makoto Shinkai opening and closing the screening of Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below and the Makoto Shinkai panel

 

Screenshots from Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below taken from Manga Market.

Convention Report: ConnectiCon 2011

Again the premiere multi-genre convention in New England has come and again it provided a ton of fantastic events for a wide variety of geekery from hard core miniature gaming to My Little Pony fandom.

This isn’t like the other Anime Conventions that I attend because, for starters, this convention isn’t just anime. ConnectiCon was started in order to fill a void of no serious convention presences in the state. The convention quickly grew from a small college con to fill the beautiful Connecticut Convention center. It has little industry presence but a fantastic community around all the aspects the convention covers. The fans come out in force and fill the board gaming areas, dress up in Doctor Who cosplay, play in the dozen Magic the Gathering tournaments over the weekend, and relax in the Manga library or anime screening room. Unfortunately with all the good culture comes some of the worst of convention culture. Free Hug signs plague the halls, people blast music in the common areas while dancing, and shouting memes could be heard. Luckily, the common areas are so large that those people are easily avoided and the convention so much that motivated con-goers won’t even be spending much time in the common areas.

Panels

The worst panel I attended at ConnectiCon was “Bang your Head! A look at Heavy Metal Music.” It was run by someone who was clearly a huge fan of Metal but I was never sure what the point of his panel was. He presented it in a 101 method which didn’t fit the title or the attendees who ranged from the confused why this panel was happening; like me; to the people who were far too into it and were head-banging an inappropriate amount. I didn’t stay long enough to see where he was going, but I do know that he thinks the bass guitar is underutilized in metal. Whatever that means.

Guest Carlos Ferro hosted this panel on his obsession with figure collecting in “Action Figure Collectors Anonymous.” The panel had a feel good vibe, you shouldn’t be ashamed of your passions if you like a property then you should just start buying toys because they are physical symbols of your passion. The panelist also gave tips for getting friends and family members addicted to figure collecting, start buying them small figures and eventually they’ll start buying them for themselves! Ultimately it was fun to see Mr. Ferro’s passion and collection but the panel boiled down to simply, “Check out my awesome collection, toys are awesome”

My Little Panel: Friendship is Magic was one of the three My Little Pony Panels at the convention. I only saw this one and, well, I presented the third one which I’ll go over later. The panel was defiantly a fan treat. The presenters were knowledgeable and went over some interesting architectural inspirations from the show and ended it with a group discussion over Celestria’s role as ruler of Equestria. A fun panel, but definitely only for Bronies.

Tengen Toppa Evangelion was presented by the same couple that did My Little Panel and it was carried out with the same expertise. Unfortunately their ideas were lost by technical problems, the laptop the were using rebooted twice in the middle of the panel, and the video they wanted to show was less effective due to lack of subtitles and the fact that ConnectiCon panel rooms, with the exception of the largest one, were stocked with 32” televisions instead of projectors a surprise to both Panelists and the ConnectiCon panel department. So while their thesis was solid and interesting, it was obscured by bad technology.

One of only two panels by the fantastic Gekknights team, who ran the panels department for ConnectiCon, “Anime Openers from Around the World” showed some classic anime openers and how they’ve been adapted for different markets. The chief fact I took from the panel: Germans love techno. Like all Geeknight’s panels Rym presented it with an infectious enthusiasm and It was neat to see the different music and different styles of openers from around the world. It served as a calming way to start Saturday at the convention; the only criticism is that when only the music changed Rym probably shouldn’t have shown the same openings completely four times in a row. Those points got a little tedious. Other than that it was a fantastic panel.

ConnectiCon featured three Doctor Who panels, two of which I was able to attend. The first, “Doctor Who – TARDIS’, Jellybabies, and you”, started off interesting but devolved into a Q&A and group discussion fairly quickly. At the end the panel turned into, “Hey how about that cliffhanger, that was pretty crazy.” I’m sure fans enjoy that panel style and the group interaction, but when I go to panels I want to learn or be entertained and there just wasn’t much substance to take in.

“Tales of the Time Lords” was presented by anime anthropologist Charles Dunbar and Geek standup comedian Uncle Yo. The panel was a detailed look at the history of Doctor Who with the in-depth analysis expected from a Charles Dunbar panel combined with the energy and enthusiasm of Uncle Yo. As always, Uncle Yo’s passion and energy was infectious but his jokes were hit and miss on the crowd. The visual gags, such as replacing Amy Pond with Haruhi Suzumiya, all got a huge reaction. The panel ended with a poorly planned debate on who is the best companion where the panelists brought up people from the audience to argue for their favorite. Uncle Yo ended the panel before all the volunteers got to speak, however, because the fireworks from nearby River Fest had begun. Audience participation is always tricky and this time it was a dud.

Friday night FAKKU presented two panels, “Visual Novels and Eroge” and “Hentai worth watching”, back to back in the largest of ConnectiCon’s panel rooms. The panelists, Jacob and Mike, approached their topic with humor even though they were expects and obviously serious about the form. They recommended five Visual Novels, both pornographic and non-pornographic, with some fairly detailed reviews for a live panel. Hentai worth Watching was the best panel of the convention. FAKKU talked the audience through a handful of absolutely ridiculous hentai titles using screenshots. The point of the panel was to show just how nonsensical hentai can become while at the same time celebrating their own passion for porn.

My Panels

 

I gave two panels at ConnectiCon, my first two panels, and they went extremely well for one reason: I worked incredibly hard on them. It’d be unfair for me to review them, as I’m a little biased and would only point out how many times I say “UM”, so enjoy the videos below!

How “Meta” destroyed the Anime Industry

Confound these Ponies: Rise of My Little Pony Fandom

Board Gaming

Over the last couple months I have been getting into some serious board gaming. That bug started back at ConnectiCon 2006 when my friends and I played our first designer board game called Rune Bound. The gaming room at ConnectiCon is the best I’ve ever seen. Pax East certainly had more individual board games than the ConnectiCon library but it has nothing over the number of different quality games.

ConnectiCon has always had a ticketing system for when you are taught a game by a ConnectiCon guest or participate in a gaming tournament but this year they allowed members who simply borrowed games to earn tickets. Anyone can earn tickets simply by hanging out in Board Gaming and enjoying some games. The tickets can be redeemed for prizes, the selection of which is as varied as the types of games available at the convention. Most Dungeons and Dragons book you’d want, dozens of other lesser known RPGs, Magic Cards, dice, and a score of high quality board games. At ConnectiCon if you spend a couple of hours playing board games with friends or strangers you could walk out with a $50 board game. That alone pays for the weekend.

Dealers Room

ConnectiCon dealer’s room is nowhere near the size of Anime Boston or New York Anime Festival but all the big east coast anime vendors show up for the small convention on top of some more general interest vendors that sell board games, RPGs, replica weapons, and more!

So, as always, here is my haul from ConnectiCon. I spent a little too much at Anime Boston so I tried to keep my spending under control.

 

Artist Alley

ConnectiCon’s artist alley is also small compared to the larger anime conventions I go to but it offers most of the large east coast artists, some interesting small artists, and a large number of Web comics creators.

Here is my haul from Artist Alley. I love the artist alley!

 

Notable Cosplay

More from ConnectiCon 2011:

Connecticon 2011 in Pictures, Part 1

Connecticon 2011 in Pictures, Part 2

Connecticon 2011 in Pictures, Part 3

Connecticon 2011 in Pictures, Part 4

Connecticon 2011 in Pictures, Part 5

ConnectiCon 2011 panel: How meta destroyed the anime industry

ConnectiCon 2011 Panel: Confound these Ponies: Rise of My Little Pony fandom

Deconstructing The Washington Post’s “Awkward moments at Baltimore anime convention”

I just stared… and stared… because that’s how photography works

There is one thing that every geek out there can agree on; mainstream media does not understand geek culture. The internet is a way to gather contacts for them, nothing more. They divorce themselves from all joy and stand on their pillars looking down on the world judging without any actual qualifications or experience.

Well, obvious hyperbole aside, it really doesn’t seem like the mainstream media is capable of understanding geek culture. Again, they send a general reporter to walk among super fans and the media comes out with a story condemning them for celebrating their passion. The piece “Awkward moments at Baltimore anime convention as art form comes of age” written by Josh Freedom du Lac for the Washington Post frames Otakon using the recent conviction of Michael A. Alper. Mr. du Lac never intended to write a story about the convention itself, he wanted to take advantage of a recent event and condemn the attendees of anime conventions for the perverts they are.

This style of journalism reminds me of Mark Twain’s story “How I edited an Agricultural paper” where the main character, after making up facts about agricultural in his featured pieces and being condemned for it confidently declares, “It’s the first time I ever heard such an unfeeling remark. I tell you I have been in the editorial business going on fourteen years, and it is the first time I ever heard of a man’s having to know anything in order to edit a newspaper.”  That is, unfortunately, how the general media works. They can’t keep an expert on staff about every subject so they need to do the best they can with the best they have, and sometimes it backfires.

So now I present one of my patented deconstructions, a tactic that I do not employ often the most famous example being when Eric Sherman wrote his now infamous post declaring anime in the United States dead. This time is a little different, because I am dealing with someone who is coming completely outside the community. This time I’m not going to be arguing against this piece, because the vast majority of the anime community has already rejected the piece as alarmist and silly. My deconstruction this time will be far more humorous than intelligent commentary. I hope you enjoy it.

We begin with the title, “Awkward moments at Baltimore anime convention as art form comes of age” which really doesn’t mean anything. “Awkward moments at Baltimore Anime convention” sounds like a series of photos or a cute story of social awkwardness, not a piece that should run by a professional journalistic institution about dangerous perverts hunting down young girls. The accusation that anime is just “coming of age” is a bad pun. The article has nothing to do with anime as an art form, it’s simple being insulting and minimizing of a medium that has been around since the early 1960s and which exploded in the United States ten years ago. But, yeah, the Washington post needed a catchy title.

“Madoka! Madoka!” a man shouted, and the 16-year-old dressed as a 14-year-old Japanese cartoon schoolgirl stopped in the middle of the Baltimore Convention Center. “Can I take a picture?”

She nodded, then struck a pose as Madoka Kaname, the “magical girl” character she was dressed as last weekend at Otakon, the annual festival of Japanese cartoons that once again turned the Inner Harbor into the epicenter of all things anime.

Her costume included a Day-Glo pink wig with pigtails, white knee-high stockings, a red choker and a short pink-and-white dress that Little Bo Peep might have worn on a day she wanted to alarm her parents.

The man, who appeared to be in his mid-30s, pointed his digital camera at the make-believe Madoka, snapped a photo . . . and then stared.

And stared.

 

Josh Freedom du Lac doesn’t mention how polite the gentleman was when asking for the photo. Seemed like a nice guy, not some pervert with a zoom lens standing forty feet away and snapping photographs covertly. This was a man who shared an interest with the girl, and complimented her costume by asking for a photo. Of course, du Lac draws the scene to have you believe that this man was going to masturbate to the photo later in his hotel room. Jumping to conclusions a bit, aren’t we?

What does “stared” mean exactly? He was taking a photograph! I genuinely don’t look away from the subject I’m photographing. This sounds like perfectly normal behavior and the author wants to toss him in prison. Being a writer, du Lac might not be familiar with the careful art of photography. A basic principle of the process: Looking at your subject. The detailed description of the Madoka costume might make me believe that Mr. du Lac was staring at the young girl as well.

“It can sometimes be very weird,” the teenager said of her convention encounters with overly interested older men. “But they really don’t mean any harm.”

 

Between the photographer, the girl cosplaying, and the Washington Post writer observing the event the only one who seems to be worried about the exchange is du Lac, who was watching the 16 year old girl being photographed. Again, looking at the subject is a perfectly normal part of photography. But is staring at young girls a part of covering Otakon for the Washington Post? I’m questioning why they let this guy into Otakon; forget the forty year old anime fans.

This is a delicate time on the anime convention circuit, where a demographic shift has created an occasionally unseemly and sometimes dangerous dynamic.

Men have long been the foundation of the genre’s fan base, but they’ve been joined in increasing numbers by teen girls, whose embrace of the medium’s more fantastical side has helped launch anime to new levels of stateside popularity.

Men haven’t been the foundation of anime’s fan base, which is a medium not a genre, for over ten years. Even when I attended Anime Boston in 2003 there was a healthy number of fangirls, believe me I heard them during the Gundam Wing voice actor panel.

Conventions that were once cult gatherings attended almost exclusively by VHS-trading college-age (and older) males are now overflowing with young females, many of them sporting various iterations of anime’s popular doe-eyed, scantily clad look.

 

I really wish they would stop using the term “newspaper” because VHS-trading is in the ancient past of anime fandom. I don’t know where this guy is getting his information. Perhaps Usenet? Maybe he subscribes to a fanzine?

The author then goes on to discuss Katsucon’s policy change to check preregistration list against the sex-offender registry, a policy that the con-going community has universally declared alarmist and ineffectual. He actually asks one of the Otakorp board of directors if they’ll be instituting a similarly ineffectual policy at their convention.

Jennifer Piro, a member of the board of directors for Otakorp, the nonprofit group that produces Otakon, said that “no decision has been made” to introduce a similar policy at their convention.

Otakon, she said, has taken precautions to protect minors. All attendees younger than 12, for instance, must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times, and adult-themed programming is presented late at night, for those with 18-and-over wristbands. But, Piro said, Otakon “is not a babysitting service.”

I love how du Lac makes sure to highlight the quote “is not a babysitting service” as if Otakon is the villain for not thinking of all the young girls who might have their picture taken by older men. Nothing Piro told the Washington Post should be a surprise or a concern. The policies that anime conventions have to keep children away from material they shouldn’t see have always been in effect, and it’s rare when businesses want kids younger than twelve in their stores when not attended by an adult let alone a weekend long event with over thirty-thousand people. This isn’t news worth printing, this is standard convention policy.

“We want to do everything we can to keep our attendees safe,” she said. “But there’s only so much you can do. . . . There are definitely sketchy people out there. They could be at the mall. They could be at McDonald’s. This is still the real world.”

 

I love how Piro just destroys any argument that du Lac has in this piece with the quote above, and du Lac simply quotes it, ignores the wisdom of it, and continues with his alarmist message. Let me explain this quote to the author: Sketchy people don’t just go to anime conventions, anime conventions attract a large number of people and some people happen to be sketchy. In any large gathering you’re going to have an unsavory character or two hanging around. There are many places where young girl wear skimpy outfits. The beach, for one. Men with the Cameras won’t be asking permission for photographs at the beach.

Anime is a broad medium that ranges from the purely innocent to the pornographic. Some of it fetishizes young girls.

The Alper arrest and conviction became a hot topic among anime fans, some of whom fear being further stigmatized. (Many of them already think that other people consider them geeks who live in their parents’ basements.)

You’re the person who is casting that stigma on anime fans! This is a hit piece; don’t try to pretend like it is anything else. The reason why stigma exists on anime fans is because of people freaking out over a little pornography or some socially inept kid making a Death Note. Each time the media takes these stories and blows them out of proportion, because fear sells. Especially fear of those strange Japanese cartoons. Look at what du Lac wrote a little further in:

But an uncomfortable undercurrent is obvious. Just consider the visual snapshot of attendees at any anime convention now.

“You get hundreds and hundreds of young girls in skimpy costumes . . . and then you have older male anime fans,” Diederichs said. “The juxtaposition of the two may not look entirely wholesome.

So with one hand du Lac explains to his readers that male convention attendees don’t want to be stigmatized, and then he just manages to get a quote which declares that anime conventions are unwholesome places. I have a feeling his editor made him put in something from the side of the males, because the two quotes from Anime News Network forums where a user reacted to Alper by saying it will alienate him even more when he attends anime conventions seems out of place. I can’t help but think the ANN quotes weren’t used with some since of irony as du Lac spends the rest of the article condemning the content at Otakon.

Everywhere you looked, there were older girls dressed as little girls and little girls dressed as littler girls — and grown men taking photos of all of them. Sometimes, the men asked for hugs, too.

“There’s a little bit of perviness,” said Jamie Blanco, who was cosplaying a teenager from the hit anime series “Bleach.” (In real life, she’s in her 20s and the morning-drive producer for Federal News Radio.) The majority of people who attend anime conventions, she said, are there “because of a pure love” of the art form, its characters and stories. “But there are definitely a small percentage who come here to hug up on some of the younger girls — and younger boys.”

 

It’s disgusting how vile du Lac paints anime conventions. From his description, you’d think that the only reason anime conventions exist is to fetishize young girls. Never once is it mentioned that the reason most of the characters being cosplayed are teenagers or younger is because popular anime is generally targeted at teenagers. Would he feel as weird if a 25 year old was dressed as Hermione from Harry Potter? That also happens all the time at geek events.

The poor cosplayer he interviewed, Jamie Blanco, probably had no idea that the fact she was dressed as a teenager would be used against her. The only reason to point that out is to increase the perception that cosplay culture’s main focus is the fetishization of little girls. du Lac tosses in Blanco’s comment about the fans love for the art but that is lost in the paragraph because of the remark about her cosplaying a teenager and the quote the ends the paragraph, where Blanco states a coerced statement about perverts coming to hug young girls. Does that exist? I’m sure there are a handful of people, but framing it with remarks about the fetishization of young girls makes it sound like a widespread problem. As if the event’s goal is to give older men a chance to hug up on girls and girls dressed like little girls. Even if that isn’t du Lac’s goal, that is the message a paranoid person will walk away with.

At the trade bazaar in the bowels of the Convention Center, one could buy all the too-short schoolgirl outfits one would ever need. Also on offer: hentai, or pornographic comics, some of which leaned Lolita.

If I didn’t have you convinced of du Lac’s obvious distaste for Otakon this paragraph should change your mind. He calls the dealer’s room a “trade bazaar” hidden in the “bowels” of the convention center. That conjures an image of dusty tents manned by turban sporting con men, maybe with an eye patch or two. It certainly doesn’t give the image of the sterile concrete hall filled with book vendors and plastic dolls. The only items he tells his readers, a general audience most of which will never go to an Anime convention, are fetishized costumes and child pornography. Again, is du Lac telling the truth? Of course he is, that stuff is available at every anime convention I’ve ever been too. Du Lac is using it to take advantage of the emotions of his readers and sway them to accept his general thesis; Otakon is a dangerous place for young girls.

In 1994, before anime moved in from the outer edges of fringe culture in the United States, David Stoliker attended the first Otakon. He has turned out every year since. He is 43 now, a physical therapist from Long Island. His summary of the demographic shift at Otakon: “There are definitely people who can wear skimpier costumes a little better.”

 

I’m going to assume that quote isn’t completely taken out of context, perhaps after a ten minute conversation with Mr. Stoliker. Oh wait, no I’m not.

But don’t take that the wrong way, he said. Most of what happens at Otakon “isn’t prurient. It’s certainly not criminal.” An encounter like the one between a registered sex offender and a 13-year-old at Katsucon, he said, “can happen anywhere. People tend to draw attention to it when it happens in an unusual environment.”

 

Again, du Lac adds another tiny aside that states the obvious. Anime conventions aren’t hot beds of sex crime. It’s clear that du Lac doesn’t believe that. Every contrary opinion to the idea “Otakon is full of perverts” comes as a quote, never through the author’s own words, and this one is framed by the “skimpier customers” bit and the ending of the piece which recounts a Pedobear cosplayer’s antics. Any bit of the article meant to disrupt the author’s quest to slander the anime community is buried in a series of frightening descriptions and facts meant to lead readers into fearing Otakon.

A man dressed in a “Pedobear” costume was there, portraying the creepy satirical mascot that first emerged on the Internet as a way to mock inappropriate behavior in anime Web forums. Pedobears are regulars at anime cons, where many attendees appear to be in on the joke.

“Everybody loves Pedobear,” Travon Smith, the 20-year-old Baltimore man inside the sweltering teddy-bear suit, said — while assuring anyone within earshot that he is not, in fact, a pedophile. He also is not endorsed by Otakon but came to the conference as a paid attendee. “It’s all a joke,” he said. “Just people having fun.”

In his costume, Smith posed for photos and shook hands. People laughed. A young girl hugged Pedobear.

 

Clearly du Lac doesn’t want his readers to believe that Travon Smith is doing this “all in fun” but is somehow plotting to commit several dozen sex crimes… as girls voluntarily offer to hug him while he is wearing a cute bear suit. That’s the point of Pedobear. He is a symbol of innocence that is twisted by an idea of child pornography. He is a joke, an elaborate joke but a joke nonetheless.

Joking aside, Josh Freedom du Lac’s piece is nothing more than the worst kind of journalism. He went into Otakon with a story in mind; he was going to frame it with the sentencing of Michael A. Alper and point out how creepy anime conventions are. However, he doesn’t get any evidence to back that up besides his own skewed observations and some questionable quotes. Most of the quotes he uses can be summed up as “It isn’t that big a deal” and yet the author’s commentary of the convention makes it out to be an incubator for sex crimes. Because of this, the piece is poorly structured and the message is lost as he ping pongs between quotes from people who love anime culture and his dark views of the world of anime conventions. His observations, such as pointing out that everyone is cosplaying teenage girls or pointing out that Hentai is available at conventions, are obvious ploys to get the readers emotionally startled, thus bringing them onto his side.

The scary part is the readers of this piece. It’s aimed at an audience that is willing to believe that anime fandom, a classically misunderstood subculture in the United States, is full of perverts who lust after young girls. It is a borderline hit piece with the potential to force anime fans that are already reluctant to talk about their passion into a more reclusive position. This isn’t something the anime community needs, especially with the licensing industry finally stabilizing.

Will this article have any lasting affect? I doubt it. It certainly isn’t doing anything to improve the image of the anime community. Josh du Lac doesn’t give any mention of the $65,000 the attendees raised for Japan relief or how the community gives relief to people who otherwise feel out of place in their school or local community. No, du Lac writes about fear mongering because that’ll get more hits on the Washington Post website.

I’m sure among the 30,000 people who attended Otakon there were some bad seeds. However, as I’ve stated above, a public beach is a far more vulnerable location for young girls to hang out, and they are dressed in far less while sunbathing than they are while enjoying Japanese Cartoons. You also don’t need to pay admission to a beach, most of the time, yet because of Alper we get a piece on how dangerous anime conventions are. I’m sure most of it will be forgotten the next time a young girl gets raped at a mall.

Convention Report: Anime Boston 2011

I returned to the Hynes Convention Center for Anime Boston 2011, the largest anime convention in New England and second largest on the East Coast. More than any Anime convention I’ve been to Anime Boston pushes both high quality panels; many of them academic in theme; a large industry presence, constant concerts running throughout the night, and a united fandom who have gathered to celebrate Japanese animation. The convention comes with an energy, a rush, that makes it seem like the fandom isn’t so small, that anime in America isn’t obscure, and; most importantly; that as a fan you are not alone.

Infamously, the young fandom at Anime Boston is rambunctious. There wasn’t an end to people running through halls shouting their “Marco polo” and “butt scratcher” games and the youthful air was enough to make one feel old, maybe too old for the event. However, Anime Boston had programing for everyone whether you wanted to ask your favorite voice actor a question, wanted to get some in depth discussions on Japanese culture, or simply wanted to be entertained by a lineup of concerts and humorous panels. There was something at Anime Boston for everyone.

Mari Iijima Concert

Mari Iijima, famous for playing Lynn Minmei in Macross, put on a wonderful concert Friday evening. She plays a soft, piano style Japanese Pop and spoke candidly with the audience, which is rare for a Japanese pop star. I hope all JPop singers age as well as Iijima, she had a confidence and honesty that younger stars hide in favor of their bubbly, friendly personas. When Iijima spoke to the audience it felt like she was speaking from her heart, a feeling I do not get from other Japanese Pop starts I’ve seen live.

The highlight was when she performed the fantastic song “Do you remember Love” from the Macross film of the same name. While I’ve never seen Macross (shame!) the song is famous among Japanese pop culture fans, or should be. It is a beautiful song and it was preformed beautifully. I could tell that Iijima enjoys playing that song as much as the fans love hearing it.

Spike Spencer

 

 

I was able to get an autographic from and sat down to a press only Q&A panel with Spike Spencer, famous for portraying Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion. He has pretty much the opposite personality from Shinji, he was full of energy, confidence, and arrogance that made him enjoyable to watch and be around.

I got an old reproduction cell signed, and defaced, by him along with the insert poster from the End of Evangelion DVD. It was crazy seeing someone who has played a character that had a profound impact on my life and have him be so different from my expectations.

Panels

Anime Boston is known for their high quality anime related panels. I was able to get a good sampling of panels ranging from the serious academic discussions to the fun fan panels featuring roleplaying and cosplay.

Charles Dunbar, who has been a guest on the podcast,  did a whole block of fantastic academic panels only two of which I was able to see. The first was a look at the work of the master himself in a panel called, Castles, Forests, and Bath Houses: The world of Hayao Miyazaki. The panel was heavily based on Miyazaki’s autobiography explaining some of the inspiration and thought processes that Miyazaki was going through when he made his films. Hearing the films described in context of where Miyazaki the man was mentally when the films were created was an emotional experience for any serious fan of the master. Miyazaki has Charles to thank for selling copies of Miyazaki’s autobiography Starting Point: 1979 – 1996. I find myself desperate for more detail on what Charles only hinted at in the panel.

The second of Charles’ panels I saw was his Shinigami panel “Dead like us” which examines the history of the Shinigami in Japanese pop culture and religion, and the relationship the Japanese have with death. Again, Charles does a great job of breaking down the elements that make up the various Shinigami characters, defining them, and showing how they manifest themselves in various Anime and Manga. He is working on turning the panel into a series of posts on his blog, Studyofanime.com, so if you’re unable to see the panel live I suggest you check it out.

The Dark Side of Pokemon was a fun fan run panel where the participant’s role played as gym leaders and various characters from the Pokemon games as they lectured about the subtle, creepy aspects of the Pokemon franchise. There were some obvious things, like the music from Lavender Town, but others that aren’t so disturbing at first glance like several questionable pokedex entire. I caught the panel on video for any Pokemon fans that didn’t make it into the room.

Gundam in a Skirt presented by Will Kusleika was a look at the similarities between Robot and Magical Girl shows from themes to the format. The comparisons were fascinating, especially when he showed two nearly identical transformation sequences one from a robot show and one from a Magical Girl show. I wasn’t able to stay for the entire panel but it seemed like a great time for fans of vintage anime.

The one unfortunate panel I sat through was From Fanboy to Industry Pro with voice actor J. Michael Tatum. Tatum came with no prepared material, opting to take questions from the audience. Few of the questions were on topic, the majority of them being about his acting roles and his personal experience as an actor. The one good piece of advice I came out of the panel with was, “Bring your passion to whatever project or job you have.” Meaning that it would be ideal if we all could get a job in a field we’re passionate about, but realistically we should try to bring our passion to our jobs. Find an area in your job that excites you and use that energy to help you succeed. Otherwise it was a bit of a waste. Most of the voice actor non-Q&A panels end up similar; the actors tend to agree to panels without really thinking them through.

Of course the Funimation panel was a Funimation panel. They played a few trailers and got me excited about Excel Saga, but otherwise didn’t have much new to bring to the table. Aria of the Scarlet Ammo was announced as a simulcast but nothing else of note. I have some video of the Q&A here.

Dealer’s Room

There was nothing new or surprising in the dealer’s room, all of the standard merchandise with a few figures showing up for some newer series. Working!! And Angel Beats! figures were welcome surprises but the vast majority of merchandise was still K-On! and Haruhi. Nothing has really penetrated the fandom to displace those two giants yet. There is also an increase in some classic figures, I saw a newly issued Lum on display and some dolls from Lupin the Third. I don’t know how well they sell in the US but it’s comforting to see some of the older series come back.

Judging from the two days I was at the convention I didn’t see many items moving. For the most part the dealers I visited first thing on Friday didn’t look much different before they closed on Saturday. The one exception is that a dealer had the Wagnaria!! Premium edition and sold out of it when I returned to buy it. NISA has also officially sold out, according to Rightstuf who’ll receive one more shipment. It’s surprising to see such a standard, although quality, slapstick show gains such popularity. I didn’t many of those Wagnaria!! figures moving so I’m not sure exactly how popular the show is among the general anime fan.

Here is what I walked away from the Dealer’s Room with:

Artist Alley

The artist alley didn’t look too different this year from last year. Like the dealer’s room nothing has really changed from previous years and other conventions. There was a lot more Doctor Who art than I’ve ever seen before, and that is a welcome change and a good sign of the increasing popularity of the Doctor. There were only a few My Little Pony art prints, to my disappointment, and one artist had pony themed bags for sale! I think by next year My Little Pony will be ubiquitous across all vendors at the Artist Alley, at least I hope so.

Here is what I walked away from the Artist Alley with:

Cosplay

The one big trend I saw in Cosplay was tons of Pokemon, but that isn’t surprising considering the new games have just been released. The Hetalia cosplay craze has seemed to die down; I maybe saw one or two groups of them. Of course, Naruto cosplayers are still out in full force.

Here are the highlights from the photos I took over the weekend:

 

 

More from Anime Boston 2011