Anime Boston 2015: A true celebration of geek culture

Anime Boston 2015: A true celebration of geek culture

Anime conventions carry almost the opposite culture of a Megacon like PAX East, and Anime Boston is one of the best examples of the perfect fan convention. Yes, there are big anime companies who take up a large amount of space in the dealers room and have some of the largest panels at the convention, but the control and presence of those companies is easily drowned out by fan and convention culture. Anime Boston is purely a fan convention. The majority of the programing is created by fans, the tone is dictated by the fans, and the atmosphere is generated by the attendees absolute love and passion for their hobbies.

Anime conventions stopped being about anime a long time ago and I’ve written about fan convergence and sat on panels discussing it. Anime Boston still has mostly anime programing, a mostly anime themed dealers room, and it does of good job of maintaining the theme of the convention. But, being a fan run convention, looking around at what the fans are cosplaying and listen to what they are talking about is where the true culture of the convention arises. The dealers room features a ton of anime themed art but sitting along side it are League of Legends prints, Steven Universe, American comics, and a ton of other representations of pop culture. You can see the same mix of interests among cosplayers, and even in the dealers room. The majority of the sales space is dedicated to Anime merchandise but scattered among the booths are Video Game and US Comics toys and collectables, board games, art supplies, and a booth giving out samples of Mountain Dew’s newest beverages . Anime Boston’s dealers room space is so big and the taste of their attendees so diverse that you can turn one corner and be surrounded by Anime plushes and turn another and feel like you are in an entirely different place. It’s the greatest nerd flee market in the world, second only to Otakon.

We currently live in a world where Nerd culture has become pop culture. Fans who have used their love of Marvel comics as an identity for all their lives suddenly find themselves surrounded by millions of fans. Millions of dollars are being thrown into marketing to make sure everyone knows who the Guardians of the Galaxy are. So much of the comic con culture is dominated by who owns the biggest booth, who has the best celebrities show up, and who spends the most money. An anime convention is a place where people can celebrate whatever they wish. They don’t have to be steered in one direction or be drummed up by sales people to overhype the next blockbuster film. The fan convention is something alien to the normal public. It’s where the hardcore fans, the people who can still be classified as nerds for liking nerd things because of how much time and energy they put into it, can express themselves and be celebrated for that expression no matter how obscure. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing to be a part of.

But the show is still about anime. There are critics who point out that while anime conventions are attended well most of the fans there consider anime a secondary hobby to something else. Be it gaming, or Marvel movies, or a hundred different things: that is where the feeling of the fan convention truly takes over and develops. Anime in the title gets people in the door, once the fans are inside it’s up to the individual how they wish to express themselves. Anime is a weird beast that way because of how diverse the content actually is. It draws people who have wildly different interests together under the same banner.

 

The feeling of Anime Boston can be summed up by the Jojo’s Bizarre adventure panel that I attended. The panel wasn’t very good, it was a half hour of basic information on the show that I could have gotten from Wikipedia and the second half of it was calling fans onto the stage to make silly poses. However, the majority of the attendees loved it; shouting along and cheering. They most likely knew all the information being presented, yet they still cheered: Because someone was talking about Jojo’s. That’s really all it takes for anime fans to feel like they belong. Anime fans so rarely can connect with people about their hobbies that to see a few hundred people sharing their passion is overwhelming.

The one great change I saw to this year’s Anime Boston was a bristling Video Game room. Touho, ahead of it’s North American release, had hosted six machines to allow fans to try it or show off their skills. There were Katamari tournaments, a constantly running eight player Smash Brothers game (that I truly regret not taking part in) and every one who was playing was having a fantastic time.

Which is a theme to Anime Boston: Everyone looked like they were enjoying themselves. From those screaming fans in the Jojo’s panel, to the groups of Cosplayers doing photoshoots, and even the exhausted bundle of teenage girls laying on top of each other in the mall corridor. Every one looked satisfied. Every one looked like they belonged.

I’ve reviewed and talked about Anime Boston four or five times now. Nothing is too different. It feels like coming home every time I go back. Most of the attendees are awkward teenagers, some of them are scary sexless thirty year olds. But they are my people. They will always be my be my people, no matter how much I believe to have out grown them.

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PAX East 2015: Where is gaming culture?

PAX East 2015: Where is gaming culture?

ideo Game fans go to PAX East for a dozen reasons. They want to see the latest games. They want to get swag. They want to meet people they only knew online. As far as I can tell there is only one real reason that PAX East exists:

PAX East is a place to play games.

I fear I won’t be returning to PAX East for the same reason I won’t ever be going back to New York Comic Con or the reason I will stay away from San Diago Comic Con forever. The convention is a place to show people what will be coming out in the next six months. I don’t need a place to learn what will be coming out in the next six months. I know what will be coming out in the next six months. I have the internet.

There is a specific class of people who simply are not internet people. Who don’t bother to look up games, only scratch the surface of their hobby online and spend the vast majority of their time actually playing games with their friends. Those are the people who the PAX East Expo hall is for. Those are the people who the big gaming panels are for. The last New York Comic Con I visited had a panel that just showed gameplay of the then upcoming Batman Arkham City. Just gameplay, maybe a little discussion from the developers. I would rather not spend $60, wait in long lines, spend a fortune on food, and deal with an awkward hoard of nerds just to watch a gameplay clip of a game that will be coming out in a few weeks. A clip that I can find online and watch in the comfort of my own home.

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Video Game Review: Wonderful 101

Japanese games used to dominate the western market. There was a time when Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony were the only names in mainstream games. As the PS2 and Xbox era matured Western games quickly overshadowed their Eastern counterparts and since then they have not been able to impact the market like they had in the past. In ways, Wonderful 101 is a beautiful reminder of why Japanese games are fantastic and at the same time why they will probably never have the impact in the west that they used too.

 

Wonderful 101 has its roots in a Super Sentai style aesthetic and narrative. A group of normal citizens transform into powerful Super Heroes called the Wonderful 100. Each individual hero has their special powers and weapons but when they come together and unite their powers multiply and lead to more powerful and effective attacks. The game starts you off with “Unite Hand” and “unite sword” but as the game goes on they add whip, hammer, bomb, boomerang, and more. Specific abilities are required throughout the game to defeat monsters and solve puzzles.

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The Problem with Fandom: Cultural Echo Chamber

Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.

Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.

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Con-vergence reflection: The Internet Generation

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Charles Dunbar’s Con-vergence panel at Otakon Vegas, in which Charles addresses the issues around why other fandoms seem to be taking over anime conventions. Charles’ conclusion is that anime conventions are more welcoming places, that the anime fandom is just more accepting of other fandoms. Then there is the more bleak side of things, the theory that anime fandom is just a secondary or lesser fandom than some of the more prevalent media represented.

The chief cause of the weakening presence of anime at anime conventions is that anime is a medium, not a genre or a single show. So where a group of ten thousand people may not have that many shows in common, three thousand of them have all seen Doctor Who and the other seven thousand has seen the Marvel film adaptations. So the Iron Man cosplayer is going to have more positive attention than the Lupin cosplayer sitting in the corner. Anime is a unique beast in this respect. Single media conventions, like a Star Trek convention, assume that all attendees share at least a common cannon. Even the old school science fiction conventions were dominated by the mass media properties like Star Trek, Battlestar, and the like. With anime there can be almost zero connection between the forty year old fans drinking in a bar discussing the tape trading days and the fourteen year old girls running around in Hatialia cosplay.

The element that made anime so appealing was that it was an entire world of media waiting to be explored, but that allows individual fans to go off into a million directions. This issue can be visibly seen at conventions. There are people who go to the conventions just to cosplay, play dress up and hang out with their friends. There are people at the same event who want to seek out academic programing in order to learn more about the medium they’ve come to celebrate. The latter is a much larger and younger group, one that may never make the transition to going to panels about anime. So if their friends shift over to dressing up as a non-anime fandom that is where most of the group will go. Anime fandom on the Internet is similar. I can write my essays all I want but the mass of people looking at screen caps and writing fan fiction isn’t going to care.

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Top 5 Anime of 2013

This was a difficult year to nail down a top five list because I’ve been watching less anime, but the anime I have watched has all been excellent. Years where I watched a ton of shows allowed the gems to really stand out, but it is much harder to pick out gems among gems.

I wonder why 2013 was a year I watched only a handful of good shows. Am I becoming a better judge or more careful of what media I consume? Was the gap between excellent show and bad show wider this year with no middle of the road shows to buffer the extremes?

Whatever the reason: We got a lot of good anime this year. Here are five you should definitely check out.

5. Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan has the potential to be one of the biggest anime in a long time, mainly because it constantly remains interesting. Every few episodes it tosses in a twist that reinvents the entire show; twists that lesser shows would run with for season long arcs.

It’s exciting, has good characters, a solid premise, and a great pace that makes me want more almost constantly. More importantly: The anime greatly improves on the art of the Manga.

We still have a long way to go before the end but Attack on Titan is a solid first part of the story and I can’t wait for the next season.

4. Watamote

Billed as a comedy, Watamote is more of an extreme character study of a person with severe social anxiety. We follow Tomoko as she attempts to live a normal high school life but constantly fails and falls deeper and deeper into her shell.

There are some moments of dark comedy in the show but, frankly, anyone who would laugh at most of the show is cruel. It turns into a depressing look at the life of a person who just doesn’t know how to relate to other humans. We’re locked inside Tomoko’s head and forced to go along with her as she deals with and sometimes justifies her isolation.

There is a deeper connection the show makes with anyone who has suffered from social anxiety. Few people in the world are as bad as Tomoko but with her problems being so numerous it serves to cast a wide net and allows for the maximum percent of the audience to relate to at least parts of her problems. I loved the show as a way to dive into these issues but be warned, the second half of the series becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit through.

3. From the New World

Taking place in a post-apoctolyptic world where a much smaller human population has learned to live with psychic powers, From the New World is a compelling narrative that keeps the audience guessing. It features weak characterization, which kept it from claiming the top two spots on the list, but the moral questions the show deals with forces the audience to constantly struggle with that they would do in the character’s situation.

As the narrative develops the characters, who we follow from childhood, they slowly learn how their society works and things that seem horrifying become an understood part of their society as they grow older. This structure makes From the New World into a twenty-five episode long course in relative morality.

It’s an accomplishment that will haunt the audience long after the credits roll on the finale.

2. The Eccentric Family

The first episode of Eccentric Family almost turned me off from the entire show. It features a very slow, expository narrative style that establishes the key characters and setting of the show. After that first episode we’re trust into the world of Eccentric Family where we get to live with the characters and watch them deal with their everyday conflicts. The show tackles issues from the necessity of keeping up appearances to the feeling of living on after a family member has passed.

The Eccentric Family is a triumph because of how much fun spending time with the characters ends up being. I could watch these characters do anything. Combine that with a simple mixture of mystery, conflict bxcetween rival families, Japanese mythology, and an exploration of personal life philosophy and Eccentric Family is an obsolete joy that also deals with some serious life issues.

1. Chihayafuru 2

So maybe I’m cheating a little bit. Maybe I just want more people to watch Chihayafuru. Well, more people should watch Chihayafuru. Season 2 picks up where the first one ended and features more detail on the characters experience going through a Karuta tournament series.

While I think this second season is less of the perfect blend of popular anime tropes that the original exceled at, it digs deep into the core themes it wishes to explore. Chiefly: the difference between individual accomplishment and ability against working in a team. Though this theme we get to see the talents of all our favorite characters explored in depth, we get into the heads of the untouchable Karuta champions, and we see our heroine strive to reach the peak of her ability in two very different competitions.

Chihayafuru 2 is half just more of what was so good about the first season and half going so much deeper into all of the characters while they are in some of the most stressful and intense moments of their lives. Everyone should watch Chihayafuru, if not for the characters or the strange thrill of a Karuta match than just to explore this odd bit of Japanese culture not often touched upon outside of Japan.

Convention Report: Otakon Vegas 2014

 

The Otakon name has a certain amount of weight associated with it. The name conjures images of a crowded Baltimore bristling with teenagers in cosplay trying to survive an oppressive heat. It brings to mind long lines, crowded hallways, and the biggest celebration of Japanese culture anyone could imagine.

So when I walked into Otakon Vegas on the first day and saw a handful of people milling around the expansive hallways of Planet Hollywood’s convention center my first reaction was doom. No one knew how well the new Vegas counterpart was going to do in its first year but the Otakon name carries with it some weight that, apparently, means nothing on the west coast and did nothing to boost the numbers of what turned out to be a decent first year convention showing.

Maybe I was expecting too much. What Otakon Vegas always was is a way for Otacorp to expand and spend some of its profits to fulfill its mission statement. Being a non-profit company, Otacorp needs to get rid of its excess cash and it decided to do that the only way it knows how: throwing a convention. Otakon Vegas may just be the greatest excuse for a weekend in Sin City ever conceived.

While small, the programing was absolutely of the quality fans come to expect from Otakon. Otacorp took the time to bring in quality panelists like Mike Toole and Charles Dunbar to spearhead their new convention. Their effects felt like it may have been in vain because while all their panels were excellent, the panel rooms were at best only half full. The panel rooms were far bigger than required for a convention of Otakon Vegas’ size, but I’m used to Mike Toole panels at Anime Boston and Otakon being filled to capacity. Walking in and seeing fifty people in the room felt like a failure.

The highlight of the convention was the main events. The American Sumo event was engaging and entertaining. I learned a ton about Sumo while watching two of the best wrestlers in the world grapple and, more important, gained a newfound respect for the sport. I came out of the room feeling exhilarated. It was definitely one of the best events I’ve witnessed at an anime convention, the best non-anime event at least. The Space Dandy world premiere was also a ton of fun, but that was due to how excellent that first episode turned out to be rather than anything the convention did. Witnessing the world premiere of an anime that is most likely going to go on to massive success will mostly pay off in the future.

The biggest barrier to the growth of Otakon Vegas is going to be Las Vegas itself. Otakon’s standard audience back on the East Coast isn’t going to be able to afford the expensive plan flight out to Vegas every year, so Otacorp is going to have to rely on local attendees to start spreading the word. Of course, even without the flight Vegas is an expensive city. Hotel rooms can be had for under $50 if you know where to look but the city is a carefully designed trap to separate people from their cash. The average convention attendee being a poor fifteen-year old doesn’t bode well for the future of any anime event in Las Vegas. Food in the area is extremely expensive unless you want to keep going to the McDonald’s in the mall or the Subway down the street. The 24 hour buffet meal pass turned out to be a deal and I got four meals out of the $37 I paid for it. The buffet at Planet Hollywood is normally $20 a person, and the meal pass Otakon Vegas offered for $37 is normally $75. Vegas buffets are famous for a reason and the price was well worth it for the amount and quality of the food. The downside of the buffets is that you have to wait in line every visit and during peak traffic that could take almost an hour.

It is definitely a good excuse to go to Las Vegas, if you were planning a trip already, and it will keep you away from the casinos for a couple of hours. Where Otakon Vegas does have a future is in marketing to parents. What the convention can become is a safe and cheap space within Sin City where parents can leave their children with their friends while they go out and gamble. If the convention is able to push that message I see the convention having a bright future. If they fail to deliver that message than Otakon Vegas will always be a small con disguised as a tactic to give Otacorp staff a free vacation while spending money they legally have to spend.