Home from Anime Boston and breathing a sigh of relief that my panels went off mostly successfully I found myself reflecting on why I do panels at Anime conventions. There are a few emotions that I had over the weekend that I’m struggling to compress before moving forward.
I enjoy doing panels but doing the same panels over and over again does start to lower the satisfaction of giving it. This was the second time doing my “When Hentai Goes Bad” panel and I presented it to a packed room of about 500 people. It was thrilling, but even though the room was bigger I didn’t get the same feeling I did when I did it the first time. My heavily modified “When Moe goes Bad” turned out to be my most satisfying panel to give because I just put a lot of work into it right before this convention.
That’s probably most of the problem. The heavy amount of work I put into “When Hentai Goes Bad” before I ran it the first time last summer probably made giving it all the more satisfying. My preparation for giving it last weekend at Anime Boston was cutting some clips and running through the notes. So ultimately I think I will always find giving new panels, or completely reworking panels, to be the most satisfying part of the work: Releasing something I worked hard on to a live audience. But at the same time I wonder how I can get that satisfaction more often. I’ve considering making more YouTube videos, going back to writing regularly, and getting out and taking more photos as key creative outlets. But I don’t do any of them enough. I want to chase the high I feel when giving a brand new panel. I just need to create more things more often.
I will continue to give panels at conventions because of the creative satisfaction it gives me to create a presentation and then immediately get a live reaction. But I need to think of new ways to channel that desire and to create more often. After all, just doing two or three conventions a year is far from enough.
Some advice I can offer to new panelists or people wanting to start:
Nothing is Ever Perfect
What prevents me from blogging a lot is that I keep going over a piece that I’ve written until I’m satisfied. This forces me into a kind of paralysis and delays posting completed works for weeks at a time.
This isn’t limited to writing either. I find myself doing it with videos and photos that I finish editing, then let sit without doing anything with because something in me wants to keep working on it. I’ve forced myself to post things more often and to quiet that voice, but sometimes it’s overwhelming.
The thing about panels is that there is a hard deadline: The day of the event. And the act of presenting the panel is an act of creation in the moment. Once a sentence leave your mouth, it’s delivered to the audience and can never be taken back and re-edited. As a creator it’s a refreshing exercise.
That doesn’t prevent me from analyzing the situation afterwards which can still create anxiety. But the creative piece is done.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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: