Over the years the number of anime conventions I haunt has grown somewhat, but the one that started it all and remains the strongest is Otakon. Over my 8 years of attendance the way I approach the con has evolved over time, with each time proving to be a better experience than the last.
In short, Otakon 2011 was a good time.
Despite being chock full of interesting industry personalities and events, Otakon 2011 was a rather relaxed time for the most part… but that could just be the effect of all the alcohol Mike Toole dispensed at his Thursday night pre-game party. Before that, however, I found myself at Tir Na Nog–a cozy restaurant by the water where the MegaTokyo forum does their yearly pre-con dinner. This was only my third time attending the dinner, as years previous I had work on Thursdays, but given my status as a NEET, I could easily attend this year. It was smaller than previous years, but fun just the same. I got to touch base with the usual suspects: Alex “Owns All of Cardcaptor Sakura on Blu-Ray” D, record enthusiast Great SG, Twitter firestarter Link, yaoi aficionado PJ, and the mysterious omo. I ordered my usual Kid’s Meal-level dish of chicken fingers, exchanged disturbing stories and jokes with my dining mates, and SG and I threw some serious words back and forth regarding Omokage Lucky Hole.
After beating a room key out of omo (we’ve been con roommates since 2007 or so) I made my way to our usual hotel to drop my stuff off, then set my sights on Toole’s place. There I met a local Boston friend of mine–the ever talented Jennifu–and we headed up to Toole’s party. I had dragged her along since, aside from Toole, I didn’t really know anyone in attendance. Neither did she. So we ended up talking to each other more than anyone else. Noticing this, the Most Dangerous Daryl Surat decided to give me some shit about it, which in some way turned into a minor contest to see who can one-up the other at being completely anti-social. Surat won, natch. Being a person who values sleep, Jen ducked out early, and I finally decided to try and meet some new people. This was somewhat successful, as I ended up getting a few names, such as Anime News Network CEO Chris Macdonald, and European fan personalities Elliot and Phillip. I also got to know Mike Toole a little better beyond exchanging messages with him on Twitter and IRC!
After a while the New York Contingent found their way to the party after what was apparently a 7 hour car ride. Amongst this motley crew was Vertical’s Ed Chavez and superstar toy reviewer Dave “Subatomic Brainfeeze” Cabrera. When I interned in New York back in the fall of 2010, I got to know both Ed and Dave well, and it was nice to see them again after a rather long absence. We shot the shit over a couple of drinks, and things were business as usual. The rest of the NYC crew was composed of Ninja Consultants Erin and Noah–who I’ve spoken to in the past but never to any great extent–and some personal friends of Dave’s, Niki and Laura.
Friday turned out to be rather uneventful, but like most other days of the con it began bright and early at around 8am at Cafe 100, the amazing Korean buffet that prices its food by the pound. After a fattening breakfast, I found myself coming in on the tail-end of the Japanese Figures and Toys panel. It seems like it was mostly a Q&A affair, and it was hard to hear much of anything, so Link and I ducked out and opted to shoot the shit for a little bit. At some point Link disappeared, and I found myself at Surat’s excellent Remembering Satoshi Kon panel. Surat generally does a good job of amassing content, and this time around he was flashing all manner of Kon’s work on screen, from his movies to his lesser-known manga. That said, he managed to sneak in an off-handed comment about Shinbou that I… well… didn’t care for. We ALL gots to make money, yo.
After Surat’s panel, I ran off to grab an autograph from Ishiguro Noboru. I say “grab” because I knew the line wasn’t going to be long, and it wasn’t. I was in and out pretty fast, and came out with a nice squiggle on my Megazone 23 DVD collection. It was kind of weird to see Ishiguro at that point, considering I was planning on missing his Q&A for another event, never mind that I’m not actually a huge fan of his work, so the acquisition of the signature was rather business-like. I am aware of his clout in the industry, as well as his importance to the history of anime, so those were the chief reasons behind my decision to get something signed by him. By the end of the con, I did manage to catch a pretty good panel with him, though.
In lieu of attending opening ceremonies (Did they even have an opening animation this year?) I found myself in the Dealers’ Room with Dave. Between the few different cons I bounce between, and simply going to Otakon year after year, the Dealers’ Room has developed something of a comfortable familiarity to it, with all the big guys typically being in the exact same places year after year. However, it doesn’t make me comfortable enough to give up money for overpriced crap any more. While it’s nice to look at all the cool–and not so cool–things on display, a lot of them can be found for cheaper elsewhere, or are just fun novelty items not particularly worth owning. For instance, while Kinokuniya has a great compliment of artbooks, the prices are naturally through the roof. Though, I was pretty close to buying a copy of Sailor & The 7 Ballz, and there was a sweet booth selling vintage copies of Animerica (not to be confused with Animerca) in which “hentai” anime ads adorned the inside covers of each issue. Dave was also quick to point out that same booth was also selling a $300 Shogun Warriors toy. Unfortunately I didn’t even give Hendane any business at this con, but I did say hi to a friend of mine there who was probably working his last job with the company. I would have given them business under any other circumstances, but Comiket was only just a week or so away…
In the end, all of my con dollars went towards food and the Vertical booth. Given my time with Vertical in the past (that internship I mentioned earlier) I was cut a good deal on my purchases. Thanks, Ed! Dave and I hung around the Vertical table for a bit, most likely interrogating Ed about the state of the US manga industry, but when news of free Nico Video t-shirts hit the con floor, Dave and I made a quest to find the mysterious Nico Nico booth. While they had a booth with their name on it, it was simply a stack of boxes filled with said t-shirts. After some fruitless searching, it turned out that the place was hiding behind the FUNimation booth. While Jen had already thrown a Nico shirt my way (they were giving them out three at a time) Dave managed get his hands on a few at the booth, and all was right with the world.
At some point Dave and I managed to touch base with Carl, Patz, Al, as well as a few others (Forgive me forgetting people, it’s been a month already!) and we headed off to lunch. The newly opened Jimmy Johns–and all the other usual haunts–were all crammed full of people, so we found ourselves in some low-rent deli in the first floor of a highrise building. I had a grilled cheese sandwich and some cream soda. It worked.
After lunch I broke off from the rest of the group to head towards the Shinkai Makoto signing, where I (naturally) bumped into both omo and Link, as well as a few other individuals. While the line was quite sizable, it wasn’t unreasonable, and things moved at a decent pace. Johnny Young Bosch’s line, on the other hand, caused a poor Black Ranger cosplayer to lose his mind. Shinkai being the kind of guy that he is personally spoke to everyone who came up to him–in good English, no less–and posed for many a photo. I got one myself, but it will remain a HI☆MI☆TSU forever~
According to this schedule I’m looking at right now, there wasn’t much to do after the Shinkai signing. According to my photographs, I had a tasty dinner at Jimmy Johns, then mostly likely hit the bar with omo and crew until the… conrave.
Yes, Otakon 2011 marked the first and last time I will ever attend a con rave. I tagged along with Omo, as he wanted to see Mogra-savvy DJ Saolilith spin some anime tunes. Given that anime tunes hardly ever get any play at anime con raves, along with the fact that Saolilith is a real deal part of the Japanese Wotagei scene, I figured I’d pop my head into the BCC’s darkest–and stinkiest–auditorium to take a look.
Saolilith tried to engage the crowd in some base-level Wotagei stuff, but they were just not getting it. She made the best of it, but it was a little sad to her up there Wotagei-ing up by herself while everyone else had no idea what to do. Her setlist was pretty good, consisting of Japanese otaku favorites, with live video mixing from the various shows and properties said songs were taken from. I ducked out once the Bleach theme came on, and ran off for the last panel of the night: Aaron Clark’s Evangelion shock-fest.
As something of a long time friend of Aaron’s, I’ve been to a lot of his panels, and as friend I can evaluate them honestly. Of the panels I’ve seen, Aaron’s presentations are pretty off-the-cuff affairs, but he makes it work with his unique brand of charisma and wealth of knowledge on Evangelion. His best panel in my opinion was held at Anime Boston, where he simply ran through the plethora of ridiculous Evangelion crap out there. I think this kind of panel is very valuable for American audiences, because unless you live in Japan–specifically an urban area like Tokyo–you’re not bombarded with Eva-everything on a daily basis. It starts to be overwhelming after a while. So to that end, I think that panel did a good job of presenting Eva more as the brand that it is as opposed to the piece of art that it was.
His panel this time around was somewhat weaker, but there were still a lot of high points. It was basically an exhibition of weird Eva fan creations from both sides of the Pacific. While I was well aware of the famous Evangelion porno from the mid-90s, I was not aware of a freakier, more poorly done Evangelion porno that consisted of poorly animated loops of Shinji and Asuka gettin’ it on against a black background, interspersed with bold kanji-laden intertitles as well as a spine-tingling animation of Shinji that defeats my lexicon when it comes to describing it. You simply have to see it. There were some other highlights, such as the Spike Spencer soundboard that was used to prank call random people, a Japanese-made live-action version of the opening (which I might have seen in the past), as well as expletive-laden rant by Spencer on the ending of the TV series. The rest, however, wasn’t especially my cup of tea.
After our customary breakfast at Cafe 100, Saturday began with omo running off to the press ops for a bit while I stood in line for Shinkai’s new flick, Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo. In line I was privy to an argument between someone who had just seen Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica for the first time the previous day and didn’t get the hype, and a kid wearing a Kyuube hat. I also became aware of how badly people mispronounce Madoka’s name during this argument. While I’m not a huge fan of Madoka, I reluctantly got involved because the guy who had only just seen the show the previous day was being a right jerk, and went out of his way to piss on everything people liked. Someone was watching Slayers on their laptop in line, and this dude felt it was his duty to deliver his expert opinion on the show. Anyway, after a while me and a few other dudes shut him down, I was joined by Link and omo, and we walked in to see the film.
As it’s been a month since I’ve seen Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, I can’t exactly deliver a comprehensive review of the film, but Colony Drop’s review more or less tells you what you need to know. I personally felt the characters weren’t as engaging as the ones in 5cm or Hoshi no Koe, and while the visuals were great, the Ghibli influence was far too strong. It was overpowering. It wasn’t a boring movie (I remember Beyond the Clouds being a little boring) and it’s good to see Shinkai branch out, but I’d rather he not try to copy what already works and instead go in his own unique direction. Following the movie was a Q&A with Shinkai, which was probably interesting but I don’t remember too much from it! Sure hope someone recorded it!
At 2:30 I found myself at the BCC’s Starbucks waiting to see if anyone would show up for the Mistakes of Youth (yes, I’ll italicize the title of my own comic) meet up. At first one person popped in, said hi, then promptly ran away. Afterwards, three men–most of whom were taller than I am–collected around me. They were readers! We had a fun meet ‘n’ greet–I got to know some of them, and they learned a little about me. I didn’t recognize any of them from the ‘net immediately, but afterwards one of them posted about the meeting on Twitter, and I put two and two together. Afterwards I headed towards the next Shinkai Q&A.
I actually remember a few good things from this Q&A, mainly the fact that most of Shinkai’s moves are–surprise surprise–based on personal experience. For someone who worked at an eroge company, he sure gets around! I asked him for his honest opinion on the quality of works being put out by the industry these days, which he skillfully dodged in typical Japanese fashion. I guess that would have been a better question for Yamakan, huh?
The line for questions was pretty long, and seeing as I wanted to duck out early to catch the Vertical panel, I scooted off after my question was answered… or not answered, as the case was. As usual, Ed’s panel was a review of the Vertical catalog, but what makes his panels work is his casual yet indepth comments on each title, demonstrating a real devotion and love for the properties him and his company are putting out. Afterwards I managed to catch up with Kate, Patz and Carl for a bit before running off to IwakamiP’s panel.
The Q&A section of Iwakami’s panel was something of a bust given everyone and their dog wanted to ask a question about Madoka. As is well documented in some places, I bucked the trend and asked IwakamiP what Shinbou’s like while he’s drinking, and while he’s working. The short answers: Shinbou likes to drink, and Shinbou’s a hardass! The more you know! I didn’t realize there would be a signing after the Q&A, so after I asked my question I dashed off to find the Kannagi DVD I brought with me. Apparently in this time I missed a legendary anecdote involving a raffled Saber sketch and One Angry Dude. I’m sure all of us In The Know know who he is, so I won’t go about dropping any names. While walking back to the panel room, a mysterious man clad head-to-toe in black began following me around with a puppet. It wasn’t until I saw the badge hanging around the puppet’s neck that I noticed that this was in fact what Aaron Clark does on his off hours. Once back in the room, I came across a fine pair of Madoka and Homura cosplayers, who were somewhat unfortunately featured in this sensationalist Washington Post article. But they were legit cool people, and posed for the camera. While in line, another reader–identifying himself as one of my “anonymous commenters” said hi. When I asked if he had tried to go to the meet, he let out a resounding “NO.” Maybe he’s one of them trolling anonymous commenters…
I was one of the last people to receive an autograph from Iwakami, and upon receiving his magical scriptures, I told him to send my regards to Shinbou. I wonder if he ever did? At around dinner time I found myself at Sliders with omo and a couple of the other usual suspects, where we had some good drinks and some… well… food. It’s bar food, you know the deal.
After a few hours of socializing–the most to happen in a day that was primarily a sitting affair–we found ourselves at the Bandai After Dark panel, where Bandai so generously gave out all the random limited edition extras that never sold, all packed up in neat little Gurren Lagann backpacks. It was alright stuff, but nothing I was too wild about. But free is free, you know? They dropped some cool licenses that I tweeted immediately despite their telling us not to, and they got the whole audience to sing Fuwa Fuwa Time. The funniest part of the panel was probably the Haruhi dub bloopers, which were mostly sex jokes, but good for a cheap chuckle. It was also cool to see Yura Hiroaki bust out his piece and play a bit from the Haruhi movie, but it wasn’t a song I was too wild about.
Afterwards I considered standing in line for Anime’s Craziest Deaths, but instead found myself at Mike Toole’s party once again. It was a good time, but I probably should have helped myself to more drinks. I was afraid of causing too much meiwaku~
As per usual, Sunday was the slowest day, but that was just fine. First thing after breakfast, I managed to catch some of the Anime Studies panel that Carl was on. It was a pretty good presentation, and put the academic anime scene in a better light for me. At various different points karaoke happened, in which I crooned two Omokage Lucky Hole numbers: Ore no Sei de Koushien ni Ikenakatta and Pachinko Yatteru Aida ni Umarete Mamonai Musume wo Kuruma no Naka de Shinaseta… Natsu. When 10am rolled around, a lot of us found ourselves at the Japanese Directors and Producers panel, which was–as one would expect–extremely rich with information. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time for me to ask Ishiguro about his experiences working with Yamato’s late and great coked up producer: Nishizaki Yoshinobu.
The rest of Sunday was spent either mulling about in the Dealers’ Room, or trying to get back home. All throughout the con I got to know a fine gentlemen who goes by the nickname of Jose–a member of the MT forums I wasn’t so familiar with. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other throughout our time in the Dealers’ Room on Sunday, and it was a good time. We hardly ever talk otherwise!
Getting back home was something of a challenge. While it would seem that north bound Baltimore Light Rail trains take you to either the north of the city or Penn Station alternating every 30 minutes, one of these trains simply didn’t show up. As such, me and a few other travelers were stuck one station away from Penn Station–all of our trains set to leave soon–and unable to walk to the place due to there being no pedestrian walkway to the station from where we were. Eventually a train to the station arrived, and everyone was able to make it home on time.
This year’s Otakon was great. While it was cool to see Shinkai’s new movie, as well as pick his and the other Japanese creative types’ brains, this con was all about the people. I met some cool new people, got to know certain people better, and simply got to touch base with people I don’t see very often–and probably won’t be able to see for a while. It was a great time, and it’s all because of you guys.
Not sure if I’ll be able to make it next year but… if I can, I will!
- Megazone 23 signed by Ishiguro.
- ADV’s Five Centimeters Per Second signed by Shinkai.
- Kannagi volume 1 signed by IwakamiP.
- Twin Spica volumes 6-8.
- Black Jack volume 9, 14 and 15.
- Free Bandai After Dark stuff.
Photos can be found on my flickr.