by Ed Sizemore
As an official (with business cards even) roving reporter for Comic Worth Reading, I attended the East Coast’s biggest anime/manga convention, Otakon, held July 17-20 in Baltimore, MD. This was actually my fifth time attending Otakon, my first time as press.
On Thursday, I drove up to Baltimore to pick up my press package and meet some of the other press people for dinner. I was in and out of Press Relations in less than five minutes. Alyce Wilson and crew were set up and ready to go. I even got a nice Otakon pen and notebook, which I thought was appropriate.
The press dinner was at the Cheesecake Factory a couple of blocks from the convention center at the Inner Harbor complex. The food was very good, and the conversation was better. This was the first time I’d met any of the people there. It was a great start to Otakon.
Friday, the doors were scheduled to open at 8:30 AM, but they didn’t actually open until 9:15. This meant all the 9:00 panels were going to have few, if any, in the audience. This brings up two complaints I have with cons in general. First, open the doors on time. I give credit to Otakon that both Saturday and Sunday, the doors did open at 8:30 AM as scheduled. Second, panels shouldn’t be scheduled until at least an hour after the doors open so con goers have a chance to get in the door and get to the panel. Here are the panels I attended on Friday:
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM Parents & Fandom Panel by BewareofNinja.com
Since the doors opened late, this panel didn’t really have much time. Initially, there were only four of us in attendance, but slowly more people drizzled in. Because of the late start, Katherine and Maura decided to forgo the typical presentation and make it a question-and-answer session. This was a real shame, since typically, the panel covers such topics as the legality of downloads, fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, crossplay (dressing up as the opposite gender), objectionable content, ratings for anime, and being supportive without actually liking anime. One place I will direct parents for information, not listed on the handout given out, is Anime News Network.
Baird is the fonder of the Create a Comic Project. The basic idea is to have kids improve their language skills by filling in the word balloons for a comic strip. He developed this idea as an ESL teacher in Taiwan. He’s currently a Yale grad student using this program with children in New Haven, CT. It’s a creative way to get kids more involved in learning grammar and vocabulary. From his experience, Baird find it works best with children aged 10-12, but it can be used with children as young as 8. An excellent panel about using comics in education.
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Misako Rocks! A Japanese American Artist.
This panel was Misako discussing her childhood in Japan, moving to the US, and becoming a comic artist. Misako had a typical Japanese upbringing. The pictures of her youth look like images from any number of popular anime and manga. She was always a doodler and by junior high was more serious about drawing.
It was the movies of Michael J. Fox that proved her greatest inspiration. Through films like Back to the Future, Misako fell in love with both Fox and the US. She dreamed of moving to the US and came here first as an exchange student in high school. She later came over as a college student studying puppeteering. She quickly realized that wasn’t going to be a very lucrative career, and so she decided to become a comic artist.
Her first book, Biker Girl, was inspired by the Midwest college town she lived in where everyone rode bicycles. Her second book, Rock-n-Roll Love, was loosely based on her own experiences as an exchange student. Her third book, Detective Jermain, was created based on Misako’s desire to write a comic that would connect with US teens. The second volume of Detective Jermain is complete, but a publication date hasn’t been set. She has also finished a kids book called Very Berry Kitty. She is currently working on a romantic graphic novel for adults.
This panel was tied with Fred Schodt’s Sunday panel as being my favorite of the convention. It was amazing to see someone born and raised in Japan discuss how she couldn’t wait to come to the US to an audience where most people were looking for a way to live in Japan. It just served as a reminder that Japan isn’t the paradise some fans paint it to be. There are good and bad points to leaving there, just like anywhere else.
2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Sword of the Stranger (Anime Movie)
There’s not much I can say about this. The video room was having problems with lighting and the projector. Half the time, the room was so brightly light that it was hard to see what was happening on the screen. I liked what I saw and will definitely be renting the DVD to see it unhindered and uninterrupted.
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM Freedom of Fashion: The American Lolita
This panel was moderated by three women, whose names I unfortunately didn’t get. They started with a brief history of Lolita fashion in Japan and then moved on to discuss Lolita fashion in America, followed by a focus on issues within the US Lolita community. Topics discussed were Weight & Size in the US, Diversity in Community, Behavior/Manners, Lifestyle vs. Fashion Only, Online Lifestyle, and The Future. Two of the best online sites for information about Lolita fashion and the Lolita community are EGL and Cosplay Oneesan.
6:15 PM – 7:15 PM Gaijin in Japan: A Real Taste of Tokyo!, hosted by Emily Hu and Abu Nasim.
Emily lived in Tokyo as a college exchange student. Abu Nasim served as moderator asking questions about her experiences in Tokyo and Japan. This again was a sober touch of reality about what it takes to actually live in Tokyo. First, there is the paper on both sides of the Pacific that need to be filled out and submitted. One of the more shocking things is the cost of getting an apartment. You will need at least 8-12 months’ rent up front to cover security deposit, agent fees, guarantor fees, key fees, etc. They talked about how the Tokyo residential streets are not laid out in a grid system, so finding someone’s house can be quite the adventure. They went on to discuss various districts of Tokyo and what they’re most famous/ infamous for.
8:00 PM – 10:00 PM Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (Anime Movie)
This was the East Coast premiere for the first movie based on the hit TV show Neon Genesis Evangelion (Eva). It reminded me of all the things I hate about Eva: Shingi’s whining and Shingi’s dad being the world’s most physically and emotionally absent father. I don’t find either of the male leads likable or believable. The benefit of the movie is that things move quickly so Shingi only whines for three minutes instead of thirty. I think the main reason I’ve never connected with Eva is because I saw it when I was in my thirties and I have a great relationship with my own father.
That ended my first day at Otakon. I want to thank Ron, Kesha, and Cooper for their hospitality and letting me stay at their house during the convention. I wouldn’t have been able to attend Otakon without their generosity.