by Ed Sizemore
Part two of my trip to Otakon.
noitaminA: Experiments in Animation
9:00 AM – This panel was hosted by Alex Leavitt. This was my first year getting to know Alex, and he is another must-see panelist. I regret it took me this long to finally attend his panels.
noitaminA (Animation backwards) is a block of late-night television animation on Fuji TV aimed at non-traditional anime viewers. Specifically, it’s designed for adult females. Thus, it has featured shows like Honey and Clover, Nodame Canticle, and Hataraki Man. noitaminA has enjoyed success in its time slot.
One sobering slide showed how little money anime production companies are given to make a season (13 shows). The slide showed a sponsor giving $460,000 to create a season, but after the marketing companies and television executives take their cut, that leaves $75,000 to go to the animation company. Again, that’s $75,000 to make all 13 episodes. Now you can see why there is a personnel crisis in Japanese animation.
Super Sentai 101
10:30 AM – This panel was hosted by two members of Rangercast.net. As the title indicates, this panel was an introduction to the genre of live action shows know as Super Sentai. Here in the US, we know the genre as the Power Ranger franchise.
The Super Sentai genre was created by Shotaro Ishinomori, who got his start working on anime like the original Astro Boy and Cyborg 009 series. The genre traces its orgins back to 1977 with the show Himitsu Sentai Goranger. The first true Super Sentai show was Battle Fever J in 1979, and there has been a Super Sentai show on TV every year since then.
This panel went well, since the presenters were familiar with each of the shows they presented. Their only flaw was not downloading the clips they planned to use to their computer or a flash drive. Instead, they relied on the convention center wi-fi to connect to YouTube to pull up the clips. They had more success than I would have suspected, but the connection was slow, and they didn’t get to show all the clips they had planned.
Anime in Academia
Alex began with a list of resources including Susan J. Napier’s Anime From Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, Frederik L. Schodt’s Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, and the academic journal Mechademia.
The panel touched on a wide range of topics. They started out talking about what manga and anime they were currently enjoying. They discussed the problem of how what is available to the US affects the way people in the US perceive anime and manga. Because of how quickly series go out of print in America, it’s hard to come up with a suggested reading list for use in classrooms. They also covered what it’s like to do research in Japan, the benefits and the struggles, among other topics.
Really, an hour isn’t enough time to seriously dwell on any one topic of anime in academia. The panel was a good sample of the problems that people who want to be scholars of anime and manga face in the current academic setting. I’d like to see the panel expand into two hours and pick one topic and explore all the implications it means for a scholar. For example, what does it take to publish an anime-themed research article in a peer review journal?
Podcasting Your Fandom
2:00PM – This panel was supposed to be hosted by the guys at the Otaku Generation podcast. Unfortunately, some idiot pulled the fire alarm, and we had to evacuate the convention center.
What’s amazing is that 28,000 people calmly and quickly evacuated a building the size of two city blocks in about 20 minutes. The fire marshall verified it was a false alarm, and everyone was let back in. All told it only took an hour away from the convention schedule. Kudos to the congoers and staff for keeping calm and orderly.
Phenomenology of Ikari Shinji
5:00 PM – This panel, hosted by James, Tracy, and Skinner, was a complete let-down and a waste of my time. They began with the question, “Is it ever sensible to value an individual over a universal rule?” It’s a vague question based on Kantian ethics. They didn’t try to define the terms of the discussion, and any attempt to set boundaries was dismissed.
The conversation went off-track into a discussion of how we can know if what we experience is real or a dream. Again, attempts to define the discussion were brushed aside. It was simply argument for the sake of argument. The panelists and most of the audience desperately need to take a Philosophy 101 course. It would have eliminated 95% of what was said. I’ll avoid these types of panels in the future.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Strategies of the Stars
6:00 PM – This panel was led by two guys who names I didn’t get. That’s unfortunate because they really know this series inside and out.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a space opera adapted from the 18-novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka. The anime consists of 101 half-hour televison episodes, 2 movies, and 1 OVA. None of the novels nor any of the anime has ever been licensed for release in the US, but all of the anime has been fansubbed. The panel was an excellent introduction to the series; it made me wish it was available officially in the US.
7:30 PM – The panelist was a no-show. However, instead of disbanding the crowd, the staff member decided that since the panel was on the study of fan culture, we could hold our own impromptu discussion. I wish I could have gotten the staff member’s name. He should be lauded for creating a wonderful organic experience.
He asked if anyone had ever done any writing on fandom. Well, it turned out that Charles Dunbar was sitting next to me, and he is doing his Ph.D. dissertation on conventions and fandom. Also in the crowd were two people who had done master’s-level work on fandom and a person that had done some work on fanfic and fan culture in high school. The four panelists then proceeded to have a free-flowing discussion.
Charles had his camcorder with him and asked me to tape the panel. Because of this, I was unable to take notes. Thankfully, Lauren of Otakujournalist.com emailed me the notes that she took. I can’t thank her enough for her kindness.
I will only just briefly give a sense of the flow of the discussion here. It began with the idea that fan culture really goes back to the ancient Greeks. Their tales of gods and heroes could be thought of as fanfic, since they were stories created by devotees out of their enthusiasm. This kind of fandom can be traced throughout human history. Fandom stems from the core of human psychology. We are wired for devotion, be it to religion, celebrities, hobbies, etc. Examples of mainstream fandom are sports fans, music fans, and movie fans.
There was a brief discussion of the history of the term ‘otaku’ in Japan. The term has enjoyed a checkered history that reflects how Japanese culture has never been truly comfortable accepting anime/manga fandom. Although the term ‘otaku’ is usually used for anime/manga fans, it has found broader use in Japanese culture, too. You can be an otaku for Godzilla, trains, sports cars, etc.
It was an incredible and exciting discussion. Without a doubt, it was my favorite moment of the convention. It was unscripted and authentic. I walked out of the room euphoric and optimistic about fandom. Just writing about the event is bring back all the excitement I felt then. These are intelligent, passionate people, and I am honored to be included among them.
Ramen Fighter Miki
9:00 AM – In this comedy anime, Miki helps her mother out at the family-owned ramen shop. Unfortunately, Miki is easily distracted and is given to flights of imagination. It’s a fun series with lots of slapstick humor.
After watching a couple episodes of Miki, I decided to head down to the dealer room for a final look around. I picked up some Black Jack volumes that I was missing. Then I found myself in another impromptu discussion with fellow bloggers. We talked about the con, the guests, and other miscellany. It was a great moment to take a breather and process what we had experienced so far.
The Rise of Manhwa
2:00 PM – Another disappointing panel. You can read my write-up over at Mangabookshelf.com.
I throughly enjoyed myself this year at Otakon. I got to meet old friends, meet people I’d only talked to over the internet, and make new friends. It was a rich variety of experiences. I’ll be back next year to do it all again. I highly recommend any East Coast anime or manga fan to make the trek to Baltimore at least once. You won’t regret it.
Next stop, New York Anime Fest in October.