by Ed Sizemore
This past weekend, I attended Otakon in Baltimore, Maryland. This was my second year attending Otakon as press, and I was one of 28,044 people at the convention. (This figure will be significant later.)
This year marked a couple of changes in my convention attendance behavior. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been attending more panels and watching less anime at conventions. I only saw one anime show this year, Ramen Fighter Miki, and I only watched it because there was nothing else scheduled Sunday morning that I found interesting. Second, I spent less than half the money I normally do in the dealer’s room. As I’ve been trying to simply my life and bookshelves, I find I’m only willing to buy manga that I know I will be keeping as a permanent part of my collection.
With that in mind, here’s what I did while there on Friday.
10:30 AM – Vertical Inc. Marketing Director Ed Chavez had two special guests with him from Japan: Felipe Smith, author of Peepo Choo, and Chi, the star of Chi’s Sweet Home. Ed started out talking about how Vertical is a book publisher that offers a wide range of books from Japan. They don’t focus exclusively on manga, and that makes them slightly different from other manga publishers.
Vertical is also unique in that it saw growth of 18% in 2009 and is looking at 22% growth this year if current sales trends hold up. Their best selling books are actually the craft books by Arazi Aronzo.
There were no new licenses announced at Otakon, but Ed discussed some upcoming releases. A new edition of Apollo’s Song will be coming out in August. It will broken up into two books, each priced at $10.95. The trim size will be similar to what other manga companies are using. This is Ed’s favorite of the Tezuka works available from Vertical. He says it’s Phoenix with eros added.
Ed and Felipe discussed Peepo Choo. It will be three volumes total. Felipe has been living in Japan for almost three years now. He is currently working with editors preparing his next series. Felipe was amazed at all the manga available in Japan, especially the genres that haven’t been introduced in the US. Seeing the true diversity of manga changed his understanding of manga. Ed commented that the entire Vertical staff enjoyed working on Peepo Choo and making it available to the US.
Other manga to look forward to are 7 Billion Needles by Nobuaki Tadano, coming out in September this year, and Ayako by Osamu Tezuka, coming out in November of this year. Ed hinted at a couple of licenses they are currently negotiating for but haven’t finalized yet .
Anime Journalism: The Story Behind the Story
I have to confess I was very nervous. I’ve been reading ANN for about 7 years now and have tremendous respect for Chris and the website he’s built. I’ve only been aware of Japanator for about a year, but I am also impressed by Brad’s work there. The panel went perfectly. Chris and Brad did most of the talking and naturally hit on all the main points that I was hoping to discuss. If anything, I was worried that we might run out of material. Thankfully, that didn’t happen either.
I’m not sure if I’ll do this or any other panels next year. However, this was a good experience and certainly makes me favorable to doing panels again.
3:00 PM – One of Otakon’s featured guests, Sakurai sees himself as a anime diplomat. His lecture was entitled, “Anime, Manga & Harajuku Fashion: The Secret of Global Competitiveness”. He began by showing the popularity of cosplay across the globe with pictures of cosplayers from Brazil, Italy, France, China, America, Spain, etc.
In essence, Sakurai sees anime and cosplay as a way of promoting understanding across diverse cultures. We feel a bond with other people who like the same anime show or cosplay as the same character. Sakurai thinks that Japan has the potential to be the leading diplomatic power through the popularity of its pop culture products. However, he believes that the Japanese people fail to see the impact anime and cosplay is having on the world. They also fail to understand how anime serves as a gateway for many people into the study and appreciation of traditional Japanese culture. The anime industry is becoming too insular and isn’t attempting to make exportable shows. If anime stops being exportable, then Japan will lose this chance at being a significant global power.
I can’t say I agree with Sakurai’s optimism about the power of cosplay to break down cultural barriers or that a country can become a significant global force based on the popularity of its television shows. Obviously, shared interests do help people create bridges of understanding. However, I can’t see two warring countries calling in Japan to negotiate a peace treaty because Naruto is popular with the kids on both sides of the battle.
Dead Like Us: Shinigami and the Japanese Idea of Death
5:00 PM – This panel was run by Charles Dunbar. I first meet Charles earlier this year at the Anime Mid-Atlantic convention, when I attended his panel “Modern Mythology: Mythic Elements in Anime and Video Games”. His panels are very popular and fill up quickly. This panel was no exception. If Charles is giving a panel at a convention, attend that panel. You won’t be disappointed.
Charles packs a lot of information into his panels. This is a very brief overview of the ideas presented. He told me that he will be breaking this panel up into two separate panels for next year. The discussion began with an overview of some of the religious traditions found in Japan: Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Christianity. At its heart, Japanese religion is syncretic. Shinigami are a great example of this.
Charles quickly moved through Japanese concepts of death and dying, a look at ghosts in Japan, and gods of death. The term ‘shinigami’ was first coined in a play entitled Shinigami, which is believed to be based on an Italian opera based on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. Shingami usually are shown in one of five roles: 1) Force of Nature, 2) Celestial Agent, 3) Guardians of Humanity, 4) Bounty Hunters, or 5) Agents of Death.
It’s interesting to note that white is the color of death in Japan and black is the color of honor/duty/tradition.
Yoshida Brothers Concert
8:30 PM – The Yosida Brothers are masters of the shamisen, a traditional Japanese instrument. The concert was nothing short of amazing. This is not the slow mourning music you usually see played in movies. This music was upbeat and their fingers were flying across the fret. My fingers got tired just watching them play. It was the best way to end Friday.
That ended my first day at Otakon. Stay tuned for part two of my convention report.