by Ed Sizemore
Two weeks ago, I attended Otakon in Baltimore. This year, the convention set a new attendance record with just over 32,000 attendees. As usual, the heat was the biggest problem this year. The temperature stayed in the mid-nineties for the weekend. My hat is off to the Baltimore Orioles mascot and people who were cosplaying in similar full-body outfits.
I only encountered one minor problem during the convention. The skyway connecting the Hilton to the Baltimore Convention Center was a point of congestion. As they move more content to the Hilton, this was inevitable. Not sure what, if anything, Otakon can do to help traffic flow improve.
For the second year, Otakon held the Matsuri street festival. The events ran from noon until 7 PM. I attended the festival last year. This year I chose to go to an Orioles baseball game. I’m happy that the Orioles beat the Rays, but honestly, neither team was playing well.
10 AM Anime News Network (ANN) — The panelists were Chris Macdonald (CEO), Justin Sevakis (New Media Director), Erin Finnegan (Shelf Life columnist), and Brian Hanson (Answerman columnist). Chris let the audience know that ANN is working on a radical new design for the site. He is still working with his staff on refining the look and modules. Each panelist discussed their respective responsibilities/columns.
Some items discussed during the Q&A: While ANN would love to bring the Protoculture Addicts magazine back, they don’t have the money required for the large, up-front expenses. Preview Guide reviewers are selected because they have worked with ANN before and proved they can meet tight deadlines. There won’t be a separate mobile ANN site. The new design will be reactive to devices and automatically format the content for the display size.
11:30AM When You Wish Upon a Tezuka — This panel was run by Ryan Dorn. He began with a look at the history of animation, then talked about the early history of Disney. Ryan discussed the influence of Disney on Tezuka. In particular, Tezuka was deeply affected by Bambi, and that film was formative to his worldview. He ended by discussing the similarities and differences between Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor Leo and Disney’s The Lion King. There wasn’t anything new for Tezuka fans, but it was a good introduction to Tezuka for those who aren’t familiar with him.
12:30PM Crunchyroll — Presenters were Keith Kawamura and Victoria Holden. Crunchyroll is attempting to get on as many platforms as possible. They are currently working to get an app on Samsung TVs. They went on to discuss various content available on Crunchyroll. Victoria talked about the Ambassador Project. This is a program where fans help promote Crunchyroll by being an affiliate website or a volunteer at a convention. The big news was season one of the Moyashimon anime being added to Crunchyroll’s back catalog. It’s not available yet, but will be soon.
1:45 PM Viz Media Animation — Eric Eberhardt and Urian Brown were there for Viz. There weren’t any new announcements for Otakon. They discussed Viz’s Neon Alley anime channel. The big surprise for me was learning manga volumes will be added to VizManga.com the same day and date as they are released to bookstores. The one exception is Blue Exorcist 8, which is currently available digitally but won’t be released physically until November. This was done so that Shonen Jump Alpha readers could catch up on the series before it begins its serialization in the digital magazine.
The rest of my Friday was spent walking around the dealers’ room and then getting dinner with a friend. It’s become a habit that each time I’m in Baltimore I grab a meal at Abbey Burger Bistro. This time I tried yak. I think this is now my favorite burger.
9:00 AM Fandom and Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing — This panel was hosted by Evan Minto and Ink of Ani-Gamers. The guest panelist this year was Clarissa Graffeo from the Anime World Order podcast. Active viewing is defined as analyzing a show as you watch it. They began by exploring whether terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are objective or subjective. The conversation then moved on to if the panelist preferred to read reviews before or after seeing a movie. Finally, there was discussion of differences between reviews and criticism.
10:30 AM Anime and Manga Studies: Three Decades In — Mikhail Koulikov of the Anime Manga Research Circle hosts this panel annually. Ada Palmer was the guest panelist. Mikhail began by defining the terms in the panel title. He then went into an overview of the history of anime/manga studies. I was glad to see Fred Schodt’s Manga, Manga! The World of Japanese Comics mentioned. For a while, it seemed like there was a concerted effort in academia to pretend Schodt’s book didn’t exist even though it’s foundational to the study of manga in America. Mikhail then had Ada describe how she got started in manga studies and her focus on Tezuka. During the Q&A, there was a lot of great advice on how to search academic library catalogs to find material.
2:00 PM Pray for Japan — This is a film by Stu Levy about the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The film is only 90 minutes long but felt much longer. The film is slowly paced and follows three separate storylines: a high school senior who lost half his family, a shelter run by Humanity First, and a middle school principal rebuilding his school. Jumping between storylines makes the film feel unfocused. It would have been better to tell each story completely. You can’t deny the poignancy of the survivor’s tales. I just wish they were told better.
5:00 PM Unusual Manga Genres — This panel is run by Erin Finnegan and Noah Fulmor of the Ninja Consultant podcast. The title really says it all. They showed how you can make a manga about anything. Topics included badminton, Warren Buffett, the USS George Washington (CVN-73), loan sharks, etc. This is a fun panel that everyone attending Otakon should go to at least once.
7:30 PM Japanese Folklore: Kitsune and Oni and Yurei, Oh My! — Jennifer Yoo and Sam Yoo hosted this panel. I’ve attended similar panels by Charles Dunbar. I wanted to see what new information they would present. The panel room was filled 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the panel, so Otakon needs to place them in a much larger room next year. This panel was a great overview of the major Japanese folk beings (yokai). Here are the creatures from the panel’s title: kitsune are fox spirits, Oni are similar to western ogres, and yurei are ghosts. I highly recommend this panel to everyone.
9:00 PM Pirated ANNCast — Each year ANN does a live podcast from Anime Expo. I put out a call to fellow podcasters to show them that Otakon deserves its own live podcast, too. This is just a bunch of us having fun and talking about Otakon.
11:15 PM Dubs That Time Forgot — This is one of the most popular panels at Otakon. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually attend it. Mike Toole has amassed an incredible collection of anime. He has uncovered a 1947 short that was dubbed and distributed in the US. Mike has a wonderful sense of humor, and his comments are as much fun as the anime he shows. This is definitely a must-see panel.
10:45 AM CBLDF: The Fight to Defend Manga — Charles Brownstein, the executive director, presented this panel. He started with a history of comics censorship in the US. He then focused in on a history of manga censorship in America. Charles introduced Ryan Matheson, who was arrested at the Canadian border for having ‘obscene’ material on his laptop. Ryan talked about his experiences with Canadian customs and why he decided to fight his conviction.
11:45 AM Kodansha Comics — David Yoo was the representative for Kodansha. The big announcement was the new iPhone app. During the panel, it became clean that all the licensing decisions are made in Toyko. The American offices are there simply to hire translators and do marketing. This was disappointing, because the people who know and understand the American market aren’t making the important decisions. This was the way manga companies did business 20 years ago. Hopefully, Kodansha will change this arrangement and let their North American staff make more decisions.
1:00 PM Vertical Inc. — My final panel of the convention. Ed Chavez, the marketing director, was running the panel. The big announcements were the Gundam: The Origin manga, the Wolfsmund manga, and Hiroki Azuma’s book General Will 2.0. The panel ended with Ed taking questions about Vertical and the manga industry in general.
I always look forward to Otakon. There are a ton of panels covering a wide range of topics regarding anime and manga. There are also concerts, workshops, guests, the masquerade, etc. I also enjoy the chance to meet people I normally talk to online.
Next year marks Otakon’s 20th anniversary. Jim Vowles said on a recent ANNCast that there are big plans in the works. Otakon begins the celebration with a music concert November 3. Tickets will go on sale September 1. The convention proper will be held on August 9-11, 2013.