Otakon 2011 In Review

My first Otakon was back in 1999. I went for just one day, but for little 17-year-old Mike, it was quite an eye-opening experience. Bootleg CDs were obtained (how was I supposed to know what SonMay was?!), anime was watched (Hiko Seijuro walking on-screen during the Rurouni Kenshin OVA received the loudest applause I’ve ever heard), and fandom was confirmed.

Things are different in 2011. I first submitted an AMV in 2001, and then regularly from 2003-2008, nothing in 2009, again in 2010 (finally winning at Otakon with that one!), and doing many AMV panels there throughout the years with our generational cohorts. Shockingly (more so to us than maybe to anyone else), we actually skipped watching the AMV contest entirely this year — it conflicted with other events we had more interest in. All three of our panel submissions were declined, so unlike 2007 and 2010 with DragonBall-related panels (and other years in there sprinkled with AMV panels), we had nothing to prepare for in that regard. Even our hotel roommates had to bow out toward the end (through no real fault of their own), so it was the first time in around ten years that it was just the wife and I attending as regular ol’ attendees.

Having gone to the convention with that mindset (“I am just another person here!”), I felt like I actually had a lot to say about this year’s convention. Maybe some of it is helpful to someone. Maybe some of it is too rose-tinted. Maybe some of it is too critical. Maybe some of it will guarantee I never get another panel at the convention again. Oh, well.

COSPLAY

No, not of our own — never done that before — I’m talking about everyone else! I am of course drawn to the DBZ cosplay throughout the convention, but I notice a few other things here and there. Still a lot of Fullmetal Alchemist, still a bit of Ouran, a lot more Pokemon than in the past, still a good amount of Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts… you know, the usual suspects. What would normally annoy me (moderately disruptive behavior) was somehow one of my favorite examples of literal cosplay (as in playing it out in costume): the three dudes decked out in full Beastie Boys “Sabotage” outfits ducking and spinning down the hallway blaring the song on a boombox. I applaud you, good sirs.

Only managed to snap a few shots of DBZ cosplay this year, unfortunately:

Quite a few other good ones (Uub, Selypa). I should probably make more of a concentrated effort to take these types of photos. My bad.

WATCHINGS

The plan was to catch the Otakon debut of Trigun: Badlands Rumble and then head on downstairs in the short buffer period to get in line for Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. I was led to believe both would be subtitled, but it turned out the Trigun movie would be dubbed, followed by a Q&A session with Johnny Yong Bosch. Having zero interest in the latter but still having an interest in seeing the movie, we crammed into line for the HD theater. A good portion of the folks behind us were told they would not make it inside, so I consider us somewhat lucky that we got in at all. Things ran about 15-20 minutes late, but with that being the norm for these types of events, nothing was particularly frustrating.

The dub was thankfully solid (not that I didn’t also think the same of the TV series dub, but it’s a Japanese production — I want to watch it in Japanese at a Japanese animation convention with one of the Japanese guests being the head of the movie’s Japanese animation studio [follow all that?]). As I’ve heard described elsewhere, the three main returning characters had re-castings that were so close to the prior actors that undiscerning ears might not even be able to tell the difference: Milly was a dead-ringer, Meryl was pretty close, and Wolfwood was better (from what little he spoke, anyway). I’m really glad we got a chance to see it first during a convention with such a massive audience, because I’m not sure it would have had some of the emotional impact just by ourselves, even at home in HD with surround sound. The instant Vash appeared screaming on the ground in the opening, the crowd erupted in laughter and cheers. The first moment Wolfwood’s gun/cross got unwrapped, the applause rivaled what I remember from Hiko slashing the Hell out of grunts back in 1999. These were magical shared moments, and ones that I will treasure for a long time to come. Without the audience? Next time I watch the movie, I will likely start picking apart some of the needless exposition, dragging pace of certain scenes, and occasional cheap 3D animation integration. Until then, every time I think of the movie there will be a smile on my face.

Like I said, the plan was to then run on down to Video 1 to get in line for the new Fullmetal Alchemist movie, but the overwhelming crowd and lack of a room-clear following the AMV contest left us in a weird situation: do we wait it out and hope we make it in, and what else could we be doing in the mean time if we decided to just bail? In retrospect, it sounds like we would have been able to get in if we stuck it out, but I’m OK missing out on one movie after having just sat through one immediately beforehand. Besides, without stadium seating, the poor short wife might not have been able to read the subtitles! Insert annoying “chibi” joke / FMA reference here. Funny, right?

We ended up walking on over to the Sailormoon / DBZ panel, instead. More on that later. Much more.

DEALERS ROOM

We buy less and less every year. We at least grab the obligatory gashapon to add to the display in our basement, but unless something major catches our interest (like the DBZ movie 4 program guide from last year), there really isn’t anything to pick up at a convention that I don’t already either own or have on pre-order elsewhere.

We perused the hanger in shifts this year: halfway through on Friday, and halfway through on Saturday. During our Saturday run, we happened across an enormous table filled to the brim with DBZ figures! Most dealers have a few figures and plushies from various series, but this guy had an entire table dedicated to just DBZ stuff. He (unfortunately) wanted to keep a low profile and had no business card or contact information (and declined an interview), but near as I could gather from what he let slip, he grabs a metric crap-ton of stuff when he goes to Japan, and when he needs to pay his daughter’s next college tuition fee, he heads to a convention and sells the stuff. What was most amazing to me was how reasonable his prices were — he easily could have added $5 to the price of any small figure, $20+ to the price of the larger stuff, and I would not have batted an eye.

picture swiped from our buddy TanookiKuribo

I had already grabbed the Piccolo “Creatures” figure elsewhere, and we picked up a few new ones from this dealer. Good little stash, I’d say.

I saw the program guides for DBZ movie 2 and the 10th anniversary movie, but I wasn’t willing to spend $25 a pop on program guides again this year. I almost walked out with a boxed copy of Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden for the Famicom ($40), but the figure purchases changed that plan.

OTAKU IDOL

Something we had never attended before, Otaku Idol was at least a quick check-in for us this year with our friends Peter and Katie being participants. Due to what I assume is not wanting to overly criticize poor otaku souls, the largest dissections by the three judges were limited to things like “that song was within your range / maybe a little outside your range” or “great job moving around / I wish you moved around a little more”. We watched the ten finalists do their thing, and just about all of them were impressive in their own right. It was no surprise to hear that Peter ended up winning it all in the end based solely on his amazing “GA-GA-GA, GA-GA-GA, GAO-GAI-GAAAAAAR!” first-round performance.

IRON EDITOR

Since we didn’t make it to the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, we also had time later on to attend Iron Editor. After sitting around for a little bit waiting for the event to start up, we got the request to be judges yet again. I love that the AMV winners are played during the second half of the event, but that also means that we literally sit up there for one of the two hours and do absolutely nothing (well, we watch the videos along with the audience). I’m not sure how I feel about that. If we are asked again to be judges (which I certainly enjoy!), I will have to toss some ideas over to Peter (who took over hosting duties this year and did fantastically) in terms of how to make the judges appear to be more than dead weight on the stage. In the past we would choose some of the audience participants for contests, but even that isn’t enough. What else can we do? Hmm…

FAN PARODIES

We were mostly excited to see the Otakon debut of Fanboy Soze, but it sounded like there were a couple other new items being played that might also be fun to check out.

Our own Obligatory EVA Trailer was played Friday evening — that was an interesting experience. We put that together in 2003 when Sealab 2021 was still new. It actually won “Grand Prize” in the 2003 Anime Weekend Atlanta AMV Expo contest! I still love it to death and think it’s genuinely funny and well-put-together, even without any familiarity with either source material (Sealab and Evangelion). In 2011, though? Barely any response. Wow. Really goes to show just how much comedy is subjective, especially to an audience so many years removed from when it was originally created. Honestly, it was somewhat embarrassing. Really puts things in perspective! I wonder how many of our AMV-related works will stand the test of time — will any of them? I have an entirely different perspective since I actually worked on them, and can’t always remove myself from their creation process.

Fanboy Soze, the new parody from NoN.D.E. Fan Films, went over fantastically. The wife and I were discussing how we think the underlying plot point about how many series (particularly DBZ) getting re-released so many times in different formats may have went over the audience’s head a little bit, but everything else made up for it. All the right jokes hit home, and some that seemed like they may be too old or obscure for today’s fans (such as when “West of Home” in the Zork parody came up) really surprised me with how amazing the reaction was. Conventions really are the best place for parodies like these, and with both the video and particularly the audio being set up pitch-perfect this year, it just made everything all the more awesomer. For those interested, Scott has put together a jam-packed DVD with tons of extras. It’s currently available in a multi-part download via their forum.

The biggest surprise in the parody block Saturday night was Macross 7.5 1/2. Especially for a one-man production, I was absolutely blown away. The entire thing could have ended after the 1-2 minute introduction, and I would have been satisfied, but the fact that it went into a full-episode parody hit it out of the park. There were a couple instances where it dragged or became a little confusing, and of course a little extra production help could have helped, but all-in-all you can color me impressed.

PANELS

Oh geeze. Where to start?!

I guess I have to preface this by saying that I absolutely adore panels. When done well, they can be some of my favorite experiences and memories from a convention. I’ll never forget the discussion at Shoujocon one year equating Jem and the Holograms to American shoujo, the genre’s/classification’s relevance to something like Escaflowne, etc. The gekiga panel at Otakon a couple years back was a fascinating look at where hilariously-manly storytelling could go above and beyond shonen and seinen. Every year in between I have attended a panel that blows me away with the amount of research, knowledge, and professionalism that can be presented by mere fans to their comrades.

The other side of panels is what drove me to start doing my own, not to mention the podcast over at Daizenshuu EX. You know the ones — a dude or two sitting up front that simply like something and want to talk about it. Hey, remember that time Person X smashed Person Y in the face? Yeah, that was awesome! What do you think about Event Z? Yeah, that was pretty sweet. Any other questions? No? OK, let’s attempt to be funny for the next fifty-five minutes.

There is a time and a place for that type of conversation, but a panel at one of the largest anime conventions is not it.

Here is a break-down of all the panels we had the opportunity to hit up this weekend. This isn’t even cracking the surface of what was offered, but it might be a pretty good surface-level glance at the type of stuff available to attendees:

  • Remembering Satoshi Kon
    Presented by Daryl Surat (Anime World Order / Otaku USA), I knew what I was getting into with this one — a deliberate format, examples to back up claims, microphone etiquette, and all the other stuff that goes along with a fantastic panel. I learned new things, I remembered things I forgot, and gained an even larger appreciation for the late Satoshi Kon than I already had. Daryl gives himself a hard time by admitting that much of his research extends to on-disc extras and basic online research (indeed, much of what he covered is listed in the Satoshi Kon Wikipedia article), but it’s the way that it’s presented in-person that makes it so engaging. I can’t say enough good things about this panel.
  • Becoming a True Pokemon Master: An Introduction to Competitive PKMN Training…
    We arrived just after the start of this panel (thanks to having to run from the convention center over to the Hilton), and it was filled up enough to have to wait for a couple folks to leave before we were let in. That means we unfortunately missed the beginning portion, so I have no idea who presented the panel and how the first half went, but I was impressed enough with what I saw. Things were a little rough around the edges (you don’t need to read entire paragraphs off your PowerPoint presentation — please learn how to outline!), but the content was solid. I had never heard of “RNGing” before, so I can definitely say I learned new things. The content was excruciating for the wife who had zero knowledge and interest, so this was definitely one for the hardcore fans, and them alone.
  • Anime News Network
    Chris was at least aware of how bad this was and acknowledged it at the beginning, but the panel was basically just “what do you want us to talk about?” I can understand how that is  somewhat appropriate for a mainstay website/panel like this, so it gets a little bit of slack. Nothing particularly enlightening or enthralling either asked by the audience or answered by the panelists, but them’s the breaks. Lots of prizes for the audience, so at least the bribes were appropriate.
  • FUNimation
    The only industry panel we attended this weekend, FUNimation’s was by-the-books, covering recent releases, current statistics, upcoming plans, and a few light announcements. Nothing earth-shattering out of the panel (still no Sailormoon! Blargh!), but for the DBZ superfans, we at least got some preliminary clarifications about the upcoming Blu-ray sets (un-cropped, apparently a new remaster). It sounds like they had one or two more announcements they were hoping to make, but the ink wasn’t dry and they had to hold off on them. Oh, well!
  • Deculture! A Macross Panel
    Walked out after the first ten minutes. The panelists did not introduce themselves, could not get their words out, seemed woefully unprepared, and did not know how to use a microphone anyway. Having recently watched the original Macross TV series (finally!), we have still been riding a high of enjoyment about the franchise. An overview of all the series and some new tidbits of information sounded like a great time. Unfortunately, this seemed like it was destined to be the exact opposite of a great time.
  • Unusual Manga Genres
    We only managed to catch the second half of this one as presented by Erin Finnegan (Ninja Consultants / ANN), but it was still a great time — endless examples of every niche genre spanning hilarious to serious and back again. She knew what she was talking about, was aware of the time constraints and adapted appropriately where necessary, spoke loud and clear… again, another fantastic panel that both enlightened and entertained, the two things I want out of every panel.
  • Masao Maruyama Q&A
    Despite him attending the convention for years, I think this was actually the first time we had a chance to stop by the Madhouse director’s general Q&A panel at Otakon. Another by-the-books professional panel with the expected questions from the audience, but a great and honest commitment by Maruyama to secure funding for and complete Satoshi Kon’s unfinished work (The Dream Machine) was a testament to his own professionalism and integrity.
  • Noburo Ishiguro Q&A
    Why waste time talking about things like Yamato and Macross when you can spend 20 minutes talking about the production of Cream Lemon?! That’s how things roll with Ishiguro! Lots of fantastic anecdotes dropped in this woefully-ill-attended panel.
  • Birth of a Generation: Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon
    In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that we submitted detailed proposals for two DBZ-related panels (one was media-focused regarding parodies and homages in both Japanese and American popular culture, while the other was a more formal dissection of how and why the franchise seemingly failed in Japan this past year). Neither were accepted. I can deal with that — we got our panel last year, it went well, and I suppose you can have someone other than the folks who run the oldest-currently-running and largest English-language resource for the franchise who do this stuff on a daily/weekly basis run a panel about it (ugh, sorry for how amazingly egotistical that sounds… but I’m also not sorry…). This was going to combine TWO FRANCHISES, so I totally get it: twice the potential audience. Makes complete sense, and I might make the same decision. Unfortunately, it was quite possibly the worst panel I’ve ever attended in my life. To be fair, we arrived about 25 minutes into the one-hour block. It looks like they had a PowerPoint at some point, but by the time we arrived, they were already well into a line-up of questions from the audience. The two panelists admitted they weren’t really experts (they just like the series), could not answer any of the legitimate questions asked of them (one regarding “the lost movie” from DBZ), and spent far more time bantering about whether Tuxedo Mask, Moonlight Knight, or Super Saiyan Vegeta would win in a fashion contest, or just how friendly Goten and Trunks really were with each other. The audience walked all over them, the panelists let them and indulged them with each and every painful question, and I struggled to convince the wife to stick around and watch the rest of the train wreck with me. Here’s the conundrum, though: the audience seemed to love it. They cheered with each and every Q&A, kept running up to ask more questions, and seemed to be having a great time. Plenty of people walked out, too, but plenty of people walk out of every panel, so I can’t really make a call in that regard. It just flabbergasts me. These people had absolutely no authority, no real preparation, no presentation skills at all, and yet received both a time slot and free compensation. I’m sorry, what world am I living in that this is not only OK, but appreciated by the audience? Am I the crazy one, here? One of the reasons I love doing panels is that I get a chance to share information and adoration with fans who don’t already partake in that stuff online. They have questions, I have answers, and everyone leaves in a good mood with knowledge they didn’t have an hour prior. That fulfills me in a way that I don’t get in any other fashion at conventions these days anymore, and with the personal interaction that even the podcast doesn’t truly have. At this point, I just don’t even know what to do about it.
  • The Abridged Panel
    A perfect example of a lackluster panel for me, but an extravaganza of awesomeness for others, and one that I totally understand and respect. People attend these panels to see their favorite “Abridged” series creators do some voices, share some new clips, yell things when bubbles appear on the screen, and gracefully accept the random fortune cookie tosses. Thrown in the mix you have people asking the obligatory questions like how to get into abridging on their own, and at the end of an hour, you’ve got a fantastically-attended panel full of laughs. I get it. Not for me, but I get it.

MEETING PEOPLE

With no panels of our own, we didn’t even bother trying to set up some type of community meet-up. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that if I was putting in so little effort, I wouldn’t be meeting too many new people! Major props to Doug (“Drabaz”) for recognizing me during the Friday evening fan parodies block. Having just recently spoken with him on our podcast about his custom LittleBigPlanet level, it was great to chat in person for a bit. The only other new meeting took the entire weekend, but I finally got a chance to man-hug our buddy MasakoX from TeamFourStar after the giant “Abridged” panel Sunday morning. It would have been criminal for him to have flown all the way out here and then never get a chance to say hello at some point, so I am incredibly grateful for him taking the time out of autographing gazillions of program guides, DVDs, books, bare chests, and whatever else fans were throwing his way to instead briefly hang out with us.

There were of course all the catch-ups with old friends, but two new people? That’s it? Lame, Mike. Very lame.

SO WHAT DID I ACTUALLY THINK?

Otakon 2011 was pretty fantastic. We saw a lot of great people, saw a lot of great things, had a great time, and I don’t see why I won’t be back in 2012 for my 14th consecutive time to the only convention I actually still go to. Some things still need work, but they always do, and I look forward to seeing it continue to evolve.

VegettoEX

6 Comments

  1. It was great seeing you and the wife again every so often at the Con this weekend. Glad to see you’re still alive and kickin’ it. AWA misses you, though, and hopes that you come back to Atlanta someday.

    The guy w/all the DBZ figures on the table? He goes to Anime USA every year, and always has a ton of figures for sale, at VERY reasonable prices. A nice find to say the least.

  2. That DBZ/Sailormoon panel reminds me an awful lot of the Sailor Moon panel we wandered into one AnimeNEXT (maybe the one after ours?). One of the very first things to come out of a panelist’s mouth was “You-sah-jee”. テンションダウン。

    Then there was that one in ’06 or ’07 where we had a doppelgänger to our own panel that I just about lost it in. Uninformed opinions spoken with an air of authoritative fact just raise my hackles.

  3. Sounds like you had a great time. It appeared to me for the first time in several years, that people actually talked to one another more than ever. I submitted my first ever AMV this year, it was shown second in overflow. My AMV never made the cut, but I wasn’t expecting it to. Jumps around way too much, but the music is cool. Yes, my schedule was hard to get just right this year, some conflicts were overcome. I sat in more panels than ever. K-ON Q&A, K-ON autograph (got my bass guitar signed), Fukushima Dia-ichi, Figures and collectables, AMV 101, etc… Can you tell I had a great time too? I hope to be back next year as well.

  4. You know, I was just thinking today about how, at the very least, next year we could get the judges up on stage BEFORE starting and have them introduce themselves; they don’t need the MC for that.
    If I’m made the host again next year, I am totally up for getting the judges more involved; I just don’t have any ideas. Unless, of course, there’s no other AMV panel at the con next year; then we can always have the judges take general questions from the audience on their craft, like we tried one other year(?).

    Also, it would be nice if the mascots could keep the roaming wireless mikes and pick out the contestants for the audience games. I felt bad that it didn’t seem like they really had much to do either.

    I think I forgot to say this at the con, so: Thanks for coming out to see us at Otaku Idol! Too bad we couldn’t meet up with you Sunday for lunch, we really would have liked more time to catch up with you guys.
    We should try to arrange something for next year, since we probably won’t be able to make Howl at the Moon (having either Katie’s under-21 sister or the baby or both in tow)…

  5. Hey so whatever happened to Jon Allen? I haven’t spoken to him in years. I remember he went over to PN, but a few months after PN went away, he stopped logging online as much (before texting and cell phones were as big as they are now) Do you still have contact with him?

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