Otakon 2017

I originally posted this on the Old School Otaku Lounge here on August 15, 2017.

Otakon 2017 happened smack dab in the middle of a bunch of non-anime stuff competing for my time (particularly watching the yearly gigantic DotA 2 tournament and playing the new Ace Attorney game that dropped in Japan both of which started about 10 days prior to the convention) so the timing was somewhat inconvenient for me.

I apologize in advance for being incapable of writing concisely. Feel free to ignore the text and just look at the photos!

Anyway, I thought I’d give some of my thoughts on what is my third anime con experience ever and my first full weekend experience (I previously had gone to Anime Boston twice for Sunday only). It is also the first time I have ever traveled out of state by myself for a particular event. A quick summary is that for me this was hands-down my best experience of being in any kind of concentration of anime fans, and I spent loads of times in panels learning pretty cool stuff or getting excited about old anime with the other folks in the panels. If anyone else here went it’d be cool to hear about what you checked out. Most of my write-up will be about panels I went to since that was the main draw and focus for me. Even though I was goin’ solo for most of the convention, I still had a great time.

Obviously I have no idea what Otakon was like back at Baltimore (well, besides the Anime World Order podcast episodes covering it) but I greatly appreciated the huge amounts of space in the DC convention center. I never felt like I was in an uncomfortably crowded space, which would have otherwise soured my mood quite quickly.

Friday

I registered for Otakon about 1.5 months before the event but apparently that wasn’t early enough to select having my badge mailed to me. So I ended up waiting more than an hour in line to pick mine up. In the line someone behind me really liked the silly shirt I was wearing and asked if he could get a photo of it. I only wore this shirt on Friday and it remained quite popular throughout. Anyway, I struck up a conversation with the guy and asked him what recent anime he’s watched and he said the only one was Castlevania. I politely noted that that is indeed a cartoon that is popular with anime fans although it is not technically anime, although I get why people think it is. I also mentioned that I’m mostly into 80s anime these days and he was trying to describe the oldest anime he’s seen but couldn’t remember the name of it. When I asked him if he remembered anything about what happened he said “uhhh there was this thing with teeth in the vagina” and I immediately responded “okay yeah that is definitely Wicked City”. I’m amused, but not surprised, by how easily identifiable it is by this description.

This is the shirt I wore on Friday.

Due to waiting in line to pick up my badge, I wasn’t able to make it into a panel titled New Anime for Older Fans. However I was able to make it to the next panel on my list Bubblegum Crisis: 30th Anniversary. It was an alright panel overall and I learned or re-learned things about BGC I had forgotten. They read off the slides a bit too much I felt and spent too much time on trying to summarize without spoiling each episode. In my mind I figure that people who are going to this panel have probably already seen at least some of BGC if not all of it but what do I know.

The next panel I went to was titled The Life & Works of Satoshi Kon which was overall pretty fantastic and learned neat stuff like a weird live action collaboration between Satoshi Kon and Katsuhiro Otomo on a live action movie called World Apartment Horror from 1991, 6 years before Perfect Blue came out. The panelist Aaron Clark left a link to a google doc containing references that can be found here: https://bit.ly/tlawosk .

After that I went to was Frederik Schodt’s panel titled Creation of The Osamu Tezuka Story: How the definitive manga biography of Osamu Tezuka was created, and ultimately translated and published in English. It lived up to my expectations, covering decent ground with stuff I already knew and stuff I did not. It was also peppered with a lot of his personal interactions with Tezuka as well. It was a no-brainer for me to go listen to a legend like Schodt talk about this subject matter. I had actually seen the book a while ago in a local bookstore but opted not to buy it at the time. I rectified the mistake by buying a copy after the panel and he graciously signed it and took a photo with me. Eventually I’ll get to reading the large tome and then check out Dave’s write-up on it afterwards (which I wanted to save for after I read the book myself).

Next to the legendary Frederik Schodt!

I went to Matsubara’s Live Drawing panel for a little bit and it was neat and doubled as a Q&A for fans mostly asking about his various approaches to how to draw this or that or his opinion on drawing with modern technology like tablets, to which he responded that apparently many vocational schools for drawing seem to be teaching it from the get-go but he personally finds it difficult to use compared to just pencil and paper. He felt that you really had to have someone next to you to teach you how to use the tablet drawing stuff.

Matsubara’s sketch of Suzu from In This Corner of the World. Prior to this he drew Belldandy and Asuka.

I went to the Anime World Matsuri concert for the first act, JAM Project, which was the primary reason I went at all. It was an interesting experience although the acoustics in the room made it hard for me to actually distinguish the sounds from the main stage, with or without my concert ear plugs. It was my first concert ever though so maybe it’s just me. I’m kinda out of touch of modern anime that JAM Project did OPs for but I knew I enjoyed a bunch of their stuff. I’m not personally too into metal though so it was mostly an alright experience for me being that I’m not a mega fan in the first place. If Ichiro Mizuki just randomly descended from the ceiling in his trademark cape then I would have probably been super excited but of course he’s not actively part of JAM Project anymore so no such thing happened. There were two highlights for me. One was when one of the band members started a USA chant; I just find USA chants really funny. Another was spotting Mike Toole in another group of seats and being amused by his enthusiasm, jammin’ out to JAM Project. I’m sure his enthusiasm is a surprise to no one who knows him though. I prioritized going to the first AWO panel over seeing the second act, TM Revolution.

This is something I have been wanting to do for 5+ years, and that is go to an Anime World Order panel. It was The History of Magical Girls which was run by Gerald and Clarissa and it lived up to the expectations I had of it. Both extremely educational and entertaining, and giving great coverage. I don’t have a lot of experience with magical girl shows (I’ve seen a decent amount of Cutey Honey and I’ve watched Creamy Mami) so I got to learn a lot from the panel which was great. I’m naturally a pretty shy person and have normally trouble just going up and saying hi to people I don’t personally know, especially people I recognize and respect, but I overcame this anxiety and introduced myself to them after the panel and got an autograph from both!

I can see why this next panel draws in the huge attendance that it does. People love seeing gruesome and/or hilarious violence. Anime’s Craziest Deaths indeed lives up to its title and Daryl has a great sense of comedic timing as far as what and when to speak over clips being played. I recognized a lot of the old anime clips but he included tons of newer, recent anime stuff so it caught me up to speed with the more recent titles to keep an eye out for. I also managed to briefly introduce myself and get an autograph from him after the panel, although many other fans wanted to talk to Daryl and I really hate cutting people off while they’re talking so I waited quite a bit before I could ask. This completed my first mission: getting all the AWO autographs.

Saturday

First panel of the day was Yuri and all those other guys: Russian and Russians in Anime. These guys clearly knew how to title their panel but freely admitted that it wasn’t a Yuri on Ice panel but a general panel. They included a bunch of historical context about the relationship between Japan and Russia which was great for me because I am hilariously ignorant about history that just about everyone else knows, so there was no way I would have known much about this more niche topic. It was quite a dry panel but I kinda have a preference for dry stuff so I enjoyed it.

Next was the Dark Horse industry panel. I saw the AWO folks outside before the panel started and I almost got up to ask if I could take a photo with them but my shyness got the better of me :X . Anyway, the Dark Horse panel was really greal and Carl Horn gave a pretty insightful overview of the history of SDCC and the many Japanese guests that ended up going to the earlier SDCCs.

Alright finally, the In this Corner of the World Autograph session i.e. the Hidenori Matsubara and Masao Maruyama autograph session. Weeks in advance I prepared two cels by buying a bunch of cellulose diacetate sheets from a local art store and cut out pieces to affix onto the cels as covers for the signatures so the original sheets underneath could remain unaffected. Credit goes to Akage for giving me this suggestion, because prior to this I was on the fence about whether or not I really wanted the cels to be signed directly. I kinda lined up after the session had already started so I was on the tail end of the line and barely made it to the table by the time the session officially ended (but I think they stayed to do autographs for the remaining people in the line anyway). Before I got to the table I took my cels out to be prepared and a guy behind me said “Nice cels!” and we got in a conversation. It turns out he is also a huge AWO podcast fan so somehow my completely unrealistic expectations going into college 5 years back about finding another AWO podcast fan actually materialized in this autograph line. I ended up hanging out with him a bunch later that day and this was the only time I wasn’t flying solo this convention.

OK, back to the actual guests. I’ll let the good folks here on the forum identify these cels, the first of which I’m sure people here will have no trouble doing. Upon presenting the cel to Matsubara he immediately reacted with 「懐かしい!」which literally means “nostalgic” and was quite surprised. I had asked the interpreter next to him and apparently no one else before me had brought cels for him and Maruyama to sign. Another unnamed person that was with Maruyama and Matsubara ended up taking his own picture of the cel. I mentioned to Matsubara via the interpreter that even though I’m 23 I really love 80s anime. He responded with something along the lines of “I was like 23 when I worked on this!” It must have been somewhat of a nostalgia trip for him. He graciously let me take a photo with him and the signed cel.

Then I scurried over to Maruyama and presented my next cel. He was quite pleasantly surprised and via the interpreter I thanked him for all his great work in the anime industry. On his signing he wrote 「私の代表作です。」 which basically means “This is my representative work”. He also graciously let me take a photo with him and the signed cel. Huge credit goes to Gerald from AWO without whom I would have never discovered this amazing work.

I originally obtained both cels about 3-4 years ago in a miscellaneous cels bin (at the Mandarake in Nakano Broadway) for 300 yen each. They’re technically not the most beautiful cels or anything like that but given how late in the game I am to collecting this stuff I was very happy to find these buried treasures. Also the large amounts of empty space means plenty of space for signatures!

Then probably the largest event at the convention that I personally attended was the In This Corner of the World w/ Introduction by Maruyama and Matsubara. I sat two rows from the front but the guy in front of me was kinda tall and the screens were way too low in that room. Luckily no one was sitting in the front row seats so I was able to scurry over and slouch really hard so as not to block anyone behind me. It was pretty uncomfortable but these were easily the best seats in that whole room. The movie was pretty damn great, as everyone else has already been saying. It’s kind of fitting what I ended up getting signed by Maruyama because that cel comes from a work which I often think of when I think of a wide diversity of animation styles contained in a single work. In This Corner of the World too had some pretty interesting and non-standard styles of animation contained within. Anyway, I’ll say no more about the movie so that you can all enjoy it yourselves. I went to the In This Corner of the World Panel where they discussed it and all various difficulties that went into producing it. Maruyama noted that it was really hard to raise funding for this film because it didn’t necessarily have any obvious selling points and wasn’t trying to be like the many other WW2-setting projects produced before. Maruyama said in all his 50 or so years working in the industry this was probably the one project that he has been involved in the most for the longest amount of time. He also said it was the first project where he really wanted people all over the world to see it.

Matsubara and Maruyama giving some comments before the screening of In This Corner of the World

Later on I went to the other AWO panels that day. First was Daryl’s Thirty Years Ago: Anime in 1987 which I had a blast at and there were actually titles I had never heard of so I definitely learned about some new (to me) old stuff. At one point a clip of Dangaioh was shown and I almost wanted to cheer for it (even though I’m not really a shouting in panels kinda guy). If I actually did that then I would have been the sole person cheering for Dangaioh in that room hahaha.

After that I went to Gerald’s panel that was originally waitlisted and eventually approved, Anime in Non-Anime which as the title suggests takes a look at anime or anime product appearances in non-anime media. He covered pretty broad ground including both old and fairly recent topics (like the whole Kurt Eichenwald debacle). Awesome and entertaining panel, and hopefully he doesn’t have as much trouble getting it approved next time. After the panel ended I ditched my mild anxiety and asked the AWO folks if I could get a picture of them and they obliged! The guy I was hanging out with on Saturday night was able to help me take a picture and thus completed my last mission for the weekend: a photo with the AWO crew.

Sunday

First notable panel of the day for me was Schodt’s From Manga to Musical: The story of The Four Immigrants Manga. I didn’t even know this musical was based on a manga until I saw this panel title so it was an interesting and educational experience. Schodt talked a bunch about the sort of research about the author, Henry Yoshitaka, that he ended up doing for this obscure work that people in Japan didn’t know about (even to the level of tracking down Yoshitaka’s arrivals to and departures from San Fransisco). The manga itself is quite bilingual, containing both Japanese and English text throughout so Schodt makes a point that this is really a work that Yoshitaka kinda wrote for his fellow Japanese immigrant friends (i.e. an extremely small audience of bilingual readers).

A picture from the Four Immigrants musical, which contained actual panels from the manga.

I left the convention center to eat and then made it for about half of the Discotek industry panel. Mike Toole is a great presenter and I left before the crazy news that Robot Carnival was getting a lavish BD treatment. It is some amazing timing because literally Saturday night I was talking to the guy I hung out with about how we were both holding off on the Robot Carnival DVD for a BD release and that hopefully Discotek picks it up.

Then the last panel (excluding closing ceremony and con feedback) I went to was Roland Kelts’ Osamu Tezuka and Shigeru Mizuki: The Late, Great Pioneers of Modern Manga and Anime. I knew most of the information about Tezuka but Mizuki is a name I am aware of (via GeGeGe no Kitaro and the Showa: A History of Japan series, neither of which I’ve actually read) but knew little about the man himself. It was a really interesting juxtaposition and comparison between the two. Kelts said that while Tezuka often looked to the future, Mizuki instead would look to the past.

Fan drawing of Shigeru Mizuki shortly after he passed away

I also snagged some discs from the Discotek booth in the dealer’s room. I keep telling myself not to buy too much physical product so I don’t hate myself when I end up moving out of state but I couldn’t resist.

Whew that pretty much wraps up my experience. AWO panels were quite well attended but a bunch of the other really interesting panels (like Schodt’s and Kelts’) were attended by maybe 30-40 people in a room that look liked it could seat 150-300 people? I’m so glad that Otakon is still willing to bring over these guests and fan panelists and let them do panels even if an extremely small portion of the con attendees show up to them.

Well, I have AWA coming up in 1.5 months and hopefully the panel programming there stacks up comparably. For anyone that actually read any part of this rambling, thanks!

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