The con had a mighty list of fan run panels with both new and familiar faces. Fan panels have become my main source of entertainment at cons in recent years and they take second only to the Japanese guest events. They are places to learn, to debate, to laugh, and even to make friends and connections.
I have always attended conventions be they anime or not to see the panels so they make up the bulk of my con reports. Fan panels can be a gamble because their quality can vary so very much but when a fan panel is excellent it can be one of the most memorable events. A superb fan panel connects with you on a personal level in a way that a professional panel usually cannot because of a layer of formality between the audience and the panelist. An exceptional fan panel teaches you something while having a free flowing dynamic between the audience and the panelist.
“Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing” was run by fellow bloggers and podcasters Ani-Gamers. The focus was on engaging anime on many levels even if you aren’t a reviewer, whether or not that leads to a happier viewing experience is still up in the air. The discussion was robust as they related their own habits to the audience and discussed what they look for when watching a show. The crowd had plenty to share in return and it was clear that many were casual fans so Ani-Gamers seemed to be reaching the group of people they were aiming to. There was a bit of debate, a little from myself, about the notion of whether something is actually bad. I can easily point to another panel we attended, and a personal favorite of mine and many others, “Bad Anime, Bad!!” and say definitively that yes, there are bad shows. This year’s “Bad Anime, Bad!!” gem was Frankenstein which literally doesn’t have credits, probably because no one wants to own up, but there was speculation it could have been the same crew who created Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned. The host commentary was as amusing as always, the catchphrase of the night for me was “Quick! Crab-walk for your life!” Of course our host had to shush the crowd a number of times in order for us to enjoy the horrid dialogue of the show. I don’t want to spoil anything as its worth seeing and the ending was quite a surprise.
I always try to see any panel given by the noble old school fans of AnimeNEXT Walter Amos, Rob Fenelon, and Brian Price. They always have a mixture of professionalism and joviality. Friday night ended with their “These Are a Few of My Favorite Scenes” which is always a treat. Walter, Rob, and Brian took turns playing clips of different shows in hopes of whetting your appetite for things you might have otherwise overlooked. The video from the Space Battleship Yamato pachinko game was disturbingly well-produced. There was also an amusing clip from an anime with a super powerful pink bunny rabbit mecha in an apron with a heart. Coincidentally that same robot was in a mecha guide that Evan had in this room. This meant they had to bring up Legend of the Swordmaster Yaiba which I think they mention every panel but rarely show anything from. Moving on to prove that everyone on the panel had good taste they had a clip from Summer Wars with King Kazma. They also had a cool cut scene from Xenosaga showing that above all else they are huge space opera fans. They also played a bunch of clips from Ralph Bakshi’s film Wizards that I mostly remember as the non-anime movie that was always in the anime section at video stores in the 90s.
I also attended Ani-Gamer Evan’s panel “The Changing Faces of Anime” which was a thoughtful presentation about the ever evolving character designs of anime though he also included many manga references. He started with God Tezuka and carried through to the moe movement. It is a vast arena to cover in one hour, in fact I think it would be hard to cover some genre’s character designs in just an hour, but he did a good job of creating an interlinking overview with defining series and changes for the audience. There are some additions that I think would be relevant, I found no mention of Saint Seiya an oversight as it is often held up as an important shonen series especially in terms of the look of male characters and I think shojo after the Showa 24 was a bit glossed over. All in all it was an entertaining panel that engaged the audience while giving them a history lesson.
There were two Legend of the Galactic Heroes panels and one mecha history panel all done by the same guy. The “History of Mecha” panel started off rocky because of some technical problems and never recovered. While the host worked with temperamental equipment the packed room started to get out of control. By the time the panel started any sense of rhythm was thrown off by the audience’s constant talking. Sadly none of them were particularity insightful and Evan and I left half way through, exiting on the line “Gundam is a somewhat lighthearted series” that made us both laugh to no end. He also did the “Legend of Galactic Heroes: Introduction” and the “Legend of Galactic Heroes: Movie with fan commentary” which went far smoother. The LotGH intro was decent but I feel that the Waterloo clips he played went on a bit too long. I liked the idea of selling the series using a live action movie with similar themes but I would have liked to see more of what makes LotGH so amazing. I would have also liked a bit more commentary during the movie. Something along the line of what they do during “Bad Anime, Bad!!” but being informative instead of hilarious. The times the LotGH panels were best was when the panelist was interacting with the audience. Most of the time people who come to panels are already fans so it’s best to engage them and let the conversation that ensues sell people on the show. I myself became interested in the show through the enthusiastic and intelligent discussions I saw. There were a lot of good concepts and a clear impression the guy running all three panels was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic but the panels need some polish before they are great.
On a sleepy Sunday morning (the same time last year, too, I believe) a lively panel was held entitled “Otaku Perceptions and Misconceptions,” and things were pretty hopping so early for the con. This time around we were asked to contribute some questions and some insights based upon our work on the Otaku Diaries project. Not only was it gratifying to have people using it for a piece of their panel, but it also allowed us to spark some interest for audience members to check out the whole project. We added a comment here or there but the panel was very much the ladies at the front’s show. They were more organized this year and were able to take the reins when the audience got too carried away. This type of panel is more of a discussion than a lecture so luckily the audience was enthusiastic to contribute but happy to hear everyone speak their own piece. Things got a little out of hand as much talk about the few and far between bad incidents attributed to otaku ensued but things got back around to the positive side as people cited the community vibe and delved into how fans group and define themselves within otaku culture. The hour was over way too fast and there was a common thread of people hoping the panel will be kicked up to two hours in 2011. I hope to participate again and who knows we may have an extension to the Otaku Diaries to talk about.
I started Saturday with the “Gundam: What Makes It Great.” I did not really learn anything but it was a fun panel. People were shouting out things like at the “History of Mecha” panel but they were shouting out things that were useful and the guy running the panel was able to keep everything moving forward very smoothly. The panel was a great overview of all the various Gundam series that gave you just enough information to get a taste of each show and some insight into the various spin-offs. My only real criticism was pointed out to me by Narutaki, it was more a history of Gundam than why the shows are great. Another panel with a good amount of interaction with the audience was the the “Psychology of Anime II” a sequel to the panel I commented on last year. This year the panel focused entirely on what about anime appeals to anime fans using several popular psychological theories. As always the panel is very audience driven and seemed to have everyone participating in some form or another. I still stand by my assertion that the complex backgrounds and mechanical designs especially in 80s shows drew in a different group of fans than the simplistic and easy to comprehend character designs over the years. Still the idea that a panel could generate that sort of discussion is always encouraging.
AnimeNEXT delivered a wide variety of panels this time around setting a great tone for the convention to be a place of fun and learning. And since I have a list of panels I didn’t get to I know there was plenty of quality out there. I always enjoying coming away from panels mulling them over or with new shows to watch or what have you. I hope we can return to doing panels next year at AnimeNEXT and add to their wonderful programing.
I was very impressed with the panel line up this year at AnimeNEXT. Thankfully a good selection of panel usually gave me something to do all day. I really only disliked the “King of Fighters: Past to Present ” but I only saw about 5-minutes so I just might have walked in at the wrong point. I wanted to see “The Science of Anime,” “Why we love to hate video games,” “Otaku Through the Generations,” “Religion in Neon Genesis Evangelion,” “IT CAME FROM FRANCE!!“, and “Hetalia History” but did not get a chance to for one reason or another. If anyone did attend them I would appreciate your thoughts in the comments section so I can determine how much of a priory to make them next year if they are run again.
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