I have rarely been disappointed when attending a guest panel but few if any guests panels can cover the broad range of topics that the average fan panel can. You will find all levels of quality in fan panels but the good ones will teach you something while making you laugh. I have found that the large number of submitted panels usually let the panel selection committee pick the cream of the crop and give you some stand out lectures at Otakon. I know a good number of people who did not get panels this year (including myself) but I liked almost all the panels I saw so they obviously took great care in deciding what to pick.
Fan panels are a gamble, but one that often pays off especially at places like Otakon where people are vying for a panel slot so the competition is steep and so is the talent. I try to squeeze in as many fan run sessions as I can but it can be tough when there are so many guests. I feel like I attended so few panels this year, but all of them were good so maybe it worked out.
One of the most controversial panels this year was the You Don’t Like Moe – And Here’s Why! panel with Otaku USA’s original OGT and Pontifus. The panel attempted to give a high-level look at what moe is and why people hate moe as passionately as they do. The problem was most of the literary analysis terms were going over the heads of the audience; they needed more hand holding before being thrown into such academia. While talking down to the audience is patronizing likewise assuming everyone has a degree in literary theory in otaku culture is equally ineffective. But it did spawn some passionate debate at the end. We had a huge three and a half hour conversation on the bus ride home about the very topics brought up by the panel.
Over the weekend I attended two fandom specific panels The World of Sailor Moon: Countdown to 20 years and The Mecha Fan Panel. For the most part panels like these have a bad rap of being rather asinine displays where people just shout about what they like best, but both of these panels showed how to do it right. For Sailor Moon there was some brief information about the anime but then it went further into why reading the manga is great and how richly it stands against its more well-known TV counter-part. They also discussed the live action TV show that came out a few years ago and even showed a funny trailer for it set to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers theme song. Equally funny was the short clip they showed of Sailor Moon Abridged which succeed in making me check it out. A good portion of the panel involved back and forth conversations about the Sailor Moon revival currently in full swing in Japan and other places around the world and of course the hopes that the U.S. would join in. Interspersed throughout was some trivia and giveaways. On the completely other side of the spectrum, the Mecha panel was going strong with a condensed history of the genre and some of its well-known creators like Go Nagai and Tomino. I did have to laugh as Carl (of Ogiue Maniax) kept holding his tongue when they got a fact or two wrong but it was mostly minor. There was plenty of pleasant attack name shouting thrown in and overall the panel was spry and lively. These guys did the panel last year, but this time around they were much better prepared plus had visuals.
Gerald Rathkolb‘s the History of Hentai was a solid panel that took a serious look at a topic that usually only gets jokes when brought up in public conversation. It looks and the growth of pornographic anime like one would look at any other genre in the medium. I did think some of the clips of the Tezuka anime went on for a bit too long but mostly because I wanted more history. I think everyone enjoyed the bad hentai dubbing section. It was remarkable. On an equally informative but less pornographic note I went to Alex Leavitt’s the Experiments in the Anime Industry: noitaminA panel. It started out about the noitaminA animation block but it quickly turned into an examination of the anime industry through the lens of the noitaminA block. I think most people will bring up the cost of anime section when talking about this panel but I think you would be remiss to ignore the solid information in the main part of the panel. It was also a good exploration of the shows that make up such an innovative time slot. I would have like to have seen some analysis of the fact that Hakaba Kitaro was the consistently the highest rated show in the block. Later on I went from talking about animation blocks to talking about directors. I missed the first third of Wildarmshero’s The Life and Times of Akiyuki Shinbo because the Saturday night dinner rush was quite massive but I liked what I saw. It was a thoughtful examination of the directorial eccentricities of Akiyuki Shinbo from someone who is absolutely a huge fan of his work while still being professional. There was a great selection of pictures and videos that give you insight into what makes Akiyuki Shinbo tick and what makes him unique as a director.
Early in the morning on Friday, but almost filled to capacity, was Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You run by Carl (of Ogiue Maniax) and Dave (of Subatomic Brainfreeze). The goal of the panel as stated at the beginning was to teach you enough about Mahjong, a rather complicated game, to get some extra enjoyment out of watching Mahjong anime. They made it clear that you probably wouldn’t be able to sit down after the panel and play a hand. Even with this in mind the panel was brimming with information from where the game comes from to what hands make people freak out in a series. The guys were funny and engaging so it was no surprise that the audience was having a good time, too. Throughout there were clips, many from Saki, but atleast one from the other animated Mahjong series out there. They wrapped up with a good amount of time for questions and answers and even gave the audience tips on where to play Mahjong online and where to pick up a set of tiles if you really wanted to pay the shipping. There wasn’t enough Akagi, but hey, is there ever?
I went to the Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Strategies of the Stars and The Otakon 2010 Gundam Experience: Life Beyond 30 who were both run by the same two gentleman. They were both great introductions with an understanding that a majority of the audience was made up of people already neck deep in what they were talking about. The panelists had an amusing friendly banter that kept the panels lively. If you are ever interested into getting into either series those panels are a great way to sample both and get an idea of where to enter the fandom. And when ever you start talking about mecha you have to talk about Mike Toole. Anime Cult Classics was a look at the various anime that have been funded by fringe religious groups in Japan. Mike Toole did not just run the clips but he gave a bit of history and insight into each of the groups featured in the panel. It was clearly a panel that had enough material for two hours because he constantly had to cut himself off to fit into the time slot. Given the nastier nature of most of these groups it is easy to see why otaku get a bad rap thanks to these cults. The only bigger and more dangerous cult in Japan are the figure collectors. The only panel I was able to attend on Sunday was the Japanese Figures, Toys and Collecting panel. It was an introduction to starting and maintaining a figure collection by several writers from Tomopop. I had a good time and they had a power point that would display various figures whenever they were talking and did not need info on the screen which is great with such a visual hobby. I did not win any of the figures they gave away at the end but thankfully none of them were Type-Moon figures so it was all good and no violence took place.
Ed Sizemore of Comics Worth Reading rounded up both the head of ANN, Chris Macdonald, and editor-in-chief of Japanator, Brad Rice for the Anime Journalism: The Story Behind the Story panel. In it Ed moderated a discussion about where stories come from, fact checking, ethics, and where opinions belong in the news. After both Chris and Brad told brief stories of how they came to be in their current positions things got down to business. Highlights include Brad talking about how Japantor wants to add fun to the news experience likening them to The Daily Show and Chris discussing harm vs. benefit of running a story after Ed gave him a fake scenario of getting a leaked list of titles that Funimation was currently bidding on. Chris went on to say that publishing that type of leak can be detrimental to the outcome of negotiations but that ANN almost always runs such information. Everyone also felt strongly about citing sources and griped a little about the unprofessionalism of not value adding to a news bite. Another panel talking about slippery slopes was Anime Lost in Translation which detailed some of the many ways bringing anime and manga over to English can be a challenge. She smartly skipped the basic honorifics and instead went for things like uncle and the confusion of characters calling each other brother/sister/etc. even when not related. She also went in for things like Kanji visual puns and non-gender specific pronouns. When tackling romanization the infamous Light/Righto was brought up but mostly for comedic effect. She had a good wit and it was a fun panel though it was disappointing that her presentation only lasted about a half-hour.
I did not get to see the 10 Anime You’ve Never Heard of but Must See! or Bad Anime, Bad! because the rooms filled up. I could have barged in with a press pass but I decided to go to other good panels at the same time. I did not see Fanthropology or Feminism, Fandom, and Fanservice either because the panelists never showed up which was a shame. As always with Otakon my only regret was I did not get to see more panels. Everything I went to really entertained me and taught me something. Also I got to see a clip from Johnny Destiny the Korean Gundam knock off. Priceless.
In a way, fan panels are the true essence of a convention. They take up almost all my time between the guest apperances and at smaller conventions they are even more important. With Otakon becoming quite a destinantion for panelist these days the quality has really gone up. I can only hope that they add perhaps one more panel room in the coming years as things continue to grow.
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