When it comes to panels AnimeNEXT has its own draw as a mid-sized convention. While they will not accept any darn panel they are pretty fast and loose with what they accept as long as you make a convincing argument. It makes it the perfect place to test out new panels, play with old ones, or try radially unusual topics. All four panels we ran were either new panels or majorly overhauled from the last time we ran them. At the same time the convention is big enough that most panels get a good draw no matter how esoteric. But don’t let me fool you into thinking AnimeNEXT is the amateur hour. There are some great high-level panels as well as wildly popular clip show presentations. AnimeNEXT has a solid enough panel lineup so that you always have something do.
AnimeNEXT is a place of familiar faces, even if you’ve never spoken to them directly. This is never more true than when attending panels. You get a variety of veterans who run a number of panels old and new. I like to think we are included in that bunch by this point as well. But there are also new people throwing their hats into the ring.
Usually the most packed panels are always the clip show panels. The Best Of Martial Arts Fight Scenes 2: The Rematch was a selection of fight scenes from various martial arts movies. Since it was just videos of the fights it was all killer and no filler. The guy running the panel would give the clips some set up and then jump fight into the action. Apparently every time the guy in charge runs this panel he picks a different theme and this year was pretty clever. Each of the clips was part of a duet. At first he would show a pair of martial artists fighting in one movie and then the second clip would be the same actors in a different movie fighting again but as different characters. It was an inspired idea and rather well executed. I also went to the AnimeNEXT classic clip show panel of These Are A Few Of My Favorite Scenes. I am surprised they put it in a workshop room as panels like this can usually fill an event hall. The panel was amusing as always but we only saw he first hour. I wish I could have stayed longer but we had to drive home and we were all tried as it was. The Yakitate!! Japan clips were hysterical and I always enjoy more attention being paid to the Secret of Kells. Always a great panel and always has something new to see. Fanthropology: Behind the Study of Fandom was a Charles Dunbar panel so it was done professionally with a sense of fun. The panel looked at anime fandom and the unique challenges and benefits to its study. Charles interacted with the audience quite a bit. I myself would have piped up but there was almost always three of four people who had something to say about any given topic so I just let them talk. It is always interesting to see anime fans talking positively about fandom as opposed to the less than bright picture the internet paints. My favorite panel of the convention was the JoJo’s Posing School panel. It was simply brilliant. Based on the Jojo’s Posing School in Japan the idea was to learn how to strike the insane poses from the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga. At the same time as the panelists were teaching you the poses they also taught you about the manga. It was great because the interactive nature of the panel made everything fun and more likely to stick in your head more than any lecture on the manga would. It even changed the way I look at doing panels. I will add some element of interactivity to any panel I do in the future after seeing how effective it was. I don’t think every panel I do will be this interactive but I am sold on the principle. Plus it helped wake me up Saturday morning because I sorely need some pep. If you see this panel on the schedule of any con you go to I highly recommend it.
One of the earlier panels on Friday was Inside the Industry, I wasn’t immediately sure what it was going to entail but decided to pop in before going off to do our first panel of the convention. Robert Axelrod and Leah Clark hosted what essentially was an invitation to ask them whatever you wanted to know about the American voice acting business. Mr. Axelrod was a hoot as he told some stories. Like many others he started out to be a traditional actor. One job offered to send him to do voices in Japan when he was just 19-years-old, but he turned it down and didn’t end up voice acting till many years later starting with a show called Banner the Squirrel. He even did a funny high-pitched voice! Vertical Inc. was the only company to be running a panel at AnimeNEXT that I saw. There was much GTO talk as it expands their manga line in yet another new, and unexpected, direction. Though Mr. Chavez said this has been his hope all along as he is a big Onizuka fan. He also showed off the first couple Drops of God covers and the sadly final book of Black Jack which is a departure from the current designs but isn’t set in stone yet. While not there in any official capacity, the American Animation folks showed off what is upcoming. This seemed like a good route since there is a massive amount of works, so picking a theme was a good call. Some of the titles were the new installment in the Avatar franchise, Legend of Korra; Thundercats which people were excited about but I still maintain looks bad; Tin Tin with a lot of big names behind it; and a few different DC superhero titles. They also talked about Sym-Bionic Titan, which is not upcoming but absolutely deserved to be discussed. I was a bit sad that when I brought up Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated, no one seemed interested. It also made me realize that the panel was really favoring action cartoons, rather than embracing the whole of American works, but that may be for the best at an anime convention.
Anime in the 90s seemed like revenge of the 2009 version of the As The Otaku Grows panel (which was also at this con and apparently is still horrible according to Ink). [updated 06/19/11] It was basically a panel about how 90s anime was the best anime ever which is always a claim that makes me roll my eyes. It is worth nothing that when they say 90s anime they really mean anime that was released in the US in the 90s as opposed to anime from the 90s. They pretty much wanted everything to be Cowboy Bebop. While we all wish everything could be that good it clearly ignores the classics before the 90s and the good shows that have come out since then (as well as all the garbage that came out in the 90s.) I think the most telling sign of why they thought as they did was no one on the panel was watching the Noitamina block. Also someone in the audience brought up MD Geist as an example of superbly crafted anime. Everyone in our little crew physically reacted to that amazingly insane statement. Speaking of insane the Tenshi ni Narumon: Anime Under the Radar was quite unexpected. I really enjoyed Tenshi ni Narumon but that show is hardly popular so I was curious to see where this panel was going. The panel was run by a professor whose daughter got him into anime. He decided to try to promote this cute little series at cons to raise awareness about it. Since he teaches about fables and mythology most of the panel was analysis of the story, themes, and symbolism. It could be a little dry at times and feel like a lecture but it was a distinctly unique approach to looking at the series. He did have a lot of clips to back up his points and throw some energy into the panel. I will say my biggest problem was the panel was filled with major spoilers. I think that an intro panels should avoid major spoilers when it can but to each their own. I also went to the Fandom Podcasting: An Overview panel because I always go to podcasting panels. It had Jefferson from the Otaku Generation podcast. Jefferson always strikes me as the most awkward member of the current cast of the podcast and since this was his first panel it started off really slow. But eventually Matt from the podcast threw in a little help and Jefferson started to loosen up and the panel fell into place. Narutaki sort of threw off the panel by over-examining one slide with the various types of fandoms in podcasting but I think we all had to know that clickie podcast was. The most surprising fact we discovered was over half the audience was not just podcasters. Since most podcasting panels are made up solely of podcasters it was an interesting change of pace.
I was quite curious about Otaku on a Budget since I’ve oft thought of doing something similar myself. This panel run by Natsuki from NaruNatsu was fun, if a little scatterbrained, and her focus was mostly on how to save for conventions and at the convention itself. As a cosplayer she also had quite a few tips in that area which I know very little about. She also told a cute story about how she had only just met the two other girls on the panel with her. This panel was fun all three days of the con so I wonder how the other sessions went. The Anime Openings and Closings panel was a little less successful, but had some good elements. The big issue arose after he showed Astro Boy and Lupin openings, good start, but then jumped almost 30 years into the future for the rest of the panel. He had some other good pieces like talking about Ali-Project who does many openings and discussing dancing themes. Any of these subjects could have probably been their own panel honestly so he was only able to briefly touch upon them. I got the feelings he was just more familiar with modern anime, but it was a good attempt. There were two panels stressing opinions Fandom and Criticism and Anime Incorrect. Ani-Gamers Evan and Ink as well as Hisui sat down to have a rather philosophical discussion with each other and the audience in Fandom and Criticism. Everyone watches anime differently, but watching it thoughtful can create en enriching experience. Questions were posed about how many episodes you give a show to grab you; anti-intellectual fans; and about pinpointing what exactly you liked or didn’t about a show. There was a lot of audience discussion and I threw in my two cents now and again as well. A less academic session occurred Friday late night with Anime Incorrect, a rif on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. This panel too had some familiar faces like Greg from Reisen Goes to School by Bus, Scott V. from Anime Almanac, and Evan from Ani-Gamers. The folks on the panel took on such controversial subjects as the new live action Akira and Bill 156 (The Tokyo Youth Ordinance Bill). It took a little while to warm up but things started to get more lively as the audience and participants got comfortable with each other and debates started to heat up.
I think all our panels went well overall. They all experienced some technical difficulty but that is Reverse Thieves way. Some of our panels were in workshop 2 where there was no projector. This meant that our the Best Manga you Never Read panel was just us talking. We had run this panel before but because of recent events I decided to make the selections all under-appreciated or forgotten Tokyopop titles. I figured now was the best time to talk about them before they became near impossible to find. Despite the lack of graphics the panel went well and I think we got some good responses. I finally got to test by infamous Type-Moon: Unlimited Panel Works panel. I got a projector for my panel but I started about 10 minutes late do to set up problems. This meant I cut a lot of the introduction to the plot, themes, and characters of the assorted works of Type-Moon as most of the audience knew the score. Plus I had an audience filled with some real wisenheimers so jumping to the obscure stuff was probably for the best. But while the audience may have been cracking wise but they were enthusiastic and supportive. It gave the panel a good flow back and forth as we celebrated the collected works of my favorite Japanese creators. The Q&A at the end was sort of no holds barred discussion with a mixture of very silly question and some actual real deal questions as well. My general feeling was the panel was good but needs some work for bigger cons. I might run this panel again at small cons and run a more advanced Type-Moon: Mystic Eyes of Information Perception at bigger cons.
Our own panels had good turn outs and good feedback from the audience. It is always nice to talk with people after to gain even more tidbits of knowledge and maybe even make some friends. Our Investigating Detective Anime panel was more refined than the version we ran at Genericon. We added clips in, which cut down the number of shows we could discuss. I’m a little on the fence about how to get a good balance. Overall, it went well but we will still be doing some tweeking before presenting it at Otakon. Brand new to our panels list was Real Men Watch Shojo, another clips centered panel encouraging people to look beyond the genre classification “shojo” and hopefully show them the variety therein. I talked with a number of people after this panel and got even more suggestions for titles to use in the future. Thanks everyone for coming out!
I totally missed the WTF Moments in Anime & Manga, The Anime Geek Glossary, One Piece Podcast, and Totally Subversive Toons panels. Either I did not wake up in time, was eating dinner, or was shut out. If anyone attended those panels I am curious to know what their reaction was. Also if anyone who attended our panels has any comments or criticism I am curious to hear that as well. My Type-Moon panel was completely new so I would love to know where to expand and where to cut for future versions. I had a great time with the panels at AnimeNEXT this year. We have a few panel ideas on the back burner that we might test out. I know we are thinking of trying out a Legend of the Galactic Heroes panel. That might just be divine.
AnimeNEXT’s main event for me is usually panels, it makes up the majority of what I do at the con. Luckily this year was another one of great variety and overall competence from a number of sources. While most panels didn’t start on time either due to previous panelists or technical difficulties, the actual knowledge presented was still entertaining.
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