Otakon 2011: Fan Panels

With so many premieres, I felt like I neglected the fans panels a little this year at Otakon. Since panels is usually the biggest draw for me, I feel a bit guilty. There was a great variety, but one only has so much time. Still beyond our own two panels I did squeeze a few others in over the weekend.

I consider a healthy dose of fan panels part of a balanced convention diet. At some cons my entire schedule is filled with nothing but fan panels with the occasional guest panel if they have an interesting Japanese guest. Plus, as I become more active in the fan community I begin to know more of the people doing fan panels so I sometimes just stop in to support my friends who often do very intelligent panels (or at least entertaining panels). Fan panels have this passionate rawness that makes them unique and special. Sometimes that means you go to some real stinkers but such is the price you pay for some incredibly unique and eye-opening content.

I wrapped up a very busy Friday with Otakon Game Show. I ran into a lot of familiar faces who were waiting to take the qualifying quiz earlier in the day and once I heard Hisui made it on, I knew I had to check it out. It was a packed panel 6 where I was greeted with high energy and a handout with instructions on how to play along with your cellphone. This is what really set this game show apart and it actually worked really well. You simply sent a username to a special number by text (or you could use web if you had it), then subsequently sent your answer of 1, 2, 3, or 4 from then on. While the contestants where contemplating, the audience was doing its own deductions. This also seemed to cut down on people shouting out answers. There was even a leader board and small prizes for the crowd. I made it into the top slots for both rounds, which kinda makes me want to try out for the real show next year! This actually ended up being an unexpected highlight of the con.

Although I have been meaning to do so for a while, I finally got around to trying to be a participant on an anime game show. To be a contestant on the Otakon Game Show you had to complete a 15 question quiz mostly (but not entirely) made up of questions about anime from the last decade. Some questions were multiple choice or fill in the blank but there was one matching puzzle. I apparently knew enough to get into the top 4 positions even if I referred to Rolo from Code Geass as Lelouch’s fake brother. When the other three contestants and I  got on the stage, they had a pretty slick set up that used Buzz! controllers for the contestants while the audience could use their phones to answer alongside us. The setup was mostly like Jeopardy! but there was no penalty for missing a question. The categories were usually pretty amusing including a “Is it a magical girl show, a hentai, both, or neither?” category and a “Name that shower scene” category. And basically I got schooled. I started out strong but as time went on I firmly took last place. Even though I came in 4th I still got a nice assortment of prizes (and traded away my Soul Eater box set for a copy of Armitage III box with another contestant.) Everyone who participated was a good sport and I hope they had a good time. I know I enjoyed myself despite my somewhat embarrassing performance. Also since I could not recognize the Chun-Li shower scene, I was asked to turn in my manhood by several people. What people do not realize is that I never had it in the first place. You can watch my shame here and see me have to run off to the bathroom halfway through the show.

On the more educational side, I attended Daryl’s Remembering Satoshi Kon panel and the Anime and Manga Studies panel. The Satoshi Kon one is just what it sounds like, a celebration of Kon’s body of work which was cut short. The panel was extensively full of fans of the director already so Daryl smartly kept introductory information to a minimum. Instead the focus was on themes and motifs as well as some discussion of Kon’s otaku characters and their evolution. Kon himself was quite a fan and one of the clips goes on to show this perfectly as he tries on traditional samurai armor under the guise of research. While this was a celebration, it was also quite melancholy knowing Kon is no longer with us. Even more academic was the Anime and Manga Studies panel which featured people currently doing research or PhDs relating to the subjects. This panel was less formal than it sounds which was a good thing. Each panelist gave good advice and anecdotes about their work. Subjects that were discussed included anime and manga not being subordinate to another field of study; how not speaking Japanese can affect research; and how studying anime and manga contributes to the fan community. It certainly would give people curious about studying anime and manga a good place to start.

The rest of the weekend saw me going to two different styles of fan panels. First there were the highbrow intellectual panels. I went to the Ani-Gamers’ Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing which is one of their war-horse panels. Evan manages to keep it fresh by always having a different person in the third seat and this time it was Elliot Page alongside himself and Ink. The discussion was fairly lively and there was one young gentlemen in the front who was extremely engaged in the conversation. At first I assumed he was totally against the idea of the panel but it was eventually clear that he was just passionate. They had to limit the audience to three responses to each topic or they could have been there all night. Charles Dunbar and Ed Sizemore weighed in their feelings as well. I would have spoken up but I was just on the panel at AnimeNEXT so I already used my Toaru Majutsu no Index, Type-Moon, and Macross 7 analogies enough as it was. While Fandom & Criticism went off without a hitch the Cyborgs, Cybernetics and Metal Men was plagued with problems. The lady running the panel had a Mac that refused to cooperate with the projector so no matter how much the staff tried. But she was a champion and still did a good panel despite no longer having her visual backup. She started with a quiz on the truth and lies about real world cybernetics that showed that while we don’t live in the Ghost in the Shell universe we might not be that far off. She went into the controversies that cybernetics bring up in real life and what they reflect in modern society about our hopes and anxieties for the future.  The interaction between the audience and the panelist was good and I would like to see the panel again when everything was working. Even though he was a guest, I am throwing Roland Kelts’ Japan’s Intellectual Property Problem panel in this section. He started with a look at what IP is and how the Japanese and American view the protection of such rights is very different. This of course has led to many conflicts which is only exasperated by the fact that American anime fandom is a fandom built on piracy. Of course someone in the audience had to make the defense of piracy argument but in his defense he was much more polite and rational than most people on the Internet with that same stance. Christopher Macdonald was in the audience and piped up that physical media sales are in a major decline and streaming video profits are still chump change for most titles. If nothing else the conversation about the revenue sharing licenses explains why ANN retires certain streams after a while.

And of course, we ran our own panels, too. I was quite worried about Best Manga You Never Read having a Friday 9AM time slot because of past years with panelists and attendees being able to get in the building early. No need to worry though, Otakon was on top of it! We were able to pack panel 4 that morning. This was also a bit frightening to be honest. Once again this panel focused on TokyoPop titles that are either forgotten or sold so badly as to be canceled. Unfortunately, since the panel was first thing were weren’t able to scope out what series were in the dealer’s room. Some titles got crowd reactions like Sgt. Frog but for the most part I think we were able to give people new things to check out. The crowd was smaller, but still attentive, for Investigating Detective Anime. This was our third time running it so we are finally getting the hang of it. This is an introductory panel so we are still contemplating doing something a bit more advanced as some point. There was a lot of good questions and discussion after we finished our presentation, too.

I did not just go to high-minded panels where academics pondered complex concepts from ivory towers while smoking pipes and drinking brandy. I also went to some down and dirty fun panels. I unfortunately started my fun panel run with the Let’s Play Ero-ge! panel. I was hoping to learn about a few obscure but story rich porn game titles. The problem was this panel had two distinct sections. One was very strong and one was very weak. The part that I cared the most about was weak: the actual explanation of eroge was slapdash and shallow. They really only mention three titles and their guide to finding and installing games was full of important holes. They did not even mention how to use AppLocale which is vital in the installation and use of Japanese games and is often the most tricky part of getting into eroge. The strongest part of the panel was when they played Yume Miru Kusuri while selected audience members dubbed the dialog. At this point, the audience was really having fun and the panel worked well. They should just drop the pretense of being educational and just make the whole panel a “Lets dub some eroge” panel. It would be more honest and far more popular. On a lighter note, I saw the Gyaru Culture Revealed panel. The panelists looked at both the Gal culture in Japan and how there is a small but vibrant Gal community in the U.S. as well. It was informative look at the history of Gal culture and how western fans have made it their own. They even did a makeup demonstration. They were obviously big fans of the Gal lifestyle and it showed.

Having to choose between the many mecha panels, I went to the What Makes Gundam Great panel to meet up with some friends I don’t normally see. The panel was mostly interesting to me as a way of gauging the pulse of the Gundam fan community. Even though it was an introductory panel, almost everyone in the room was a decently hardcore fan. So as the panelist went through the Gundam series you got a good sense of what was popular and what had its haters. Of course Zeta got nothing but cheers but what else to you expect from an audience of hardcore Gundam fans. The two shows that got the most hate were SEED and AGE. I already talked about Age at length on the blog but I did get an interesting insight about SEED. The guy running the panel mentioned that SEED was very popular among non-mecha fans. Is SEED’s more mainstream popularity why it gets all the hate it does from the hardcore Gundam fans or is that putting the cart before the horse? Of course there was one guy with a very Nazi like uniform and a Zeon flag shouting “Sieg Zeon!” the whole panel. You know, just in case someone had not been scared off by crazy Gundamn fans by the point. And from one form of insanity to another I went to Anime’s Craziest Deaths. I was going to go to the Manga Gamer panel but since some my suitemates were holding me a place in line I decided to go to Anime’s Craziest Deaths. I was a bit depressed after losing the Aniplex raffle so watching people being eviscerated picked up my mood. Daryl’s clip show panels are usually very entertaining and this was no exception. It was full of bloody goodness with people dying in the most spectacular manner. It was heavily 80’s-centric but that is when you tended to get your most entertainingly gratuitous deaths. I would be curious to see it again in a few years to see what Daryl adds and removes as the panel evolves.

Fan panels are the heart of conventions and Otakon goes to such lengths to create a quality fan experience. This fan produced programing is what sets them apart from the other big conventions around. While there were some questionable scheduling decisions, there was a robust amount of panels to attend all times of the day. A great job was done by all! Thanks everyone for coming out! Please fill out the feedback form from Otakon if you have time.

I think I went to a good selection of fan panels this year. This did not stand out as a the best line-up Otakon has ever had, but I don’t think it was as weak as I heard some people say it was. I had a good time and most of the panels I did not like were mostly a matter of not being what I wanted rather than being flat-out bad panels. Of course I always miss out on panels due to various running around. I am curious if anyone went to any of the following panels: The Weirdest Games You’ve Never Played, Deculture! A Macross Panel, Mythbusters: Anime Edition, Underrated Mecha Anime, Toei Tokusatsu, or the Madoka panels. If you saw those panels, would you kindly leave me a comment on what you thought? I would appreciate it.

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6 thoughts on “Otakon 2011: Fan Panels

  1. vigatheotagal says:

    I left the Macross panel after ten minutes because the info given was stuff from Wiki, reading off the slides and delivered very awkwardly and boring by the presenter.

    Underrated Mecha Anime however did it’s job well by entertaining as well as creating a burning need to own Overman King Gainer. Seriously, I searched the dealers room for 2 hours, so I’m watching it on a streaming site instead. It educated as well and was one of the best panels I went to this con. My favorite mecha panel this year.

    • reversethieves says:

      It is a shame that the Macross panel was rather weak. I always see Gundam panels in New York but Macorss panels are few and far between around here.

      Well Mike Toole had the Mike Toole reputation of quality for a reason.

      Overman King Gainer is seriously Tomino being all crazy Tomino. He also does not go out of his way to explain that much. Heck some of the back story in the that background opening credit scroll. But it is fun if you can grok happy but insane Tomino.

      Also I think Cynthia Lane is oddly hot.

      – Hisui

  2. Sarah Hayes says:

    I’m so glad I read this post; I’ve never been to Otakon and you guys really provide an essential look into the fan panels there. A lot of good points above for when I run fan panels at future conventions. Plus, the Otakon Game Show looks very fun! Giving me lots of ideas for con panel games of my own :)

    I hope next year or the year after to go to Otakon – and I will definitely try to attend your panels!

    • reversethieves says:

      Otakon can be a bit of a hit to the pocketbook but it is amazing fun. It is a good place to learn what works and what does not. People usually bring their A game so it is a good place to …. “borrow” technique.

      Then again all the best artists are thieves.

      If you do make it out to Baltimore next year stop on by and say hello!

      – Hisui

  3. Daryl Surat says:

    I’ve actually been putting on Anime’s Craziest Deaths for several years at this point. The trouble with it is that the list of titles to pull from is relatively finite: with OAVs largely extinct, the only contemporary sources I can draw from are a fraction of what gets made for Japanese pay cable TV.

    As such, I only have about 2-2.5 hours of total material. Mind you that’s still 50+ titles, and even though most titles with one outlandish loss of live tend to have a few such scenes, I can’t really keep coming back with a whole new set each time.

    • reversethieves says:

      Well It was a fun panel none the less. As you mentioned for modern stuff there is the late night pay cable TV anime. I am sure there might be some good deaths in shows like Freezing, Manyuu Hikenchou, or Highschool of the Dead. But then you have to watch Freezing, Manyuu Hikenchou, or Highschool of the Dead.

      No one deserves that.

      – Hisui

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