The sheer amount of panels at Otakon is what I love about it. It is also what makes it feel so very fan-run, so much of the programing is put on by fans for fans. Fan knowledge and ingenuity is king at Otakon and over the years it has made getting to run a panel a premier spot. That being the case, I think that ends up inspiring a lot more panel feedback and critique than at some other conventions.
I was recently listening to the Otaku Generation con report for Otakon episode and they felt that with anime reviewing rooms being used less and less panel attendance had gone up. They also mentioned that at con feedback there was an unprecedented amount of discussion of panels and a demand for even more panels in general. There were also a good deal of complaining but the message was clear. Convention attendees were talking about panels because it was something they cared about. Otakon is never a convention that had to worry about people attending panels but I have to agree that it seemed like the interest in panels seemed like it was at an all time high.
Some panels and panelists will always draw a crowd. People like Mike Toole and Charles Dunbar always present in front of standing room only crowds as any one who went to Otakon will attest. If you talk about the newest “it show” or mention sexy times you will always have to turn people away. On the other hand there are still panels that are half empty due to either having rough time slots or less popular topics. But overall the number of panels that were not filled to capacity were less and less. Usually I say that expect for a few key panels lining up beforehand is mostly a waste of you time. But it was increasingly clear that might be outdated advice soon.
I attend a couple of panels that I’d seen before but since I knew they’d have new material, I checked them out again.
To start off the convention I saw Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You on Friday morning, luckily this year things didn’t kick off until 10AM. The panelists were bright and lively which engaged the audience right away. I’m somewhat familiar with Mahjong and have played a little so the ideas they were offering to the audience were already on my radar. The best part is closer to the end when they begin discussing the different character types in Mahjong anime followed by showing a clip. They were also some great moments throughout like the dog playing Mahjong and the sheer ridiculous heights of Legend of Koizumi. It isn’t a panel that you’ll walk out of knowing how to play Mahjong (the panelists say this themselves), but you will walk away with a better sense of those intense moments you witness in anime.
Kicking off Saturday morning was Fandom & Criticism: The Art of Active Viewing which changes each time it is put on as they invite different guests to be on the panel. Plus, it is an audience participation heavy presentation so you never know what will be said on that end. This con’s guest was Clarissa from Anime World Order. The covered a range of topics like whether something can be objectively good/bad, but things got a little more current events related when things like the state of women in video games came up. I stood up on another question about whether you read critic before or after watching a work. It was great to hear varying opinions of multiple subjects thought it was a little heavy for Saturday early morning.
I started things off fairly well with The Aging Otaku: Anime Fandom and Getting Older. Thanks to the new policy of not starting panels until an hour after the doors open on Friday this panel was fairly packed. The panel was fairly straight forward. It was run by Charles Dunbar along with Doug Wilder and Elizabeth O’Malley from animecons.com. It was a discussion of how to still enjoy conventions as you get older when anime conventions tend to be dominated by younger fans. There was a power point presentation but it was mostly there to provide a bit of structure to the conversation with the audience.
The audience had a fair number of graybeards but the majority of the audience was young pups in my humble opinions. Not the youngest pups at the con but a distinct number of fans that were still in college or maybe just out of higher education. I guess that when a majority of fandom is in high school and junior high that makes you older fans but I always picture people who are 30 over more as older fans. Still everyone made for some good conversation. There was one kid cosplaying Pikachu who I was a bit worried was going to be a signal that Otakon was going to be Hijack Con 2: The Revengeance as he seemed to want to butt in after every point that was made. Thankfully Charles nipped that in the bud after a little while and his magic seemed to prevent it from happening for the rest of the con.
Going from a real life Kuchiki we transition to talking about the thankfully fictional one in Viga’s Genshiken: The Next Generation panel. It was sadly not a panel about how Captain Picard and his crew become members of the Genshiken. The last time I went to Viga’s Genshiken panel it mostly focused on the first Genshiken series and mostly mentioned the new series as a footnote as there was not much of it out yet. This year she focused on comparing the two series. As there is a major tonal shift and a distinct change in the cast there is a good deal to talk about. I myself had a bit of a hard time accepting the new crew so I was interested to what Viga and other people in the audience had to say on the topic. Interestingly enough Carl Li was merely a participant in the audience. He was mostly a silent audience member as he did not want to dominate the panel with his mad Genshiken kung-fu. It was a fun time so I am curious how Viga will mix it up next time as she seems to run the panel differently each year.
Being a first time panelist can be never-wracking, especially at a place with huge rooms (most panel rooms seat 350+) like Otakon. There were a few ups and downs with The Chubby Characters of Anime and Manga and Sexism in Anime and Fandom.
It has to be said that The Chubby Characters of Anime and Manga started almost 15 minutes late because the panelist had not arrived. He came bustling in and was quick to set-up and was able to loosen up the audience with humor. As he delved into the presentation, he kept emphasizing how few characters there were that he could find. He presented us with a handful of examples, like Haruyuki from Accel World which is a very new title so that was positive. But after 15-minutes of talking our panelist ran out of steam and basically requested the audience give him examples of characters. Which they did plenty. I was disappointed that despite him saying he asked a lot of people he couldn’t create a presentation for more than six characters in it. And I was shocked that Genshiken was not part of this panel. The guy had a good attitude and the audience laughed with him at good moments but he just didn’t take the subject far enough.
With a name like Sexism in Anime and Fandom you aren’t quite sure what to expect and depending on the audience it could quickly go south. Luckily, Sexism in Anime and Fandom had a handle on the audience. They started with some personal stories and things like the “geek quiz” which many women are subjected to. The presentation went on to highlight how female characters in anime are shown, even strong ones like Yoko, and how that can change the perception of them. They also discussed the results of some surveys they had done regarding harassment of cosplayers. I felt like they had a lot to say but then they opened up the panel to audience participation at the half way point. They came off as pretty nervous when they began and unfortunately good portions felt rehearsed. Tt was clear the woman was reading from a paper which left some of the more jokey parts a little flat. It isn’t being natural, but I think they will be able to loosen up as they do more panels.
I definitely enjoyed Sexism in Anime and Fandom more, but both these panels had a similar problem of allowing too much audience time. However, the panelist of Sexism in Anime and Fandom came off as knowledge but just not sure of how the panel would really flow while the panelist of The Chubby Characters of Anime and Manga clearly didn’t do enough research before submitting his idea to Otakon.
I wanted to like the The Perverted Genius of Go Nagai panel. I was originally going to try to get into the Mythbusters panel but I got caught up in a group going to the Go Nagai panel. Oddly enough most of the people I went with bailed in the middle of the panel but I stayed to the end. The main problem with the panel was it was rather sedate for Go Nagai panel. He is an artist which such a crazy career but the panel was anything but. While I appreciate them trying to focus on his legally licensed works you have to touch on the balls to the walls stuff to really get who he was. Heck they did not even include the story of how he became a manga artist. I think that alone explains so much of his style in one compact story.
I would have also have liked to have seen some of Go Nagai’s super serious stuff as well. When you think Go Nagai you think of silly stuff like Cutey Honey, perverted things like Hanappe Bazooka, and hyper gory works like Violence Jack. But Go Nagai has also done a totally straight manga adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. That contrast is very critical. It is not a bad panel. The core idea is great. They just need to team up with a Go Nagai expert (which is not me) and really fine tune what they have. Go Nagai might not be Osamu Tezuka but it is foolish to dismiss his impact on modern manga.
The only late night 18+ panel I attended was The “Art” of Fanservice which was fun and funny as a panel in that slot should be. It was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek look at fan-service and how it has or hasn’t changed over the years. It was great that the panel didn’t just focus on fan-service of women and in fact it might have been a little disproportionately more guy focused. But that isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of boobsboobsboobs on the slides. The contrast though of fan-service between the two sexes was really striking. So learned a little, laughed a lot.
I attended the Sports Manga: Olympics Edition in the true spirit of the Olympics we were missing while at the con! The panelist was an avid sports fan so was very keen on discovering all these titles. The Summer Olympics section was really big, I don’t think I even realized how many games there were, and sports that have either been taken off the bill for the Olympics (like baseball) or are soon to be revived (like golf) were also touched upon. The panelist also spent some time talking about a few familiar names in the genre like Mitsuru Adachi. The varied topics covered really were everything you could think of though sadly most of it is not available in English. It was a panel with a lot of information, still the panelist could probably pep it up a little!
I always love the Jojo’s Posing School whenever I got to AnimeNEXT. I attend the panel whenever I can. So I was thrilled to see it at Otakon this year. I even passed over the Fandom & Criticism panel even though it had Clarissa on it. I have talked repeatedly about how the panel is a great way to wake up and learn about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure at the same time so I won’t do that again. I will just say that if you attend a convention and you see the panel on the schedule give it a chance. I guarantee you will get hooked like I did. Trying to resist is useless.
But I did get to see Clarissa and the rest of the AWO crew at the Great Anime Openings panel. Openings panels are sort of like a DJ and his music selections. Technically anyone can do an openings panel as they are not that hard. The real skill is picking a good selection that catches the audience’s attention while informing them at the same time. Also everyone approaches their selections slightly differently giving them a very distinct feel. The AWO approach this time was to have everyone be extremely distinct. Each member reveled in their preferences in a way that is was clear which openings Daryl, Gerald, and Clarissa picked respectively. It worked because there tastes are divergent enough that you got a strong cross-section of titles that had a little something for everyone.
The Anime Archive Project – Preserving The Good and Bad of U.S. Anime Fandom panel was probably the most surprising panel I went to that very few people attended. It was in one of the biggest panel rooms but there were only about 60 people in the room the whole time. Lance Heiskell of Funimation apparently started his own little personal project to archive the fan culture around anime. So he has started to collect things like anime magazines, con guides, and various merchandise and promo material to capture the spirit of anime fandom through the years. He then showed off some of what he had collected and talked about his experiences in fandom and what he has learned over the years. He ended by pimping his website and mentioning that while he gets tons of stuff through auctions and hunting thing down by himself or through proxies. But he cannot do it all by himself. So if anyone want to send him copies of their collections to add to the project he would greatly appreciate it.
I am sure that several people who read the blog have one of a kind or at least very rare fan materials of their own that would be priceless contributions to the project. As it was mentioned at the panel this is a great way of keeping track of how fandom has changed over the years. What shows were popular when? How did fandom and the industry approach each other and themselves? How have attitudes changed over the years and what has stayed the same? What parts of fandom are cyclic, which trends are just fads, and what is permanent? A site like this would be a valuable resource for all those questions and more. I was glad to learn about this project and I wish more people could participate in it as well.
We were lucky enough to run New Anime for Older Fans this year. I was feelings rather nervous since this was a new panel that we hadn’t tried at any previous cons yet, but somehow we made it though! Actually we got really wonderful feedback so I thank everyone for coming!
We covered anime titles in the last five years that might appeal to an older crowd who aren’t necessarily up on all the new seasons of anime. The Daily Lives of Highschool Boys seemed to be the crowd favorite based on not only the laughs it got but also multiple people stopping me later to say they were going to check it out. We’d love to run the panel again next year with updates. Since we only showed clips of 8 shows, though mentioned 24, we have plenty of material. And since the criteria we set for ourselves stipulates anime released in the past five years, it will inevitably change as times goes on.
If I met you at the Type-Moon: Unlimited Panel Works panel I ran and I don’t remember you it is because I mostly don’t remember much of that panel at all. I ran it with my roommate who while a frequent contributor to the internet mostly likes to remain cloaked within the shadows of anonymity. I was running on very little sleep so most of the panel was a blur to me. Apparently where was a Grail-kun in the audience and I did not even remember that. How did I not remember that? But I practiced the panel enough that I was able to do it just on memory so other than a few little slips I think it went well. I recorded the audio for a few people who could not attend and playing a little of it back it seemed okay.
I did get a lot of good feedback on the panel. Far too often you either get “It was good” which is nice to hear but generally unhelpful in improving the panel or you just get caustic vitriol of how the panel was horrible which can be just as useless. I got a lot of praise with helpful criticism which is undoubtedly the best sort of responses you can get. Apparently the audience wants the hardest core lore and information you can get. Even the new fans are not super keen on intro stuff. So I am working on an advanced panel. I like the idea of doing an analysis of the themes of the visual novels panel but I really feel I would need a partner on that panel. I am not sure people want to hear an hour of me and me alone discussing the various answers to the question, “What is the price of being devoted to your ideals?” in the various paths of Fate/Stay Night.
I quite randomly decided to attend CBLDF: The Fight To Defend Manga, but I’m very glad I did. A large portion of the panel was dedicated to Ryan Matheson (the first person to be criminally charged over manga images in his possession when crossing to Canada) telling his quite chilling story of his arrest, treatment, and subsequent decision to fight the charges which resulted in his victory. This process lasted for almost two years and cost $75,000 in legal fess which the CBLDF is still helping to pay off. Besides this cautionary story, the panel really emphasized how important it is to educate people about manga. It was mentioned that after so many years people are more familiar with comics and the CBLDF but that currently manga and anime are at their most vulnerable. I plan to stop by and donate at the NYCC.
I got the TRUE Gundam Experience 2012 thanks to the two guys in back of me the entire panel. They apparently were the REAL Gundam experts and could run the panel 100 times better than anyone on the stage. The panelists were just very lucky these two guys did not just kick them off so they could really show them how it was done. And that my friends is the truest Gundam fandom experience you will ever have. It also explains why it is so hard to get anyone who is not predestined to be a mecha fan into the community. Mecha fans tend to be horrible human beings.
Overall much like my Type-Moon panel it was your standard Gundam overview panel. It showed you all the main shows in the series with their pros and cons. The main problem was that it seems to have been originally made several years ago. At that time the panel easily fit into the hour slot with no waste but no dead time as well. The problem is every year there is more Gundam to talk about but the time allotted is still the same. This explains why the panel went over time and most of the middle Alternate Universe shows had to be glossed over.
I’m not exactly sure how you could trim it down. If you take anything out the Gundam nerds will surely go crazy. Maybe it is a sign that the panel has to be split into two panels each going a little more in-depth into its specialization. The first panel can be the UC Gundam Experience that just focuses on the original Universal Century material and then the AC Gundam Experience can focus on all the Alternate Universe series. You can even do them back to back if time allows. Otherwise at this point there is just too much for one panel without major modifications.
In between the guests and the friends are the panels gluing it all together. A convention wouldn’t be complete without these little fan events. Otakon often brings out the best in its panelists.
So with panel space at a premium and more and more panels being rejected to fill what slots are available I think it is even more of a valuable service to do panel reviews. The more the Otakon staff knows which panels are great, which panels need improvement, and which panels can get the ax the better. So if you, dear reader, attended any panels give Otakon your feedback in the forums (especially if you liked one of our panels) so they can give you more of what you want next year.
More Otakon 2012 posts:
Otakon 2012: Tweets
Otakon 2012: Pirated ANNcast
Otakon 2012: General Impressions
Otakon 2012: 15-minutes with Gen Urobuchi
Otakon 2012: Guests
Crime Scene Investigations #004: Otakon 2012
Otakon 2012: Artist Alley