Genericon 2013

I will begin this convention report with a bit of a confession. I have always felt like a C-Grade celebrity in the general anime community. I have enough of a career to have the equivalent of a  decent sized IMDB page but I am never going to attend the anime Oscars expect as a seat filler. So being asked to be a featured panelist at a smaller convention like Genericon might not be the starring role in a blockbuster or an awards bait show. I see it more a juicy role in a strong indy film. You might not get the same acclaim but it still feels very rewarding.

As one can guess with a name like Genericon the subject matters involved is going to be slightly esoteric. While the convention started as a science fiction convention it has expanded to include gaming, anime, comics, and other nerdy hobbies. So that means when you see all the Homestuck, My Little Pony, Adventure Time, and Dr. Who cosplayers they are not out-of-place. Oddly enough they were about as common as you would see at any anime convention. That alone seems like a very telling statement. But with Evan Minto as the convention chair this year there was a bit of an anime bias. But that has been present since I attended two years ago. And one of the guests of honor with year was Tim Maughan so the convention had both an anime related guest and a strong science fiction related guest all in one package. Kyle Hebert did add to the anime related content as well but he is no stranger to doing work with video games as well.

So the convention comes down to a simple question: Is the Generic brand equal to the quality of the commercial brand convention but lower price?

The biggest improvement I saw to Genericon this year was that everything was far more organized when it came to the layout. With a little more room dedicated to the convention they were able to group things together a bit neater. Now that the dealer’s room was its own building everything flowed nicely from there. The panels were all in one section, the artist alley was in its own section, and the gaming could all be in one building with each type of gaming getting its own getting its own area. The con was never so big that having multiple sections in multiple areas was that inconvenient but it just seems better organized this way. The older layout felt more like someone just poured out Lego blocks on the floor. This year it felt like someone took those blocks and built something structured out of them.

A few times during the convention I popped into the room where they were playing Pathfinder. I never had enough time to really sit down with a game but I did pop my head in from time to time. The games were all hack and slash dungeon crawls but that is the nature of pickup games. I will note the groups assembled there was a mixture of stereotypes and counterpoints. The majority of the players were nerdy guys eating pizza but there were several female players and everyone was quite welcoming. It might just be because Pathfinder Society’s main function is player outreach but everyone I observed was welcoming but not overly pushy. I would have stayed and perhaps played a bit but I had other things to attend to.

The dealer’s room was small but varied. It mostly seemed to be anime, manga, and role-playing game merchandise. I know Narutaki would have been eager to pick up some new dice especially considering the variety they had. Vincenzo noticed someone was still selling .hack TCG cards and the dealer was super defensive about the game to boot. As someone who still owns a much of those cards it was amusing to see. The Artist Alley on the other hand had a good deal of craft goods. I would say there was more handmade goods than artwork which is the opposite of what I see at anime cons.

But the most important part of any convention for me are the panels. I mostly looked in on those other parts of the convention when I was killing time between events or just needed a bit of a chance to stretch my legs.

Since Tim Maughan was the guest of honor he did quite a few panels over the weekend. He managed to work the theme of the convention, the post-apocalypse, into most of his panels. He also talked about the cyberpunk because he is Tim Maughan. It would be like me doing panels and not briefly talking about Saber. Just impossible. He did note that most of his panels while having slides and videos were mostly finished a few seconds before each panel and had little to no notes. But most of the panels were filled in with his sheer amount of personal knowledge that he did not really need notes.

His first panel was extremely on topic with Overthinking the Apocalypse. It was an examination of why exactly is there a preoccupation with the post-apocalypse in western entertainment. Especially with the rise of the Zombie Apocalypse™. It did remind me quite a bit of an old Idea Channel video. The panel looked at 5 different reasons we might be obsessed with living in a world were civilization has broken down. They ranged from a fear of the future to a longing for a world where the shackles of everyday life are thrown off. I still think the “Unique Little Snowflake” idea is rather prominent among what I have seen of zombie fandom. The idea that when everything goes to hell it would turn out that they alone would be among the survivors because they are just do darn smart and special. It is why all those Zombie Apocalypse™ planning books are so popular.

The meet Meet Tim Maughan panel was a fairly simple affair. It started with Vincenzo from the All Geeks Considered podcast do a brief Q&A with Tim. You can listen to that half here. He then took questions from the audience mostly about being a writer. I myself asked Tim what science fiction movies could learn from science fiction and vice versa. He also talked about his time working in video games and what it takes to write in the industry.

Cyberpunk: Nostalgia for the Future was pretty much the panel that Tim was destined to do. It started of with a brief definition of cyberpunk that led into a time line of cyberpunk history. He started in the 50s with books that were not cyberpunk but were extremely foundational in style like The Stars My Destination. He eventually moved through the years building up the foundations until you get to William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Bethke and actual cyberpunk is born. He then marches forward showing how cyberpunk would lead into the concept going extremely mainstream and even mutating into things like steampunk. The most shocking part of the panel is Tim brings up women who wrote notable cyberpunk novels. Science fiction is seen as an all boys club so it is nice that some women get acknowledged from time to time.

10 Anime To See Before The Apocalypse was Tim’s last panel and it was actually 7 post-apocalypse anime as he did not have enough time to finish the panel. He listed Ergo Proxy, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira, Angel’s Egg, Fist of the North Star, Cowboy Bebop, and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. After that he just opened up the panel to the audience for them to fill in the last 3 slots. I only suggested the Big O as I was a little surprised it was not on Tim’s list (although it was something he thought of adding to the list). I could have thrown out a few more suggestions but the audience had quite a few recomendations of their own. I was amused when people threw out very un-Tim titles like Vandread but overall it was a good list of titles.

Licensing with Vertical Books was a bit of a hybrid of Ed Chavez’ normal Vertical industry panel with an extra bonus lecture at the end. It started with the standard run down of what was coming out in the future from Vertical as well as some new announcements. But after that he did a little lecture on exactly how the manga licensing process works. He went into an extreme amount of detail on everything from how a manga line is developed to all the complications that come with picking up an individual title. He even went into a little more detail that you would expect with some interesting examples. It is definitely a panel you should check out if you want a peek behind the curtain to see how things are actually done as opposed to speculating about it as if you know the intimacies.

If Tim had to do a cyberpunk panel then Walter Amos had to do a Yamato 2199: A Great Remake, or The Greatest Remake? panel. Overall it was a fairly straight forward affair. Walter introduced the basic plot of the original Space Battleship Yamato and then introduced its contemporary remake Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Narutaki and I watched the original series and while we were entertained it never hit us the same way it does other people. But Walter’s panel did a lot to show me that the Yamato 2199 series might be worth going back to. It seems the remake takes a lot of what was strong about the original series and irons it out the a bit with the help of hindsight and then puts as nice new shiny sheen the whole package. I especially liked how Walter was able to point out the little details they add into 2199 I would have never noticed not being a huge Yamato fan. It really made me appreciate what they are adding to the new series.

Walter also did the Anime Blinded Me With Science! which was an updated version of his panel from AnimeNEXT. This time he ran it alone which had its benefits and detriments. The panel takes scenes from anime and sees how realistic the science is in the scenario. When they ran the panel the first time the science was much more varied since everyone brought their particular expertise to the table. But this time all the scenes focused on astrophysics since that is Walter’s playground. But as Walter was the oldest and most experienced scientist on the panel last year. So when all the examples he brings up are from his field the panel felt much more unified and informative.

But I did not just attend panels by people I knew. There was an honest to goodness panel called  Bright You Now! A G-Gundam Fan Panel which was run by women. One of which is pretty much gender swapped Daryl Surat. I mean ask anyone who was there. She was the girl version of Daryl. It was a wonder of the modern world.

The panel was an energetic primer into the most wuxia of all the Gundam series. Of course they bring up all the silly Gundams, the somewhat racist Gundams, the over the top characters, the Sekiha Love Love Tenkyoken, and Stalker. BUT the panel has a huge flaw. They were obvious Rain fan girls which was fine but that seems to me that they totally did not bring up Allenby Beardsley (who is the best character). And that is a crime and a half.

But the panel that surprised me the most was the Into the Witch’s Barrier: Superflat Influences on Puella Magi Madoka Magica panel. It was a very well-balanced panel. The main problem with lots of academic panels that use anime is they swing to far in either being mostly about the anime and only lightly touching on the subject or being all about the subject and only paying lip service to the anime. This panel did a good job of mostly talking about Superflat but having a wide variety of interesting clips and images that tied everything together. It was obvious that she was an anime fan who was also an art academic and not a scholar who just happen to touch an anime they once saw. I hope Claudine Castano continues to create panels that have such a good balance between informative and entertaining in the future.

I also saw three fan trivia panels. I went to the Doctor Who Panel, Pony Should Pony Pony panel, and the Anime Jeopardy panel. They all had very different approaches to their fandom and in turn were very indicative of the fandom that spawned them.

The Doctor Who panel was run by a guy who looked like a student of Erik von Markovik which was sort of strange in of itself. The trivia panel was a big production with the host talking about how the auditorium has his borrowed TARDIS and he asked in his questions in-character. Half way through the panel it turns out one of the contestants was a plant and the whole affair turned into a big sketch with a Dalek, Weeping Angels, and the Eleventh Doctor. It was essentially pure shenanigans past that point but the audience ate it up.

The thing I noticed the most was the clear divide between those fans who had classic Who knowledge and new Who fandom. The new fans could answer some rather obscure questions about the current series but were so baffled by the classic questions that the host just stopped asking them. I mean if you can’t answer some Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart or Leela questions do you REALLY deserve to be on a trivia panel?

The Pony Should Pony Pony quiz show on the other hand was a study in “My Goodness you people have watched these episodes FAR too many times.” Even watching the all three season I could not answer most of the questions. There was a section that was just name the episode using a single character’s reaction shot or name the tune using the first few notes of a song level of wonkery. That is some DEEP down the rabbit hole stuff. But what do you really expect from My Little Pony fandom?

The last trivia panel was Evan’s Anime Jeopardy. It definitely was the most ambitious trivia panel with a self-generating Jeopardy board and home-made buzzers. But it was also the game with the most technical errors in turn. Certain categories just had to be skipped because they were bugged. I will say that I may have I contributed some questions that were a bit too high level. But come on, who does not know that Ranpha Franboise’s emblem frame is named Kung-fu Fighter? I mean that is just common knowledge (OK. It isn’t. At all.) But overall everyone had a good time and it was probably the quiz show with the best prizes.

I think my panels went off pretty well. The biggest problems were two-fold that feed into each other. The first was that there was no staff member around to remind panelists that they only had 5 minutes left. That meant that every panel that was before mine ran at least 5 minutes over. Thankfully my borrowed little net-book actually had no problems getting set up (which is not always the case with Narutaki’s laptop.)

The other problem was I sort of raced through my own panels because I started late. I think if I had a partner I could have paced myself a little better but starting off late and then having to do the panels on my own gave me an extreme sense of having no time. Me forgetting to convert my latest version of my Type-Moon panel and having to use an older version did not help with that affair.

The minor problem with timing aside I had a good experience overall. If nothing else sharing a room with Ed Chavez meant that my manga knowledge increased by a minimum of 10 points just from our little conversations before bed. Who else is going to teach you about a manga like Self?
I also got to try a South Troy Burger which I am sure knocked several months off my life expectancy and ate at a place called Dinosaur BBQ which is just a good name overall.

If you live in the Albany area and have a generally nerdy palate then there is no reason not to stop by Genericon for at least a day. It has the intimacy of a small college convention but had some rather strong panels and guests that you would usually on find at a more mid-sized convention. That alone makes it worth a little driving. With any luck next year they might even get both Reverse Thieves. And that would be amazing.

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