Otakon 2013: Fan Panels

hisui_icon_4040 After a conversation with Kate I have a revelation. As someone who does fan panels I think I am always a little guilty that I don’t attend enough fan panels. So when I “only” went to seven fan panels this year I felt slightly guilty when all in all that is more than most people attend. But I feel everyone doing a fan panel is always a little worried that not enough people are going to show up. (How many are enough people depends on the presenter.) Therefore every attentive person in a seat is one step closer to fine.

Plus, I can report back on the horrible panels and then savage them like a demon. (Or give constructive criticism which is actually far more valuable.)

narutaki_icon_4040 With so many guests this year, I found myself at less fan-run panels simply because of time constraints and not due to a lack of fascinating topics.

hisui_icon_4040 One of the fan events I was really looking forward to was Mystery Anime Theater Anime 3000. The creators of the event had retired a few years ago content with the fact that they had a good run and left on a high note. But the current Otakon staff convinced them to brush off their old skills and do one more special show. And while they could not get everyone again most of the team was coerced into doing something to celebrate the 20th anniversary.

They chose Origin: Spirits of the Past which is sort of the sweet spot of the balance between awful and watchable that makes for a good MAT3K. Origin was Gonzo’s attempt to make a Studio Ghibli film. While the visual are often lovely the story is nowhere near that same level. The movie is hardly unwatchable but it is just so mediocre that you don’t mind someone ripping it apart. At the same time Origin is not so bad that your constantly checking your watch for the whole affair to be over even while the jokes going on.

One of the biggest mysteries of the universe shall always be the fact that overall the audience just decided to sit back and let the people on stage do the jokes. There was the natural amount of talking in the audience, a few pro-Ragna chants at mostly opportune moments, and the natural nerdy outburst that can’t be avoided but most of the time the audience was either quiet or easily ignorable. Amazing.

Overall with a prepared script the jokes went over pretty well. They referenced a good deal of anime including newer shows like Girls und Panzer but they also maid a fair amount of references outside of anime. They fall back on Baltimore jokes a bit but complaining about that is like being down on a band who shouts that the audience they are in front of is the best audience in the world. They might not be full on Best Brains level but they had a good sense of when to make jokes and when to let things just be quiet. That in many ways is the most important bit of timing to master.

I was disappointed that after they started playing the credits most people started leaving. Don’t they know? They always play a little stinger that has the best scene in the movie. Do they leave during the credits of a Marvel movie as well? It is like these kids don’t understand how MST3Ks work.

I’m really sort of surprised no one else has tried to pick up the torch since the original team retired. It is probably for the best in the end. It is an easy event for people who only think they are funny to do very poorly. And goodness forbid anyone try it on the fly as opposed to have a script.

I also attended the for By Fans, For Fans: 20 Years of Holding On For Dear Life panel. It was a whole slew of older Otakon staffers just reminiscing about their time with the con and how far it has come. That was nice trip down memory lane. It was interesting to see the evolution of the convention as something really small to the juggernaut that it is today. It was also fascinating to see how close it came to blowing up early on and never even making it to 10 years. I get the impressions that the 1995 four-day convention forever traumatized the staff into thinking that it was a bad idea. But they emphasized that year really taught them some serious lessons on how important it is to run a lean but robust convention.

Also the year the sewers in Baltimore were backed up with toxic sludge was sort of spectacular (but horrible for everyone involved).

narutaki_icon_4040 A fitting panel for the scope of a convention like Otakon was the We Con Therefore We Are: Fandom, Convergence, and a Critical Look at the Modern Otaku hosted by Charles Dunbar with help from Daryl Surat and Doug Wilder. It also happened to be the first fan panel I attended so it was a very introspective way to kick-off the convention.

They really tried to tackle the importance of fans and convention culture. And of course there was some explanation and delving into convergence theory.

Charles loves conventions and loves fandom and it definitely showed at this panel. Doug was similarly minded while Daryl had a more dissenting opinion which balanced everything out and created some good back and forth discussion.

A major topic ended up being cross-pollination of fandoms and how many other groups show up at anime cons (Doctor Who or My Little Pony or Adventure Time fans for example). At one point, Charles even asked the audience who there considered themselves a part of more than one fandom to which a great deal of hands arose.

Daryl continued this discussion by bringing up how other conventions and fandoms are not very welcoming to anime and have even pushed it out. While many anime cons have broadened their scope to these other fandoms resulting in more a mixed media con culture.

The talk went further as everyone agreed that Otakon was a special exception and a general anomaly compared to most anime conventions around. I learned at this time that most other conventions are for-profit. I knew Otakon was not for-profit but I had no idea most cons were.

A lot of ideas and topics were thrown out but there wasn’t much time for the audience to chime in which was a shame in with this type of topic.

hisui_icon_4040 I attended two Mike Toole panels with I Love the 80s and Outsider Anime. I almost feel silly reviewing the panels. At this point it almost seems pointless. He has gotten to the point where almost anyone in charge of a convention knows to just auto-accept his panels and most regular panel attendees just know to go to his panels. So please just humor me by pretending like these next few paragraphs matter.

Also if nothing else people who attended the panels want to know if I liked the panels in the CORRECT manner.

The Outsider Anime panels has a distinctly unique topic. It is an attempt to contextualize the outsider art of anime. It was a look at anime made by people don’t normally work in the anime industry or have very unusual background that make their anime very different than what you are used to. The arc of the panel is that he starts with series that general feel like “stereotypical anime” and then gets further and further away from the norm.  He starts with Tezuka and ends with the very “unique” Iseda Katsuyuki and goes through whole worlds in between.

For as much as we say anime and manga is not just your standard Shonen Jump atheistic it is easy to fall into that mindset. This panel is superb about showing you what lies beyond that realm in Japan.

The I Love the 80s was a nostalgia bomb. Mike Toole goes on a whirlwind tour of the decade with everything from Akira to Urusei Yatsura (I always appreciate more Urusei Yatsura talk). It was a nice mix of things most people would recognize with some obscure shows thrown in for a bit of hidden education. And of course he played THAT SCENE from Magical Princess Minky Momo. Also the constant teasing of talking about Dragonball was fairly amusing. Mike kept throwing out description that made you think he was going to talk about the adventures of Goku and then he would play something else. But don’t worry. He eventually got to talking about Krillin.

Actually the most interesting thing to me was something outside of the panel itself. At the end of the I Love the 80s panel Mike said that he was planning a 90s version for next year. That seems like the next logical step especially considering the recent uptick in the number of people to whom 90s anime is this precious part of their formative fandom. What was interesting to me is why was why that I Love the 90s will be really good but the As the Otaku Grows panel I love to hate from AnimeNEXT so wretched.

The answer came to me. Mike Toole’s panels are a celebration. They fondly look back on the decade and invite everyone to see what the shows from the era did right. It lets those who remember the period see why they loved it again and informs those who are new to the period why everyone else in the room has such goofy smiles on their faces. No more and no less.

On the other hand the As the Otaku Grows is a lamentation of a fallen empire. As much as it wants to fondly remember the 90s the most important point of the panel is how everything before the 90s was immature art and everything after that was derivative garbage and moe trash. That panel makes make the 90s the one true anime period and everything else is just a sad time to be fan. That stuck in the past feeling just radiates a sickly tunnel vision that ruins that panel. The I Love the 80s panel is wisely free of that.

A good lesson to remember for anyone doing panels.

narutaki_icon_4040 I had West to East: Anime Adapations of Western Literature marked with a star in my book, this was one I didn’t want to miss. There was a good range of titles and the host really knew her literature. She warned the audience beforehand that it would be impossible to do the panel without spoilers so beware!

She kicked things off with tackling the many novel-inspired Ghibli films going on a rant at one point about how much she disliked the movie version of Howl’s Moving Castle. I was also a fan of the book before the film came out so I understood her frustrations with it but I also enjoyed the film divorced from the book. The same can’t be said for Tales from Earthsea which really deserved a throughout thrashing but she hadn’t seen it.

She mentioned the many World Masterpiece Theater series which is what one would probably think of most when talking about classic literature adaption into anime. I was a bit taken aback when she said she couldn’t find much of Anne of Green Gables, one of the more renowned of the titles.

I was glad to see plenty of Les Miserables called out and I even learned about a crazy fighting game called Arm Joe. Her discussion about the most recent anime Les Miserables: Shojo Cosette perked my ears up as it is told from a Cosette’s (and later Gavroche’s) childish perspective but is still for the most part faithful.

Nearer the end she tackled Gankutsuou, which is of course amazing and fantastic, and Romeo X Juliet which she really made me curious to see.

A great introductory panel with a host who definitely knew her books, I’d love to see another version of this panel with more obscure titles.

hisui_icon_4040 The A Study of Heroines: Compassion and Courage in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Madoka Magica is a “You got peanut butter in my chocolate” situation. I will pretty much attend any panel with Utena in it. But that means you have to bring your A-game as well. I will not accept anything less. Thankfully the panel lived up to my expectations.

The main focus of the panel was how a heroine must balance their personal desires vs a selfless nature. A person with no selflessness can’t be a hero but someone who has no desires is consumed by their task. There was a good deal of linking that to the perception of women and gender roles as well. I will say I far too often see Homura portrayed as a selfless ideal heroine and Sayaka as a selfish monster. It was nice to see them analyzed a bit more towards the center in which I think they both lie.

A very smart panel. I hope to see more work by Katriel in the future.

But that one lady was SALTY that they used the term trap. All in all the term is really sort of stupid and insulting but they clearly meant to offense by saying trap. If anything I chalk it up to a slip of the tongue as that term is so commonly used in fandom. She then proceeded to lay into the presenters for their single use of the term. I’m not saying she could not be upset but she could have done so in a more polite manner. Katriel Paige was clearly a nice person and the content of the panel showed she had some solid background in feminist theory so there was no reason to yell at her like she was the King of the Misogynists.

As a fan of the Ace Attorney series I decided to check out the Ace Attorney All Stars panel. It did not hurt that it was on a generally unremarkable Sunday and just before the Yoko Kanno concert. Let me get this right out-of-the-way. It is really easy to half ass a fan panel about a series and get a decent amount of praise. I have seen far too many panels were someone pretty much puts in no effort and just stand in front of the audience and shouts, “Series X is really great, right guys?” Then everyone cheers and it is a meandering masturbatory conversation beyond that point. This panel was not that.

There was a good deal of panache in the presentation of the materials and the structure was deliberate while still being organic. And more important the panelists were lively and the audience was having a good time. Heck, I had a good time too. The debates over the series were moderated enough to make sure they did not spiral out of control but free enough for people to have a discussion.

BUT, and you know with how I was writing there had to be a but, I sort of hoped it would have been more than that. It was mostly just a run down of what was everyone’s highlights and low lights of the franchise. And that was what it said it was in the panel description so I’m not faulting them for that. I just wish it had been a bit more informative and a little less reveling in the fandom. I would love to see a panel about how the Phoenix Wright court system compares to the real court systems of Japan and America. Or maybe something that dig more into the behind the scenes material.

But that is more a request of what I would want to see in a different panel than a slam against this one. This Ace Attorney panel did what it said it was going to do quite well.

narutaki_icon_4040 I attended 45 Years of Shonen Jump: A Visual History since it sounded both informative and fun. It turned out to indeed be both.

Our presenter’s format for the panel was to show openings from some choice Jump shows in chronological order while giving facts and tidbits about said title and others from around the same time. He of course had to show the big ones like Dragon Ball Z (though he did not pick the Cha-la Head-cha-la opening) and Fist of the North Star but he also jumped to lesser known titles as well like Kouya no Shonen Isamu (with a Wild West theme!) and Hareluya II Boy (the first late-night Jump anime).

I learned about quite a few titles for the first time and I learned more about anything I already did know. My only real complaint was that he wasn’t able to get to current titles due to timing. I’m not really sure how to fix that since openings are a set length but it was a shame not to hear about things like Toriko or Kuroko’s Basketball.

hisui_icon_4040 I will end with talking about myself. I did one panel this year with a very special version of  my Kill ’em All and Let Sunrise Sort ’em Out: A Yoshiyuki Tomino Panel. This time instead of going solo I did the panel with Patz from the Cockpit podcast. I think all my panels are a bit more fun when I have someone else to bounce off of. (That reminds me I need to trick sweet talk someone else in doing my Hayate panel with me one day.)

First and foremost having a second panelist meant that the panel ended EXACTLY on time. We started early with silly clips, went through the panel at a controlled rate, and finished with just a few minutes left over for Q&A. When there is someone else talking I can take some time and glance at a clock. If I’m the only person on stage I tend to worry so much that I forgot to do a time check. That alone is a godsend.

Also Patz is very knowledgeable about Tomino himself so many of the holes in my knowledge are balanced out by his addition to the lineup. He has seen some of the series I only having passing knowledge of and his mecha knowledge is untouchable. Also he loves Zeta whereas I tend to be … “Yeah Zeta. Hugely influential on Tomino’s career and the history and future of the Gundam franchise. Anyway. Moving on.”

Overall I think I do a very good job on my own but I can only do a great job with someone else (as long as they are talented like Patz or Kate). Still I hope everyone who attended the panel had a good time and maybe learned something.

narutaki_icon_4040 I really wish I could have attend more panels if the few I did were any indication of the quality at Otakon this year. Otakon was firing on all cylinders this year and is really proving itself to be a well-round convention for every type of anime fan.

hisui_icon_4040 In retrospect I have one simple but powerful piece of praise for Otakon 2013. I did not attend one bad or mediocre panel this year. If anything I have a whole list of panels I wish I had seen but did not get to see. There is no better experience to have at a convention.

More Otakon 2013 posts:

Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: General Impressions
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
Otakon 2013: Artist Alley
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Concerts
Otakon 2013: Guests
Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013

6 thoughts on “Otakon 2013: Fan Panels

  1. Manga Therapy says:

    Wow, most cons are for-profit? I think Anime Expo and Otakon are the only two anime conventions in North America that seem to truly give a damn about anime and they are both non-profit.

    Interesting how people have great feelings about Otakon. One of my friends keeps talking about how Anime Expo is THE con for anime, probably because of all the industry people that come there.

  2. omo says:

    The whole “for profit” thing is a bit misleading. From what I understand about 501(c)3s is that even non-profits try to turn a profit (unless you’re just giving money away, like a foundation), because those that don’t tend to not survive for very long by the nature of things.

    Specifically, Otakon is a 501(c)3, and they’re incorporated as an educational nonprofit. For the most part what you know about “non-profit” organizations apply perfectly here.

    For a point of comparison, AX (or I should say SPJA) is a 501(c)6, as a trade organization. We typically don’t call 501(c)6s as non-profit although they are definitely not for profit. The MPAA and the NFL are not really for-profit…YEA SURE. But you see where this is going in regards to AX. 501(c)6s are tax-exempt but donations to them are not tax deductible.

    And of course you guys know about cons like NYCC and PAX, which are run by straight up for-profit organizations AFAIK.

    But I think the main issue here is about the opaqueness of the organization, about who controls the con and the organization, and thus directly about the direction and mission of these conventions. If the people running the con is all about $ and Number One, then the con will reflect this. However this is thankfully not always the case, and even for cases like NYCC/PAX/AX those cons are run and organized by selfless and passionate people who love the cons they run, sometimes as unpaid volunteers.

    It’s just that all it takes is one lousy CEO to ruin everything.

  3. omo says:

    About fan panels!

    I wouldn’t sweat it packing it into Otakon fan panels Al. I think the bottom line for Otakon is that by getting on the schedule you’ve already won half the battle. The rest is just a matter of when.

    This is my anecdote. The panel I was on had as much advertising as twitter could for about 3 people. I wrote a couple blog posts, wah wrote a blog post. The topic is not that exciting. Educational but pretty much not one to entertain. It was over 90% filled. Sure we had one of the smallest panel rooms, but it was a good 100+ folks.

    Why? Because it was at 7:30pm on a Saturday. I’m happy to see all the people that I know at the panel (which turned out to be a lot! I admit!) but there were a lot of warm bodies in the room that were there because they couldn’t get into the REAL fan panels that packed out big rooms, so they came here. And it was more interesting than their other alternatives.

    Otakon is probably unique in the sense that there’s always a lot of fan programming, there’s always way too many people at the con, and as long as your panel is not scheduled at an ungodly hour or is super weird or is running against some huge event, it will pack. So don’t feel bad for skipping out on, say, Mike Toole’s panel, because that just means someone else gets to go instead of you :)

    But at other cons, sure, your patronage is well appreciated.

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