AnimeNEXT 2014: Panels

hisui_icon_4040 Victory! No members of the Shrike Team even had to die to achieve it.

How did I win? Very simple. AnimeNEXT rejected any and all in-character Q&A panels this year. I’m not going to pretend that I was the sole reason those panels have fallen out of favor at AnimeNEXT. I was merely a single voice in a chorus of people who felt those panels were lazy and useless. I was just glad to be able to contribute to helping sing the swan song for that type of panel at AnimeNEXT. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Other than that this year also did a lot to bump up the panel quality with featured panelists. Last year just had Mike Toole but this year had Charles Dunbar, Daryl Surat, and Gerald Rathkolb who are all experienced convention veterans who have a reputation for doing quality panels. Part of Charles Dunbar’s income even comes from professionally doing panels throughout the year so he clearly has a following and a reputation for excellence. Daryl Surat and Gerald Rathkolb have an equal amount of fame doing the Anime World Order podcast. It is a move that has distinctly raised the bar when it comes to panels at a convention that already distinguished itself with a higher caliber of panels.

narutaki_icon_4040 Ah panels, the true backbone of anime conventions! AnimeNEXT sticks in my  mind as having many talent panelists every time I’ve gone. Now they are stepping up their game, like so many other cons, by inviting guest panelists who are known for their quality fan work.

hisui_icon_4040 Might as well start with the featured panelists.

The boys of the AWO crew were how I spent most of my Sunday that was not at the concert. They ran Short Anime & Great Anime Openings. Both panels are pretty much what it says on the tin.

The Short Anime panel highlights either short OVAs, promotional anime, experimental shorts as well as movies made up of vignettes that the audience might have never seen but require less investment. It is one thing to try to convince someone that 85 hours of Legend of the Galactic Heroes is worth watching but it is far easier to get someone to watch something for 10 minutes. Carl Li will be happy to know that there was some gdgd Fairies on the list. It is a simple sell of a panel and a great panel if you love to be the person who drags other people over to the computer to show them something cool (and/or gdgd Fairies).

Great Anime Openings is another simple but crowd pleasing panel. In many ways it is the mix tape of panel. Anyone can do it but everyone does it differently (and not everyone does it well.) It also says a lot about the person running it if you care to listen. Does the presenter look for rocking tunes that blow your mind or distinct visuals that wow the audience? Do they arrange the shows to make an academic statement or to group things into more of distinct but unconnected themes? Are there lots of giant robot shows or none at all? Do certain directors get highlighted or noticeably ignored?

The highlight of this iteration was probably the Revolutionary Girl Utena x Lupin the Third mash-up. That was rather well done. Other than that it was a good mixture of older and newer openings. It is easy to either focus on what pops out recently or just drown in nostalgia.

One more thing. During the Great Anime Openings panels there was one show that got more applause than any other. It was not Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, or Sailor Moon. Those all got a good amount of positive reaction no doubt. No, the show that really got people’s blood boiling with joy was No Game No Life. Damn you people! In fact unless there was a very complex and subtle practical joke going on people genuinely love No Game No Life. EVERY panel we ran had someone suggest No Game No Life. What? How can this be a thing? Sword Art Online at least had promise before it fell apart like a poorly put together Jenga tower. Log Horizon might not have been my cup of tea but at least I saw the appeal in the title. No Game No Life is pure garbage. It should be burnt with holy fire and forgotten forever. Just like Bodacious Space Pirates.

narutaki_icon_4040 Kill La Kill: Spot the References, Beginner’s Edition is very timely of course so I was glad to see Daryl running it. The panel ended up being two-fold: 1. amusing looks at background references and jokes, and 2. educating people on the influences on kill la kill’s story and style.

I was really glad to see him using the time to show the newer or younger fans a lot of history, it was sneaky-like! When he polled the audience throughout on whether they had heard of this (ex. Project A-ko) or that (ex. Sukeban Deka) the raised hands were few.

But one of my favorite things to see was all the little things in the background of episode 4 “Dawn of a Miserable Morning” in which the kids are fighting their way to school. Did you know the entire cast of Pulp Fiction is just in the background for a bunch of frames? Or how about that there is a Terminator thumbs-up in the bubbling pit they cross at one point?

Simple to complex puns were also on the walk through Kill la Kill. This focused on Mako’s insane speeches which no doubt went over most of our heads. Daryl even used a post from Ogiue Maniax’s blog to help us all along.

Worst Anime Business Decisions apparently grew out of Gerald originally thinking about how much Bandai screwed up releasing one of their biggest franchises, Gundam, in the states. So naturally there was a lot of Bandai on the list, but they weren’t the only ones being taken to task.

The panel tried to focus on more recent flub-ups or just general disdain for TV executives. Apparently no TV station wanted to air Mitchiko to Hatchin because WOMEN. Also VIZ shopped around Tiger & Bunny for months to no takers.

Gerald also briefly discussed Aniplex’s business model as being short-sighted. I always enjoy a good shoutfest in regards to them.

hisui_icon_4040 If AWO was running more populist panels then Charles Dunbar was taking the more academic route. I saw his Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods & Kill la Kill and the Transformation of Japan panels. These are both the meaty type of panels he is well-known for.

Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods is basically a Japanese Religion for Dummies panel. The focus was mainly on Shintoism and Buddhism with some Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and a few other religions thrown in for good measure. Charles ran over on time so Shintoism and Buddhism were the only things he really got to but they were the lion’s share of the panel anyway. I also liked to nick name the Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods panel as Persona: the Primer. If you ever wondered about the non-western summons in any Shin Megami Tensei game then this panel did not explain them all but it damn well tried to.

Kill la Kill and the Transformation of Japan has pretty much become one of Charles’ more famous panels recently. This time he was backed up by Kit so the panel ran for an hour and a half as her now had an another equally knowledgeable academic to bounce off of . While there are many interpretations of what the subtext is going on in the deeper layers of Kill la Kill (or if it even has that many deeper layers) the Kill la Kill as an examination of State Shinto is definitely not the most common. It is a fairly deep reading and in that regard I’m not sure I full agree with it but it is a nice jumping off point to discuss the State Shinto in Japan as well as Shinto in general. Plus the general theory is well-reasoned no mater what your opinion of its validity. It did really bookend well with Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods panel. Lots of the gods and concepts that are touched upon in that panel are fleshed out while talking about how they might be represented in Kill la Kill.

I am always a little impressed that Charles Dunbar can hold the attention of an audience about what easily can be considered dry material. Izanami-no-Mikoto, Hachiman, and details of religious assimilation repurposing could easily be boring in the hands of most speakers. But Charles manages to breath a good deal of vitality into those concepts that makes him a highly sought after speaker.

narutaki_icon_4040 Princess Tutu: A Queered Fairy Tale was a priority panel for me, which incidentally I almost missed because of a schedule change. As the panel started, we were told that the main panelist Bill Ellis actually couldn’t make it because of personal reasons so others stepped in for him.

The basis of the panel is actually a paper written about Princess Tutu by Dr. Bill Ellis. So a portion of the panel was a reading from the paper accompanied by slides. There was a lot of great discussion about the inversion of storytelling because the characters become aware of being in roles. I don’t want to say too much if you haven’t seen Princess Tutu however.

There was also a brief discussion at the end about two other series Berserk and MAR which take on fairytale ideas with varying success.

The ideas in the panel were sound and great topics for discussion, it is just too bad Dr. Ellis couldn’t be there. The people who stepped in were thoughtful in their discussion too but I hope he will have the chance to run it again.

hisui_icon_4040 I certainly ran my Terrible Manga Dojo: Being a Better Otaku through Hayate 2 panel. Technically it went off well. It was all new pages of Hayate The Combat Butler in which I explain the references. This time I went in loaded for bear with more clips than I could use so I never ran out of content no matter how quickly I talked when I actually ran the panel as opposed when I was practicing the panel. In that respect the panel went well. I finished with about a dozen slides left over but still covering a good deal of material in an hour. The audience seemed fairly entertained and I even got to work in some banter. The only problem was there was only eight people in the audience.

I’m guessing the name of the panel was the killer. I think the premise is cool. Maybe I should have taken out the two in the title or the fact that it was a Hayate panel. Probably both.

Or maybe I just think the idea is better than it is. I’m not sure.

narutaki_icon_4040 We tried out a new panel this year, Don’t Read That @#$% Scan: New Legit Digital Manga You Should Be Reading which drew a good crowd for the smaller panel rooms on the second floor of the Double Tree. In it we recommended various titles that were available digitally for cheap or free. We tried to throw in as many simulpubs as we could, too.

After running it once, I think we need to spend a little more time discussing simulpub and the sites you can get digital manga on before moving on the title recommendations.

New Anime for Older Fans we ran first at Otakon 2012 and ever since I’ve been dying to do it again with an updated list. Happily AnimeNEXT gave us that chance. Again we had a good crowd this time in a bigger room over at the Bridgewater.

The titles that got the biggest reactions were definitely JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and The Daily Lives of High School Boys.

We’ll be running New Anime for Older Fans again, with a modified list for Otakon this year as well.

Neither of our panels packed the house but the crowds seemed engaged.

hisui_icon_4040 It might seem strange to talk about Disabilities in Manga and Anime and then Visit Japan even on a Budget. As it turns out both panels were by the same two young ladies and were right after each other on Friday morning. They are not even like A and F but more like A and 7. If nothing else they show the ability of the panelists to talk about a diverse number of topics.

I only came in during the second half of the Disabilities in Manga and Anime panel. I have to assume the physical disabilities were in the first half of the panel because the second half was all mental disabilities. I totally admit that part of me just wanted to go to the panel to see if they talked about A Silent Voice but if they did it would have been in the first part. Taijin kyofusho, Paris Syndrome, and autism were all interesting topics of discussion. If nothing else With the Light is a generally overlooked josei series worth talking about more. I’m just not sure how much moe and yandere were worth talking about. I suppose trying to view them less as kitschy fetishes and more as legitimate psychological disorders had some merit but on another level it did feel almost like it was devaluing the rest of the panel. Also the panel almost devolved into a lengthily lolicon discussion but thankfully the panelists avoided the Internet forums rabbit hole the conversation looked like it was going to go down.

Visit Japan even on a Budget was interesting. Clearly traveling aboard is not cheap and a pilgrimage to Japan has probably flashed through the thoughts all but the least adventurous American otaku. So a panel on how to do it cheaply is always a popular panel idea. It is a fairly common staple panel that everyone does a bit differently (just like the anime openings concept.) The thing was one of the panelist had been to Japan on a study abroad program as well as a vacation therefore she had lots of useful little tips to keep your cost down as well as more general Japanese travel advice. The other woman in contrast had a good amount of travel experience but had never been to Japan. So when it came to general travel advice she was great. The only problem was she constantly also brought up European travel advice. It felt like someone was giving a panel about Nintendo and the Sony fan on the panel kept bringing up PlayStation games in awkward places. It was not bad advice it was just inappropriate given the topic. Other people might already know this but I found one bit of advice invaluable: If you check travel sites always clear your cookies. If travel sites see that you are repeatedly going to their site or other travel sites they raise their prices or don’t show you their best deals because they know you are determined to go to whatever location you’re looking at.

narutaki_icon_4040 Anime in American Animation and Comics was my first panel of the convention on early Friday morning. The panelists had real enthusiasm for the subject, but they didn’t quite feel like they knew enough to run the panel.

They tried to start with the Sailor Moon Boom-era but they had no first hand knowledge of it so it came off shaky on details. Once they got to the 2000s they definitely had more confidence.

There were technical difficulties in the middle which took up 10 or more minutes when the panelists wanted to connect to the internet. A lesson to all panelists, have your clips stored locally.

There was a long discussion about localization and they showed a much too long clip show of the truly bizarre Ghost Stories dub. I mentioned the recent Doraemon changes Disney has been making as well.

More central to the panel’s name was their discussion of things like Avatar the Last Airbender, Teen Titans, and Kappa Mikey. I was surprised not to see things like Powerpuff Girls or anything more obscure like Sym-Bionic Titan perhaps? They brought up anime’s influence on French animation too, but missed a big title like Wakfu.

I had to leave before the comics portion so I don’t know how that went.

Again I could tell the panelists really enjoyed these things, but I think the panel needed more research.

hisui_icon_4040 So I went to the A Decade of Anime Fandom: A Retrospective panel. It sounded like that damn As The Otaku Grows panel. I knew it was a different panel because they still had the As The Otaku Grows panel on the schedule (and that panel can continue to get bent). So was this panel any different? In the end I have come to a simple realization. All these nostalgia panels in general have one main point in common: “The height of my fandom was the best period ever! I was when all was right with the world despite any minor hiccups. The best shows came from that period bar none. Sadly everything today is inferior and fetishistic.”  But this has been happening for a while now. 80s fandom used to talk about the 90s that way. The 90s fandom started to talk about 2000s fandom in the same fashion and this panel shows that 2000s fandom is starting to already do the same. I’m thinking that Twitter was actually insightful for once. Anyone who does this panel is probably a burnout wanting to commiserate with their like-minded jaded fellows. The amusing thing is I have been in fandom long enough to personally see the shows that were once the “poison killing fandom” become the heroic shows of the last gasp of anime. In every age, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.

This panel was run by a formal Vertical intern so it was slightly better than the normal fare but it followed the same general beats. It started with the panelist reliving their glory days and focusing on the hip shows of their era. Then it slowly shows how their tastes grew and then their general dissent into a world-weary apathy. They usually make a concession that it is not ALL bad but it seems more like a statement made under duress than legitimate feeling. So the next leg of the As The Otaku Grow has appeared. “Wonderful.”

It is funny. Everyone who knew me assumed I was the one who submitted The Women of Mobile Suit Gundam panel. I was going to do that but decided not to at the last second. So I really wanted to see this panel to see what someone else did with the idea. I was surprised to see that the panel was about ONLY about the women of the original Gundam series. Just 0079 and nothing else. It was more of a discussion panel than a lecture panel. The panelist would bring up a character give his thoughts about her and then see what the audience thought.

A few points of oddity. The first is we never really got to Mirai Yashima. Apparently he wanted to do a panel just about her. That is some dedication to Mirai. But there was one point that filled me with stunned shock. The panelist said that Lalah Sune was the prototype for Flay Allster (or as Kate likes to call her Racist Ho Bag). I’m not the biggest Lalah Sune fan. I think it is common knowledge who my favorite character in Gundam 0079 is. That said I had to speak out against that character assassination. Lalah Sune is such a unique woman in the series and she is about as far from the monster of Flay Allster as you can get.

But he did not speak extremely poorly of Sayla Mass. (He did not speak well enough of her but that is a forgivable offense.) Therefore there was no bloodshed.

The Colorful World of Kenji Nakamura was an unexpected panel. While he is an interesting and distinctive director he does not really have the type of cache of someone like Masaaki Yuasa or Kenji Kamiyama. (Not that they have a huge amount of cache outside of a handful of hardcore animation otaku but it at least exists in some noticeable amount.) That said I will agree with what Kate said about this panel. It seemed like a Tsuritama that got expanded into a Kenji Nakamura panel because the panelist could not fill an hour with just a single show appreciation panel. That is not to say it was a bad panel. It is just a panel that has a distinct potential to grow. Kenji Nakamura is an interesting guy. He definitely tries to soar through the air. When he is a little more conservative you get things that are visually amazing and immensely entertaining like Tsuritama. When he tries to have a bigger message and social commentary you can get something with huge potential that fails to live up to its full promise like C – Control. But I think Gatchaman Crowds shows that he is not 100% on sticking the landing when it comes to bigger concepts but he can now pull a show off like that very successfully. Just not perfectly.

So I think he is a director who has shown a great amount of growth and is worth keeping your eye on. So I hope to see a newer version of this panel that takes the work here and makes it even better. It would be the most fitting tribute to Kenji Nakamura.

Since that was not really much industry news I felt I should bring up the one significant licensing announcement. At the Vertical 2014 panel it was announced that they picked up Dream Fossil: The Complete Short Stories of Satoshi Kon. Apparently the book is out print in Japan and has become a bit of a collector’s item so it is even more significant that they were able to pick up this title.

narutaki_icon_4040 As always I feel like I didn’t get to every panel I wanted to try out. But with so many great guests and concerts I just had to choose. The majority of panels I did attended were enjoyable and a good way to spend an hour. Bravo AnimeNEXT!

hisui_icon_4040 As I looked over these panel writeups I think I was a little more nit picky than usual. That said everything but the American Animation was good to great panels. It is just that AnimeNEXT has set the bar high enough that I don’t have to worry about picking the gold nuggets out of the dross. I can instead focus on where I feel the already golden panels can shine even brighter. I can’t think of any higher praise for the content of a convention or its panelists.

Other AnimeNEXT 2014 Coverage:

AnimeNEXT 2014: Tweets
AnimeNEXT 2014: General Impressions

AnimeNEXT 2014: Studio Trigger
AnimeNEXT 2014: Artist Alley
AnimeNEXT 2014: Concerts
The Speakeasy #054: Garden State Julep, AnimeNEXT 2014

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