Otakon 2014: Panels

hisui_icon_4040 Before we begin I would like to mention one thing. Did all the casual bloggers, podcasters, and forum posters discover industry panels at once or did they just think to complain about industry panels at Otakon 2014 for the first time? All in all I don’t attend that many industry panels anymore. They are slightly more interesting than shareholders meetings and slightly less interesting than anything remotely fun.

Industry panels are mostly there to inform you of new licenses, remind you when things are coming out, mention major changes, and engage in a little Q&A. As any anime company worth its salt has a robust social media presence you can get most of that online. Plus all the major news sites and a few dedicated bloggers cover anything you would want to know without you having to sit through an hour of pitches.

The only reason to go most of the time is if want to engage in the Q&A. If you want to know what titles they are working on picking up they just won’t tell you that and if you want numbers most of the time they will dance around the issue. They will answers a lot of other questions but they are almost always on their best behavior when in front of an audience filled with cellphones and press people. If you have grievances they will note them, if you have praise they will appreciate it, and if you are confused they will usually sort things out the best that they can.

But that is 95% of all industry panels. Some trailers and then some Q&A. Some people are a little drier than others but you can only make so nice a purse out of a sow’s ear. I’m not exactly sure what people are expected to help spice up industry panels. Jokes? Skits? Balloon Animals? Every once in a while you have some neat things like the Uminko license or Ed Chavez’s little mini lectures but expecting those to be regular occurrence is foolishness. (Also Ed little mini lectures are usually just panels he would normally do, outside of being the Vertical rep, condensed into the last half of the Vertical panel.) Do you really want most industry reps trying to “rap with all the young home slices” in the audience?

Also let’s be honest. Most of the time when people seem really disappointed with industry panels they talk about them being boring and needing to be spiced up with content but always one factor also is brought up usually as a barely mentioned items almost under people’s breaths. They miss bigger giveaways that used to be around during the anime and manga bubbles. They want Oprah styled “You get an Itasha! You get an Itasha! Everyone gets an Itasha!” prizes. Until the next boom those are not going to be common place. Just deal with it.

But mostly importantly I’m not sure why people complain to Otakon. If you ask Sentai Filmworks or VIZ to make their panels a little more fun you have to tell them directly. They might not do anything but they will definitely take in into consideration. But Otakon is not going to stop Funimation from doing panels until they up their game because you think they need more showmanship. That is just not how the world works.

hisui_icon_4040 One of the best things about anime conventions is what you can learn about at the more interesting fan panels.  A Brief History of Anime: 100 Years in 50 Minutes  & Totally Subversive Toons are two very good examples of that.

A Brief History of Anime was by Brent P. Newhall of Otaku, No Video. As someone who had to take enough material to easily make a panel that was over two hours and condense into 55 minutes I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone trying to condense the history of anime into an equal amount of time. Brent was wisely upfront about the fact that any such attempt to cram all those events, trends, icons, and subtle shifts into single panel demands that sacrifices are made. You are just going to miss important moments, generalize trends that are much more nuanced, skip over interesting dead ends, and overlook important connections to cover as much as you can. He also admitted that his shojo skills were weak so that side of anime history would probably be sorely neglected.

So how was the panel? Very good. It had some huge holes but that is what always gives these panels character. Much like the anime openings panel the content says as much about the person presenting it as the subject itself. If you had ten people do the panel independently you would have ten very different version of the same thing. There are some staples of this sort of panel. Tezuka always comes up. He he not always the very beginning but he always comes up in the first part. You always have Akira and Ghost in the Shell, the 80s OVA boom, the Toonami Boom, and moe. Past that point everything else mentioned is really a reflection of the people running the panel. As he is making efforts to watch the whole series Brent did bring up Gundam. He also brought up Go Nagai. Not everyone brings up Go Nagai but he is a fairly strong contender. Brent also mentioned Sailor Moon so he at least had the first major beachhead of major female fandom in the US. Although at this point it would be almost impossible to ignore Sailor Moon.

Still I always feel if you have any interest in the subject it is always worth going to these panels  as each person will teach you a little about fandom just through their own prism and Brent’s lens presents a fairly strong rainbow.

At the same time if you wanted something a bit more punk then Brian T. Price ran Totally Subversive Toons. Brian is probably best know for Bad Anime Bad but his Totally Subversive Toons panels gets no small amount of praise as well. I swear I have tried to got to this panel in the past and not been able to get it. It is mostly a look at cartoons that try to fly under the sensor’s radar preferably for some greater reason than just be naughty (although there is some of that as well.)

It started with a Japanese short film called Children by Takuya Okada. It’s really the only piece of Japanese animation in the panel but it’s dark tone and critique of the cultural conformity of the Japanese school system in particular and Japanese culture in general really set the mood. Past that point Brian mostly showed clips that were from American TV. A lot of them were also only played on TV once or never made it in the first place. That included some TV Fun House clips from SNL and the Birds of Prey song from Batman: the Brave and the Bold. He also had some Animaniacs and Histeria! because those were just staples of subversive cartoons. There were a bunch of clips sending up the Dark Disney Empire but that always seems to be a favorite target of his. Overall it was an amusing panel that has a good deal of modularity.

narutaki_icon_4040 If there was one panel on my must-see list, it was Viga’s Ai Yazawa: The Retrospective. Being a big fan of Ai Yazawa’s work I was both curious to see what I’d learn and, I must admit, ready to point out any missing pieces. But Viga didn’t need any help, she did a great job of covering Ms. Yazawa’s beginnings to her somewhat infamous disappearance due to an unnamed illness.

Viga went through Ai Yazawa’s work chronologically while discussing Ms. Yazawa’s burgeoning style and the creation of the shared universe that most of her later works live in. Viga also showed bits from the titles which have had anime and live action adaptations.

Near the end we all commiserated over the giant cliffhanger Ms. Yazawa left us with in NANA, a title that really may never see completion.

It should be said that the audience members who started to fill up seats for the next panel were the rudest bunch I have ever encountered. The crowd was so loud that they began drowning out the presenter. I couldn’t stand it anymore and asked a staffer to do something, she made an announcement which helped at least somewhat.

Happily all of us there for the Ai Yazawa panel had a wonderful host!

hisui_icon_4040 But the learning did not end there because I also went to the Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Making History and Ramen: Japanese Soul Food panels.

I feel like Legend of the Galactic Heroes panels are always a bit of a challenge. The anime is 162 episodes and filled with dense thought-provoking material. It is tremendously rewarding but monstrously intimidating. You are trying to sell people on a show as large as the galaxy itself. So can be really hard to decide how to pitch the show.

This panel decided to try to show the size and breadth of the show by giving a Yang styled history lesson of the series and then the universe that exists within it.  I have to say that even as someone who watched the show I did learn a thing or two with the history of the Legend of the Galactic Heroes universe when it was laid out how it was. The question is was this the best way to sell the series.

I can’t say. I feel it was a really good way of selling the series to hard-core science fiction fans. It showed how robust the world building and politics of the series is. It is all the grandeur and adventure of space opera without any of the fantasy aspects. Even something like Crest of the Stars can occasionally feel a bit more like Star Wars than Foundation series. So I feel this approach really would appeal to someone who wants the reassurance that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is as close to hard sci-fi as most space opera will ever get. As for casual fans I’m not sure this approach would work as well. But as a counterpoint to my own counterpoint how many causal fan would ever attend a panel like this in the first place?

In the end I can’t think of a better way to sell the series. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is so hard to sell to anyone who is not already predisposed to such a series. So in the end it might be just best to preach to the already mostly converted. Plus the panel did have some good info for people who were already fans. My only suggestion would be many to add a clip or two. Maybe something to show off the music of the series or the tactics. Maybe a little clip of one of the history episodes. Nothing that dominates the panel. Just one or two clips to accent it.

The ramen panel was legitimately informative. It was pretty much everything you were wanted to know about ramen but were afraid to ask. The panel had a bunch of videos from various TV shows and documentaries on ramen along side lots of pictures of ramen as well. But beyond that it was clear that the panelists knew their stuff. They were scholarly foodies for street ramen. After an intro they went into the history of ramen and then a detailed breakdown of the various ways to make the meal. That segued into a tour of Japan with each region’s specialty versions of the dish. After that was advanced ramen with strange variants and derivative versions. It then ended with ramen in the US with some places you could go to try some ramen without having to cross an ocean.Even as someone who has had a quite a bit of real ramen in Manhattan I feel I came away knowing a little more about a dish that is easily just thought of as what poor college students eat.

Occasionally the guys running the panel would throw a packet of instant ramen into the crowd. You would think they were throwing them to people who had not eaten for a week with how much people fought for those packets. It is amusing to think that if you threw quarters at the crowd they would be more valuable but not nearly as contested.

I think my easy endorsement of the panel came from the fact that it made me hungry enough that I had to whip out my sandwich half way through the presentation.

narutaki_icon_4040 The Intro to Josei kicked off the convention for me. As this demographic is the most under-appreciated, I was quite excited to see a panel dedicated to it. The presenters were enthusiastic and clear fans of the material though they made some newbie mistakes.

I would like to see the panel again with less of an introduction. A “getting to know the panelists”-type section just isn’t necessary, we’ll get to know you through the panel itself.

The history of josei was interesting and gave some context to how it came about and what the difference are between it and shojo. However the presenter was reading directly off a paper which made it lose a lot of flavor.

Once the panel got going they delved into different josei genres and gave examples of each. There were many dramas in this section which I wasn’t expecting. But I feel overall I wanted to hear about even more titles, more more! Plus, I’d liked to have seen a bigger emphasis on the titles we have gotten in English.

hisui_icon_4040 This year seemed to be year of the ninja panel despite the fact that the theme of the convention was space. But then again how many people ever pay attention to the them of the convention. (I mean people sometimes take that into account when submitting panels but they are usually the exception that proves the rule.)  But since there were a slew on Ninja panels I decided to check some of them out like Ninja in Anime: The Sweet and (Mostly) the Stupid and REAL NINJAS!

Ninja in Anime was by Gerald and Daryl from the AWO podcast. It was ostensibly about all the different portrayals of ninja in anime. If you read the panel description you would know that was a lie. It was really just clips of the worst ninja of all time. So that means that Ninja Scroll: The Series is going to have to show up. Those are the rules. There were some actual cool portrayals of ninjas but the main focus was on the silly guys with mediocre X-Men powers more than anything else. But the propose of the panel was more to be entertaining than anything else so that was appropriate.

But that was actually all a ruse. The real secret mission of the panel was to get the word out about Ninja Slayer. Ninja Slayer is awesome, and needs hype, so the panel’s real agenda is approved.

But as if to balance everything out Charles Dunbar of Study of Anime also did a ninja panel that was pretty much the exact opposite of the AWO one. REAL NINJAS! looked at the actual history of ninjas in Japan. Where the ninja tradition came from, how it grew, and what it has transformed into in the myth of the modern era. The panel tries to look at what ninjas could and could not actually do. How much of their legendary skills were real and how much of it was propaganda and exaggeration? Charles also showed how a good deal of showmanship, careful planning, and some key victories could make a trained warrior seems like a master assassination magician.

Like any good historian Charles is really good at picking stories that really bring history to life. It is just as easy to put an audience to sleep when talking about history as it is to keep them on the edge of their seat. It is all what you choose to highlight. If you sell the highlights of a subject all the drier details will go down smoother when you interlace them with the exciting bits. Impossible missions, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, toilet murders, betrayal, and sexual techniques all make the subject mesmerizing. The story of arguably the first ninja set off the panel right and set a good tone for the rest of the panel.

I will mention that Charles forgot to mention the most important female ninja of all time: Makimachi Misao. He had a lot of ground to cover so it was clearly a simple oversight. I am sure in the panel’s next iteration such a crime will be remedied.

narutaki_icon_4040 New Anime for Older Fans was our first panel of the convention and was housed in the intimidating panel 7. I’m happy to report we had a great turn out despite the fairly early 11:15 slot on Friday.

After a few technical hiccups, all taken care of before the panel started, we were off and running. Having done this panel, though with different material, a couple of times before allowed it to run smoothly.

The one title I was worried may have already gotten plenty of exposure was JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. Before we started talking about it, I asked the audience who hadn’t seen the show before and it was a good 50% of the room. That made me feel better about our instincts. Sometimes one spends too much time on anime Twitter which warps your perception of what everyone is watching.

We had a little extra time at the end so showed new clips from The Daily Lives of High School Boys which has always been a big hit.

I would love to run this panel all the time, it always feels good!

hisui_icon_4040 Speaking of Ninjas friend of the blog Vincenzo Averello from All Geeks Considered also did two panels at the con one of which also had lots of ninjutsu. He did a Ninjas, Spider Monsters and Cyber Criminals: The Great Worlds of Yoshiaki Kawajiri (18+) as a solo panel and did Journey To The Stars with Xan of the Spiraken Manga Review.

Ninjas, Spider Monsters and Cyber Criminals looks at the career of Yoshiaki Kawajiri. As much as Vincenzo downplayed the panel in conversations I think it really worked well as a seriously in-depth examination of a director’s style and visual language. It is easy to just think of Kawajiri as this guy who does cool fights scenes in some erotic anime but he has a lasting reputation for more than just some well framed boobs and blades.

If anything the panel reminded me a lot of our Kunihiko Ikuhara panel. Vincenzo showed off a mixture of Kawajiri’s influences, how they shaped them, and what he then did to make them his own with his own style. There was a lot of his use of colors especially how red and blue are used to set moods and give unconscious visual clues to the audience.  There was also lots of sex, gore, and cyber sabertooth tigers as needed to be a proper 18+ panel. It is a great panel if you like Kawajiri’s work, are interested in directors in general, or are curious how someone could have such a lofty reputation despite doing so many “low” works.

As much praise as I will give Brian T. Price for being a wonderful panelist he is not a very good audience member. He really approached “that guy” levels with his comments from the audience during the Kawajiri panel. If Vinnie was floundering it might have been forgivable but he clearly knew what he was doing on stage. I would not normally call someone out so directly but I feel like Brian is someone who is usually cool enough that they should know better and can clearly be better. He was not utterly disruptive but it did add an unneeded level of awkwardness to the panel.

As much as I said that not many people presented panels related to the theme of the convention it seems that the Journey To The Stars panel could not have better fit in unless it had actual astronauts presenting the material. It was a collection of shows that dealt with space exploration of all sorts in anime. You had a good mix of new and old. There was the prerequisite Space Battleship Yamato and Captain Harlock but you also had some more modern shows like Planetes and Space Brothers. They also splashed in some lighter series like The Irresponsible Captain Tylor and Space Dandy.  They also had Legend of the Galactic Heroes and the Dirty Pair so they were mostly safe. Mostly.

But if the lack of Makimachi Misao during the ninjas panel was a misdemeanor than then oversight of Galaxy Angel (THE GREATEST SPACE ANIME OF ALL TIME) during this panel was a felony. But in all truthfulness I was a little sad that there was not a Crest of the Stars clip in the presentation but choices have to be made and my prejudices are well known.

narutaki_icon_4040 If you’ve been following either of us on Twitter, you know how nervous we were about doing the The Visual Stylings of Kunihiko Ikuhara panel. It was a struggle to get it down to an hour. This panel was clips heavy which was new for us. We ran through the material over and over in hopes to cementing every little detail into our brains. Plus, we just wanted to do Mr. Ikuhara justice.

Again some pre-panel technical difficulties nearly gave me heart failure, but things got going in well enough fashion.

As we said at the end, there is no way to cover all of Mr. Ikuhara’s motifs and little touches in an hour, but we hoped to give an idea of some of his favorite things and encourage people to go back and watch his works with new eyes.

hisui_icon_4040 Well my Fate/Stay Night panel just seems cursed. When I ran The Measure of a Man. The Nature of a Hero: A Fate/Stay Night Panel (18+)  at AnimeNEXT I accidentally got put in a room without a projector. When I ran it this time for some reason the laptop we brought  totally flaked out on me. For some reason it refused to refresh the screen.I have to assume the corrupted Holy Grail and Kirei Kotomine just sabotage my attempts to talk about the themes of the game.

After trying for a bit to get the thing working I just had to run the panel entirely off of my notes. Thankfully it is not like my Hayate panels or something were if there is no video then there is no panel. I almost left the house with minimal notes but decided the morning that we left for Otakon to quickly write out detailed notes and then print them out before we left. That turned out to be the wisest move I made all weekend. And already rocky panel would have been much more scatterbrained had I not had those notes.

Thankfully I was able to finish the panel despite everything that happened. It could have gone better but I think everyone who stayed at least got a decent idea of what I was going for. If you wanted to see my slides and notes for the panel I linked to them here.

narutaki_icon_4040 Gunma Prefecture Office was my final panel of the convention on Sunday morning. It was certainly an unexpected offering on the schedule so I felt compelled to go! I’m very glad I did and not just because there were prizes for answering question.

Our presenter was a former Otakon staffer who now lives and teach in Gunma prefecture.Gunma is a short trip from TOkyo and is known for its hot springs and mountains. She presented us with beautiful scenery, tourist tips, fun facts, and adorable Gunma-chan the prefecture mascot!

My anime-fu was in high gear when the presenter showed manga pages or screenshots and asked what it was from. Initial D FTW in Gunma ya’ll!

hisui_icon_4040 I did miss out on some panels but at a convention as big as this that is always an inevitability. I regret missing the Amazingly Obscure Anime and could not get into The Worst Anime of All Time panel. But overall I went to 13 fan panels (3 of which were panels I saw on) and still had time for both concerts, guest panels, interviews, and three meals a day. I remember someone saying that no one could go to more than a few panels at Otakon during a podcast. I will tell you right now that is not the case. There are lots of great fan panels to enjoy if you just attempt to go to them.

narutaki_icon_4040 I spent a lot of time at guest panels and as such found myself at fewer fan panels this year than in the previous times I’ve been to Otakon. There were so many amazing offerings that I wish I could have attended.

More Otakon 2014 posts:

Otakon 2014: Tweets
Otakon 2014: Under the Dog
Otakon 2014: General Impressions
The Speakeasy #056: X, Otakon 2014
Otakon 2014: Photoshoots
Otakon 2014: Concerts
Otakon 2014: 15-minutes with Sunao Katabuchi
Otakon 2014: Guests
Otakon 2014: Artist Alley


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