Otakon 2015: Fan Panels

hisui_icon_4040 Wowza. It was really interesting to see panels filled this year. It is one thing when something titled “Anime’s Greatest Train Wrecks” or “Nostalgia-O-Rama” gets a full house. Those are the sorts of panels that will always be filled with fans. The thing is there are a lot of panels that while well run are not usually that popular. But that was not the case this year. Many panels that would only be half filled other years were having to turn people away all through out the weekend. When I could not get into 70s Anime Funtime! you know that people were attending panels more than usual. As someone who does panels that is always encouraging to see. It gives me the impression I could run one of my Hayate panels and actually get an audience.

OK. That is just silly but it was still a great time for panels. I really hope this momentum keeps up next year as well.

narutaki_icon_4040 I’m pretty sure the whole of Ani-Twitter was running panels this year. Forcing everyone into hard choices throughout the con day.

hisui_icon_4040 Let us start with the featured panelists. They are Otakon putting their best foot forward so there are few better places to begin.

Mike Toole ran the I Love the 90s: Anime Edition. It was a year by year tour of anime from the 90s. While there was less anime produced back then you could still probably do an entire panel about any given year in the 90s with material to spare. The Golden Ani-Versary of Anime proved that in spades. Mike’s major goal was to hit the highlights of each year. The shows for better or for worse that give you an idea of the zeitgeist for that year or the decade as a whole. The most fascinating thing for me is which shows got huge applause and which ones passed without much fanfare.

Pokémon probably got the biggest reaction with Rurouni Kenshin and Sailor Moon following close behind. But that is hardly unexpected. It was shows like Slam Dunk and Marmalade Boy getting huge reactions that surprised me. First of all the audience was not mainly middle-aged Japanese salarymen (and salarywomen) so the love for Slam Dunk was shocking. On the flip side while Marmalade Boy was distinctly popular back in the day I just always assumed it was one of those shows that fell out of favor with fandom.

Speaking of shows whose stars no longer shine as brightly as they once had Ninja Scroll, Ranma ½Fushigi Yuugi, and Slayers either got no reaction or a small reaction. They are all shows that at one time would have received a raucous amount of applause but barely caused anyone to put two hands together. It is an interesting insight into what has stood the test the time and what has found an audience despite being ignored when they first came out.

I had to leave a little early so I missed any reactions the audience would have had for Cowboy Bebop and Trigun. I’m sure those two got a reaction equal to Kenshin and Sailor Moon if not more so.

Also I find it very funny that Oh My Goddess! got close to zero applause until Belldandy appeared and then a few people really started hooting and hollering. I can’t think of any other show that got such a character specific reaction.

The 3/11 Earthquake and Manga was run by Professor Yukari Fujimoto. I’m going to get my major criticism out-of-the-way right from the start. Professor Fujimoto is a dry speaker. You get accustomed to good deal of showmanship with your panels especially at somewhere like Otakon. Even really informative panels are expected to be entertaining as well as educational. If you were expecting that you were going to be disappointed. Professor Fujimoto on the other hand was a master class researcher. The 3/11 Earthquake panel was like a neutron star in its informational density. There was 2 suns worth of manga knowledge in a single small panel room.

It is clear that the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and resulting Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant incident has greatly effected the psyche of Japan. That of course would naturally affect their entertainment. A casual web search will show you some popular manga that incorporated or reacted to the events of 3-11. You probably saw the charity anthologies on most of the major anime and manga news sites. If you are a little more hardcore you might member the Oishinbo controversy. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a whole microcosm of manga dealing with 3-11.

The thing is most of the 3-11 manga is in seinen, josei, and experimental anthologies no one reads or in single book comics that get almost no traction in the English-speaking world. Professor Fujimoto had dozens of examples and it was clear she was cherry picking ones that gave you the full scope of how it effected Japan more than showing you everything that was out there. There was manga set during the earthquake and tsunami and other dealing with the aftershocks. Some were informational, others were dramatic,  and you even had comedic and experimental takes on the events. There were even propaganda comics from everything to being for or against nuclear power, warning about the dangers of the effected areas, or trying to reassure people who the impact was minimal. You got everything from suspicious whitewashing to tin foil hat conspiracy theories with most of it being naturally more in the middle.

It was an extraordinarily eye-opening insight into modern Japanese culture and the deeper world of manga we don’t normally see.

Last but not least was Katriel’s Bits of Victory – A Game Design Panel. I only got to pop my head in because it was in between two of my panels but the half an hour I saw was informative. From what I saw the panel was more “how to start yourself down the path of being a game designer” than a game design theory panel. Given this is an anime convention that was probably the best type of panel to give. Most of the people who are going to attend this type of panel at Otakon are people who want to be game designers but have not really started on that road. Katriel mostly ran down the starting tools you could use and what sort of games they were good for making. A solid introduction for anyone who is not neck-deep in code monkey mastery but wants to try their hand at making games.

I’m now going to use the blog (and the fact that I’m fairly certain Katriel reads this) to ask a question I could not ask at the panel: What do you think of the Verge RPG maker? (If you have every used it?)

narutaki_icon_4040 My first fan panel of the convention was Otakon is Alive with the Sounds of Anime with Ink from Anigamers and Vinnie from All Geeks Considered. The first thing I noticed was the odd setup of the AMV Theater in which a separate group of staff control the videos/slides and the panelists sort of cue them when to move to the next thing.

They started by making a big deal of not talking about idols . . . then proceeding to show a bunch of idol stuff. There were plenty of other good-natured jokes throughout the panel that were only slightly thrown off by the timing of odd setup. I was pleased to see so much variety when it came to music in shows like Rolling Girls plus a few of my favorites and more likely contenders such as BECK, NANA, and others.

hisui_icon_4040 The next two panels are technically not featured panelists panels but they might as well have been listed as such given who was on them.

Great Ugly Manga was by Ed Chavez and Carl Li. Ed works for Vertical and used to be an editor at Kodansha. Carl has a PhD in manga studies. While there are some English-speaking people more qualified to talk about manga you can probably count all of them on one hand. They both looked at manga that was as ugly as sin and twice as sloppy but had material that for one reason or another transcended that deficiency with some other appeal. The most obvious example (and then one they started with) was Attack on Titan. While the series has become an international sensation the artwork is nothing to write home about in the original manga. It is the concepts, characters, and execution that make that series popular.

The panel started in earnest with a discussion of King Terry and his Heta-uma theroy (which I first read about in Dreamland Japan). The idea that there can be manga with terrible art that has such an amazing spirit that it transcends its limitations and is still entertaining. All the manga they are talking about in this panel strives for that heta-uma aesthetic. That means they looked at mangaka like Nobuyuki Fukumoto (who will come up later), Yokusaru Shibata, Keisuke Itagaki, and Jigoku no Misawa. They even had Yukari Takinami on the panel just to prove that women can draw manga that looks like roadkill but is still highly enjoyable.

My only real criticism is that back in the cheap seats it was a little hard to see any detail on manga pages that were not full-page spreads. Ed and Carl’s descriptions were excellent but it sort of reveals one of the major flaws of any manga panel. Still everything they needed to express was communicated. It just made it a panel were front row seats were extra valuable.

Still it was extremely informative panel. In a medium where visual aesthetics have such a powerful first impression many of the series they were talking about would be ignored by the average manga fan. Hopefully the panel got some people to start looking past the skin deep image of a series and trying to engage a series on a deeper level of examination. If you can see the value in an ugly manga with good content you can start appreciating the inner-workings of beautiful manga all the better.

Breaking Down the Membership Fee was a lazy Sunday panel cram packed with information you don’t usually get to hear about unless you out drinking with high level convention staff. The Comptroller of Otakorp basically gave a detailed power point presentation about where all the money that you spend on an Otakon membership goes. Overall it was a lot of graphs and numbers which sadly came out really blurry thanks to my cheap camera phone. Hopefully someone cooler than me caught all that information. But until then I will share with you some interesting insights.

The first thing is that Otakon sells memberships because Baltimore has some tricky rules about tickets. He could not publicly go into the details of what said shenanigans were but apparently they were fairly common knowledge to Baltimore natives. That means they can’t easily sell single days passes. That also means that when they move to DC they could drop the idea of memberships and go to a ticket model. The upside he mentioned was that they could sell single days passes and work out alternate pricing structures if they wanted. The downside that I saw was they could start nickel-and-diming people much like they do at for profit conventions and AnimeExpo. Then again I know some people love the idea of VIP tickets and fast lane passes so your mileage may vary.

The second was that the Matsuri and Otakon Vegas don’t really support themselves. I don’t think it is any surprise to anyone that Otakon basically supports the Matsuri. It is a free bonus part of the convention and no one ever expected for it to pay for itself. The thing I did not know is as it stands Otakon Vegas is not fully profitable. According top the panel 7.6% of every Otakon membership goes into subsidizing Otakon Vegas. Now before anyone immediately feels like that means that Otakon Vegas is part of some rob Peter to pay Paul scenario it is more complex than that. As I was conversing with people after panel someone who high level staff at another convention mentioned some nonprofit conventions are better off channeling excess profits into various spin-off as it keeps them from getting into tricky places with the books and their nonprofit status.

The actually thing I am wondering about is what this means for the Otakon and Otakon Vegas dynamic after the attendance drop off this year. It might mean nothing but it could easily bring into conflict the concepts of nurturing Otakon Vegas into a self-supporting convention as opposed to growing Otakon. Nothing says those can’t happen at the same time but a year like this might make them take stock of which they value more.

narutaki_icon_4040 Our I Hate Sports: A Sports Anime Panel on Saturday night had a great, enthusiastic crowd. Most of them seemed to be sports fans already, some even in costume. And I was able to hear appreciative twittering in agreement when some shows came up.

When practicing this panel we were always hitting the one hour and ten minute mark which was a concern, but things went alright during the actual panel. Thanks to having a few minutes extra at the beginning we were able to get the housekeeping for the panel over with. We still took up a couple extra minutes at the end to show our final, funny clip.

The big success of this panel was apparently getting tons of people to watch Taisho Baseball Girls.

hisui_icon_4040 Look. I had to go to the Ikuhara panels. I feel Ikuhara panels have become a staple of the Reverse Thieves repertoire. So I am always curious what other people are doing with their  own versions. That way I can see  if we are missing any interesting angles in our own analysis. Ikuhara shows are made to be interpreted from multiple perspectives. You might not agree with everyone’s take on his themes but they are always interesting to hear.

The Ikuhara Trio: Analyzing Themes in Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Yurikuma Arashi is certainly a big task. Like with our visual analysis of the Ikuhara’s works you can’t tackle everything in all three shows in a single panel that is not some sort of crazy weekend long marathon. We had to cut a ton of material out of our panel that was just the themes of Mawaru Penguindrum. Throwing Utena and Yurikuma Arashi into the mix without a battle plan is sheer foolishness. The strategy here is to only look at themes that run through all three shows. That keeps the list to something manageable to anyone who is not John Moschitta, Jr.

Gender, exclusion, culture, memory, and ambiguous endings mainly became the main focuses when looking at the motifs that run through Ikuhara’s work. Like our Penguindrum panel the idea was not to explore any of these in-depth as you could never get anywhere like that. It was more to give the audience the tools to spot the themes on their own and then let them do their own deep dive and interpretation. I don’t remember anything really controversial or thought-provoking being said during the panel but it touched on all the major points of interpretation. Then again being neck-deep in Ikuhara I feel like it would take a rather radical interpretation to shock me.  It was a good place to start for anyone in the audience who was interested in any or all of the three shows but was not sure where to start digging for meaning. All three shows are not easy to tackle so a little help is always handy.

Feminism and Lesbian Representation in Yurikuma Arashi was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of try to look at all of Ikuhara’s work as a whole this panel was just looking at how Yurikuma Arashi examines the place of lesbians in society. Since the panel had a narrow focus they could really explore the meat of the concepts of how women are portrayed in the series. They don’t get to everything but it felt like a meaty examination of the topic. At the same time since feminism and the portrayal of lesbians is such a critical theme of Yurikuma Arashi there was a panel and a half worth of material at minimum so it never felt like they were stretching for content. The fact that one of the women on panel had just written a paper on the show meant that the panel had a good weight to it.

I think the greatest compliment I could give the panel was it made me want to go back and rewatch Yurikuma Arashi with what they said in mind. The biggest thing they helped with was the idea of the invisible storm being the pressure by society to not stand out in any way. That acts as an important key to unlocking the rest of the social commentary.

My only real complaint about the panel was there was one woman in the audience who clearly wanted to be the third panelist. She was not exactly the “that girl” of the audience but she threw off the rhythm of the panel. I was far more interested in what the panelists had to say.  Then again the couple running the panel seemed to like audience participation so it might have been more a difference in style more than them not being able to control the hoi polloi.

Overall it was a good year for Ikuhara panels.

narutaki_icon_4040 We packed the house for New Anime for Older Fans and we couldn’t have felt more grateful. The biggest reactions were easily illicited by Ninja Slayer with plenty of laughs and hollering. And as we always like to leave on a laugh, the final clip from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun of Nozaki and Mikoshiba playing a dating game fulfilled that perfectly.

We made a major miscalculating and quickly ran out of printed lists of the shows we discussed. Luckily, many people were able to snap pics with their phone and we also posted the list online. Next time, I’m going to look into posting a QR code or something for people.

hisui_icon_4040 The last three panels I’m talking about were all the green panels. Everyone here was either doing a panel for the first time or seemed to be a little more on the inexperienced side. All three of them were a little on the rough side but I saw a lot of promise in all of them.

The Nose Goes!!!: A FKMT Panel was my first panel of the weekend. I have to give the woman who ran this panel some major props. Not only was it her first panel but the person who was supposed to do the panel with her had to drop out. If there is any worse situation to run a panel during it would involve a technical disaster or psychical injury.

Nobuyuki Fukumoto is distinctly acquired taste. It can be argued whether or not he is more famous for tension he creates in his intense gambling series or the funky art he uses in said series. As I mentioned before he was one of the featured panelists in the Great Ugly Manga panel. So his works like TenKaiji, and Akagi have developed a bit of a cult following. The manga readers that get past his rather off-putting angular style usually become big fans of his storytelling.

The most shocking thing I learned during the panel was the fact that Fukumoto used to have a very generic shonen romance style before he developed the signature form he is known for. It was slightly surreal to see pages from his far more mainstream manga period. He also did a murder mystery manga called Buraiden Gai. Normally that would be the most unexpected discovery but when you see pages from a Fukumoto slice of life romance (with a Weekly Shonen Sunday style) everything else is more of a footnote.

My only real complaint was occasionally the panelist would let the audience take control of the flow of the panel a bit too much. But the presenter was a first time panelist who was missing a partner. She still was able to present the material in an informative and engaging manner. Considering the situation that is a standing ovation performance.  I knew few freshmen performances that would go so well under those conditions.

If anyone knows me they know they I found a way to bring up Hayate by mentioning that Kenjiro Hata loves to reference the manga of Nobuyuki Fukumoto (especially Gin to Kin) in his manga.

I probably have the most criticism for the Behind the Stand: Jojo’s Bizarre Discography panel. Before I lay into the panel I want to state that it had the seeds for a great panel. It is just flawed as it is.

So the idea is fairly strong. Since Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has such a huge number of musical references as the basic DNA of the series the panel hoped to educate the audience of some of the artists, songs, and albums that Hirohiko Araki loves to put in his work. If you are the sort of person who collects vinyl records like Rob Gordon in High Fidelity then you probably know most of the basics but for people like my roommate who had a limited musical education when he was growing up it was an invaluable resource. Plus while you might have a deep appreciation for progressive rock that does not necessarily make you an expert on jazz or Arabic music.

I have to give it to the two guys running the panel. They clearly did their research. It did not matter if they were talking about Cream or Miles Davis they gave a short piece on what their music sounded like, what their biggest hits were, and their contribution to music history alongside some fun trivia. That part of the panel was bullet proof.

The main problem was one that was easy to make. Heck, I have made it myself. To fully show the audience what they were taking about they played a signature piece of the musician as they talked about them. In theory it should have really reinforced what they were saying. The problem was that it was often hard to hear what the panelists were saying when they were talking because the music was so loud. In fact when someone mentioned it their first response was to ask if they should just stop talking and just play the music.

It was very clear that they though the music was the star of the show and everything else was window dressing. The thing is I felt like a lot of the people there were more interested in facts and the musical connections back to the manga. It is not that people did not care about the music. I think they just wanted a more holistic experience.

Overall the concept is sound. They just needed to play the music a little softer. I don’t think it has to go. It really brings the whole panel together. They just needed to have more confidence in their spoken material. Since I was at the front I heard most of it and it was good stuff. They just needed to let both halves complement each other as opposed to working cross purposes. But this was their first time running the panel. I’m sure their 2.0 version would be really dynamite.

I have found that panels that tackle a franchise are always tricky. Often they are supposed to be an introduction to the property for anyone who is interested in getting into a long running series but are not sure where to start. The main problem with that approach is that the people who attend such are often your hardcore fans. You can also try appealing to longtime fans but if you are too high level you can easily alienate everyone but a small handful of people at any convention with anything but the most popular shows. So unless you are super creative like with the JoJo’s Posing School it can be hard to please both masters.

Macross: The Walking Shadow tackled that concept by trying to examine the Macross franchise by looking at it from the perspective of music. Since the Holy Trinity of Macross is Love Triangles, Transforming Mecha, and Music that is not a bad angle to tackle the problem. It let the panelist use the music of the series as a lens to talk about the main entries into the franchise while discussing the themes of culture, war, sacrifice, communication, and love that all of the entries touch upon.

It was also probably the only time I have seen a Macross panel that was generally neutral about Macross II. It was not like the woman who was running the panel was the show’s cheerleader but she was able to talk about it without audible disgust in her voice.

Also this was another panel that tried to use music as a part of the background but then made the music too loud. Once again it is a good idea but the music should be the garnish not the main course. Also more than any of the panels this one really could have used some video clips. I think the mixture of music and video would have solidified her speaking points more than just the songs.

The thing is if I were in charge of panels I would have any of the following panelists back. They were all a little rough around the edges but foundation of solid panels were present. I have every confidence that any of their sophomore panels would be bulletproof.

narutaki_icon_4040 Unfortunately, I didn’t attend as many fans panels as I wanted to. It didn’t work out in terms of my schedule this time around. That is just the way it goes sometimes at a convention as big as Otakon. But from what I did see and discussion I heard, Otakon’s quality of panels hasn’t dropped and is only going to keep getting better.

hisui_icon_4040 I have one complaint to make before we end the post. What was up with all the panels that were not anime or Japanese Culture related this year? There were Steven UniverseOver the Garden WallGame Theorists, and Game Design panels this year. Now I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t like American cartoons or video games. We talk about both of them all the time on the blog, on the podcast, and in real life. But Otakon is “an annual convention held in the summer months to celebrate Asian pop culture.” I have always appreciated that with a few key exceptions Otakon has tried to keep the show on topic with a laser focus. But this year I noticed more panels that only seem tangentially related at best. While I did not hear anything good about the Steven Universe panel I thought that the Bits of Victory panel was excellent so I’m not complaining about the quality of the content. Otakon can get good panelists and get off topic panels worth attending whatever the topic. Steven Universe and Over the Garden Wall do make anime references and distinctly have taken anime as one of their inspirations. And video games are technically one of the pieces of the Otakon Mission statement.I’m just worried about them diluting the content.

Now I don’t want to invoke slippery slope arguments because they are based on assumptions that trend will continue without proof that is the case. At this point Otakon mostly just seems to be testing the waters with other media content more than systematically throwing out the old content to be a mixed media coinvention. Four panels out of over 100 panels is hardly an overwhelming majority. Plus I know that Otakon is always testing the waters on what works and what does not. I’m sure they are seeing how much people want things like American shows and additional forms of video game content. That is an important part of growth and diversity of content. My complaint is they have more than enough on topic material. Otakon is always turning down a tons of panels. Now some of those are because those panels are train wrecks waiting to happen, by unreliable panelists, or are just not suited for Otakon. But cutting those out they still reject dozens of great anime and manga panels because they get so many quality submissions.

I have always loved that Otakon’s content for the most part is so tightly focused while being diverse in the anime and manga content they provide. I just wanted to bring this up as a topic of discussion to see how many other people feel the same way.

No matter what happens next year I know that the panels will be great. Otakon always attracts some of the best and brightest panelists on the East coast and this year was no exception.

More Otakon 2015 posts:

Otakon 2015: Tweets
New Anime for Older Fans 2015
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with Director Shinji Takamatsu
Otakon 2015: General Impressions
Otakon 2015: 15-minute with Director Seiji Kishi
Crime Scene Investigations #009: Otakon 2015
Otakon 2015: Guests
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with GARO’s Yuichiro Hayashi and Toru Kubo
Otakon 2015: Artist Alley


One thought on “Otakon 2015: Fan Panels

  1. Ink says:

    Was “Feminism and Lesbian Representation in Yurikuma Arashi” run by Judith and Natalie? If so, I caught that at CTCon this year and had the same reaction. One of the best panels I saw there.

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