Otakon 2016: Fan Panels

hisui_icon_4040_round It is with a heavy heart that I express disappointment in the panel selection this year. Now overall Otakon is still Otakon. When you have a convention with panels from the like of AWO, Mike Toole, Charles Dunbar, Geoff Tebbets, and Viga you’re already ahead of 95% of the conventions. The great thing about Otakon has always been that there were almost always nothing but great panels outside of even the usual suspects. You occasionally found some stinkers or mediocre panels but more often than not the reasons you would not like a panel was a matter of personal preference as opposed to objective objections. This year I felt there was still a very good selection of panels but the ratio to panels that were up to Otakon’s normal standards as opposed to under-performing panels was not as disparate as it has been in previous years.

In a year where Otakon was a little underwhelming, it only added to that feeling especially considering how much of a highlight fan panels usually are for me. Now considering the fact that most people only go to two or three fan panels in any given year it was not that hard to just pick winners and have a great time but as someone who spends so much of my time in panels, it was a depressing way to bid farewell to Baltimore.

DISCLAIMER: For full disclosure, I  did submit several panels to Otakon this year and all of them were turned down. I don’t think that I am so petty as to be overly critical of the panels this year because of that but we are rarely aware of our own basis.

narutaki_icon_4040_round I went to a couple of panels over the weekend that had been waitlisted and then added onto the schedule just a few days ahead of the convention. The times this was mentioned by panelists it was an excuse for being less than prepared. That is not really OK. If you are on a waitlist in this situation, you are supposed to be ready with it. That’s what it means. If you weren’t ready, then you should have simply declined and Otakon would have moved on to someone else on their waitlist.

hisui_icon_4040_round My major complaint this year was far too many panels did not have an hours worth of material. The fact that several panels I went to only had a half and hour worth of material before they went into Q&A. I find that unacceptable.  There were a few panels that went to Q&A after 45 minutes. That  is not my style but not everyone has to conform to Alain’s Platonic Ideal of a Panel. That seems like a robust amount of material while also allowing some interaction with the audience. Any more than that feels like a panel that was knocked out a few days before the convention and plunked down a half-baked product with a whole bunch of frosting in hopes that it will cover-up the mistake.

Now that could be me being a bit unfair. Theoretically the panelists could have paired down two or three hours of material into a mere half and hour and deliberately left a half and hour for discussion. They may have felt that they did not want to be a boring lecturer and the spontaneous nature of interactive conversation with the audience would yield a better understanding for both the panelist and the attendees. The problem is there is no easy way to know which it is. All I know is it FEELS lazy even if that might not be the case.

Girl Power: Feminism and the Magical Girl GenreGen Urobuchi: Magical Girls, Riders, and Puppets, Oh My!, and Connected by Fate: The CLAMP Multiverse all formally ended halfway into the panel. None of these panels were bad. If they had been a full hour or at least 3/4th of their time slot I would have been far more generous. The problem is once they switched over to Q&A so quickly my opinion of them immediately turned sour. The thing is with a small amount of work any of these panels could have been a full experience with a reasonable amount of time for interaction with the audience.  But for whatever reason, they were there minimalist versions which turned me off to them.

Girl Power looked at the Magical Girl Genre via a feminist lens. There was a major focus of Sailor Moon and its very complicated legacy. While it really turned the genre into an empowering idea it also has an overwhelming obsessions with marriage and the idea of being a “good wife.” Other shows such as Minky MomoSally the Witch, Wedding Peach, and Madoka Magica got some analysis.

My main criticism was the off-handed dismissal of the Pretty Cure franchise. The whole series was mainly brought up as a set of magical girl shows that had both a little girl fandom as well as an adult male viewership. Past that point it was waved away. After talking to Kate about this we felt like this was doing a real robot panel and then dismissing Gundam as not being worth talking about. You don’t have to make it the focus of the panel but at the same time waving it away as inconsequential is equally short-sighted.

When I am writing this there have been 13 full year-long seasons of Precure with 11 different iterations. While Sailor Moon is the mother of the modern magical girl show and the most important title in America it can easily be argued that Precure has become the most important magical girl show in Japan. Also while each version of Precure is its own microcosm there are some amazing examples of strong feminist themes and story lines. You could do a  whole panel just about feminism in HeartCatch PreCure! or Go! Princess PreCure and not even mention any of the other shows. Precure never lets the romantic aspects and love interests of the shows (when they exist at all) dominate the story. They also are very focused on the career choices, hobbies, and passions of the girls in the show as much as the monsters and MacGuffins if not more so.

Gen Urobuchi: Magical Girls, Riders, and Puppets, Oh My! and Connected by Fate: The CLAMP Multiverse both seemed very cursory overviews of both works of the artists. The funny thing is they are both very active artists with a considerable number of shows that could easily be picked apart or compared and contrasted while seeing that they say about their creators. The fact that the Gen Urobuchi brings up Thunderbolt Fantasy and then never talks about the show is just sort of criminal. With 28 different official series it seems almost impossible to do a CLAMP panel that is under an hour-long and that is totally ignoring all of their doujinshi career.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Japanese Confectionery Corner 3.33: The Cake is (Not) a Lie was probably the most packed off all the ones I attended.

The panelists lamented the fact that due to BCC regulations they were no longer able to give out samples during the panel. Though they were able to get away with show-and-tell of some stuff they brought and a few giveaways for later.

They covered baked good and candies, traditional and mass-produced, popular and odd. They even discussed some of the bigger brands in Japan.

The few times they tied things into anime were good so I wish they had done that a bit more. Anime has food porn galore! In general they should have had bigger pictures of the food on the slides since that was what we really wanted to see!

hisui_icon_4040_round I think I was predisposed to being critical of the The Visual Novel: History of the Unrecognized Narrative Art panel. Since the person running the panel was very clearly a fan of Key and Jun Maeda I think it is obvious we were not going to see eye to eye. The fact that he heavily implied Type-Moon was basically Jun Maeda following also-rans did not help matters. The panelists were very clearly well versed in media theory and this panel was a collage of previous panels he had done alongside papers he had written. In a way, it seemed like the culmination of what he had done before but I also still saw some of the chunky bits that had not fully mixed. It seemed like the beta version of what would be a much of a much smoother blend the next time he ran the panel.

It mostly focused on how visual novels are both a mixture of the media forms that have come before it yet how the medium as a whole can do things that its predecessors cannot do the same way. As I implied before the panel did have a very “This is visual novels before Jun Maeda and then everything is post-Jun Maeda” in a way people usually talk about with mecha shows and Evangelion. If nothing else I learned that he has a psychology degree from Chukyo University which explains so much about his writing style.

I think that an examination of Hoshizora Meteor would have helped that panel immensely. While he is certainly not my favorite visual novel author I do feel he really plays with the medium in interesting ways that could only be explored in visual novel form. My review of Forest goes into detail about how he plays with the medium and brings outs aspects of the visual novel tool set must authors don’t even bother to plays with. He is also very clearly influential because his novel Kusarihime ~Euthanasia~ is often cited as the inspiration of several other creators including Ryukishi07 and Kinoko Nasu. I think it would help broaden the perspective of the panel and a better look at what makes the medium unique.

narutaki_icon_4040_round I attended The Bravest Robots: Sunrise’s Brave Series. Even though I know a bit about the Brave series, I still learned quite a bit at this panel.

The presentation actually starts before the Brave series began by taking a look at how Transformers history in Japan led to it.

Then he went through the series in chronological order and discussed the director’s and series’ styles through to Gao Gai Gar. Showing openings, transformations, and toys along the way. Plus, there was a lot of interesting commentary about the studio butting heads with the toy companies backing the Brave series.

If he’d had time, it would have been great to here about the Brave series that never were as well as the games.

hisui_icon_4040_round I have seen Scott Spaziani’s When Gundam Goes Bad panel on the schedule several times but I had never gotten around to seeing it. Overall it is a fairly simple premise. Even the most die-hard Gundam fan will admit that while the series is an important milestone in the mecha genre it also can have some very janky, awkward, and perplexing scenes in the best iterations of the franchise lets alone the less spectacular members of the Gundam family. Scott really examined shows in the Universal Century so if you wanted a Toastyfrog styled take down of Gundam Wing then you were going to be sorely disappointed. Plus it is not as if Yoshiyuki Tomino alone does not give panelists more than enough to work with. He did not even go into Mobile Suit Gundam F91 or  Mobile Suit Victory Gundam. He did look at G-Saviour  but that fruit is so low hanging that it is almost impossible to avoid.

The biggest problem with the panel was not anything on the stage. It was that this sort of panel of course brings out THAT sort of mecha fan. That meant a lot of people were shouting memes and doing all of the “Well… Actually” you would expect. Thankfully they were nowhere as horrible as I have seen but it was a low-level of unnecessary and unpleasant conversation that was always in the background. It is a fine panel but you should just be aware those people are almost invariably going to be there so your enjoyment will depend on how much you can tune them out.

narutaki_icon_4040_round  I mostly went to Is Marth in this Game? A Crash Course in Fire Emblem because, “yay Fire Emblem panel” and to be supportive of a franchise I have come to really enjoy. From a show of hands there were quite a few people in the audience who had none or little familiarity with Fire Emblem which was the intended audience.

There were three panelists, but mostly one woman spoke with a few minor interjections from the others. She definitely knew her stuff and had played all the entries (even the many Japanese only games).

The panel was a good basic introduction to the series covering all the games in order of original Japanese release with a cute little mechanic of deciphering whether or not Marth appeared in each entry. They covered everything without falling into the trap of overexplaining or getting into minutia.

I did feel like the panel needed a little more pizzazz or something to get people more excited about the games. Maybe some video clips or game play trailers would have really sold different games.

hisui_icon_4040_round Haiku and Beyond, an Exploration of Japanese Poetry is the most Animated Ink Panel there could be that is not something like The History of Japanese Poems about Alcohol. At that point I think Ink would bodily ascend to Ani-Heaven if the panel was half way competent.

It was a quietly component panel. The guys running the panel clearly knew their poetry and were poets themselves. They laid out all the popular forms of Japanese poetry with a little bit of a deep dive into all the major families. They also had a nice number of examples that mixed classical poets with modern poems to show that these are still living forms. I think a few video or audio clips would have helped the panel but that is more an extra level of polish on an already excellent panel more than something that needed to be added for it to be good.

narutaki_icon_4040_round A [Brief] History of Detective Conan was of course a priority for me, especially since they are rare. In fact, this is the only one I’ve ever been to!

The panelist was clearly a big fan, though was behind by at least a year and half and with Conan manga and anime running weekly that is actually a lot of content. Still, those details may not have really mattered in an overview setting of the series.

I’d say the panel title seemed to imply it would be a place for curious people to learn about Conan. Unfortunately, I don’t think the panel was presented in a clear way. The basics were touched on but sometimes too briefly and then some major arcs which were mentioned by name were not explained at all.

At the same time, I didn’t feel like the panel was then high-level enough that Conan fans would have gotten much out of it either.

hisui_icon_4040_round My opinion of Victorian Japan is actually a mixture of the feeling on the Haiku panel and the Gundam panel. Much like the Haiku panel it was a solid look at Japanese culture from someone who did their research and presented it in a comprehensive manner for an audience who are not experts on the subject. The problem was like the Gundam panel the worst thing about it was the audience.

For some reason there was a dude in the audience who CONSTANTLY butted in with this own supposed expertise on the subject. Anytime this guy had any comment on the subject he immediately interjected it into her panel in the most obnoxious way possible.  The poor panelist tried her best to move the panel along but the guy would not get the hint. If he REALLY wanted to comment that much he should just submit his own panel next year as opposed to trying to hijack someone’s hard work. The panel was very informative and entertaining but one bad apple made sure that it was not as good as it could have been. Hopefully the lady running the panel will come back and have a better audience the next time.

narutaki_icon_4040_round 1999: The Otaku Time Machine at first I was a bit perplexed at the title of this panel. I mean, why 1999 when it is 2016, right? But it is actually quite clever. You see Otakon moved to the Inner Harbor in 1999 so it was a look back at what fandom was clamoring over during that convention year. And of course it commemorated Otakon’s last year in the Inner Harbor.

This was a clip show panel with some good commentary along the way. I think most of the audience was there for nostalgia (like me) which it delivered nicely. There were also some (unpleasant?) surprises about just how old somethings were I think!

My only complaint is that the English Digimon OP was picked over the Japanese. I don’t care that the English one was more relevant, humph!

hisui_icon_4040_round I was very curious to see what exactly would be talked about in the Anime and Dice: Turning Cosplay into Roleplay panel. I have always wanted learn more about the Japanese RPG scene. Games like the Sword World RPG and Gear Antique have always fascinated me so I had hoped the panel might talk about them but assumed that would not be the case. I was right. That said it was still a very informative panel.

The general gist was a brief overview of tabletop RPGs that would be used to play a game with an anime feel. First there were all the systems like Big Eyes, Small Mouth and OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game that were specifically designed to run like the characters were in an anime world. The next group was RPGs that were not made to run anime themed games but could easily be modified to do so. The last group was Universal RPG systems that were specifically designed to be flexible to accommodate multiple genres or concepts.

While the list was rather long the panelist only talked about games he had played some of in the past. He admitted that there were some popular oversights like Exalted that he did not talk about because he did not want to make assumptions about systems he was not intimately familiar with.

So while I enjoyed the panel my dream version that goes into the Japanese side of things has yet to come to fruition. Maybe one day the dream will be real.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Awesome Women Making Anime this was a panel I was very excited about. Just as the panelists stated a the beginning, we see a lot of panels about awesome women anime characters but not the real women behind the scenes. They covered women in various roles like animators, directors, writers, and composers. I liked the mix and I learned about plenty of women to look into further.

They showed very few clips unfortunately. The panel was only about 40 minutes long so I think they had plenty of time to showcase these women’s work a bit more. And I think it would have made it clearer what their styles were and so forth as opposed to just explaining it.

hisui_icon_4040_round  At this point I almost feel silly reviewing big name panelist because to most convention staff and panel attendees they are known quantities. Most people know that say Charles Dunbar is a quality presenter but there are a good deal of other panelists that remain unknown quantities. But I was very curious to see Gerald’s Anime’s Appearances in Non-Anime panel especially since in was in a 18+ slot so it was not competing with a lot of other programming that I needed to see. Also I was just curious to see how much Gerald focused on positive and negative portrayals of anime in media. Gerald is hardly anything close to a Pollyanna when it comes to anime but at the same time her is also not the most ardent doomsayers in the community.

Overall it was a decent mix of positive, negative, and neutral portrayals. He had everything from shows with your standard portrayal of anime nerds being lonely guys who masturbate to weird porn, celebrities who love anime, the surreal times in appears in politics, and a good deal of neutral or just strange references. If anything Gerald seemed to focus more on current events. This lets him run the panel every year and it has almost all new material.

Also it was officially a Gerald panel because he ended it with anime porn parodies including a XXX Pokemon Go.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow. I can’t really review my own panel. We had a good turnout and the crowd was enthusiastic. I hadn’t realized that the panel title was so cryptic!

hisui_icon_4040_round I caught the last half of the Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow. panel. Carl and Kate seemed to being having fun along with the audience. I think that people really love it whenever a dog transformed into a drill which surprisingly happened more often than you would think. Clearly, canines are rich with Spiral Energy.

Speaking of panels with Carl from Ogiue Maniax last but not least was Greater Uglier Manga panel with Ed Chavez. It was the only panel I had seen before that I was seeing again. This time, it was 18+ so I was curious to see what they added. Sadly they were hit by the technical problems that plagued some of the panels in the BCC. While they were the only panelists who I saw have this problem I have heard that it was quite rampant all weekend.

The main problem was once the technical difficulties were cleared up it clearly threw off their timing. They raced through a lot of the material and then wound up actually ending early. I know that it was clearly a factor of the technical difficulty because they had fewer titles last year but they ran out of time. As someone who has been in the same situation, I realize that you never practice your panel as if you have all the time allotted. Even if your panel is modular and can expand and contract it is easy to get rattled off of your game by that sort of disaster.

If nothing else the 18+ material was sort of amusing. If you ever wanted to see Baki the Grappler officially and canonical lose his virginity is the only way one could have sex in a Keisuke Itagaki manga then this was the panel for you. I think this panel is worth going to again as it will be better when the AV equipment does not sabotage it.

I take no pleasure in being as negative as I have been about panels this year. Nothing would make me happier than just reporting that panels were excellent again. That said I still went to a good number of good to great panels. Since Otakon has made such a commitment to cycling talent there is always a chance that some years are only going to have a decent selection as opposed to a stellar one. As it stands I look forward to rolling the dice again in DC. I feel the odds have mostly been in my favor most years and I have a good feeling about next year.

More Otakon 2016 posts:

Otakon 2016: General Impressions
Otakon 2016: Podcast Chaos
The Speakeasy #080: Voltron, Kubo and the Two Strings, Otakon, Akito the Exiled
Otakon 2016: 10 minutes with LeSean Thomas
Otakon 2016: Guest Events
Otakon 2016: Artist Alley
Otakon 2016: 15 minutes with Producer Yoshitaka Kawaguchi
Otakon 2016: 15-minutes with P.A.Works’ Kenji Horikawa and Kazuki Higashiji
Otakon 2016: 20 minutes with Producer Koji Morimoto


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