Otakon 2017: Panels

hisui_icon_4040_round There was one aspect of Otakon that I forgot to mention in the other places we talked about the event. There were an odd amount of cancellations of panels this year. When I listened to the Cockpit review of the convention they reminded me of all the cancellations. Overall it did not really affect me too much. With eight panel rooms worth of content, I always had something to do. In fact, with all the premieres and guests I went to fewer panels than I usually do. Still, it is a bit odd. It is a little hard to guess why this happened especially because every panel cancellation can have its own very specific reason. I know there was some speculation that the move might have caused some of the cancellations but it also could have been various circumstances in the various panelists lives that cased dropped panels. Neither reason seems more or less prone to be cut by Occam’s razor.

I do wonder how much it also simply has to do with the fact that the Guidebook kept the canceled panels on the schedule with a big [CANCELLED] before their title. While this prevents you from scratching your head as canceled panels no longer just vanish from the lineup but it might have a side effect of making you more aware of cancellations in the first place. I wonder if there were actually more cancellations than previous years or are we just more aware of it than we have been in previous years.

narutaki_icon_4040_round I’m pretty sure I attended more panels this year than I have the last few years of Otakon in Baltimore. Maybe that’s because I never had to wait in line longer than 10 minutes to get into a panel, if I had to wait at all. That wasn’t because panels weren’t popular all of a sudden or something, it just speaks to how much space there was at this new convention center!

hisui_icon_4040_round Bubblegum Crisis: 30th Anniversary is one of those panels that would have been the cat’s pajamas back in the day but is now more of a curiosity and a gathering older anime fans. (Much like me using the phrase”the cat’s pajamas.”)  It is not that Bubblegum Crisis has utterly vanished from the head space of fandom. It has just been greatly downgraded from must see classic to a time and place oddity of the late 80’s. It is that transition from “you HAVE TO see this” to “if you want to understand the 80’s cyberpunk craze you should watch this.”

In a way, there were two major halves of the panel. The first was sort of the disparate threads that went into the creation of the Bubblegum Crisis OVA. The influences of Blade Runner and Streets of Fire had some nice clips to illustrate the point. I feel like I knew most of what they mentioned about that but mostly because it used to be one of those titles EVERYONE reviewed back in the day. I was surprised to learn about the show’s roots in the movie Techno Police 21C. While it is not a totally forgotten piece of the genesis of Bubblegum Crisis as it was mentioned on the Wikipedia page I had not heard of it before the panel.

The second half was basically an episode by episode break down. The panelists did bring up some interesting behind the scenes drama in the production of the show. Apparently, Kinuko Ohmori, the voice of Priss, had a contract dispute and they had plans to kill off her character and replace her with Reika Chang. Various factors kept Priss on as the main character but shortly after that, the series was canceled anyway. They also briefly mentioned the various sequels, spinoffs, and reboots of the main series but they were given the appropriate amount of discussion for a panel that was about the original series.

It’s a fine panel overall and distinctly informative but it felt like a trip down memory lane more than anything else. I did randomly make me wish that someone would translate Bullet the Wizard but then I remembered I don’t have the fandom cache to get things like that done.

The First Mecha: From Postwar Japan to Mobile Suit Gundam was basically an attempt to chart how the real robot genre came into being. As always the story begins with Astro Boy and ends with the original  Mobile Suit Gundam. You could easily do a whole book about the evolution of the real robot genre so a panel like this has to talk more about broad stroke than anything else. The general stratagem seems to be to hop from creator to creator until they got from Tezuka to Tomino.

I feel if I had not seen Carl’s Tadao Nagahama panel then the Robot Romance Trilogy would have been a learning experience but other than I felt like I knew most of what was on the panel. The real artistry of the panel was more laying it all out is a way that shows a general path even if it is a bit of a zigzagging road.

I will say the most interesting part of the panel was the fact that it turns out Getter Robo was not the first combining mecha. It turns out there was a different manga with combing robots published before Ken Ishikawa and Go Nagai’s famous series. (I totally forgot to write down the name of the manga.) As the panelist noted it says volumes about how little impact the manga made when even most Japanese sources will often site Getter Robo as the first combining robot. Still, it was another reminder that every time it seems like you find the first X in anime or manga someone discovers an earlier title about five or ten years later.

All I’m saying is maybe don’t bite the head off of the next person who says something like “Astroboy was the first serialized anime on TV.” It is an easy mistake to make.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Romance and Abuse in Shojo Manga had good things going for it. She acknowledged Hot Gimmick as objectively the worst. Seriously ya’ll, THE WORST. And she made note of NANA being the best. Especially in its depiction of Hachi being in an abusive relationship in which things are not brushed aside, she doesn’t change the guy, and things get worse before she can disentangle herself. I also walked away more curious about the series Kiss Him Not Me for good reasons.

I wish the panel had longer examples and delved more into each series. More than that I wanted a discussion of why these tropes are popular or persist. All of her examples were quite popular series so I think there was a lot to unpack there. I also felt that sometimes the panelist relied too heavily on the audience nodding their heads along agreeing when she said “this is abuse!” without fulling diving into the meat of the examples.

The History of Magical Girls delighted the audience with magical girl gems like Go Nagai’s Tickle (who may in fact be the villain of her series, or at least has the evil eyebrows to make you think so), the car crash of Minky Momo (don’t worry, she gets resurrected!), and the great magical girl team-up of the 80s (long before PreCure was doing it every year). I was really glad the panelists made the decisions not to show clips from well-known favorites like Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura, they just mentioned them briefly.

This panel had a lot of material to cover and didn’t time it out well enough resulting in a sprint to the finish. But I’m glad it erred on the side of talking less about modern stuff since the audience was more familiar with that.

Shojo You Should Know did something unthinkable: make me want to give Fushigi Yugi and Yona of the Dawn another shot. OK, not FY proper, but its prequel Genbu Kaiden. Beyond that it had a good sampling of lots of different genres. I think it could have upped the visuals a bit, give us a peek inside some of the manga beyond on the covers. I enjoyed the little game she played at the end of is this manga shojo or not?

Grace v. Glamour: The Duality of Sailor Moon was a very well thought out panel. It was little watching someone’s research paper, and the panelists noted as much at the beginning. The panel took a look at the regular, calm normal lives of the girls in Sailor Moon which they can’t fully enjoy because there is always another monster to fight. He then took this and followed it through other shows by two of Sailor Moon’s directors Junichi Sato and Kunihiko Ikuhara. If anything, I kind of wish there was more Sailor Moon in this panel.  And I learned there is a Reddit board called True Anime.

hisui_icon_4040_round Iyashikei: Animated Healing was a panel designed to make Kate gently fall asleep for an hour about healing anime. I, on the other hand, have a far higher resistance to the melatonin effects of healing anime so I decided to check this panel out. I feel like slice of life anime had a bit of a stigma around it a few years ago. Sort of like moe you will still find holdout warriors fighting that fight with furious passion for the most part that controversy around he genre has mostly fallen off. So it seems a good time to examine the topic.

I was amused that he pretty much started the panel with the disclaimer that he was going to use a fairly broad interpretation of healing anime. He also mentioned that just calling some of these shows healing anime in the wrong company can spark an argument either from purists who refuse to let anything but the most Iyashikei shows to have the title or people who will defend their favorite show from being labeled with such a “slur” title. Such is fandom.

I felt like the author’s three big pushes were for Aria, K-ONNichijou which are quite possibly my least favorite entries in the genre and a fearsome triumvirate of Kate’s dreaded foes. So while his choices were all valid I quickly learned that his taste was pretty incompatible with mine. That is just a quirk of recommendation panels. Sometimes they are well done but completely ineffectual for certain members of the audience. I do feel the panelists choice were pretty varied. If the panelist only picks from a very narrow niche inside of a very broad genre can you really complain about their choices?

I do have one criticism the panelist sort of skipped over the more salaryman side of Iyashikei in series like Bartender. They tend to be the part of the genre farthest from the cute girls doing cute things idea of the genre. While that side of the genre is only really popular in Japan it is worth mentioning it exists.

Otakorp and You: The Bylaws is one of those panels that pretty much self-selects its audience with extreme prejudice.  It was run by the current treasurer of Otakorp. He went through the bylaws of the organization that puts on Otakon article by article. Obviously, there was a good deal of summary and simplification but these panels are mostly just supposed to be a bit of insight and transparency for anyone curious to see what actually happens behinds the scenes.

Sadly this year with the move the treasurer did not have his treasure chest of statistics and demographics about the convention because he just did not have thew time to compile them all. He promised next year he would do his best to bring them since they were the most popular part of his last panel. If nothing else the panel did give a good insight into why they have still not switched over the selling single days badges at Otakon. As usual, it has to do with the particularities of taxes and fees although it was a different set of problems then when they were in Baltimore.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Anime Foodies: Countryside Cooking was more than just a panel which highlighted food in anime. The panelist actually tested recipes and took pictures, and used those as a guided tour through country foods. Everything selected was pretty manageable seeming and there were even suggested substitutions in case the ingredients were too difficult to find. I do wish there was a bit more anime clips and connections in the panel though.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of a Strategy Game made me I realize that a lot of video game panels I end up at, and all the FE ones I’ve ever been to, fall into a trap of chronologically going through each game. This isn’t a very interesting approach to a panel, despite how enthusiastic and/or knowledge the panelists are. These days no one really needs a brief summary of a game. And when there are so many games, this ends up taking up the whole hour. I’d really love to see a Fire Emblem panel that pulled out a single aspect, theme, trope, story element, anything of the game/s and really focused on it. All the panelists for Fire Emblem panels, these two guys included, have the knowledge, but I think they just need to use it in a different way to create a great panel.

Spies in Anime was in theme for the con which I love. Michael Weston references, check. Discussed Joker Game, check. Actually knew Night Raid 1931, check. This was on Sunday morning so I can sort of forgive the sleepy presentation. But there were four people on the panel and only one was really doing the contributing.

hisui_icon_4040_round Without a doubt, the best panels I saw were the Fullmetal Alchemy: The Real-World Alchemical Tradition and FMA and Japanese Heraldry: The Evolution of the Mon panels. They were really a cut above the rest of what I saw.

The Japanese Heraldry panel proved one thing to me. Japanese historians must be some really hardcore historians. Or they all just die of stress in their 40’s. I say that because Samurai changed their names all the time. It is hard enough to track historical figures as it is but when they are constantly changing their names it must be a real nightmare. As it turns out the further complicate matters they also change their personal marks just as often if not more so. This panel looked at the personal marks of various Japanese nobles.

It is also worth noting that despite the fact that Oda Nobunaga went by several names during his lifetime we generally refer to him by a commonly accepted name to make thing easier. The same thing happens with heraldry. While this is generally what you will see when people talk about Nobunaga’s personal seal he also used several different personal crests depending on his circumstances.

They panel gave a fairly good overview of the different types of heraldry Japanese nobility would use and when they would use it.  He ended the panel with a look at how many of these marks have gone on to survive as Yakuza and corporate symbology. The best part is he kept what could have otherwise been a very dry lecture feeling very conversational. The topic itself is pretty much the purview exclusively of history buffs but thankfully far more interesting than you might have initially thought.

I was a little worried about the Fullmetal Alchemy panel before I went in. While it was clearly 100% an Alain centered topic so was intrigued. On the other hand dreaded it being nothing more than a fandom wank panel that paid some lip service to alchemy. What I got was anything but fandom wank.

The panel looked at the alchemical practices that the magic in Fullmetal Alchemist is based on and how they relate to the story. If that was it I would still give the panel a hearty thumbs up. Just teaching everyone about the Magnum opus, rebis, and Jungian facets of Alchemy as they show up in Fullmetal Alchemist is accomplishment enough. That part of the panel was well researched and entertainingly informative.

The real genius of the panel was then showing how all of the real world alchemical practices actually inform the story in the manga and actually enhance it. It turns out that Edward and Alphonse Elric’s journey is clearly the actual process of creating a philosopher’s stone while also just being an entertaining story. In fact, many aspects of the story are hidden nods to alchemy that never draw attention to themselves but are there if you know to look for them. If you know anything about the hidden symbolism of alchemy you quickly realize how clever this is.

A good panel makes you think after you leave. A great panel makes you completely reexamine the series it is about. It is almost impossible not to want to go back an reread Fullmetal Alchemist after you attend this panel as you will go into the series with a whole other layer of understanding.

narutaki_icon_4040_round And to wrap things up, I’ll mention out New Anime for Older Fans which went off without any big hitches. We saw familiar and new faces in the audience. I’d like to think we convinced everyone to watch Death Parade at the very least. But I think the clear winner was Wakakozake and that’s just fine by me.

More Otakon 2017 posts:

Otakon 2017: Ani-Gamers Podcast
Otakon 2017: General Impressions
The Speakeasy #092: Otakon, More Ideon, More One Piece
Otakon 2017: Artist Alley
Otakon 2017: 15-minutes with Hidenori Matsubara


3 thoughts on “Otakon 2017: Panels

  1. wandering-dreamer says:

    You should totally give Yona a second chance! ;D It does have a bit of a slow burn to get started but, considering how long the series has become, I think that’s reasonable. (And like I think I said in the panel, I can’t stand the original FY at all and yet Genbu Kaiden is one of my guilty pleasures so it’s totally possible to enjoy it without enjoying FY)

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