Otakon 2017: Events

 Otakon’s move to DC has opened up several new possibilities thanks to the new location. The bigger convention center and more vibrant location have a lot of potential. The fact that they were able to have a Shinto shrine at the convention while having more room for all the other events says everything about how much more that can be done with the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

I’m not exactly sure that the move contributed to the increase in premieres. In fact, I’m fairly sure it a completely unrelated fact but it was still greatly appreciated. This year we got to see In This Corner of the World and Eureka Seven – Hi-Evolution 1 before most people in the U.S. The Eureka Seven movie had not even been shown in Japan before this. That in of itself was amazing. On top of that, the Anisong World Matsuri really added to event cache this year.

Sufficed to say there were so many big events this year that my panel attendance was actually lower than it usually was because I just had so much to do. Otakon was already a convention where you often had to choose which of three panels happening at the same time you want to attend but now the event schedule is popping in more and more as something vying for your time. What a great position to be in.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Somehow there was even more to do at Otakon this year, but I was able to attend more events than usual. If that doesn’t show the advantage of the new space, then I don’t know what else to say about it.

hisui_icon_4040_round It is a little odd to say that In This Corner of the World was probably the most hyped up of the premieres. It is generally a low-key and gentle film that seems like something that just gets released in art house theaters more than anything else. Sunao Katabuchi is not a big name director like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda whose mere name being attached to a film generates anticipation. While Mai Mai Miracle won some awards it flew under most people’s radar. So all of the hype was generated by staff who has been talking about it for a while. Masao Maruyama has been talking up the film for several years at Otakon and other places and the other members of the MAPPA have also been enthusiastically promoting the film as an important passion project. So I was definitely anticipating being able to finally experience a film that clearly meant a lot to the people working on it.

In This Corner of the World falls into that prestigious pantheon of films like Grave of the Fireflies or Giovanni’s Island. Thee types of movies are ones that don’t have the universal appeal of  Studio Ghibli family films or the big-name appeal of the latest action film based on a popular franchise. What they do have is the ability to win a slew of awards and get talked about by mainstream media. It is actually the type of film that gets discussed like they were “normal” films and not just pieces of the anime niche. They tend to be the best retort to the idea that anime is nothing more than Pokemon and porn from the outside and shonen fighting and shojo romance from the inside.

But the film is more than just a pretty feather in prestige cap of anime fandom. It is an enjoyable film that delicately cultivates different sections of the emotional spectrum. It is generally a funny slice of life series about a young woman trying to find herself despite being in the middle of WWII Japan. It mixes poignant and amusing in a brilliant manner. Obviously as WWII progress and the war eats up the physical, mental, and spiritual resources of the nation the stories becomes grimmer. In a way it is almost a work of genius to avoid from slipping totally into Grave of the Fireflies level of despair while still clearly telling an antiwar story that does not pull its punches.

As this film gets a wider distribution you probably want to see it when it becomes available in your area. Shout! Factory and Funimation Films have the American distribution license so I assume that this will get a wider Fathom Events release in the future and will probably show up in at international film festivals for the next few years. If nothing else it will be on DVD and Blu-Ray in November so there should be some way for you to watch it soon. It is one of the films worth seeing just to expand your critical understanding of anime and Japan.

It is also worth seeing just because it is so clearly a passion project. This was never a little that was made to be a blockbuster hit. it was made to tell a story that the MAPPA felt needed to be told for both its beauty and poignancy. Movies like In This Corner of the World add a vibrancy and weight to the medium and should be supported for the overall health of the industry. I still love me some junk food anime as well as staple food titles but everyone should occasionally add a superfood title like this to their viewing diet for a healthy balance.

narutaki_icon_4040_round It was really gratifying to see In This Corner of the World come full circle at Otakon where a couple of years ago it was only a hope of the team. All projects have energy and dedication poured into them, but this one was one we got to witness in a little more depth as the creators tried to bring this project to life. But you don’t need the backstory to watch and appreciate this beautiful film.

The story following a young artist and wife living in the Japanese countryside during WWII is essentially a slice-of-life war story. That juxtaposition is the strength of the film to show how life changes and how people adapt during wartime to hardship and heartbreak while still living life. There is great tragedy in this story but there are also laugh-out-loud funny moments which perfectly captures what life is.

It was also very pertinent to hear the people behind the film talk about not only the creative process but also how they feel the story is one to think about in our current world.

hisui_icon_4040_round I really wanted to like this new Eureka Seven movie. I really did. I loved the original series. While it had it flaws I think it was a wonderful mecha series that felt very different from the standard Sunrise robot show while still be clearly in the genre. I mostly wrote off the Eureka Seven: Pocket Full of Rainbows as an odd but forgettable experiment. I actively hate Eureka Seven AO. I know that is super blunt but I don’t feel like reiterating my many dislikes for the sequel that seems to utterly miss what make the original series so good. So it took a few years but as time went on there was more bad Eureka Seven material than good. Still I had faith that the series could be saved. I was not expecting it but I was open to the possibility.

At first signs seemed to be pointing at this new film trilogy having potential. It was billed as a reboot of the series that took the original story and was going to move the franchise in a new direction. It seemed like they realized that AO was hot garbage and should be cut out of cannon like a dangerous lesion. Also they played up actually seeing The First Summer of Love event that was so important in the original TV series. Also they was going to be a focus on Ray and Charles Beams who were part of some of the best parts of the original. In the movies defense It hits off of those point so there was no false adverting. I just feel the execution was lack luster.

The movie starts with The First Summer of Love in all its glory. It was supposed to be this desperate battle for the survival of humanity that makes Adroc Thurston a hero. As the series goes on it becomes obvious the official story is nothing more than a mixture of hogwash and propaganda to support the status quo. While the truth of the event was never shown it was always played up in the story as this grand battle. The movie delivers this in spades. It is a huge theatrical quality battle that lived up to the expectations set by the previous talk about the event. It fills in an important part of the lore in a spectacular fashion like the Battle of Loum in Gundam: The Origin.

I think the casting of Toru Furuya was amazingly inspired. They were clearly tapping into his cultural cache as Amuro Ray while still also letting the performance stand on its own for anyone who did not catch the homage. Also, I feel like they were trying to draw a parallel between The First Summer of Love and Axis Shock event in Char’s Counterattack. I don’t have any proof of that but It is definitely something I would love to ask Dai Sato about if I ever got the chance to interview him.

The problem is after all of that gorgeous new material the film basically becomes an odd clip show of the Ray and Charles Beams part of the TV series. They try to retell that part of the story in a new fashion. The story starts in medias res and then continually jumps back and forth in time trying to tell the story completely from Renton’s point of view. The jumps back and forth in time became so frequent and disorienting that a segment audience started to vocally groan every time another temporal transition occurred. Now anime convention crowds can be a little rowdy but I think it says volumes that the film was so disorienting that all the wisenheimers started to be audible during a highly anticipated premiere.

I love the Ray and Charles Beams part of the TV series but this was such an odd way to retell that story. The movie mostly cut the first third of the show that sets up why Renton would be so willing to run away from the Gekkostate, be so hesitant to connect to his new guardians, and then embrace their family unit. If you have seen the TV series you are already programmed with those feelings but new viewers must have been somewhat bewildered. The nonlinear storytelling does little favors for even people who already know the story. It feels like a clip show that tries to me more ambitious than most but only ends up falling on its face with its experimentation.

Overall it feels like a cool new OVA was stitched together with a time-killing compilation special to pad out the length of the whole package. I liked the beginning of the new film but everything past that seemed an active waste of my time. It does have me worried about the next two films. I still want to believe that there can be more of that original Eureka Seven magic but everything is point towards that not being the case.

Just as a warning and minor spoiler. It seems the new movie is going to double down on the infamous soccer episode. People still complain about that episode to this day. I never really had a problem with it but it really seems like an odd choice to revisit one of the most maligned parts of the series. It would be like  Gundam: The Origin devoting a whole volume to the Zakrello.

narutaki_icon_4040_round This new Eureka Seven film trilogy seems to have each film focus on a single character. First Renton, then Anemone, then Eureka. The focus is in hyper-drive. In this first movie, Eureka barely appeared and I don’t think she uttered a full sentence.

I’d actually hesitate in calling this a compilation movie, at least in a traditional sense. It doesn’t give you the overall picture of what is going on with the plot. It isn’t even in chronological order. Instead we see Renton’s emotional state in great detail, sometimes to the point of frustration. I definitely found myself groaning a few times as the time skips back and forth, but after it was over and I began to talk and think about the film more it bothered me less. The films choices for scenes and how to cut them feels like memories in both how they get jumbled and how they repeat in the mind.

I’m very curious to see the next two films. Will they have a similar way of focusing or different? From the preview, it looks like the next movie will have more differences from the original series so how will that fit in? And if the movies are so focused what does that mean for the last movie to wrap things up?

hisui_icon_4040_round I was originally not planning to go to the JAM Project and T.M.Revolution event. I had seen other bands at Otakon related events in the past. Jam Project is one of the best anime music groups around but I was going to save my money since they were a separate ticket as part of Anisong World Matsuri. I figured I would experience some cool Friday night panels instead. Then I was offered a free ticket as a member of the press. It was one thing to skip out to save money and expand the blog’s coverage. It is another thing to pass over a golden ticket.

JAM Project was as awesome as ever. They always rock out hard. Thankfully unlike their performance in 2012 Yoshiki Fukuyama was as fit as a fiddle so he could attend this year. While I really enjoyed 2012 there was a little something missing without the singing voice of Basara Nekki. Sadly since they were sharing time with T.M.Revolution they could not play individual songs like they usually do when they are the only group on stage. I really wanted to hear a Fire Bomber song and you know that Yoshiki Fukuyama would have played a Macross Seven song as his solo number.

Since it is JAM project they always have to have a few Garo and Super Robot Wars songs in the mix. I know Kate would have loved to hear the opening from the first Garo anime but they tend to always focus on theme songs from TV series. Since I had been playing Super Robot Wars V I was very pleased to hear THE EXCEEDER live. It actually encouraged me to finish the game when I got home. Without a doubt the song that got the biggest reaction was The Hero. As Carl from Ogiue Maniax mentioned One Punch Man is undoubtedly the show that made young anime fans aware of the band. Before One Punch Man if you looked at an American JAM Project audience it was mostly older fans. Being attached to a popular hit has really opened them up to a wider audience. That said it is interesting that Rescue Fire has become one of their staple songs. From what I understand the show it comes from is extremely middle of the road show but the song is damn catchy. I guess there is no reason to let a great song languish in obscurity just because its source material is merely OK.

The thing about T.M.Revolution’s performance that stuck out the most to me is how he slowly stripped as this set went on. He started with a full shiny leather outfit. Every few songs he would discard an article of clothing. By the time he got to Heart of Sword it was clear that his set was over because otherwise, the show might have gotten incident. (Although I’m sure a sizable part of the audience would have been absolutely fine with that.) Also, Heart of Sword is still amazing.

The most stunning revelation during the concert came with a single song. Before Otakon 2017 if you asked about Soul Eater I would have said it “was a popular anime” not I would easily state it “is a popular series.” I remember Soul Eater being popular back in the day but the fact that its opening got the biggest reaction of all the songs that T.M.Revolution sand says a lot. It was not that his songs did not get the audience on their feet a hootin’ and a-hollerin’ but the crowds reaction to Resonance was on another level. I think part of that disconnect distinctly comes from the fact that Kate and I never clicked with that title but I was surprised in this here today and gone tomorrow fandom that show still has some real legs.

The finale was probably the best way the concert could have ended. If you’re any sort of JAM project fan you might have been a little surprised they did not play one of the staple songs: SKILL. If anything you could call in their signature Super Robot Wars song. It is usually how they end concerts. But the finale was JAM Project and T.M.Revolution doing the song together. Like the perfect dessert to a fantastic meal, it signaled that the show was over it a most satisfying way.

I’m really glad I got to go to the concert. I will definitely consider picking up an Anisong World Matsuri next year depending on who they get next year.

narutaki_icon_4040_round A Shinto Shrine in the middle of Otakon brought a wonderful cultural opportunity to attendees and created the most peaceful space in the con. I attended the opening ceremony which was packed to capacity. I was impressed that we were are all able to take direction so well, and you’ve never heard Otakon so quiet. After the ceremony, you were able to go up to the alters. They also had information pamphlets available and even sold traditional charms! I’d love to see this return, especially since I’m sure a lot of people missed this with it being the first year.

hisui_icon_4040_round I feel this event this year really made Otakon 2017 feel like the big East Coast anime convention. More than even the size it was just the fact that it felt like there were only events that could occur at this convention and nowhere else. That is the real magic of Otakon. If nothing else convinces people to start coming back I think the Events are the best closing statement on why you need to attend in 2018.

narutaki_icon_4040_round Otakon continues to impress and grow in scope and scale. Premieres is one of my favorite things to have at anime cons so this year really delivered.


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: Panels
Otakon 2017: 15-minutes with Hidenori Matsubara

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