Otakon 2018: Panels and Workshops

hisui_icon_4040_round As I mentioned several times before there was a good amount of mecha panels this year. All but the most diehard mecha forums poster would have more than enough content to keep them happy. Kate and I did our best to experience the full range Otakon and for the most part, I think we did. In retrospect I actually went to more non-mecha panels then I did mecha panels which I think was an accomplishment. I did go to 6 mecha panels overall so I probably went to as many mecha panels as most attendees go to on a weekend so I hardly avoided robot related content. I think it just speaks to the amount of panel content there is at Otakon.

I will say listening to the Ani-Gamers podcast for the convention I dodged some real stinkers when it came to panel content. I did not love every panel I went to but I did not really go to anything that sorely disappointed me or angered me. I have to wonder if I have just gotten really good at picking panels or am I just very lucky.

If you looking for the shows I talked about at New Anime for Older Fans I have a complete list here.

narutaki_icon_4040_round As always, Otakon’s panel offerings are a major highlight of the convention. While I didn’t participate as a panelist this year, I saw many familiar faces among the presenters but also new blood here and there.

hisui_icon_4040_round One of us finally attended a workshop at Otakon. I feel like some sort of ancient curse has been lifted from the site. Unless this is actually an omen of doom and one of the great seals has been broken. If you see that Yosuga no Sora is getting a sequel then you know which one it was.

I have repeatedly mentioned that I would love to attend a panel about Japanese tabletop games. As a player of tabletop games and an anime fan, I have always been very curious about what happens when those two things get combined. The problem is that RPG books are usually rather dense in a way that is only rivaled by scientific texts.  Add to the fact that tabletop games are still a bit of a niche hobby it means that you not going to casually find translations of core books. So what I was mainly hoping for was someone who was bilingual and who was into both anime and tabletop games deciding to do a panel that would give a little insight what the Japanese scene was like. I did attend a panel that talked mostly about English games that were anime inspired. The panelist wisely only focused on games he had played so other than a mention that they existed he did not really talk about natively Japanese games. A good panel in its own right but not exactly what I wanted. Then came a very special workshop: Maid for You – The Art of Table Talk & Japanese TTRPGs.

This is exactly what I wanted. I did not even hope for the full experience a workshop like this would give but I got it anyway. It started with a small lecture on Japanese RPGs. Nothing too in-depth but enough to springboard your own research if you were curious. The workshop also talked about anime inspired English games but they were one part of the greater lecture. Then came the workshop element. We were all going to play Maid: The Role-Playing Game. It is one of the few Japanese tabletop games that has gotten a full official translation. All the attendees made characters with the panelist’s help and then we played an hour and a half session.

Overall Maid: The Role-Playing Game is not the most complex or spectacular system. Keep in mind it is, however, it is a good party tabletop game. Characters are simple to make. They are mostly randomly generated with just enough room for the player to put their stamp on their creation. The rules are very simple and sort of breezy. It is not the sort of system made for long epic campaigns but instead for people who are devoted lovers of all things maid. But when you have 25 players of all different skill levels who have never played together it is a perfect choice.

The game was chaotic but the GM and her three assistants kept things understandable and enjoyable. It was a fun little tempest in a teapot. I have to give some high praise to the people who ran Maid for You – The Art of Table Talk & Japanese TTRPGs. It was a fantastic workshop that really scratched an itch I thought would never be satisfied. If you see this on the schedule in 2019 I really suggest you drop in. It is a long workshop but you will enjoy every second of it.

narutaki_icon_4040_round My first panel of the convention was Transformers: The Birds and The Bumblebees. Liking Transformers but not knowing a lot of its history, I figured this was a good panel to start a mecha-themed Otakon with.

I walked out of this panel with probably more knowledge than I bargained for. (I WON’T discuss Kiss Players, so don’t ask me!) I loved seeing the evolution of the toys as a concept complete with great commercials for the predecessors to Transformers. I think my favorite was Mircochange which implied that everyday items in your house might be secret robots. Some people said this was creepy, I said this was awesome! The low point was a live skit in the middle of the panel but that’s not really my jam. These guys seemed well-informed, had plenty of good content to share, and were upbeat for a 9AM Friday panel.

Al and I both attended Gundam Wing: A Retrospective, but the panel was so packed we didn’t realize we were both there until after! It was a fun, upbeat look back at America’s first (only?) Gundam obsession. The panelist did a good job of covering the actual plot of Wing while interjecting interesting tidbits about the production and its place on American TV.

Apparently the production staff said they noticed an inconsistency with Heero’s personality but didn’t have time to really fix it. I just thought the dude was crazy, who knew! And how did I not remember that Peter Cullen narrated commercials for Gundam Wing on Toonami? They were epic and I’m glad I got to see them here!

Overall the panel was a lot of fun. If I were to make any suggestions it would be to show more clips from the series overall.

hisui_icon_4040_round So many mecha panels and so little time. One of the simplest to talk about was Awesome Anime Openings – Mecha Edition. It was just a selection of rocking mecha openings. Normally I would just mention a few cool openings and an odd omission or two. The thing is the whole panel is a list of obvious omissions. Talking to Patz apparently the guy who ran this panel is infamous for refusing to put anything slightly mainstream in his panels. This is not just random speculation. The panelist proudly mentioned several times he could have used popular opening X but instead picked Y. The prime examples are not using Genesis of Aquarion when talking about the Aquarion series or Yuusha-oh Tanjou! when talking about the Brave series.

I get the basic idea. You know that mecha people are going to be 90% of the audience at a panel like this so it can feel like your not showing anyone anything new. There is an urge to bring out nothing but the unappreciated hits for an audience that might be more respective to obscure mecha shows. The main problem the playlist seemed slightly spiteful in a mecha hipster style. I felt a compromise list would have severed everyone a little better. Have the playlist be like 90% lesser known works but throw the crowd a popular bone or two. Not much more than one or two. Just enough to prime the pump. I feel like it makes you seem a little more approachable and maybe might make some people more repetitive to your esoteric picks. I love Kimi no Shinwa ~ Aquarion Dai 2 Shou but a little Genesis of Aquarion might go a long way to saying “I’m one of you.”

Then again its is mecha fandom. Maybe I’m a moron and throwing around nothing but obscure anime openings it the real way to say “I’m one of you.”

Gai Daigoji: incompetent Pilots of Mecha Anime Series was an experimental panel by Xan from the Spiraken Manga Review. While the mecha genre is filled with hyper-skilled pilots like Char AznableChirico Cuvie, and Roger Smith it is also filled some less stellar pilots. The tongue-in-cheek premise was dossiers of pilots who are not the pinnacle of hyper-manly competence. So you have people like Gai DaigojiBoss BorotShunsuke Akagi, and Shinji Ikari. It was a mix of comic relief characters and morons with some less standard pilots who deviate from the Go Nagai hero template. Obviously, some of these pilots were far more skilled than others and he had a goofy system to denote that.

I will say his presentation for the panel was very impressive. He could have easily just had some simple slides with some clips integrated into the slideshow. But he went above and beyond and each pilot had a very detailed portfolio with a few little Easter eggs for each pilot if you were paying attention. It was a detailed amount of design work that went above and beyond.

My only real criticism was certain pilots like Shunsuke Akagi and Shinji Ikari seem in a very different category from people like Patrick Colasour and Boss Borot. In his defense, the actually skilled pilots got actually numbered scores of competence whereas the goofadoofs got silly scores. It was supposed to be a lighthearted panel so that makes sense but if you were expecting HARD SCORES FOR SERIOUS RANKINGS TO BE DEBATED then you might have left very disappointed.

A friend of blog Patz did both the Mecha Fight Club: Discussions in Giant Robots and Gattai! Mecha Anime of 198X panels. It seemed liked it was Patz time to shine considering the theme of the convention. It would be like if Otakon made the theme of the convention Type-Moon for me.

I have seen Mecha Fight Club before but in a roundtable discussion about robots, the panel is very dependent on the panelists who are participating. I am always surprised the panel runs as smoothly as it does because they allow a decent amount of audience participation. It is VERY easy for a panel like that to crash and burn when an audience member decides they are going to be the star of the show or need to correct everyone about anything they say. The one question about mecha show that needs to be licensed got a little chaotic but the panel was able to wrestle back control after everyone in the room wanted to bring up a dozen titles each.

Gattai was more of a mecha anime recommendation panel. Each of the panelists recommended three shows from the 80s. Their picks tended towards the more obscure shows but you can assume most people attending a panel called Gattai it is not their first robot rodeo. The oddest part of the panel was their admission that their picks were more porn adjacent than they ever intended. But that was the OVA 80s. You had titles like Hades Project Zeorymer and Project A-ko. The most interesting thing to me was the fact that most of the shows they talked about were actually available in English legally.  Five years ago most of their picks would have only been available to those willing to search for fansubs. Thanks to Discotek and HIDIVE the amount of older robots shows that are available has risen dramatically. We now live in a world where you can get a legitimate version of Space Warrior Baldios in English. Crazy.

The last mecha panel was an interesting idea. A Brief History of Mecha: The Changing Symbolism of Giant Robots Over 50 Years tried to examine how the genre has changed from Tetsujin 28 all the way to Darling in the Franxx with a dozen twist and turns in between. This meant he mostly focused on shows that were major sea changes. So it was not trying to be a history of mecha panel but more of a very general overview of the trends in the genre. So when discussing Gundam you really look at a few key titles like the original and Wing. 0079 pretty much makes the real robot part of the fandom a thing and Wing made such an impact on western fandom. Major players like Evangelion, Macross, and several Go Nagai shows also signal shifts in the genre. That leaves many influential but more iterative titles on the wayside.

It was a great idea but I did notice the research was a bit sloppy. He said that The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was the first of the Braves series when it is famously the last. That would mostly be a minor point of interest but part of his point in that section centered around GaoGaiGar influencing the Brave series when it was more of the accumulation of what had come before it in the franchise. He also made one or two other slips like that which even a green fan like me noted.

The idea is solid and overall it was an interesting panel. It just needs a little fact checking before its next presentation. By the way, I’m definitely not the person to do that. I only know enough to know I’m not the person to ask. Someone like Carl from Ogiue Maniax would be a good choice. He is insanely knowledgeable but also very nice which is the combination you need when looking over a panel like this.

narutaki_icon_4040_round I attended one 18+ panel, Glittering Courtesans and Illustrious Geisha: The Working Women of Yoshiwara, which sounded more like a history panel than anything else. After a rocky start of the panelists trying to connect to con wi-fi (please don’t rely on this) and jokingly calling the women they were set to talk about in the panel hookers and whores (please be more respectful), the panel was indeed very history-focused and peaked my interest to learn more.

The history of The Floating World, an area put aside by the government in order to try to regulate sex work in Edo, was fascinating to hear. I learned about the beginnings of Geisha, the intriguing Izumo no Okuni, and how you tied your obi really, really mattered. The panel had some great visuals of drawings, paintings, and prints that were a nice touch. The most interesting was probably the magazines at the time with their diversity of hetrosexual, gay, and lesbian features.

While the panel didn’t have time to dive extremely deep into the topic, there was a lot learned. However, the panelists did gloss over the conditions for women and the fact that many of the women working in the area were sold or kidnapped. Since this was a history panel, I think it could have used a little more information on that aspect to remove some of the romanticization.

hisui_icon_4040_round I went to three panels that were ostensibly introductions to popular franchises. Fate/Stay ConfusedFire Emblem: History of the Emblem, and Panel Of The Galactic Heroes: A New Thesis. Each of them interestingly explored the franchise in a different way. I feel these “let’s talk about series X” panels can feel very similar no matter what the topic so three that each takes their own path can be educational to examine.

If a random friend asked me if I enjoyed Fate/Stay Confused I would say that it was very meh. If the head of panels at a convention asked me should they put Fate/Stay Confused on their schedule I would say yes. It is a good panel that was not really what I wanted but I would never disparage a solid panel that was not just to my taste.

So the main problem with Type-Moon panels is that 90% of your audience is Type-Moon fans. The franchise is large enough and old enough that you have many levels of fandom. Most of your audience might not know the details about Koha-Ace and Fire Girl but explaining Fate/Stay Night and Melty Blood to your audience is often like lecturing to a fish about water. So Fate/Stay Confused realized this and decided to play to the audience instead. Therefore the panel is more like an hour-long shit post than a proper introductory panel. It was structured like an introductory panel but it mostly just jokes and chop busting. The panel was far more interesting in making jokes about the numerous Saberfaces and contradictory rules of the Nasuverse.

I myself was hoping for a panel to maybe teach me a little about some of the most obscure parts of the franchise. It was a bit of a long shot but there is still enough Type-Moon material out there that I can easily be introduced to pieces of the series I had never seen before. That said the audience seemed to be laughing quite frequently and having a good time. As someone who frequents Type-Moon forums and Reddit, I know that the only thing Type Lunatics like more than new content is sarcastic comments about the old content. So their approach was to embrace the fact that you’re mostly going to have an audience of dyed in the wool fans and just play to them.

The Fire Emblem panel, on the other hand, was far more of your standard franchise fan panel. They started with an explanation of the series. They then introduced the main games in the series, they talked a little about side material and spin-offs, and then they finished up with some comments and criticisms about the series as a whole. If you have ever seen one of these panels you will recognize the format immediately.

Fire Emblem panels don’t fall into the trap of explaining the basics to experts for one reason: Fire Emblem is a series that only recently became super popular despite having a long and illustrious run in Japan. While the recent games have been hits in English the older iterations only have had a few iterations brought over to the west. That means large parts of the series have never officially been released and the few games that there licensed are often out of print and extremely rare due to small numbers of copies being made. This means while the die-hard fans might know about the Japanese only games a good deal of the fandom only knows them as the characters from Fire Emblem Heroes that they don’t know.

Wisely the panel focused either on the games that most of the fandom either can’t play or can no longer easily play. This meant that what might have otherwise felt very much like a self-indulgent panel was actually informative. If you have done a good deal of deep research or speak Japanese you might be familiar with the older games but that is not most of the fanbase. Since the majority of the fanbase is only aware of new games there was still a lot to learn.

narutaki_icon_4040_round I was excited to see For Boys By Girls: The Women Who Make Shonen Manga, what a great panel idea! I was really happy to see Yellow Tanabe and Katsura Hoshino on the list. And I learned that women are behind some series that I didn’t realize like Magi and Blue Exorcist.

This panel felt like a good start but ran quite short. Based on the title of the panel, I thought this was going to focus on who the manga-ka were/are more than highlighting their manga titles. I’d also like to see this panel with more visuals from the manga that might show off the manga-ka’s style.

The other manga-based panel I attended was Lipstick and Superpowers: The Femininity of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. The panelists started with a solid thesis statement about JoJo’s embracing the feminine and masculine. Sometimes they highlighted this well like discussing Araki’s evolving artstyle. Sometimes they gave the series too much credit like talking about characters being willing to cry. And they dismissed talking about Joseph pretty much outright.

There was plenty of joking around and pulling out of sillier moments of JoJo’s to mix things up in between. The panelists had good ideas and were passionate about those ideas.

hisui_icon_4040_round I went to the Hatoful Boyfriend: The Pigeon Dating Sim mostly because it is a dating game that most people regard as very entertaining if EXTREMELY quirky. If you have never heard of the game it takes place in a world where humans and intelligent pigeons coexist. You play a girl who is a transfer student to an all bird school and you can date one of several hot (?) pigeon dudes. It is clearly meant to a very tongue in cheek story with some hidden emotional depths if you look for it. I don’t think it was made for avian furries but I’m sure that crew is hardly repulsed by the game.

Overall it was a good panel. The panelists realized it was enough of a crazy premise that just explaining it and all of its numerous offshoots is enough to base a panel around. They assumed that there would be a number of people, like me, who would come just to see what this craziness was about so they avoided major spoilers but fed the audience enough to show that it was more than just a trashy and shallow Newgrounds dating game. I’m not sure how much anyone who is neck-deep in the series would get out of it but I think it did a good job explaining the game to anyone who only sort of knew about the game or just came because of the title.

narutaki_icon_4040_round At Canceled Anime: Gone Before Their Time, the opening statement of the panel was that not just bad shows get canceled (although there were some bad shows)! I learned that late night shows don’t care or need ratings, that is not their business model. Which makes sense, I just never thought about it before!

The panel started with one of the most famous canceled anime, First Gundam. Some shows that I hadn’t heard of included Prayers (2005), Nakoruru, and Tenamonya Voyagers 1999. It concluded with the epic that is Odin, and I’m pretty sure it newly traumatized some of the audience.

The panel was enjoyable and certainly pulled out some unique and little known shows. I wish there had more production stories, that’s where the truly interesting stuff lies.

The Outsourced: The Japanese Animation of Western Cartoons panel highlighted the many, many credited and uncredited Japanese animators and studios that brought to life some of America’s best loved cartoons. From the classic stop-motion of Rakin and Bass’s Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer to the beloved 80s icons of GI Joe and Jem and the Holograms to the venerated Batman the Animated Series, all of these and more were storyboarded in the US but brought to fruition in Japan.

The panel was able to cram in a lot of series to its run time and highlight just how many titles had some amount of Japanese influence. As the panel noted, this outsourcing has now moved from Japan to Korea. It was quite the nostalgia fest for me while also a chance for me to learn a lot.

hisui_icon_4040_roundThe same panelist did The Staff Behind the Anime and the Makoto Shinkai: Life, Love, and Lessons Learned panels solo. It was clear that he had an interest with teaching fans about the people behind the anime that they love. He vacillated between being somewhat dry and rather entertaining when he was speaking but his passion for the material was always very clear. He was always enthusiastic about teaching people about the artists who make anime.

At this point, I have seen several The Staff Behind the Anime panels. Much like a Best Anime Openings panels, they are often a good insight into the type of fan running the panel. Movie buffs tend to focus on directors, music aficionados will have some lesser-known composers, animation fanatics tend to focus on sakuga darlings. I don’t feel that he left out anyone particularly important creators but he also did not have any really shocking or intriguing picks. He did wisely have a decent amount of writers, composers, and mangaka in his panels. I do find that the Staff Behind the Anime panels can be very director heavy giving all the other jobs mostly lip service. He thankfully had Shoji Kawamori on the panel. I would have pointed it out if he had missed him considering what a headliner he was at the convention.

The Makoto Shinkai panel was another premise I have actually seen from other panelists. Shinkai is a magnet for this sort of panel. He has several projects under his belt but not so many that you have to pick and choose what you talk about. He has a decently diverse repertoire but all of his works clearly have his thumbprint all over them. He also has a good deal of mainstream appeal so you are not trying to champion the brilliance of a skilled but obscure artist. Also since he wears so many hats during his projects there is a certain one-man animation studio mystic to his work.

The panel did a parallel examination of his themes and skill as an artist over the years. It was a good overview and examination of Shinkai’s career. I would have liked to see some other creators get the same treatment from this panelist. It was clear from his The Staff Behind the Anime panel that Shinkai was his favorite so I’m not sure who he would pick otherwise. I love to see anyone but Hayao Miyazaki get that same treatment. (I’m mostly saying that because Hayao Miyazaki is such a popular subject for such panels there is no reason to ask for another one. You will get another one without even asking for it.)

narutaki_icon_4040_round I’m looking forward to jumping back into panels next year (provided I get an approval) and joining my fellow nerds in the fray!

hisui_icon_4040_round In Umineko, they mention the most powerful witches are the ones who can create something from nothing. It is a major miracle to take a 1% chance and make it happen but it is magic in the realm of the gods to take a 0% chance and make that possible. In that regard, the tech staffer for my panel at  Otakon was an insanely powerful witch.

For the last few years, I have been borrowing my sister’s notebook of panels. This year since I was doing New Anime for Older Fans with my roommate and we decided to use his laptop since my sister’s notebook is her only personal computer. The problem was when the time came the laptop we brought was not compatible with the projector. It looked like the panel would have been a bust. The worst part was the room was packed to capacity. They actually had a waiting list to get into the room. I can tell you I was more than a little panicked. Eventually the tech guy was able to jury rig a bit of a kludgy solution. It was a messy thing that played at an odd resolution and required my roommate to play the presentation and the videos in separate windows. But it worked. The panel went from something that might have had be canceled to something that entertained the crowd. 0% to 70% is an act of technical magic I was amazingly grateful for.

I will say that those 15-minute breaks between panels should NEVER go away. I was able to finish the panel on time thanks to the break which let us work out that technical mishap. If there had been no break I would have definitely had to skips shows and it would have been far messier. If you don’t need the break it is just a little extra time to prepare but when you need the break it is manna from heaven.

Once the technical issues were solved the panel went pretty well. I moved Kado: The Right Answer to the end of the panel just in case I had to skip a show. It is the hardest to explain and it is also the hardest sell to a general audience. I usually like to end on a funny show but I had to make a judgment call. I will say I played pretty much the same panel at AnimeNEXT and I was surprised which shows went over better. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid always killed but Girlish Number and Restaurant to Another World played far better at Otakon. My Restaurant to Another World clip got almost no reaction at AnimeNEXT but the audience loved it at Otakon. Girlish Number was popular at both conventions but the Otakon audience warmed up to it much faster. I will say the AnimeNEXT audience seemed to enjoy The Great Passage a bit more but different strokes for different folks.

At first I was extremely nervous about the panel but in the end, I got lots of compliments at the end. All I have to say is since Kate is not going to Japan in 2019 I will be VERY grateful to have her working on panels with me again.

More Otakon 2018 posts:

Otakon 2018: General Impressions
Otakon 2018: Artist Alley
The Speakeasy #104: Otakon 2018, Made in Abyss, Free! S3, The Night is Short


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