Otakon 2019: Panels

hisui_icon_4040_round There is never enough time in the day at Otakon. I decided to focus a little more on panels this year since I did not have Kate to back me up. I figured that if I concentrated a little less on guests and events I would go to more panels. What ended up happening was thanks to the Maid Cafe, Otabrew, and the general trials and tribulations of life I ended up at about as many panels as I normally attend at Otakon. Now I go to more panels than most people but I figured I would attend so many more panels this year and life decided to punish me for being cocky. Hopefully, I still give everyone a good overview of the old person otaku panels that were at this years Otakon.

There were two panels that many people assumed just by the titles alone that I was behind them but it turned out not to be the case. The first was Abrakadabra! Magic Systems in Anime and the other was Fate/Stay Night and Type-Moon: A World of Magic and Mystery. All things considered, those would not be bad guesses. Also, it seems they were both by the same group so I guess someone is trying to steal my shtick. (Or at least I am not utterly alone in my tastes. I mean The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II is a thing.)

Abrakadabra! Magic Systems in Anime was about as Alain a panel as you could get without me being on the panel. The general idea is that stories with magic in them can often live or die on how well constructed and implemented their magical systems are. If there are no rules then magic seems utterly arbitrary and the stakes in any conflict can lose all tension or meaning. On the other hand, if the rules are extremely strict and then they are broken for plot convenience the viewer can feel cheated. There is also the important fact that once a character uses a magical ability the audience will call shenanigans whenever they don’t use those powers in a critical spot. Also, certain rule sets can take the magic out of magic but making it utterly mundane. So it is a delicate balancing act with magic so that there is a wonder in the magic in a way that strengthens the narrative as opposed to derailing it.

My major criticism was that I had a fundamental disagreement with them about a minor point of judging magical systems. What they really seem to want was a setting where everything was presented upfront so that the viewer knows all the rules from the start and therefore all magic should then be a fair game where everyone follows those rules with only a few narrative twists for spice.

I get that but there are two major problems with that being the only way to tell a magical story with a good magical system. The first is it means you have to do a LOT of front-loading of information which almost always means HUGE info dumps. I actually have an extremely high tolerance and even love for this sort of storytelling but I don’t think it is the best or only way to do things.

The second problem is there is a very good sort of story that slowly reveals how magic works over the course of the narrative. Now the author should know how everything works before the story is written. This prevents the system from contradicting itself or creating ass pull rules and exceptions. They criticized Full Metal Alchemist for not really explaining the full set of magical rules at the start of the series. The thing is I feel Full Metal Alchemist tells you exactly what you need to know and more importantly what the characters think they know as the truth. Full Metal Alchemist quickly hints the main characters are mistaken about somethings and part of the mystery is them learning how and why they were wrong. It always feels like Hiromu Arakawa knew the true rules of Alchemy from the start it is just that the reader has to learn the truth alongside the Elric brothers.

It was a good panel. I think overall they had a good grasp of what makes a good magical system and where it can seem flimsy or inconsistent. They did call out the fact that Kinoko Nasu really likes to set up a very detailed set of rules for magic and then goes out of his way to rules lawyer all the corner case exceptions as plot points. But that is what we love about him. I just feel they might want to be a little more open to expanding rule sets as they are not all just the author writing rules as they need them. There are plenty of examples of that but it is not always the case.

By the way, the best part of the panel was when they discussed the joke that is not really a joke about the magic systems in Kuroko’s Basketball. Because when you get down to the brass tacks everyone in that series is a basketball wizard despite the fact that they pretend it is all in the realm of possibility.

The Fate/Stay Night and Type-Moon panel was a fairly standard Type-Moon panel. It basically tried to give a quick overview of the various major Type-Moon titles with a nod to most of the various smaller titles as well. In the past, I have generally found these panels sort of redundant because most of the people attending a Type-Moon panel usually have a deep understanding of most of the main material and at least a passing knowledge of everything but the most obscure material. The thing is over the last five or six years there has been an explosion of Type-Moon fandom. Now not only are there about a dozen new Type-Moon titles with various anime, manga, and games being made but the fandom has expanded from utter niche to a small fandom. That might not seem like a big deal but it means that there are now a far greater number of fans who only know the little segment of Type-Moon they have found and can actually learn about parts of the franchise they have never experienced or may not have known to exist. It is a crazy time to be a fan of the Nasuverse.

Those guys did one more panel which was Watanagashi Festival! Or how not to do cotton drifting in Hinamizawa. This was generally a clever idea that I think worked better on paper than in execution. The premise is that the panel is essentially a visual novel where the audience votes on choices for the character trying to get to the Cotton Drifting Festival in the Higurashi universe. Since the panel is based on a visual novel it was definitely a clever idea. They even made sure that the panel was actually filled with information about Japanese festivals so it was an informative panel as well as an entertaining one. Overall this seems like a great idea.

The two overlapping problems were most of the interesting writing and more importantly, the actual information about festivals was done in the bad paths where the protagonist gets killed. The problem was since a lot of the audience were Higurashi fans they knew which choices to make to avoid getting killed. So the first half was mostly the audience going through the most vanilla path. In fact, after a point, the panel members kept jokingly trying to get the audience to be daring but they were not having any of that. I’m guessing they assumed their the audience would make some bad choices or just generally be more sadistic so they would purposefully pick poor choices.  They eventually went back and did all the bad endings so that we could get the actual meat of the panel but it sort of killed the flow of the panel.

They had a natural flow to the panel so I don’t think it was a case where they did not practice the panel. I think it is more of one of those instances where it probably went decently when they practiced it but when the rubber hit the road the panel went differently with a live studio audience. Either that or it worked better at other conventions but an Otakon crowd was a different animal. I think if they had just put a little more of the meat of the panel in the good path I’m pretty sure it would not have been as noticeable. Then again that sort of is the chance you take with any audience participation panel.

I went to see The Women Who Write Shounen and Seinen Manga mostly to see the panelists take on the material. While a good deal of shounen and seinen authors are male if you pay attention to manga-ka you will find a decent number of women in both genres with a minuscule amount of effort. So any version of this panel will have some variants depending on which artists they pick and what if anything they have to say about the general concept. Overall the panel seemed to have a nice mixture of artists on display. They had some standard almost mandatory picks like Rumiko Takahashi and CLAMP but they also had some more obscure choices like Q Hayashida. I always appreciate any mention of Miki Yoshikawa because while she is hardly obscure I do feel a lot of people sleep on her work. I did wish I got to see the end of the panel but I had to rush off to set up for my own panel. I am very curious about how they put it all together in the end.

On the opposite side of the coin, the Shojo Manga’s Lost Generation panel was super informative. While they are hardly rock stars in mainstream anime fandom the Year 24 Group get a good amount of attention from the more scholarly parts of the fandom. The thing that there was a good deal of manga artists doing shojo before then. It was just that the Year 24 Group was a revolutionary group that changed what shojo would be forever. But there had to be an established scene for it to be overturned in the first place. Plus while the Year 24 Group created some timeless works it is not as if everyone before them were talent fewer hacks and fools. There is clearly some influential masterworks in there from an interesting mix of male and female writers. The panel really showed that this time period was not all amazing manga but there is a good deal of important work that otherwise goes ignored.

The saddest revelation was that a lot of the really great works from this period are either lost or incomplete since all but the big hits were either only partially archived or not even saved in any way, shape, or form. While there are heroes out there trying to save a lot of these series time and apathy might have consigned some masterpieces to be lost to history.

I went to see Anime in Non-Anime mostly because it is one of those panels that are always completely different from the last time you saw it. While anime is still very much a niche fandom it has gotten mainstream enough that it comes up in other mediums. In fact, it comes up so much now that there is always enough material for a new panel every year. I think my favorite part was the telenovela that had a complete character arc about a mother and daughter’s relationship due to the fact that the daughter is a big otaku. The part where the mom comes to her school in cosplay was sort of unintentionally hysterical although I’m sure at least one teenage otaku was given nightmare thanks to the idea of their own mother coming to their school in cosplay. If nothing else I did learn that Storm Area 51 meme/phenomenon had an oddly high anime component. Just the idea that military staff had to be briefed on what Naruto running is made the panel worth it.

I also went to a trinity of panels that might just qualify me for an AARP membership card. They were Urusei Yatsura: 40+ Years, Datcha!, Planes, Trains, and Battleships: A Look at the Leijiverse, and Aren’t You a Little Old for This? – Fandom and Functional Adulthood. Not every person at these panels was over 30 years old. In fact, many of them were younger. That said attending all three instantly makes you a senior citizen.

I don’t really have a lot to say about the Urusei Yatsura: 40+ Years, Datcha! or Planes, Trains, and Battleships: A Look at the Leijiverse panels. They were both fairly decent introductory panels to the subjects that most people at the convention might have been a bit too young to know anything about. Being that it was only about one show the Urusei Yatsura was able to dig down pretty deep into the show. They had a good mixture of information about the show itself, the tons of merchandise made for the show even up to today, and the overall impact of the show on anime fandom and beyond. I don’t think I learned anything new myself but it was a good primer for a classic for anyone who was interested.

Planes, Trains, and Battleships: A Look at the Leijiverse, on the other hand, looked at the work of a very prolific manga-ka so nothing could really get that much of a deep dive. The panel mostly focused on the things he is most famous for like Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock. Those two series alone have enough spin-offs and remakes that you could just do a panel about their somewhat shared universe alone. The odd thing was I actually learned more about Leiji Matsumoto’s early career from the Shojo Manga’s Lost Generation panel than this one. I have a feeling that they were focusing more on titles you could conceivably see in English but it is still an amusing situation none the less.

I was amused that there were some attempts to try and create some sort of unified Leijiverse universe when Leiji Matsumoto himself never cared about that. While many of Leiji Matsumoto’s manga use the same characters, again and again, there is little to no effort made have separate titles connect in any way, shape, or form. While individual manga might have a very concise universe the various series will contradict each other all the time. It would be like trying to fit the life of Peter Parker on a timeline using all the various Spider-Man movies of the last few decades. It is an interesting idea but ultimately a fool’s errand.

Since my dinner ran a bit long I only came in for the last half of the Aren’t You a Little Old for This? – Fandom and Functional Adulthood panel. It was run by two adults with jobs so Kate did not have to stage a coup like she would have done had it been run by anyone under the age of 30. Overall it seemed like a bit of a therapy session for anyone who may be still feeling a bit odd that they care intensely about anime at their age despite the fact the hobby is mostly seen as a young kid’s thing. They did give some good advice but the main goal seem to be to give older fans permission to be OK with being really into with anime.

I did two panels this year at Otakon. The first was the classic New Anime for Older Fans. Thankfully the panel was back at full power thanks to having Kate once again. I always feel Kate brings a good balance to the panel as while our tastes are similar she has enough of her own flavor of fandom that it gives the panel a more rounded feel. I enjoyed doing the panel solo last year but I think I would rather keep that an occasional occurrence rather than anything regular. Also as per the rules of life since we not only had Kate’s laptop but I also brought my own little notebook the panel ran without a single technical hiccup. The old rule remains true: Bring one device and everything will go straight into the toilet. Bring two devices and everything will run smoothly.

I will say that I was impressed by the fact that we seemed to have built up a decent following for the panel. When we asked how many people had seen a previous iteration of the panel about half the room raised their hands. Several people even stopped Kate and shared how much they enjoyed what they saw. Crazy. I know Kate mentioned that the experience really reinvigorated her. I have a feeling that if she comes back to blogging and/or podcasting next year it will 75% be thanks to this panel.

I was also a panelist on Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Carl from Ogiue Maniax and Patz from the Cockpit. It was a slightly more focused version of the Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha panel Carl and I did back in 2015. Instead of looking at the romantic elements in mecha, in general, we only looked at shows where the lovers were on opposite sides of a conflict. Since war is in mecha anime more often than not it is just a matter of finding the shows with the star crossed lovers more than anything else.

I think the panel was a little rough since we did not practice that much before the convention but I think it actually worked fairly well mostly because we put a good deal of work into the prep. I think we had a nice selection of shows each with a different feel. From the ’70s to shows that came out very recently it showed that this is a thing that has been happening in the genre from the beginning. We also really went out of our way to pick some great clips so the material did a good deal of the heavy lifting. It did not really have big hiccups or snafus but a little tightening would have made it exceptional.

I have to say that the panel game was still very strong this year. I went to a good deal of panels by people that I did not know and still had a great time. Otakon is very good at getting new blood in the system while still keeping the panel selection strong, diverse, on topic, and smart. No matter what changes with Otakon I feel the convention is always a beacon of fandom as long as their panel selection is this strong.

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