While I might have complained about the management of panel I had very few complaints about the content of the panels. I had a full schedule and often had to miss out on fan panels I wanted to see in order to attend guest panels. I really wanted to see the Who Stole This Panel?! Thieves in Anime/Manga panel but it was right against the Studio Trigger panel. I always like having a conflicting schedule like that. It means I am always doing something that is stimulating my brain at the convention.
One random note: There seemed to be a rise in the number of “click bait” panel titles. Pass the Haterade!: Most Hated Characters in Anime, Shingeki no Eva or How I learned that all Anime is the same and there’s no such thing as an original plot anymore, and 2 Deep 4 You: Shows You Didn’t know You Didn’t Know featuring Monster Musume stood out as the most click bait panel titles. I’m not complaining about this. Unlike the In-character Q&A panels these are actual legitimate panels with actual content. They tend to be a little more negative for my palate but I’d never wish them to be removed from the schedule. They cater to a specific taste and they can do it very well. One of the keys to getting people into the seats with your panel is having a catchy title. It just seems these panels are taking their cues from what would be popular on the Internet especially when talking about “click bait” articles. If anything I’m a little surprised it took this long for titles like this to get as popular as they have. Titles like this were hardly the majority but as the Internet permeates people’s lives I expect this trend to only increase. I expect to see a panel about the 21 Weird Secrets About Attack on Titian and The Cowboy Bebop Panel Only 90’s Kids Will Understand next year.
Holy Cannoli! It finally happened. I attended a panel about magical girls with an academic bent that did not pretend that the Pretty Cure franchise either does not exist or is so marginal that it is not worth any more than a footnote. Before Madoka: Deep Dark Magical Girl Moments looked at the shows that set up Puella Magi Madoka Magica to be this shocking twist on the perceived magical girl formulas. As it turns out there have been plenty of Magical Girls shows that have had darker to out right bleak elements before Madoka. Madoka was just the show that brought that growth of genre to the forefront to the greater fandom.
Ninapedia who ran the panel did a great overview of some of the foundational shows like Cutie Honey, Magic Knight Rayearth, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, and Prétear that all planted the seeds for a show like Madoka. Even shows with a distinctly cheery tone like Pretty Cure and Sailor Moon have darker elements at points. The cast of Sailor Moon had the habit of dying horribly at the end of story arcs. The Sailor Scouts might get resurrected but it is not all sunshine and rainbows. A little discussion during the Q&A showed that she had enough material for a much longer panel as she left out shows like Phantom Thief Jeanne because she only had an hour. The fact that she praised and discussed the phenomenal HeartCatch PreCure! proved she knew what was up. (She also made a passing reference to Go! Princess PreCure so she knew the real deal beyond HeartCatch.)
I do have to wonder if this marks a change in the attitude about Precure or is this panelist just a cool fluke. I would love to see Precure break free from the perception that it is either nothing more than baby pabulum and/or a show for skeevy dudes. I will keep an eye out for how many people talk about the franchise in hopes that there is a coming sea change.
I stopped in on the Fast Times in Anime High with Viga panel. The panel itself was a solid introduction to many different types of shows that fall into the VERY popular category of
“anime set in high school.” You can tell that Viga has become a season YouTube creator because her animated intro and general video production finesse that could only come from someone experienced with working with video.
The part of the panel that was most revelatory had to do with the shows she picked. At first shows like Cromartie High School, Kare Kano, and Azumanga Daioh seemed like safe if slightly uninspired choices. They were all great shows but seemed like series that everyone had watched and loved. Then as I saw people’s reactions to the shows I had a eureka moment. People like Viga and I were old enough to know these shows like the back of our hands but to most of the younger set attending a panel like this these shows were surely hidden gems or at least things that had heard of but never actually seen. This was a primer for shows that were old hat to me but a new frontier for most of the audience. This is definitely a bit of information to keep in mind for future panels.
Makoto Shinkai’s Equations of Distance was the first run of a Makoto Shinkai analysis panel by friend of the blog Animated Ink. Since Makoto Shinkai has a very distinct style and love of themes it makes him a very fertile topic of study as a director. He has far more auteur style than other directors who might disappear into the works they create. Shinkai’s uses of sky and birds and obsession with love and loneliness over a distance make him very distinct. After the panel Ink asked if I had any criticism. My major suggestion was a bit a the end that strung together all his themes in a single conclusion with a bit of a video montage. He had clips and in-depth discussion of the individual films that were great but I think some video would have helped tie together the conclusion better. The panel was a good first try to I think later iterations will be even stronger with a bit of visual flair to tie together the ending.
I really wanted to see Umineko: Magic and Trauma (18+) with Katriel Page mostly because I still wrestle with my feelings on that game. I loved that series up until the last chapter and then my general feelings got very muddled. I even wrote a whole post about it. I still love most of that game but have some major complaints about parts of the ending. Now that it has been a decade since the release of the first game it felt like an excellent time to look back and attempt to get some clarity on the series.
One of the problems with doing a Umineko panel is that it is made up of eight visual novels and several bits of supplementary material that are not necessarily vital but greatly illuminating. A huge cast of characters, a complex story telling style, and a very ambiguous meta-fictional story all add to the problem. If you try to tackle the whole story you will wind up not really being able to really get that far. In that respect Kit mostly focused on just the mental problems of a few of the keys characters. That mostly means a focus on Ange, Maria, and Yasu. Even then she can only really speed through that trio’s connection to trauma and its relationship to “magic” in the game. It actually felt like a topic that could be a long series of blog posts or a video series.
The panel really made we want to go back and replay Umineko. The only real problem is that eight visual novels are no small commitment of time. I already want to reread all of Hayate and maybe replay Tsukihime. So much to do and so little time to do it plus Grand Order does not play itself. What I would really love is some sort of larger project that would give me an excuse to replay it.
Japanese Toy Collecting: Who Needs Money Anyway? was a panel by Patz that I had seen before. I mostly stopped in to see what had changed in the world of buying toys. Kate did a very good write-up of the panel from 2015. If you want to know more about Otaku toys and how to buy and maintain them it was very informative. I mostly just wanted to mention that it was a rare panel were there was lots of audience participation AND it was useful. Every member of the audience who spoke up waited to be called on, they then added to the panel, said what they had to, and then let the panelist continue with the panel. If you have ever attended a panel this is like heads coming up 100 times in a row on a coin flip. It turns out that audience members can contribute to a panel without it degrading into chaos. I would just NEVER assume that would happen.
I have to say that Sports, Robots, and Romance: The Works of Tadao Nagahama is a panel that you cannot say is an overdone topic. Tadao Nagahama is a super important director that shaped quite a bit of modern anime but is about as far from a household name as you can get. All but the most hardcore production and history nerds will recognize his name. Since he died in his 40’s just before the big 80’s anime awakening in the English-speaking world he has mostly fallen under the radar when it comes to the US fanbase and academics. I always support panels like this because they crate a greater awareness of influential figures and shows that could easily get lost in the mists of time. Nagahama’s work on The Rose of Versailles and influence on mecha shows will forever make him a pillar of the industry. Panels like this keep such luminaries alive in the popular consciousness.
Patz and Carl from the previous two panels I talked about teamed up to do The Art of Stock Footage panel. The panel was a mixture of playful goofing and critical analysis of stock footage in anime. Stock footage is a staple of mecha, magical girl, and action anime so it is easy to merely dismiss it as nothing more than a lazy animation shortcut. But like any cinematic tool merely by its existence in the language of film, it begins to take on a greater significance the more it is used. The panel actually had a good amount of analysis on why stock footage is used and how it has shaped the medium. Also, it has some great transformation scenes and mecha animation.
By the way I hid a recyled footage joke in this article.
I went to the Insane Manga Challenge: Super Fun Edition! It is a fun little manga game show that Xan from the Spiraken Manga Review runs. He has a good mixture of underhand pitches with obscure brain stumpers. I think the Manga Math section where the contestants have to answer mathematical word puzzles with a manga bent was the most fun category (for the audience.) I did also appreciate that there was a phantom thief category.
Half way through the panel the device controlling the buzzers for the game show clunked out. It turned out that its batteries died. Xan had replacement batteries but forgot the screwdriver to open up the battery hatch. He did quite well in modifying how the categories worked on the fly since one or two of them revolved around the buzzers.
I sadly have to talk about the one bad panel I went to. The JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure POWER HOUR panel was very disappointing. I know panels based on a single show can be VERY variable but I like Jojo’s enough that I was willing to roll the dice. Also The Fine Art Of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure panel last year gave me hope. This panel however was just lame. It started with a talk about the panelist work on the color scanlation of Jojo’s. Then it became a “What is your Favorite Stand” conversation with the audience. A lot of “that was a good stand” from the panelist. Then he ran a very short Trivia Contest. At that point the panel was only half way over and the guy running the panel seemed to be completely running out of steam so I just left.
In the panel’s defense, one of the panelists had something come up and could not make it. While you theoretically want to practice a panel in a way that it can be run even if one person drops out life does not always let you have that luxury. It is also worth bringing up again that people had less time to prepare than they have had in previous years. I wonder how much the other panelist was the one who did the heavy lifting and her not being able to show up is what doomed what could have otherwise been a great time. But that is speculation. All I can report on is what I saw.
I will end with a very brief discussion of my New Anime for Older Fans panel. I felt that the turn out for the panel was a little light but I guess its late night slot combined with its lack of 18+ content did not help it much. Other than that I think it went well. The new format cuts down on the number of shows we list but gives more clips to the ones we pick. I think people tend to overlook the anime we list but don’t show clips from. I got 3 people telling me how much they liked the shows we picked for the panel, and they were going to check some of them out, so I consider it a success. I’m running it again at Otakon but this time Kate will be with me so it should even be better.
I will mention that when I ran the one mecha clip near the end it is exactly when a large group of women decided to leave. It was probably just a coincidence given the fact that it was a little before one in the morning but it did seem exactly like the most stereotypical reaction to giant robots.
So despite my criticism of how panels were run this year the panels themselves were great. The high-quality panels are always a real draw to the convention and I hope they continue to be so.
Other AnimeNEXT 2017 Coverage:
AnimeNEXT 2017: General Impressions
AnimeNEXT 2017: Guests