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Monday, July 27, 2015

Otakon 2015: "We" Are Homeless Warriors, "We" Are Endless Warriors... But Are "We" All Alone?

I am back from another Otakon, and once again I had a great time. While I'm not sure if anything could exactly match 2013, which was the 20th iteration (so it was given special treatment), I had fun at the penultimate appearance at Baltimore. Next year will be Otakon's last in the Inner Harbor, as it will be emanating from Washington D.C. starting in 2017, so maybe Otakorp will pull out all the stops next year, but enough about next year... What happened this year?

Well, first off, I brought with me a small stack of business cards, if only for the fun of it. While I still have plenty left over, I think they went over well with those who got them, so if you see me at a con go ahead and ask for a card; I'll bring them with me again when I do panels next year. Anyway, one of Otakon's strongest aspects is the programming, and this year didn't disappoint in any way. Thursday was my very first Otakon Matsuri, an outdoor party event, and while the area was smaller than I expected it was still cool to see happen. What was really cool, however, was the open-air concert by Back-on, a rock band that has done theme songs for anime like Air Gear, Fairy Tail, & Gundam Build Fighters Try. Though I wasn't too familiar with the group's songs, the concert was an awesome time, and I think anime cons in general should try to do open-air concerts more often, because they are a very different experience than the usual arena concerts that are done.

There was also a strong selection of panels, which is what I tend to put my focus towards when I go to cons. There were panel pros, like Mike Toole, the Anime World Order, Charles Dunbar, & the Reverse Thieves, and guest showings, like Masao Maruyama from MAPPA or popular seiyuu Romi Park, but there were plenty of great panels from lesser known individuals or groups. Whether it was about how an anime gets made, being able to converse with industry reps like Ben Applegate (Kodansha Comics) or Robert Woodhead (AnimEigo), hearing Romi Park tell stories about how unique a director Yoshiyuki Tomino is, or even seeing two "Anitwitter" personalities do something as depraved as showing bits of Violence Jack: Evil Town to unprepared anime fans, there was always something to check out. Personal favorite panels include Mike Toole showing people the various ways South Korean animators "bootlegged" various Japanese anime for their own works, the Reverse Thieves promoting sports anime to a happily large crowd, Carl Li (of Ogiue Maniax) & Ed Chavez (of Vertical Comics) showcasing how "ugly manga" doesn't necessarily mean "bad manga", & a first-time panelist do a really good job of introducing the works of Nobuyuki Fukumoto to people first thing Friday morning. Still, as always, what did I do at Otakon & how did it go?

Here's the thing that I find funny. I sent in two panels for Otakon to approve or deny. One was something I felt would get approved, while the other was one I wanted to do but felt would get denied... So imagine my surprise when the one that got approved was the one I thought would be denied. So Saturday afternoon I did Before the Saints & After Seiya: The Catalog of Masami Kurumada, where I covered every single manga that one of my all-time favorite mangaka ever did. I put a lot of work into this panel & felt that if there was any con that would give me the opportunity to talk Kurumada to an actual group of people, it would be Otakon. After all, the final tally was around 28,000 registered attendees & the room could hold maybe 70-100 (on the high side), so I figured I would have a shot at getting some sort of crowd.

In the end I had around 20-30 people in total attending my panel, at the absolute highest.

After the panel finished up, Robert Woodhead came up to prepare for his AnimEigo industry panel & he told me that, sometimes, a smaller crowd is better because it gives you more personal & individual responses. I understand what Robert was saying & I can agree with him in that regard, but it really does hit a guy deep down when he puts in a lot of effort to make something he really wants to do (in fact, due to a freak file loss a couple of weeks before the con, I had to make all 50+ panel slides from scratch a second time!), and all he gets are a few tumbleweeds. Now I'm not disparaging the people who actually came to my panel, I thank you all for being able to tolerate me for an hour, but if you've been reading this blog for any real bit of time you can tell that I always put my all into anything Kurumada-related here. He is a creator that I feel gets no little to no respect here in North America (above the Mexican border, specifically), so I try my hardest to promote his catalog, even covering Saint Seiya on occasion. In my attempt to imitate a consummate professional as much as I can be, I still gave my all to the small crowd that I did have, enough that I still felt pleased with the panel as a whole.

I even had some time left over afterwards, so I decided to be unlike my usual self & I opened up for some Q&A, and that's where I gave those people some real, raw emotion. I think I let my feelings on how passed over Kurumada is out to all of them. I told them how Discotek's upcoming release of the Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas OVAs may be the company's last attempt at doing anything Kurumada, because the 80s movies didn't do well on DVD. I informed them about how things like the B't X manga, or the Fuma no Kojirou, Ring ni Kakero 1, & B't X anime are all caught in a catch-22, as companies (physical or streaming) won't put these titles out digitally if people aren't asking for them, but these very fans won't know about these products if they aren't being made available to them in the first place.

I bought from Discotek's booth a complete collection release of Monster Farm, the original Japanese version of the Monster Rancher anime that was aired on television over here more than a decade ago. I'm not belittling this show in any way, as I was a fan of the dub when I saw it as a kid on TV, but it can confound me how a company can feel it's worth spending money to release on DVD something like the Japanese version of a 73-episode anime made specifically for little kids, as that's a super-uber-small niche to market to (hell, we don't even have Japanese Digimon on DVD, which has an obviously larger fanbase than this), yet I can barely even fill a third of a panel room, if that (not even one of the larger rooms, at that), with a panel that I specifically titled so that Saint Seiya would be in the forefront, something well known, as a slight bait-&-switch. Hell, Otakon's shortened title for the schedule was even Saint Seiya/Kurumada, which made it all the more blatantly B&S-y. Again, I'm trying not to sound whiny, entitled, or even venting (if I am, then I apologize), but after having done Kurumada panels where I could barely get a literal handful of people attending, it's completely disheartening to be given the opportunity to do so at the largest anime con on the East Coast (and second largest in general, with only Anime Expo beating it) & get what's nothing more than a middling drop in the bucket compared to the total number of people attending, during what it likely the con at its most concentrated (late-afternoon/early-evening on Saturday). I understand that I was up against the likes of Viz's Shojo Beat, Daryl & Gerald of AWO, & four other panels (not to mention the other programming scheduled during that hour), but I wonder if any of those other events got anywhere near as small of a crowd as I did; I'm legitimately curious about this, because I could use any sort of pick-me-up here.

Really, what annoys me the most is that a con as big as Otakon takes things like potential panel attendance into consideration when its staff looks into what to select for its panel programming. Whoever was in charge of programming saw my application for this panel & thought that it was worth giving a try; I'm thankful to whoever decided to give me this opportunity. Sadly, while I was told by those who did come that I did a good job & I feel that this is a panel I could easily bring back in the future, the headcount I had in terms of attendance makes me feel like I failed. Not that I failed myself or the people who came at any point, whether it was from the start or at the very end (big shout out to Kate from the Reverse Thieves for coming at all, even if she only saw the Q&A portion), but rather I feel like I failed Otakon. Two years ago I ran a Shonen Jump panel at Otakon 20 that filled the room & gave me one of my favorite con experiences of all time, even being covered on the Daily Dot, and I'm sure that Otakorp gave me time on its schedule this year because of that panel's response, yet what I had this time around feels like a bomb in comparison.

I joked during my favorite posts list last year that I'm a self-assured "hipster/hippie/contrarian", but I will concede that I don't want to feel like I'm taking the easy way out to make myself feel like I'm doing anything of note; I want to challenge myself & be different from what others are doing. I did that Jump panel because it was the 45th Anniversary of the magazine & I felt it was worth doing at that moment. While I am up for doing variants of that panel in the future, I never want to feel like I "have to" or "should" do that panel at a con in order to get a crowd. I understand that means that I'm essentially handicapping myself & will usually get diminishing returns (I'll fully admit right now that the monthly views on this blog have dropped harshly since this past April), but I'm not expecting or even hoping for packed rooms for my panels; that's a fool's goal. But when you're given the opportunity to perform at one of the biggest stages in anime conventions here in North America, something that others would love to do, it hurts when (relatively) no one gives a damn about what you're trying to talk about. It comes off like Otakon made a mistake by giving me that hour, one that could have gone to any number of panel applications that were denied but were likely on the waitlist. Still, all wounds heal & I'll move on, but if Otakorp looks at the less-than-stellar headcount for my panel & says, "Well, looks like we shouldn't approve another Kurumada panel, because no one goes to them," then I fully understand; I'm happy to have even been given the chance to share a passion of mine with others on a grand stage.

So, for those who came to my panel & those who missed it but are curious about what I talked about, here are the titles I covered, with links if I've already reviewed them:

Sukeban Arashi (w/ Mikeneko Rock)
Ring ni Kakero
Mabudachi Jingi (w/ Shiro Obi Taisho)
Jitsuroku! Shinwakai
Fuma no Kojirou
Raimei no Zaji
Otoko Zaka
Saint Seiya
Aoi Tori no Shinwa ~Blue Myth~
Silent Knight Sho
Akane-Iro no Kaze -Shinsengumi Chi-fu Kiroku-
B't X
Shin Samurai Spirits –Haohmaru Jigokuhen- (Never Made, but Drawings Exist)
Evil Crusher Maya
Ring ni Kakero 2
Ring ni Kakero 1 (2001-2002 Reprint of RnK that "Trimmed the Fat")
Saint Seiya Next Dimension
Otoko Zaka [The Return]
Ai no Jidai -Ichigo Ichie-
Kurumada Spin-Off Manga (Episode.G, FnK: Yagyu Ansatsucho, Lost Canvas, etc.)
Wow, that got kind of depressing, didn't it? Uh, here's the first OP to Monster Farm, because it's just that damn good & uplifting...

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