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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Otakon 2016: Abayo, Baltimore

My first ever anime con was Otakon back in 2006, and all I really did there was buy a crap ton of manga & anime from the dealer's room. In 2007 I decided to start going to panels, but it was still mostly about the dealer's room. Really, though, my first real memory of Otakon is from 2008, when me & my friends attended the JAM Project concert & had the times of our lives. After that I took a small hiatus from Otakon, for various reasons, but when I came back in 2011 (my first time since starting the blog) it kind of felt like I had returned to an old friend, one that I missed visiting for a few years. Even though I had only been to four events at that point, when Otakon 20 was coming up in 2013, I felt that I just had to be a real part of the celebration. I wound up hosting the panel 45 Years of Shonen Jump: A Visual History at that con, which to this day I feel is my all-time greatest panel ever, not so much from a content perspective but rather because of the overall feel of it all; like any good panel, the crowd made it amazing. While I sat out for 2014, I still had a great time in 2015; even if my Kurumada panel had a small crowd, I gave it my all. And now, looking back on all of these years, I actually started to cry while typing this up.

I guess Otakon meant more to me than I ever thought it did, & while it will continue to live on in Washington D.C. starting next year, I feel like something has ended after coming back from Baltimore one last time.

While Otakon first debuted back in 1994, it wasn't until it moved to Baltimore back in 1999 that it seemed to truly become the massive anime convention that it now is. A big part of that was due to the Maryland metropolis that became Otakon's home for the next 17 years, and I think that's the biggest reason for why I felt like tearing up. The Inner Harbor area, even back when I first went in 2006, has just been so supportive of the convention & the crazed fanatics that both run it & attend it. Some of what became so iconic with Otakon just won't be a part of the convention anymore. No more 1st Mariners Arena (now Royal Farms Arena) to hold concerts. No more Ice Cold Water Guy to regale everyone outside of the Baltimore Convention Center about how he's "Got ice cold water! And it's only one dollar!". No more harbor breeze that just feels so different to those who don't normally live next to the water on a regular basis (*raises hand*). No more BCC that you just wound up memorizing like the back of your hand after a couple of years. In a sense, Otakon the way everyone knew it is now over... That's hard to think about, but it's something everyone who's been at Otakon for years will have to remember fondly now.

Still, how was this "Final Otakon"? Well, for me personally, it was simply outstanding & a perfect send-off.

Before that, though, I have a couple of complaints that I just have to bring up. First, Otakon really just can't seem to be able to properly handle autograph sessions when it comes to American guests. I normally only go for the Japanese staff guests when it comes to autographs, & that's mainly because it's simple & easy; most anime fans don't care as much about who makes their anime as they do about who voices their favorite character. That being said, when Mike Sinterniklaas was announced as a guest I decided I would give it a go. Sinterniklaas was the director of the English dub for GaoGaiGar, one of my all-time favorite anime dubs (& also the excellent voice of lead character Gai Shishio), so I was hoping to get him to sign my green artbox for the first half of the show (the half that was dubbed). Sadly, Otakon still hasn't seemingly gotten the hang of making sure that as many fans can get their stuff signed in an efficient manner. At the very least, you'd think that getting on line an hour in advance, like they allow, & being in a spot that's within the waiting period would mean that you'll be safe... But no. I feel like the staffers let the fans have mini conversations with the guests, which in turn makes it take longer for the next person to get an autograph, which in turn means that fewer fans can get autographs during the hour-long session scheduled. It's sad that, after all this time, Otakorp still hasn't been able to fix that problem.

Second, there were more A/V problems with panels than I expected. Naturally, nothing's perfect & things can & will go wrong, but there was a consistent problem with the tech at some points. For example, projectors seemed to have compatibility problems with some laptops, & while it didn't happen to me (luckily) it did hurt one panel I went to (Sports Anime Through the Ages) so harshly that I had to lend the panelists my laptop just so that they could do what they had to; thankfully, they did their panel & it was enjoyable. Hell, even Shawne Kleckner of Right Stuf wasn't able to do his industry panel as planned, because his nor Mike Toole's laptops could apparently run his pre-made DVD to go with the panel. These were bizarre instances, without a doubt, but at least it didn't effectively kill any panels I attended.

Not visible is me "handing" my wallet to Shawne Kleckner... He (jokingly) took it seriously.

Thankfully, the sheer amount of quality content & awesome moments negated these annoyances. Seriously, not one panel I went to this year was a dud, which is outstanding. Whether it was all about 70s anime, anime from before 1963, Anime World Order's Daryl Surat showing off some of "Anime's Craziest Deaths", a cool Q&A with anime producer Koji Morimoto (no, not that one!), a look at why Toei is actually a really cool anime studio that produced some outstanding directors, or dogs in anime, among many others, everything was great. Combine that with me experiencing one of my greatest con moments of all time, where "Dark Lord" Kleckner beaned me with a plushie of Normad from Galaxy Angel because I told him I wanted to see G-Saviour released by Right Stuf, & I simply had an outstanding time. Hell, I even found some cool, future review material, like when I found the Raijin-Oh OVAs on laserdisc in the dealer's room; look forward to Mecha Month later this year. Anyway, it's time to cover what I did at Final Otakon in terms of panels, & give my panel attendees a list of what I showed off.

Amazingly enough, Otakorp let me hold three different panels at the con. The first was on Friday with From Aarzak to Street Combat: Altered Anime Games. This was the same panel I did at Anime Fan Fest a couple of months ago, but this time I had a much larger crowd, nearly filling the room I was given. It was also a much more active crowd, laughing at some of the more silly alterations made (like GeGeGe no Kitaro on Famicom becoming Ninja Kid on the NES), and overall it was easily the most fun panel I held at the con. Second was 1999: The Otaku Time Machine, which was first thing Saturday morning. This panel was a look at what anime & video games first came out in 1999, the year Otakon first emanated from Baltimore, and while I was nowhere near filling up the room (I was given the second largest panel room available), I wound up having a good crowd & they seemed to enjoy the selection of titles, both famous & obscure, that I featured. Finally, early Saturday afternoon was Before They Were Stars: Anime & Manga Edition, where I focused on a bunch of famous manga creators (& one anime character designer), & what they titles they did before they become internationally known. I had a good time, & I think the crowd (which was moderately sized for the most part) was into it; definitely a panel I could mess around with in different ways.

So, for those of you who were at any of my panels, or those of you who are simply curious, here's what I showed off at each panel, and if it's a title I covered on the blog (or elsewhere) then I'll include a link:

-Altered Anime Games-
Fist of the North Star (Sega Mark III) → Black Belt (Master System)
Fist of the North Star (Mega Drive) → Last Battle (Genesis)
GeGeGe no Kitaro: Yokai Daimakyou (Famicom) → Ninja Kid (NES)
Obake no Q-Taro: Wan Wan Panic (Famicom) → Chubby Cherub (NES)
Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo (Famicom) → Dragon Power (NES)
Moeru!! Onii-san (Famicom) → Circus Caper (NES)
Doraemon: Meikyu Daisakusen (PC-Engine) → Cratermaze (TG-16)
Magical Hat no Buttobi Turbo! Daibouken (Mega Drive) → Decap Attack (Genesis)
Captain Tsubasa (Famicom) → Tecmo Cup Soccer Game (NES)
Tokkyu Shirei Solbrain (Famicom) → Shatterhand (NES)
Ranma 1/2: Chounai Gekitou-hen (Super Famicom) → Street Combat (SNES)

[Name Change Only]
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (TG-16)
JoJo's Venture (Arcade)

Zillion & Zillion II: Tri-Formation (Master System)
Fist of the North Star (NES & Game Boy)
Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle (SNES)
Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter (Genesis)
The Space Adventure (Sega CD)
The Masked Rider: Kamen Rider ZO (Sega CD)
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (PS1)
Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage (Dreamcast)

[Inverse Example, a.k.a. American Game Becoming an Anime Game]
The Unholy War  → Majokko Daisakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs (PS1)

Arc the Lad
Great Teacher Onizuka
Excel Saga
Monster Farm/Monster Rancher
Digimon Adventure/Digimon: Digital Monsters
Medarot (Medabots didn't debut in America until 2001)
Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko (TV)
Hunter X Hunter (Original TV Series)
One Piece
Hoshin Engi/Soul Hunter
City Hunter: Death of the Vicious Criminal Ryo Saeba
Kamikaze Kaitou/Phantom Thief Jeanne
The Big O
Turn-A Gundam
Space Pirate Mito
Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie
Pet Shop of Horrors
Power Stone
Battle Royale (Novel)
Parasite Eve
Final Fantasy VIII
Sega Dreamcast
SNK Neo Geo Pocket Color
South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut

[Games Featured in Montage Finale (set to "All Star" by Smash Mouth)]
Silent Hill
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Omega Boost
Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Superman (Nintendo 64)
Evil Zone/Eretzvaju
Um Jammer Lammy
Super Smash Bros.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

-Before They Were Stars-
Joe Hisaishi (Ring ni Kakero Image Album)
Akira Toriyama (Dr. Slump)
Go Nagai (Harenchi Gakuen)
Takashi Hashiguchi (Chosoku Spinner)
Hisashi Hirai (s-CRY-ed, Infinite Ryvius, & Wild Knights Gulkeeva)
Hirohiko Araki (Baoh)
Kazuki Takahashi (Gou-Q-Choji Ikkiman)
Masami Kurumada (Ring ni Kakero 1 & Fuma no Kojirou)
Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro (Seikimatsu Leader-den Takeshi!)
Rumiko Takahashi (Urusei Yatsura & One-Pound Gospel)
Takeshi Obata (Cyborg Grandpa G & Karakuri Zoushi Ayatsuri Sakon)

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