Otakon 2011 Wrap

I always want to keep my post-con posts brief, but it rarely happens. Let’s see how it goes this time.

Makoto Shinkai

He’s pretty cool. He does have an art/animator background when he first worked on video games before making the switch to independent anime production. I always forget this. The other thing that was a big realization for me was how much of his films are based on his real life experience. I mean this is something most people knew about him, but it is much more, lacking a better term, low level. Like in 5cm all the little ideas thrown in there are based on something he experienced in some way.

As a person, well, he’s pretty amiable I guess. He’s also young/nerdy enough to get all your references. Or should I say, bro enough? I mean, as I said earlier, he knows what To Heart is.

I’m not going to go through all the Q&A here, and I’m not even ready to do that…got to get through some transcription crap first. But in general people asked the same set of 10 questions for him, and he gave the same 10 answers. A lot of the time the question’s nuances gets dropped and he’s actually pretty good at dodging. He also has some kinda-bro moments, to contrast with another young animator who is probably better spoken (and even more bro), when being asked about those “state of the industry” questions. And there are the Hoshi o Ou Kodomo questions, which are mostly pretty good actually.

I only asked him 2 questions, once at a press panel and the other during his public panel. The latter one is a spoiler for Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, so I’m going to save that for later.

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo: Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below

This is the one premiere that I wanted to see. No offense to the new FMA film, I would have done you if I finished FMA:B (just a bit over half way through). Yes you are stand-alone. No I don’t want to wait in line.

Anyway, back to Hoshi o Ou Kodomo. The reviews for this film was varying and I get the vibe of the film even before heading to Otakon. But what I didn’t know is how it truly measures to Shinkai’s previous works. We all know that Hoshi no Koe, Kumo no Mukou, and 5cm/s, all have this same thematic thread going on. It turns out so does Hoshi no Ou Kodomo! This is something nobody really talked about. And I now see why.

In a lot of ways the same themes that I love from his previous work play in full in Hoshi. The problem is more in that the narrative impetus is still mired in a way that I found as a flaw to Kumo no Mukou. Except in Hoshi, he doesn’t even really try to create that overall build up of tension that actually made Kumo no Mukou passably engaging to watch.

I think Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is engaging in a different way: it is much better constructed as a movie based on a series of interrelated themes. However, there are probably too many thematic threads spreading throughout the movie. It can be a heavy thing to digest, and Shinkai did say he wanted to make something worth watching multiple times.

As for the Ghibli-isms, it is very well warranted. I don’t think the similarities are superficial either, but it’s probably not in the way you think they are similar. Basically, recall the start to Mononoke Hime; the purpose of Ashitaka’s trip: to observe and find a way to preserve something. In that very same sense, the plot device to Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is some kind of self-searching journey between two unlikely companions, each carrying the same philosophical conflicts as symbolized by their characters: San is the teacher, Ashitaka is Asuna, Eboshi is Shin. Or like I said elsewhere, Ikamusume and Jerid go on a self-searching journey to the center of Earth.

The characters’ introspective qualities aren’t something that can easily be externalized. In fact, other than Asuna, you don’t really see any of it until the climax of the film. In that sense, this film just had to carry the audience to that point in order to realize its message. To do so, all Hoshi o Ou Kodomo had to work with was some action scenes, its Ghibli-esque looks, and Shinkai’s trademark background porn. The fact that he was able to put his clouds on the ground is already impressive and an unfair trick, LOL. I was hoping he would play with the visuals in greater leaps when creating the underground world, as it is a bit plain. But it looks pretty for sure.

What do I think of it? I think Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is a great answer to the question posed in 5cm/s. As a film, it is pretty but despite trying I don’t think Shinkai has created something for the general public. It just isn’t that entertaining for people who don’t slurp up thematic circle-jerking in the blockbuster film format (ie., most people). The whole theme of separation between life and death and the externalization of a need to shrug off loneliness are things that just don’t communicate well to children I think. It takes a person who’s experienced them to some degree to really appreciate those ideas, and thankfully children are usually not such people. The other whammy is that these themes are just dense! To really explore them in the work makes the film drag and kind of not as focused as it could have been.

In other words, great if you like thoughtful films, not so great if you just want to have a good time.

Bandai’s K-ON! Live Event

I went to the play-acting concert performed by the four dub voice actresses of K-ON US release. It’s actually kind of fun and sort of modeled after the Japanese show. It’s largely MC, and some theatrics of a real band. Azusa was played by this cosplay-musician. But it doesn’t really matter; nobody actually played their instruments. At least they didn’t lip sync AFAIK.

Alexd got spotlighted to sing the ending to Kagayake Girls! For the unfamiliar, that is saying this line really fast and repeated:

“Shiny Shining Shiniest, Girls Be Ambitious Shine Shine Shine”

Vee held a mic to his face. It was LOLS. Also, we were the only two penlight holders in the crowd. Just as well.

Figure Collecting Panel

Due to various other tasks I arrived at the panel late. It was a pure Q&A kind of fare and VManOfMana just want to chat with the crowd, with Andy and Super Rats. They were swamped with curious talkers afterward the panel so I just grabbed a free figure from the free figure guy (he was there last year too?) and took off.

I couldn’t hear very well half the time because the questions don’t get parroted back to the crowd so a lot of people can’t hear what’s being asked. The Q&A is pretty simple otherwise, as the guys addressed the questions by topic. What is kind of disappointing is the lack of figures actually at the panel on display. On the other hand I think that iPad works well to quickly pull up pictures of a figure being talked abot.

The Ladies’ Choice to Hentai Panel

Why was I there? Because, also, I know the panel organizer. It’s probably the first time I sat through an entire 18+ panel actually about anime porn. I hope it will be the last.

The panel itself is pretty entertaining; the issue is more that I already have a good idea what they were going to talk about, since I also helped them with some of the materials. What I didn’t know is what they were actually going to say for each of the clips they screened. Personally, I was pretty tired by then: 12:30am on Saturday? If it was Friday I might have been okay, but I really wanted to just pass out then. And I suppose in a room full of people watching porn is something I’ve experienced in other contexts (I have an Otakon story for you about this!) so I was pretty okay just sitting and chilling for an hour.

It’s all fun and games. If anything my only complaint is that there was this tendency to joke about real life. The very last commenter from the crowd that night brought this point up very well–I mean, this is ero anime. What are we suppose to do with it again?

Atsuhiro Iwakami Producer Panel

IwakamiP is pretty neat, he has “the right attitude” regarding some of this stuff. Unfortunately his panel was way too short and nobody really asked any good questions that is fit for a producer. Maybe except Wah’s Shinbo dig and the state of the industry question. It’s on bayoab should you care to look.

If you also read bayoab’s log on the Aniplex panel, they deferred the answers to some licensing questions to Iwakami’s panel. I’m not sure what is suppose to happen there. Iwakami did say explicitly that he will take license requests. And somehow there wasn’t any at his panel. What’s up with that?

What did happen was screening of a HD Fate Zero trailer, and an explicit nod that it will be simulcasted. In fact he raised this point during the Q&A about how Osaka was the first region getting Madoka OTA on Thursday nights; Tokyo region didn’t get it the day after. If you recall, this means a lot of westerners were watching the fansub of the thing even before people living in Tokyo could see it. He is aware of this and want to, using bayoab’s words, guide a healthy relationship between content producers and fans. Because it can be kind of messed up.

After taking 6 or 7 questions, Iwakami turns around and polled the panel attendees as to what anime they’ve seen. It’s pretty amusing to see how 80%+ of people already saw Madoka, and at least a third saw Rakkyo and OreImo, etc.

For giveaways, they raffled away volumes 1-4 of Madoka on Blu, a couple T-shirts and a plushie of QB, and that Takeuchi sketch of Fate Zero Saber. You can see the picture here. And for reference, you can see the companion sketch to that here, as it was donated for auction. It’s kind of too bad we spent all this time drawing raffle tickets, because the panel really could use more time doing Q&A.

And there’s this sad yet hilarious anecdote about Hisui that I could tell, but it’s something you had to be there to witness. Saber is truly his waifu.

Bandai After Dark

I guess this is the proper Bandai industry panel? Before that panel, on the schedule there was a Sunrise industry panel too, in the same room. Not sure what the previous panel was all about, but you can read Digitalboy’s write-up for some clips. Or you can go back to bayoab.

Besides the cool bean licenses, I thought this year they did a good job. Not as great as last year’s, but still pretty good. Things kind of ran long though; we had Hiro Yura playing a track from Disappearence again; he set up a table for some post-panel sales too.  The loot this year is pretty cool, except as usual it was things you could have gotten as freebies if you bought certain things. Yea, maybe I should have bought those Haruhi character singles from RS?

The big personal note here is that I managed to get a copy of Shackles of Night single from Hiro after telling him how I didn’t get it last year, despite having paid for it. Baller dude!

Actually another cool note is how Johnny Bosh dropped by the panel and killed a lot of time trying to play something on Taka’s ukulele. Vee also sang along. It was kind of odd, and that act ate up a lot of time.

I think the best troll happened at this panel too, when Napton said some lucky winner was sitting on a chair with a gift certificate taped underneath it. Everyone then proceeded to reach around and tear off…some consumer safety sticker. Nice! If you remember last year’s Bandai After Dark, there were like a bunch of prizes given away this way. So he got us good. This year, tho, because of time and room-clearing reasons, they couldn’t do it.

Miku Live in LA: “MIKUNOPOLIS” Behind the Scenes

Like I said earlier, it’s 90% of coverage of things that happened at AX. Which is great if you couldn’t make it this year or can’t make it to all the vocaloid events (which is probably almost everyone). I’ll just talk about the notable and interesting bits.

They showed clips from Fox News coverage of the event. A couple of the Toyota commercials as well. Yeah, those Anons drew a loud reaction.

There was a slide during the presentation which contains the cover of the deck for the pitch of the Miku Live in USA Tour plan. Mr. ASCII Media Works EIC-san (who ran the panel) specifically told us to note that originally it wasn’t targeting LA or AX as the only event where Miku can appear. Which is probably good, as far as false hopes go. But who knows?

They also reported what sold and what didn’t at Mikunopolis booth. Basically everything sold out except coasters and phone charms. Not that surprises anyone.

The interesting thing for Otakon is that a new line of Miku merch is being pushed out. You can buy it now–Vocaloid tees: Miku, Len/Ren, Luka and Kaito. I bought the Len/Ren and Miku ones. More importantly they are not $40 like the Cospa ones. They’re not even $25; probably can be had for $15-20. The back of the shirt prints that they are Crypton produced. Which makes me wonder what was the big deal with those Viz license announcements…

At the end of the panel, Fukuoka-san did brisk business and sold some Wowaka CDs and that PV DVD that they were hawking. He put together a nice deck!

Chemistry Concert

Not my kind of thing, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were selling penlights at their table. White ones, pretty powerful. Has a lot of modding potential… Not that I am going to.

As for their act, I think they are very good. It also feels like AAA back a few years ago–a lot of fanfare, but not a lot of relevance. Except Chemistry is actually kind of relevant, having done songs for a few popular shows. I’m only really familiar with that one FMA song and their Gundam UC contribution. The R&B duo are pretty pro.

Kylee Concert

I was late, and as a result I missed probably a good 3-4 songs. The show was barely 40 minutes long. It was still fun, even if I missed all the songs that I know except the one Heroman theme. She has a real band, and it worked out well besides that nobody was really moving. She seem like a well-groomed girl. She needed someone to open I think. Kind of ironic that I missed out on her doing Vacancy. Com’on! You only have so many songs.

Rave with DJ Saolilith

So while I lament not being able to hit up DJ Saolilith’s panel, I did get to see her set at the rave. I’m not sure if this is the second or third year that the con rave is located in Hall D, which is all the real musical guests play at (sans Hiro Yura &c). I got in just in time for Saolilith’s act, because somehow the queue didn’t empty out or something.

It’s the second time I’ve been to Otakon’s rave proper, ever. The first time was like… 1999? Maybe even earlier? Back then, the rave room didn’t smell like a giant funk pit; the AC works if you didn’t stand in the crowd. Friday night at 11:45, I was feeing a little tired but the hyper environment kept my spirits up.

I don’t think I can regirgitate Saori’s setlist here, but let’s just say when K-ON ED2 came on, I was already sold. Then there was the Nico kumikyouku stuff. And Love.EXE. And it really helps when I can recognize all but like, 3 tracks she spinned. Good times.

The first third of the songs I was standing towards the back of the hall, just to take in what’s going on. A breakdancing circle appeared soon enough and one of the people I came with peeled off to do that. Another couldn’t tolerate the environs anymore and headed out to a panel. Link and I eventually braved the front lines. Which is easy to do, since it’s a rave, not a concert; people aren’t packed up front.

At some point during the rave Saolilith pulled out a water gun on us. I think that was not necessary, but I got sprayed. I think the crowd was maybe 6-7 bodies deep only anyways, I was about 2 bodies away from the stage. For the encore (she did 1 song) she jumped down and did a little thing. I couldn’t see because she jumped into the denser side of the stage, which is opposite to where I was.

At least it wasn’t weird to wave my penlight around! That is one thing the con dance has right.

Eats

I ate the same thing Friday as I did Sunday: Cafe 100 for Breakfast, dinner at Sliders. Lunch was optionally something from Jimmy Johns, and like most other customers there I think they passed the Otakon test with flying colors. I’m inclined to dock them points for providing not-as-fresh-as-it-can-be bread (I see them hauling out of boxes en masse), but something had to give. It was good, but Potbelly’s is better, albeit more expensive, slower, and farther away. That is fine for the slower pace, Sunday PM last-meal, which is what we had. I picked up some coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts on Sunday to keep me awake throughout the day, but that’s about it.

Thursday routine was very routine: Pickles, Tir na Nog, Pickles. Food-wise, Pickles is actually the place to go on Thursday, simply because their happy hour is great stuff. Wings or nacho or pizza, it’s all pretty decent. Pitchers of beer made short work of all that. I got the Shephard’s Pie again. I also had a slice of Sicilian pepperoni pie at that Italian place inside the BoA skywalk area, it was good for what it was.

I’m not used to this cheap beer thing, but it was kind of nice being able to stumble into Bandai After Dark after having 4 drinks. For the same amount of money I probably could only pay for one by NYC standards.

Pickle’s fried pickles are still good.

Sliders dinner fare is relatively limited; it is really just a bar. But it was pretty delicious when I got the food there. Maybe I was just hungry at the time. Day 1 I had the chili dog set. Day 2 I had the Chesapeake chicken wrap. Both days we split the nachos. Their chili is pretty good.

Miscellaneous

Wah did two Omokage Lucky Hole songs; I missed the first one because it took place during a press event. The second time I followed up with STRAIGHT JET. HORRIBLY done STRAIGHT JET I might add. Wah’s performance is quite commendable though.

Yeah, that ice cold water really is only a dollar. I’ve only bought it from the dude once, a couple years ago. Inflation-free memes are the win.

What isn’t are tolls, parking and cost of fuel. Sigh.

Baltiport is a total jinx. Lance also needs to update the home page!

Guide book app is definitely a keeper. All cons should use it if they could. It’s actually not the most intutitive thing. For example, it was hard to set alarms manually–and there are plenty of times that you wish you could do it from your “to do” list. Or manually add to the schedule or something. How else are you suppose to keep track of booth events? Also, 1 hour is not enough for alarm. Some events need 2hr or more! There also needs a better way to slim out the main schedule, although I suppose manually scrolling up and down is not a major issue as long as there are not 100s of events to go through (Otakon got close to that). The ability to cross-reference dealer room locations is quite handy, and on that front it beats the pocket scheduler. For quick references, tho, not as fast.

Directors Panel

Just read SDS’s write-up.

Loot-related

I was in the dealer’s room for a net total of maybe an hour and a half. A third of that was waiting to get an autograph from Shinkai and chatting with people. A third of that was buying things from Bandai’s booth, the Otakon loots (Madoka charity poster and con shirt. I’ve gotten one every year, why stop now?), and checking out Kinokuniya. The last third was to buy those Vocaloid shirts.

At Kylee’s and DJ Saolilith’s autograph sessions, they were selling CDs. I got one from each of them, but they didn’t have the goods at the time. I gave them my address. I think the same company may be doing this stuff? I forget if Chemistry had their share of missing CDs. Yura didn’t.

Those CDs weren’t cheap, but considering the very weak dollar versus yen, it was okay. Kind of like how AAA distro was selling figures on Sunday; that Gift Saber Lily for $140? Are you for real? Bandai was selling some Lantis CDs that came with promo posters. I bit on one. Price was fair, all given.

Conclusion

I’d hit it again.

Every year there is something different or special about Otakon from my POV, and this year is no exception. Makes me wonder what next year has in store! Even if what is “different” or “special” can be positive and negative things. Like, I was talking to some folks after the con over IRC and I learned a few things about the charity auction results. Kind of neat, like how those wrist bands and badge add-ons totaled up a good third of the proceeds. Kind of not so neet of seeing that Saber sketch fall below a grand. Or Watsuki’s Sanosuke for about $300-400. Some futae no kiwami is called for somewhere.

Still, a good time. Big shoutout to all the brothers and sisters out there for making things work the way they do. Even more appreciative of staffers as I get older, and the same faces I see at cons, fans or industry alike. And of course, the special visitors domestic or abroad.

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8 responses to “Otakon 2011 Wrap

  • digital boy

    tl;dr all of it, but nice coverage. Of the opinions I heard over the crowds at otakon and from various write-ups, my friend and I seem to be the only ones who though Hoshi o Ou Kodomo was just flat-out total shit. I’m happy for Shinkai I guess that his big project is a success, even if I don’t see it as one.

  • tyblazitar

    This is the first somewhat positive review I’ve seen of Hoshioi on the English internet, glad I’m not the only one who liked it. I’m not sure I agree about it not being accessible for a general audience, though. Sure, it has lots of heavy themes which aren’t always easy to penetrate (I kept noticing new things in my second rewatch, and hadn’t noticed many of the things you point out), but the same can be said for a lot of Miyazaki’s works. I think the superficial plot, as well as the characters, were engaging enough to keep it entertaining even for children. At least the children I saw watching it were quite engaged, and I wasn’t the only one to walk out of the screening with teary eyes.

  • omo

    You are kind of right that Miyazaki’s works are sometimes similar in this sense. I think that the problem is more like if those themes are the key to the film’s enjoyment and understanding, there’s a risk that people will not be able to get the full picture of what is said about those themes. Then what would they think of the film?

    @digitalboy
    I dunno, the opinions of the film is pretty mixed from what I see of Otakon’s attendees. But it would help if you didn’t fall asleep on it :p

  • digital boy

    Ugh man I had to. I was going to walk out on it, but there was nothing going on at the time, so I just put myself to sleep, seeing as I needed to catch up on that. It was pretty far into the movie, and I woke up right about when the teacher dude called out the beast with all the eyeballs.

    Even if the movie had some redeeming factors in the time I was asleep, I already hated it *so much* at that point, it wasn’t likely to appeal to me much. Sorta like Bungaku Shoujo, after a certain breaking point, I just had nothing kind to think about it anymore lol.

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  • VManOfMana

    Good comments on the panel. Thank you. It will be helpful for future cons.

    Indeed, the iPad was very convenient during the panel. It made it easy to go back and forth between images relevant to the topic, which is very helpful since Q&A sessions are not very predictable. This is what I had in mind for visual aids in AX, but technical problems got in the way :(

    I’ll keep a note on parroting questions. This is the first time the microphone was not used by the audience, so it’s something I completely missed.

    The amount of figures is something I am still not sure about. On one hand, having figures is very relevant to a figure panel (duh). On the other hand, I don’t see a lot of return for the effort. There’s shipping expenses, not a lot of prep time to inbox figures, and due to their size people doesn’t really has a chance to see figured until the very end, which again, is not a lot of time. What’s your take on this?

    Overall I am happy with the result. Format was simpler but I think effective. Talking about Wonder Festival helped to get people’s interest, and Q&A let us talk about the topics people was more interested into.

    Any more feedback? Ideas?

  • StarCreator

    So does this mean I don’t have permission to publically list your karaoke video this year? =p

  • omo

    You probably don’t need my permission, but I wouldn’t!

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