Like I mentioned in a previous post, this was my first time at Otakon, the fan run otaku convention in Baltimore that focuses on anime and manga. As a cross trained fan but a newcomer to this convention, I hope that I can give a unique view of the events of the weekend.
Arriving Thursday before Otakon’s start, I was definitely impressed. The ability to pick up your badge the day before is amazing. The website made it clear to please not line up early, but people apparently always do. We waited till after dinner, and it took me less than 10 minutes to get my badge and schedules. This was amazingly well done and organized and puts the lines at NYCC to shame.
The same can be said for actually getting in to the show. The convention has multiple entrances, and each is monitored by clearly marked convention staff and facility guards. I’ve heard rumblings about people complaining about constant badge checks, but I’m happy to show my badge when walking through a doorway if it means easy access to the buildings. They also opened the doors consistently before the official opening of the show each day. If they were ready, they opened.
You wouldn’t think there could be too much differences between dealers rooms and artist alleys from convention to convention, but there definitely is. The dealers room at Otakon is an amazing space. Huge thoroughfares made navigating the floor easy and pleasant. This was aided by the floor having one entrance and one exit. These were carefully monitored and the flow of people in and out was well controlled. Rarely was there a moment when I felt crowded. Artists alley was executed similarly. The big difference was the disparity in popularity. There was never a line to get in to the alley, which is a shame since it features many great artists, and not just in drawings but many of the plastic arts.
The first day of the weekend is a great indicator of a show’s infrastructure. Otakon handled the increase in people flow fairly well. It buckled under the strain but didn’t break. There are definite choke point problems in the Baltimore Convention Center. These were readily apparent on Saturday when exiting panel rooms 1 and 2 and trying to make a left turn in to the mass of people. This would be okay, but to go for example from panel room 4 to the gaming area, you need to cross 2 of these tight squeezes. There’s no real way around this except for going outside, but then you’re faced with the scorching heat of Baltimore in late July.
On the plus side, Saturday was also the best day for people watching. Tons of cosplayers were out in force. Of course trying to get a picture without causing a traffic jam was a challenge. Thankfully there was staff on hand coaxing would be photographers and models along. The dealer floor itself was fine, but the line to get in was pretty crazy. This only seemed to get worse in to Sunday as people tried to get their last minute purchases in under the wire.
Despite all the doom and gloom talk about the state of the manga and anime industries in the USA, there was plenty of representation at the con. There were certainly some reduced presences, like Bandai Visual sharing Aniplex’s booth and Media Blasters being dominated by Hentai and other “under the plastic” media. There was also the minor controversy of Funimation’s stripper pole. I did see one of their tame costumed dancers and wondered “wtf?!” before moving on to the next booth. The best and most informative industry exposure comes from the panels that a lot of fans scoff at, but I find enjoyable. I definitely don’t have exhaustive coverage, but here’s the information I managed to snag during my extremely casual attendance.
The Crunchyroll Industry Panel was featured early in the convention schedule. Not only did they have their two panelists, but they introduced two cosplaying members of their new ambassador program. In exchange for promoting Crunchyroll, participants receive perks like Premium Subscriber commission payments and special admission to events.
They also, of course announced new licenses including Moyashimon Seasons 1 & 2, Angel Beats, and Hell Girl. I suggest checking out the Crunchyroll website for a full list of announcements.
Overall, they kept the panel lightly entertaining while delivering the information that fans wanted. I enjoyed myself as I honestly get most of my new anime through their iPhone app.
Viz came right out saying that they had reached the end of their convention season budget. At the last minute they decided to send a straight man/funny man duo. I’ll let you guess which is which based on their clothing. They haphazardly gave out some copies of some video game (I think Naruto was mentioned at some point) for XBOX 360, PS3, and PSP at random times during their presentation. The whole thing felt last minute and thrown together without much care given.
They did have some worthwhile announcements though. One of them being a Nasicaa Valley of the Winds box set. I learned that this is a rare occurrence of of Hiyao Miyazaki manga. It’ll ship November 6, 2012 and consists of 2 volumes with 8 full-color inserts plus a bonus full-color foldout poster. The price is set at $60.
Also coming in the month of November is the Sanrio x Street Fighter World View and Sticker Book. You can pick up this, intriguing set of items on the 13th.
An interesting trend that’s finally starting to take off is the embracing of digital distribution. Viz announced that Blue Exorcist will be digital first with volume 8. Not only that but it will be 3 months before print and at a reasonable price of $4.99. Along with that, Viz is still pushing their Shonen Jump Alpha product with a $25.99 annual membership. This seems like a great deal if you like any of the manga they’re publishing as part of that digital magazine. And if you used to subscribe to Shonen Jump just for the Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, they’re still sending out promo cards through the mail.
Nippon Ichi Software Anime/Games
Although technically two different panels, I’ll talk about together. Having the same crew for both panels, they shared some similarities in structure and content.
NIS announced covered their new anime products as well as a previously unannounced title. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Kimi no Todoke: From Me to You volume 3, Bunny Drop, Ghastly Prince Enma -Burning Up-, and Natsume’s Book of Friends were all talked about and trailers shown. The announcement was done in a cute way. At the end of the Q&A, a fancily dressed cosplayer waltzed up to the mic and demanded that they bring Umineko: When They Cry to the United States in exchange for 10 tons of gold. They all hammed it up pretty well and finally agreed. The trailer rolled and the crowd went wild when they realized what was going on.
On the video game side, they made a smattering of announcements. Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is coming to PSN on August 7th. Legasista looks like an interesting cominbation of roguelike and action rpg, with a release date of August 21 2012, exclusively for Playstation 3 PSN. I’m now looking forward to Mugen Souls. It looks to be an insane JRPG with damage values of 1 billion and nonsense like attacks slicing through planets just to take out some random monster. Mugen Souls has a release date of September 18, 2012 for PS3. The Witch and the Hundred Nights looks like a nice 3D action RPG along the lines of Bastion. It’s been delayed till Spring 2013, reportedly to iron out balance issues.
Sunrise Official Gundam Panel
It was exciting to have two guests from Japan as part of the official Gundam panel. Shin Sasaki is the General Manager of the Gundam Division and Kaori Shida is a Manager of the Gundam Division. I’m fairly certain this is the first time I’ve seen a female executive from Japan at a anime convention. She stood out since the topic of female Gundam fans came up.
While talking about a variety of Gundam information, they announced that Gundam Unicorn episode 6 will be released Spring 2013 and that production on episode 7 The Final has been “decided”. Shida mentioned that she was pleased there were so many female fans at the panel, as 90% of Gundam fans in Japan are male. They also answered a question about naming a character “Full Frontal”. Being extremely candid, they talked about how they searched for a phrase that meant clean, pure. They turned up Full Frontal and ran with it. Only later, did someone from their American office inform them that Full Frontal means “completely naked”. By then it was too late.
I didn’t know what to expect from this Q&A with a personality the Otakon program describes as “one of the premier illustrators in Japan”. Some people weren’t too excited since he’s mainly known for the box paintings for model kits. This panel ended up being a pleasant surprise and contained some of my favorite moments during the con.
It seems guests are always getting questions about subjects not related to them. In Tenjin’s case, he received several questions about mecha design. As someone who works with other people’s designs, he related stories about those he had worked with. The Space Battleship Yamato was designed by two different people. One started front, one started from rear and they sort of met in the middle. For a while there was no clear cut design for the center of the ship. Then while working on an illustration for Yamato, he wanted to use a new angle for a different ship from the SBY world. He was unable to locate designs or drawings for this particular ship from the rear. As designs, he described how things are done differently today. Everything is stated from the beginning, especially with toys kept in mind.
He also used toys while answering a question about what mecha is most realistic. The Ingram from Patlabor was his answer because of it’s small feet. Tenjin’s background in aeronautical engineering and robotics gives him the reasoning to say that the small feet make it easier to walk. Other mecha have very large feet so that their toys can stand up on their own. Big feet however make it harder to walk apparently.
And his answer to artist block: “wait for it to go away. If there’s a big long hill, running up it just makes you tired.”
I’m not a huge reader of manga, but I can appreciate something good. Kondansha Comics for about 2 weeks is having a sale on their iOS manga app store. Every Volume 1 is $1.99.
Vertical publishing had an announcement that I’m very excited about: Mobile Suit Gundam – The Origin. It’s Part 1, created by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and Yoshiyuki Tomino. It’s bound in hardcover, 440 pages, for $29.95.
Last but definitely not least at Otakon, are fan panels. The majority of the panels at Otakon are run by fans and other non-industry organizations.
My first fan run panel of the show was Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I mean come on, mahjong anime? Fortunately for me it was fun and engaging! More than a cursory look at some of the mahjong terminology, David Cabrera and Carl Li gave a gradually expanding look at the intricacies in Japanese Mahjong with photo and video examples taken from different shows.
I also really enjoyed the New Anime for Old Fans panel run by Alain and Kate of the Reverse Thieves. The back and forth dialog of their blog transfers very well to a panel format. The subject matter was also great and of interest to me. Instead of just going through a list of “best shows and movies” that old fans should consider watching, they went with categories. That way they could touch on a variety of genres that any type of “old fan” might consider giving a shot. It was also important that all the properties they mention are licensed for viewing in the United States.
Con goers agree with me that this panel and the Reverse Thieves are worth paying attention to. How can I say that? Take a look at the attendance for this panel:
For some more in depth coverage, I suggest taking a look at my friends over at the Reverse Thieves.