Otakon 2010: A Charm City Adventure

Looking out at Inner Harbor

Otakon 2010 was my first East Coast convention and it turned out pretty well despite my own logistical flubbings. I was attending as just a fan without any special press or panelist so this writeup is more experiential than HARD JOURNALIST COVERAGE but I hope you can get a sense of what I did two weekends ago in Baltimore.

It’d been three years since I last flew into another time zone but the flights eastward weren’t bad – I got to read through most of the first Book Girl (Bungaku Shoujo) novel. The process of picking up my pre-registration badge went smoothly with the new barcode scanning system. I then spent some time walking up and down Pratt Street before hanging out with TheBigN, omo, momotato and others at Pickles Pub and watching the Orioles beat the Royals in 11 innings on TV while having a rum and coke. I took the light rail back to my hotel near the airport and quickly learned the correct stop to get off at after leaving a couple stops before I should have; luckily, another train came about 5-10 minutes later.

Blurry smartphone photo of Big Windup cosplay

I had planned to wake up early and get to the con in time for the Japanese Mahjong, Vertical, and Anime Journalism panels but I got up around 11am and missed them all. (Thankfully, the last one was recorded and posted onto Manga Out Loud as well as a transcript done by animemiz.)

Attending the Opening Ceremonies was a good experience as a first-time Otakon member and I was introduced to some of the guests in person. I found Hiroaki Yura to be charmingly honest and the Home Made Kazoku boys pumped up the crowd with their “Otakon, Ichiban!” call-and-response. The opening animation, which I guess was supposed to be the highpoint, had a rocking song but the characters and “story” felt so-so. Shihori came on stage and sang that opening song, “Shackles of the Night”, with a backing band named School of Rock (not to be confused with the 2003 Jack Black movie).

Next was Alex Leavitt‘s What’s the Point of Anime Intro & Ending Themes?. I had gone to his AX 2009 panel about the same subject but this time, he had a proper slideshow presentation. Astro Boy (American dubbed version) and Cutie Honey/Re: Cutie Honey (remake doing homages of original) appeared again but new additions to me were Urusei Yatsura and the propensity of giant robot shows like Zambot 3 and Combattler V to repeat the robot’s name and highlight at least two of the its moves. (While writing this post, I found that Balatack also fits this category.) He also did a couple cool side-by-sides of Dragon Ball “Cha-La Head-Cha-La” & the Lucky Star karaoke version and of Yamato’s opening with Isao Sasaki singing it at a concert. Alex did his best 3 at the end, which included the Eden of the East opening and the Paradise Kiss ending (I don’t remember the third).

After it finished, I skipped next door to the in-progress Aniplex panel in time to hear a few Durarara! dub cast announcements including sleeper star Darrel Guilbeau as Mikado (he voiced Gainer in Overman King Gainer) before leaving to get a cheeseburger from a food truck near the convention center.

I thought of Jon I. when I saw this

OGT and pontifus teamed up for You Don’t Like Moe — And Here’s Why!, which got off to a dry start in trying to explain postmodernism and Azuma’s grand non-narrative theory from Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals and finished off with examples of different character types: “pure” moe, dojikko, tsundere, megane, genki, onee-san/imouto, and silent/serious. I seemed to follow along since I’d recently finished Azuma’s book but much of the audience was probably bored until the Q&A began. The most exciting part might have been when one girl who stood up and complained that Darker Than Black‘s second season was ruined by the addition of a moe character (Suou?). They had set up a videocamera to record so the video version might show up online soon.

I had dinner at a sushi place many blocks up the street with Alex, Alex’s girlfriend, Ed Sizemore, and Mechademia editor Andrea Horbinski (and entirely skipped Bad Anime, Bad!! – sorry, Narutaki). Afterward, we all returned to the BCC for the Yoshida Brothers concert. It was a very entertaining experience seeing their swift finger movements & feeling the folk fusion rhythms — and it fulfilled one of my resolutions to attend more music events.

I was unable to attend Dubs That Time Forgot due to my homebound flight time so Anime Cult Classics was my primary Mike Toole experience. It was a hilarious look at some anime productions funded by cults such as Soka Gakkai, Dahn Yoga, HAPPY SCIENCE (Hermes: Wings of Love), and Aum Shinri Kyo. Much of it was bad and that was kind of the point – the clip that made me laugh the most was from The Laws of Eternity and had both Nietzsche & Hitler in it (YouTube).

This was actually from Anime Openings/Endings prep but whatever.

I managed to awake as planned this time and made it to my second Alex Leavitt panel of the weekend – Experiments in the Anime Industry: noitaminA. This one was more analytical than the themes panel; for example, Alex pointed out that some of the source material is non-traditional: josei manga (Nodame Cantabile) and novels (Tatami Galaxy). I’d honestly forgotten that Hataraki Man was part of that block. (ANN has a formal writeup of the panel including some of the ratings figures Alex produced.)

I ended up meeting Evan Minto after his Changing Faces of Anime panel finished early, then got Masao Maruyama to sign one of my DNA^2 DVD’s. I then walked around the dealers hall and bought X Diary from Netcomics’ booth, which I began reading while standing in line for Space Show seating.

There was much buzz for Welcome to the Space Show beforehand and I thought it turned out to be a pretty good film. The animation flowed very well and though it felt a bit long toward the end and took an odd plot turn, I came out of it happy. Seeing everyone leaving the convention center afterward was confusing until I heard the fire engine sirens approaching. (You can read about the fire alarm here.)

I wandered around a few blocks and then went into the still-operating Hilton for the latter part of the Hiroaki Yura, Hiroki Kikuta, and Shihori panel where they answered some game music questions and then Hiroaki went through one of those photo slideshows I like seeing from foreign guests, although he speaks English so well that he passes as a non-foreigner to me. The Space Show focus panel right after was alright – ANN has a proper write-up. The three main creators took questions from the audience and then asked the crowd a few questions. Like a number of other panels, I wasn’t able to come up with good things to ask.

I had marked The Phenomenology of Shinji Ikari on my schedule beforehand, anticipating something I might enjoy attending. Unfortunately, the discussion was fairly tedious and the main lady panelist used the sort of pretentious language I dislike hearing aloud, like “whereas” and “in re”. The only time I wanted to desperately raise my hand to chime in was when the subject of a perfect world turned to words defining reality (color names, in particular) and I made a comment to the people behind me about shades of blue. It was underwhelming for someone with a philosophy degree but I did remind me that I am lacking in some core theorists who were mentioned, particularly Hegel. (I wasn’t the only disappointed one – Ed Sizemore remarked during the panel that “seem[ed] like a lot of philosophy” and felt like argument for argument’s sake.)

Unable to get into the packed 10 Anime You’ve Never Heard of but Must See! (full list here), I went to Artists Alley in search of Ensign Sue Must Die, which I had seen Andrea & her friend look at the night before. I was unable to track it down but luckily, it’s also online. The artwork up for auction looked nice but I didn’t bid on anything because I wasn’t sure how I would get them home.

The original panelists for Fanthropology never appeared but the impromptu panelists, including Charles Dunbar, did a pretty good job on engaging the audience. Discussion topics included the origin & use of the word ‘otaku’, crossover between reality & fandom, and if fan art creation is detracting from official merchandise sales. I hadn’t heard about the “fanfiction” edition of Don Quixote Part Two before this panel. Recommended reading suggestions from the panelists included Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers and Roland Kelts’ Japanamerica.

Instead of pushing my way into the Bandai After Dark panel next door, I supported wildarmsheero (a previous podcast guest) and his presentation on The Life and Times of Akiyuki Shinbo. He was detailed about details and talked with enthusiasm about each major series with much focus on Bakemonogatari near the end. Afterward, some of us hung out in the hallway checking Twitter feeds on our phones for the remaining Bandai news, which turned out to be K-ON! simultaneous DVD/BD release and Mio & Yui dub casting (saving Ritsu & Mugi for NYAF?).

Sadly, the last panel I wanted to attend at Otakon – Feminism, Fandom, and Fanservice – didn’t actually happen: it was cancelled after 15 minutes of waiting for the panelists to appear. I really wanted to know who was putting it on and maybe I’ll never know. Because I had the rest of the night free, I went with Hisui, Evan and OGT to the Dave & Joel cool people party at the Marriott where I met Daryl Surat, Erin Finnegan, and saw Ed Chavez sitting in a chair. I ended up talking with Patz for a while and then taking a cab home after 3am.

I got plenty of rest before checking out of my hotel room around noon. On the flights home, I finished up Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime (fantastic), read through Bakuman vol. 1 (good enough for me to read vol. 2 but wasn’t bowled over), and also enjoyed some good articles in an issue of Harper’s. I even indulged and played a bit of video poker during an overlay at the Las Vegas airport.

I would like to attend next year’s Otakon (July 29-31, 2011) now that I have a good sense of the convention center and the general atmosphere as more like Fanime than Anime Expo. It was nice to meet face-to-face many of the East Coasters I knew from online including the catgirl-loving Scott and Lauren Orsini. (If we met & I didn’t mention you, speak up in the comments!) It was also an extended weekend vacation from work. There are a few panels I wish I could have gone to, like Madhouse, but couldn’t because of schedule conflicts.

Wrapping up, here’s the Flickr photoset for the weekend and a 10-minute portion of Baltimore light rail.

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