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[personal profile] starlady
So this weekend I went down to Baltimore and for the first time in four years attended Otakon, the convention of the otaku generation. It was, all in all, an excellent time, and I have to give my friend Alex Leavitt, blogger and aspiring anime academic, thanks and acknowledgment for organizing the hotel room in which I and three of his friends crashed, and especially for getting me on the "Anime and Manga in Academia" panel.

It was interesting to me, after a four year gap in which my perspective has almost completely changed, to compare what I saw at the con this weekend with my previous experiences--I went for three or four years, through high school into college, and for me at that time the principal attraction was the dealers' room. Principally, the crowds seemed older; my sister and her best friend were eleven or twelve when they first started attending, but I personally saw almost no one younger than high school age this time around. I can't honestly say whether the attendance was more diverse, but I was struck repeatedly by the number of PoC wandering around, a natural and welcome part of the fandom, and this definitely cheered my heart, particularly in the context of the ongoing Readercon discussions (I'd estimate as high as 15% black attendance, to say nothing of Asian or Hispanic or other PoC attendances). There was a lot of cosplay, and one of the things I like best about that phenomenon is that cosplayers are often crossplayers, happily exploiting the secret of gender, which is that it's all an act. I noticed a lot of cross-racial cosplay (indeed, for PoC this is almost necessary, since there are so few characters of color in anime and manga, though I did see several people cosplaying the better known characters of color, such as Tousen from Bleach), which is an equally interesting phenomenon, and which seems at least to hint at the constructed nature of race as well. More power to cosplayers, deconstructing our society from the inside out!

The dealers' room was noticably different--it seemed a bit emptier, first of all, and the mixture of items available has changed significantly. There were far fewer industry booths, obviously, but there were also far fewer booths selling crap from Japan, both anime and character goods, and far more booths selling English-language manga, as well as more booths that would not look out of place on the dealers' room floor at Wizard World, for example (and I use Wizard World because I've been to it, but I imagine the Worldcon dealers' room would be just as applicable)--scifi and fandom T-shirts, merchandise, posters, etc, as well as dayglo crap and replica weaponry. I was able to get Kobato volume 3 at Sasuga Books' booth, but they'd already sold out of xxxHOLiC 15 half an hour after the room opened on Saturday, so no joy on that front, and probably not until I head to Portland next month. Kinokuniya didn't even bring any Clamp manga besides the limited edition of HOLiC 14. Ah well. After strolling through the artists' alley, and especially after checking out the merch being toted home by my fellow Greyhound passengers, I think at least some of the buying dollars have shifted to fanart and fangoods purchases. Imported Japanese anime goods aren't going to save the American anime industry, but the change does seem emblematic of the tsunami-like paradigm shift that's currently ongoing.

I picked up my credentials at about 9:30pm on Friday night, by which time all the popular tag pictures--Code Geass, Lucky Star, Ouran High School Host Club--had run out, but I don't think I spotted anyone with Sgt. Frog credentials (the Funimation property that they were pushing at this con) at all, and I wound up getting credentials with some random girls' kendou club on it--I never met anyone who recognized the anime it depicted. That the three most popular credentials were from shows that are all more than a year old, and that none of the companies had any really stellar shows to pimp, is another symptom of the industry's disease, and it does not bode well for the status quo. But maybe next year Otakon can take the hall that they put Sgt. Frog showings in and use it for the AMV contests, so that more of the con can actually see them? Maybe the AMVs should just be in the arena like the Maskerade.

I wish I had gotten to more of the panels with actual Japanese industry figures (I only caught the end of the Ishiguro panel, which did nonetheless yield the tidbit that Kimura-kun from SMAP is playing the lead in the new live-action "Space Battleship Yamato" movie, which is hilarious if you know anything about either of those two phenomena), but they all conflicted with other panels I had obligations to attend (and I really wanted to see "The Roots of Anime" screening, since it had some old war propaganda animations, but no joy there, either). I did enjoy every panel I attended with the exception of "Sailor Moon's Impact on Hentai" which was poorly run and had terrible content--the panelists misspelled "bestiality" in their powerpoint, which right there is a huge red flag that the rest of the panel did not overcome. A lot of the Friday panels sounded intriguing, but since I didn't get there until late I missed all of them. In general, I think the con needs to shift more content to Sunday: there's no reason it couldn't go until 6pm like Anime Expo. I did attend:

"The Impact of Evangelion" by Alex Leavitt did a great job of contextualizing the original broadcast of Eva within the Japanese situation, which provides some interesting insights about what exactly yielded the fan reaction that continues to sustain its reputation and popularity til this day.

"Anime and Manga in Academia" had me, Alex Leavitt, Drew McKevitt of Philadelphia University, and animanga research librarian Mikhail Koulikov. There was some derailing from the audience and from the panelists, but I was glad to be up there, if only to show people that it is possible to use anime and manga seriously, and to be taken seriously while doing so, in the ivory tower, or at least parts of it. I mostly talked up (what else?) Mechademia and Schoolgirls and Mobile Suits, which led to me exchanging cards with Ed of Manga Worth Reading, which is a website worth reading, after the next panel.

The "Fred Schodt Q&A" lacked structure, but was capably modeated by Ada Palmer of Tezuka in English and was interesting nonetheless, particularly when Schodt talked about Tezuka's love of non sequitur humor and when I asked him about the "Four Immigrants Manga" that he translated (well, partly; the original is bilingual) several years ago, and which he revealed has been reissued by a Japanese publisher--I must have it. I introduced myself to Schodt beforehand, and he really is a nice guy, very unpretentious, with an unmistakable Foreign Service brat reserve (and accent) even now, just like his brother Erik Schodt, who was one of my econ professors and Fulbright advisors in college. I'm looking forward to listening to Alex's recording of his Sunday panel, which was about Tezuka (of course) and the history of manga.

I saw the end of "The Neo-Shonen Revolution," which had a capacity crowd, probably because it was largely an excuse to show images from the old hyperviolent 70s shonen manga, albeit (since the panel wasn't 18+) with all the genitalia and whatnot under black boxes. Someone should do a panel on American industry censorship of anime and manga, that would be interesting. The panel itself made an obvious point (shonen has changed so that girls will buy it too) in an entertaining way, but since I missed the beginning thanks to Pizzeria Uno (at which fellow con-goer Rachel and I were hit on twice by a random waiter, which I have to admit is an unusual experience for me), I don't know if the panelist explicitly stated the reason behind this so-called revolution: population shrink. Never let it be said that Japanese marketers aren't second to none.

"The Problem with Otaku" by Alex Leavitt was basically his PCA presentation, of which I missed 90% in April and very much appreciated this time around in its entirety. I do think Alex spends a little too much time diagnosing the problem, rather than offering an opinion or a prescription, but it's a very informative presentation nonetheless, and well thought out. Also it has several clips from Lucky Star that brought me to tears of laughter, which is always a plus.

"The Impact of Sailor Moon on Hentai" had very little actual hentai and had nothing to do with the show's actual impact on hentai. I did learn, though, that one of the senshi in Sailor Stars (Sailor Starmaker? WTF) has an attack called "Star Gentle Uterus." No wonders Stars will never be released here--though I am sure that that is one DVD that could move more than 5000 copies, if some company did license it. The manga itself, though, is an interesting snapshot of the editorial forces that can reshape a property--originally everyone but Sailor Mars, I think, died at the point that corresponds to the end of the first anime season, but by then the anime was so popular that the editor made the mangaka revive everyone and continue the comic.

"Without Watching the Anime: Anime Opening and Ending Themes" was Alex's last panel, and appealingly mindless for a Sunday morning, though as usual Alex did deploy some interesting insights, and of course we watched many awesome intros and outros, as well as some laughably bad ones.

"The Art of Translation with Trish Ledoux" should have been called "The Art of Script Adaptation and Collaboration with Trish Ledoux"--for my money it was at its best when it derailed repeatedly into the million-dollar "what is to be done?" question about the parlous state of the American anime and manga industries. Her husband, who is an anime producer and director and who apparently usually does the actual translation work, revealed that selling 5000 copies is really good for an anime DVD these days, which is just mind-boggling for someone like me who came of age in the fandom eight to ten years ago and can remember being showered with free crap by the companies at Otakons of yore. Ledoux is a board member of Mechademia, but in some ways she definitely seems to be in the position of a pioneer who is left behind by those who followed the trail she blazed--her primary income comes from teaching high school English and college Japanese these days, which again is emblematic.

All in all, Otakon continues to be a paragon of a well-run con, and it's managed to retain, if not amp up, its fannish vibe, which makes it appealingly different from AX. The things I really disagreed with were statements made by attendees themselves, such as the bizarrely sexist statement that fujoshi are otaku (particularly out of the mouth of an older white man) and recurrent ableist language of the "that's so lame" variety (and let me just give a shout out to [personal profile] coffeeandink for raising my consciousness on that one). Fujoshi are fans, but as a group they insist strenuously that they are different from and are not otaku, and for many reasons I think there's no reason not to accept their self-definition at face value. Certainly comparative studies of otaku and fujoshi would yield rich results, since they are both highly gendered paradigms of highly involved fandoms, but saying that fujoshi are otaku and they're in denial is just more of "those silly wimmen don't know what they're doin" crap. Some guy also tried to take pictures up Rachel's skirt (she was cosplaying some schoolgirl character or other), which proves that there's always a couple of bad apples, even if the crowds were remarkably well-behaved and polite on the whole.

At the start of her panel Trish Ledoux described how she initially got into anime, in the dark ages of the 80s when "Japanimation" had one room at any given science fiction convention and you watched a hodgepodge of whatever you had, since it was copied from copies of copies of whatever servicemen could tape off the TVs in Japan. In 1991 the first exclusively anime convention was held, the sff people having gotten nervous about "that stuff" not really being scif, and I can't help but think that this Great Divorce may have been a forward echo of the death knell of sff as it was and as we know it. It's no accident that most sff con crowds are majority graying, white, and male; their natural successors have largely gone into anime and media fandoms, since that's where they feel comfortable, for obvious reasons (side note: demographics are also why the Hugo shortlists are mediocre). WorldCon has been around since 1931, but after only 16 years Otakon's annual attendance is larger by a factor of three (and that's with a dropoff this year due to the Great Recession), even though I'm sure there are far more sff fans in the world than anime fans. The San Diego Comic Con, which doesn't actively discriminate against manga and anime afaik, regularly draws more than 100K people. What about these facts does not constitute the writing on the wall, and why are the organizers of sff cons persistently illiterate?

No thanks to the Greyhound bus company, I made it back to Philly in time to meet my sister to head to the TLA to see one of our favorite bands, VNV Nation. The concert was amazing--Spike and I wound up roughly one person back from the barricade in front of the stage, and we shook both Ronan and Mark's hands at the end of the concert! We as a crowd also were video'd for possible inclusion in the video for their new single, which is ironic considering that we weren't even sure if they were touring in support of a new album until we walked in past the merch booth and saw it for sale. They played three or four tracks off the new album, "Of Faith, Power, And Glory", and it seems to promise a possible synthesis between the slightly mellower sound of their previous two albums and their older, somewhat harder-edged approach--certainly the concert itself delivered that, beginning with the first song of the set, "Joy," which was so loud that my arm hairs vibrated, and the lyrics of which Ronan delivered in a more melodic style than is heard on the actual album cut. I'd like to get their new CD/DVD set, it has a live CD with some of their best songs on it, and probably records the new approach. Bands at smaller shows regularly cite Philly crowds as some of the best they play for, and sure enough we brought Ronan to tears at least twice, and even managed to help the band recover from a girl fainting onto the stage during "Darkangel." As they've been doing since the "Matter + Form" tour, which was the first time I saw them (this was my second; I don't know why I didn't see them on the "Judgment" tour, but my sister did), they ended with "Perpetual," and it was amazing.

I liked the first opening band, Ayria, a Canadian industrial group with a female vocalist--definitely more on the mellow/melodic end of the industrial spectrum, but I've been looking to expand my horizons in the genre, and female vocalist! The second band, War Tapes, sounded like a cross between J-rock and The Editors--it seemed fitting that their guitarists were an Asian dude and a white woman even before they said they were from L.A., which explained everything. They should tour Japan, they'd make a mint. Side note to the dude selling the VNV merch: I am not unsympathetic to student loan debt, as it is the only way to get an education these days and I certainly have my own financial cross to bear, but if you have $110K in student loan debt for a degree that prepared you to work the merch booth at an industrial concert, I question your decisions.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 01:00 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
*This* Sasuga?

They used to have a physical bookstore near school. I would try to go there before class. I was so sad when they went con/online only, though I'm glad they seem to be making that work.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 01:30 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That'd be them. They seem to be doing all right? They were there, anyway, and the shelves were steadily denuded over the con--but I think Kinokuniya, much as it annoyed me personally in this particular instance, may have a slightly better idea for its con appearance in just stocking artbooks and such of big, popular series/fandoms that most fans have no way to obtain but which they'll buy despite the language barrier. I'm an odd case since I don't buy artbooks and do buy actual Japanese manga.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 01:43 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You're probably right for the con audience, but you are closer to their original market.

The bookstore was located in a part of Boston that used to be full of Japanese shops and frequented by the local Japanese community more than anyone else.

Several of them have sadly not survived the constant rent hikes of the last decade. This one in particular broke my heart:

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 01:56 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, very much so.

Checking out Sasuga Books' website, Kinokuniya USA should take a sheaf of pointers from them about website design, but Sasuga's markups do seem to be a bit steep compared to Kinokuniya.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 20:00 (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yeah, I know. But it gave me a warm fuzzy to read their name in your post and visualize the nice people behind the giant totoro they use to have on the counter.

Also, thanks for the heads up on the VNV Nation album. I didn't realize they had a new one out either.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-22 02:46 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The album is good so far. And the people at the booth were very nice. I told the dude I didn't need a plastic bag in Japanese and we were both happy.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 02:33 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
my one and only otakon was 5 years ago. can't really say I'd want to attend another though I could be swayed by a top-notch guest list.

Star Gentle Uterus is my favorite attack ever created. And I still laugh at Sailor Uranus...even if she is the coolest lesbian character in anime. Wish someone would give Sailor Stars a chance, it's a great loop. I thought the problem was the transvestite/sex-change issue and how the general Sailormoon fan population was like...12. I'm sure the fans are all older now, and have already downloaded the whole season. ahead of their time.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-07-21 04:14 (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I think some company should totally license it, they'd make an absolute fortune.

Otakon got overwhelming for me, which is why I stopped going, but spending my time in the panels was like being part of a completely different con.


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March 2019


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