Otakon 2011 Convention Report (in 3D)

2011-08-09 21:20

Otakon is my home anime convention, the second biggest anime convention in the US, and three days of non-stop fun for me. I haven’t missed it in seven years; last year, I flew in from Singapore to attend. As always, it’s obvious that it’s run by fans, for fans, even now that it’s over 31,000 people bringing fifteen million dollars to Baltimore. And, so, this is a bit of an anemic convention report for what is really such an amazing event.

As usual, I was cosplaying David Tennant’s Doctor. The number of Doctor Who cosplayers at Otakon seems to be growing every year: and, why not? The show’s writing and acting continues to improve with every season, and there’s nearly fifty years of history behind it now. Who cares if it’s not Japanese? Britain’s an island country, too.

This picture and many more fantastic cosplay images were taken by James Patterson, and are available on Flickr.

The panel that I co-hosted on Friday night went quite well; 375 people showed up to ask, “Evangelion, WTF?” Eva Monkey is really the driving force behind these; over on his website you can see much of the content that was shown during our hour of power.

Meeting master animator and director Makoto Shinkai was pretty amazing, as well. He’s humble to a fault, and went out of his way during the autograph session to find out every person’s name, and have a brief conversation with them. He stayed for hours longer than he was scheduled to in order to make sure we would all get to meet him. The next day, we became one of the first audiences outside of Japan to see his new film, Children who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below.

He said during the post-film Q&A (which he volunteered to do on the spot) that he wanted to make a film that would appeal more to the international market than his previous works. Personally, I thought that 5 Centimeters Per Second touched on some pretty universal themes, but it is nice to see him move on and try a new mode of storytelling: Children is an adventure film, not a series of reflective vignettes like 5 Centimeters.

All the usual con activities and sights were in full force as well, from Nyan Cat cosplayers to sweeping every booth in the dealers’ hall. The rest of my small set of pictures are available in 2D and 3D over at my image gallery.” As always, an incredible and intense weekend — I’ll be back for 2012.

Andrew Todd

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25 Minutes of Anime, 5 Things I Miss about Japan

2011-06-22 22:01

Kyoto Animation’s current project is called Nichijou, or My Ordinary Life. It’s a paean to the joys of everyday life, viewed through the surreal lens of a Japan with clockwork androids and eight-year-old professors. This is a topic that KyoAni has had astonishing success with in the past, with shows as diverse as Clannad and Suzumiya Haruhi; Nichijou is no exception. No surprise, then, that this, the eleventh episode, had so many reminders of the things I miss from my own ordinary life in Japan.

Urban Landscapes


Instinctively, this shouldn’t be pretty. But there’s something organic about the way that Tokyo (and other major cities) are put together; it’s a higher density than the American suburbs, but far more human than, say, New York City. There’s green space in there, too. And the roads really are that quiet: off the main streets, there will be as much bicycle traffic as cars during off-peak hours. Finally, you can see a big area information board and map in this picture: these are everywhere and really useful, even if you’re barely literate in Japanese.

Industry

The Nichijou girls agree…


I’m probably not giving America a fair shake on this one; there are “art spaces” and workshops scattered through every city. But I found that Japan kept light industry and craftsmen right in the heart of urban life, rather than exiled to the edges. We took a trip in central Tokyo to a glass-cutting workshop that had been there for generations. I remember eating dinner while sitting on a couple of I-beams at the machine shop down the street from my hostel at the base of Mt. Fuji, watching the stream of lantern lights ascending the mountain.

Fast Food that isn’t Sandwiches


This is either a Sukiya or a Yoshinoya; I think it’s a Sukya because it looks like women are eating there, and Yoshinoya seems to be the exclusive province of the salaryman. (I prefer Sukiya). For a few dollars, you get wonderfully friendly service, and delicious food — at a table designed for single diners, no less. In Sangenjaya, my Tokyo neighborhood, I could get a beef bowl like this one twenty-four hours a day. If that wasn’t to my taste, there was a twenty-four-hour ramen shop across the street, a 7-Eleven (with edible food!), and loads of other places that were open for saner hours. There was even a four-stool outdoor pho counter right next door to a twenty-four hour McDonald’s.

(By the way, notice how the server is impolitely digging his thumb into the bowl? That never actually happens. But they were making a point about politeness:)

(He stands up, getting angry, but thinks better of it in a second, and doesn’t say a word.)

Well-designed Baths


No Japanese house is complete without a deep immersion bath: and they’re almost always fed by high-pressure (and efficient) continuous water heaters, so you always have enough hot water. The toilet, sink, and bath are generally built into separate rooms, making them easy to clean; the bath’s room is almost always completely tiled, so you can scrub it with a brush and not worry about splashing everywhere. The exhaust fans are considerate enough to only remove humidity, not heat, in the winter. And everyone already knows about Japanese toilet seats.

Engrish


Sometimes, it takes a non-native speaker to bring out the full potential of the language.

Andrew Todd

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At Gainax, Every Story Has an Inverse (Part 1: Mahoromatic and He is My Master)

2011-04-12 10:38

It’s hard to overstate Gainax’s influence on the Japanese animation industry. Contrarily, though, Gainax’s works are often highly derivative (in the best sense of the word), taking tropes, ideas, and animation methods pioneered by others and combining them in new ways to create staggeringly original works. Evangelion isn’t just a giant robot anime; neither is FLCL or Gurren Lagann, for that matter. And Mahoromatic turns the magical-girlfriend genre on its head.

But there’s something else going on at Gainax, intentional or not. Many of their most notable works — those with the strongest thematic impetus — have been succeeded later by another series that seems its thematic inverse. There’s two sides to every story; sometimes, Gainax has animated both of them. This article series will examine some of their classic stories in light of this idea.

From a Perfect Heart to No Heart

This entry will tackle He is My Master, a series that I’ve blogged about before. But, since then, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Gainax’s other (and better-known) maid anime, Mahoromatic.

On the surface, it’s easy to say that these are similar shows. Made within a few years of each other, they are both adaptations of existing source material, rather than Gainax original stories. They both concern teenage boys who unexpectedly find themselves living with (several!) cute maids, around the same age as themselves. Both series have “younger sister” maid characters voiced by Shimizu Ai. The lead maid falls in love with her master. There’s gratuitous fanservice — in Mahoromatic’s case, more than many R-rated films would allow. Said maids have a problem with some of their master’s lecherous habits. Mahoro’s most famous line, after all, is “ecchi na no wa ikenai to omoimasu,” or “I think that dirty thoughts are bad!”

But that’s essentially where the similarities end. Mahoromatic is a series with a split personality, one that uses its filler episodes as paeans to the joys of ordinary life in order to drive home the seriousness of its wider story. He is My Master, on the other hand, is all filler. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: slice-of-life shows are judged on their ability to make nothing happen for ten or twenty hours at a time. But My Master’s characters are so devoid of any humanity that I suspect the folks at Gainax did it intentionally.

Mahoromatic predates My Master by a few years. In the interim, something very important happened in the otaku subculture: the maid café explosion. Gainax themselves reminded fans of this fact by bringing back Mahoro for a short OVA series in 2009, in which she helps create a maid café for a neighborhood festival. Notably, she is forced to exchange her usual uniform for an abbreviated maid costume, which proves dangerously useless.

Still, it’s costumes like this one that My Master’s maids wear throughout the show. In the context of that series’ humor, it makes sense.

It seems likely that, coming off the success of Mahoromatic, Gainax felt they could exploit their new expertise in the genre, as it were. They even handed over some of the production responsibilities to Shaft. But this is Gainax, after all, and they don’t make ordinary shows. My Master seems to have been written and presented as a parody of the genre: the master has no redeeming qualities, yet the girl still falls for him. The obligatory cute animal is an alligator. While it’s possible to write off (and even enjoy) the series as nothing more than a particular nadir of juvenilia, it’s obvious that Gainax had maids on the brain.

There is another consideration. Mahoromatic is well known for its “Gainax ending;” in this case, a final episode that differs strongly in tone and subject matter from the rest of the series. It was a bold, risky move, and although it ends with a gift to the show’s fans, it was sure to alienate some people. In a sense, phoning in a show like He is My Master after that could almost be seen as relaxation therapy for the studio. And it would make Gainax money.

The long and short of it, though, is that Mahoro is the girl with the perfect heart. The series has already demonstrated its staying power — how often do shows get new OVAs, six years after a conclusive finale? — while He is My Master barely registered during the year it aired.

That’s not true of the other “inverse” shows I want to write about, though. They are all notable in their own right. I’m planning these future articles on the topic:

  • Coming Full Circle: Gunbuster, Evangelion, and Gurren Lagann
  • Innocence in the Gutter: From Re: Cutie Honey to Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

Andrew Todd

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Tekkoshocon 2011 Convention Report (In 3D!)

2011-04-05 14:25

As I mentioned last week, I spent last weekend up in Pittsburgh for Tekkoshocon 2011. Just like on my Ohayocon 2011 trip, I brought my 3D camera along; unfortunately, this time I didn’t have as many opportunities to take cosplay photos.

My understanding is that Tekkoshocon drew in more people than expected this year — and while that’s great, of course, the hotel was bursting at the seams, and the staff were worn a bit thin. It was still one of the richest conventions that I’ve been to in a while. The folks running the AMV room deserve special credit; no matter what time of the day or night I went in there, they were showing some fantastic videos.

The Eva Monkey had his hands full as usual; it was a pleasant surprise to see so many people show up for our Evangelion and Gainax-related panels, especially given their less-than-ideal schedule slots. But at least we got a chance to hang out with friends old and new.

We spent some time talking about what a great idea the Sangawa Project is — an adults-only convention run by the same people as Tekkoshocon (where they find the time, I don’t know). The goal is to create an environment that’s a little more mature, for those of us who are more mature.

On the other hand, this was also a maid-tastic weekend: after seeing the unabashedly moe Reni Mimura on Friday night, my friend and I discovered that “dates” with maids were being auctioned off for charity on Saturday. At $45, how could we pass that up?

While I didn’t cosplay the tenth Doctor, as I usually do, I did go along to a remarkably large Doctor Who photoshoot. I am in awe of the cosplayer who actually owns the Magnoli suit, not to mention a Celestial Toymaker all-metal sonic screwdriver.

Photos from the Doctor Who photoshoot, not to mention many more pictures from the convention, are up over at my image gallery. By the way, if you own a 3D camera, you might find my mpo2jpg conversion script to be useful.

Next up? Probably Colossalcon, in June.

Andrew Todd

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I'm Headed to Tekkoshocon 2011

2011-03-30 11:31

This weekend, I’m headed to Pittsburgh for the Tekkoshocon anime convention. I’ll be co-presenting a panel with superfan Aaron Clark on the history of Gainax. Aaron will be hosting other panels as well, including two on Neon Genesis Evangelion.

As with Ohayocon, look forward to some 3D pictures and a convention report when I get back. Hope to see you there!

Andrew Todd

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