Otakon 2000 Report

Aug 8th 2000
FRIDAY - Day 1 - EXPLORING

Baltimore hosted the largest anime convention on the east coast this weekend; "Otakon" by name. Last year, Otakon logged over 4500 individuals, and this year was much more crowded than last. Early estimates placed Otakon around 6000 individuals, but the final tally is supposedly near 7500 members.

There were several late friday panels of interest to most fans. Unforunately, Otakon delayed (and later cancelled) the first two Guest Panels. Both Director Sakurai and an Utena movie panel ended up on the chopping block because of airport delays. Neither were rescheduled due to time constraints.

While these two panels weren't going on, the Anime on the Internet panel discussed MP3s and Video piracy across the internet, as well as how to prevent young children from finding hentai on the Internet. Unfortunately, this panel raised more questions than it could answer.

The Opening Ceremonies' line formed over an hour before the event opened. At 7:15pm, shortly after the appointed starting time, we were finally allowed into the Main Event Hall. The Con Chair (Mitch Hagmaier) officially opened the convention, and Thomas Heaton introduced the Japanese Guests of Honor, some of which brought cameras along to take pictures of all the Otakon attendees. One acquaintance sitting next to me humorous asked, "Isn't this a little backwords?". Other Japanese Guests offered brief speeches for the Con Translator to translate. After the last Japanese guest left the stage, Thomas introduced Simon Yam, Otakon's first Hong Kong Guest of Honor. As the din from Mr. Yam's applause faded, Thomas introduced the North American Guests of Honor. While Ian Kim begged people to attend his panel on Saturday, "Otaking" Steve Pearl merely waved at the audience. Other guests made quick commentary, and a few minutes later, we cheered as BoA appeared on stage. Most con-goers knew BoA for their work on the Serial Experiments Lain opening theme song, "Duvet".

BoA becan the night with two 'regular' songs (if it is possible to call any of their songs 'regular', in the first place!). Their third song, however, was much more familiar to myself as well as the audience. All I have to say is that "Duvet" performed live is simply amazing.

After Duvet, BoA announced that they will have a new CD on sale in America in January. It is rumored that it will contain a mix of new and old BoA songs, rather than a completely new CD itself. However, this remains to be seen.

BoA's fourth song, "Drunken", was a new song that may appear on the new CD. BoA performed a number of additional songs, and held two encore pieces. Needless to say, BoA was very well received by the audience.

Unlike last year, many people felt that the Mystery Anime Theatre 3000 event was quite successful. The MAT3k-ers quirped hillarious comments to the first two OAVs of Final Fantasy, and the audience loved it. Last years' MAT3k title, "Lensman", drew few positive reviews. However, this year was much different, offering a wide range of humorous skits, as well as great dialogue. Where else could the Game Shark, FF7 Materia, Volkswagen, and numerous other objects meet and form a humorous skit? Congratulations, MAT3k team, on a great job, turning the Final Fantasy OAVs into a very pleasurable experience.

SATURDAY - Day 2 - INDUSTRY

Viz Entertainment

The most important news from the Viz panel concerned the Ranma ½ TV DVDs: "Coming Soon" and "Many Episodes Per Disc" were mentioned. Viz anticipates that 4 DVDs will cover the first 18 episodes (4-5 episodes per disc). An interview with Rumiko Takahashi, creator of the series, may be included as an extra.

Viz also admitted that they caved to parental groups, and have begun editing Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon manga. They aren't certain if their graphical novels will contain the same edits that their monthly releases will receive.

Bandai Entertainment

Next, Bandai held an informative panel describing their plans for the upcoming year. In October, expect a release of the Outlaw Star DVDs, and the Escaflowne DVDs (as well as dubbed VHS tapes). The Escaflowne DVDs will contain the uncut dub, as well as the original subtitled version. They will not, however, contain the extra footage that the Japanese LDs contained.

In November, Bandai will release Tenomoya Voyagers on DVD only. "We're not going to say this is the end of VHS", the Bandai Representative said. However, it appears this will be a test-release to see if DVD-only anime sales are feasible.

In Febuary, Bandai plans to release Saber Marionette J DVDs with the Japanese, Spanish and English dubs.

Bandai mentioned Angel Links, Betterman, and Z-Mind will all receive releases in the next year, as well as Crest of the Stars. The Escaflowne movie may (or may not) receive a theatrical release; Bandai is awaiting the Escaflowne TV broadcast which premieres on Fox Kids on August 19th. If it does well in broadcasts, we may see a theatrical release of the movie.

Bandai confirmed that the Escaflowne music would remain the original Japanese background music. However, Bandai is aware that Fox may have "moved" some of the pieces around. Unfortunately, Bandai could offer no official explanation for why Fox decided to do this.

At any rate, the DVDs of Escaflowne will contain the uncut dub, as well as the previously-released subtitled version. Bandai plans to sell Escaflowne's dubbed VHS tapes in two formats; cut and uncut. This plan is similar to Pioneers' Tenchi Muyo! broadcasts, with their "Toonami Edit" version of Tenchi Muyo! arriving later this fall.

Escaflowne Toys have neither been confirmed nor denied by Bandai Entertainment also; the representative mentioned Toycom, but also mentioned that Bandai Entertainment currently has the rights to any merchandise.

For those who purchase the Escaflowne dub or DVDs, Bandai is considering running a promo where you turn in Escaflowne UPC symbols for a Tarot Card deck. Currently this is still in early planning stages, and may not see the light of day for some time.

In a rather suprising move, Bandai announced Brain Powerd will receive a new expanded release, with 7 episodes per VHS tape, priced at $29.98.

As for Bandai Entertainment's relationship to Cartoon Network: Gundam Wing has entered its 3rd run, but still maintains strong ratings. If Cartoon Network is interested in more Gundam titles, the next series they'll consider is the original Gundam series. Bandai voiced some concerns about the success of 20-year old animation on television. However, Bandai also mentioned that sales of 0080 and 0083 Gundam DVDs and VHS are up since Gundam Wing's premiere. As for rumors concerning Outlaw Star on Cartoon Network or any other network, "No Comment" is the answer we received. There are several scenes of nudity and some sexual overtones that may need editing, if the show, in fact, does air on Cartoon Network.

When asked about the possibility of doing longer series (such as Legend of Galactic Heroes), Bandai said that they don't want to get "trapped" doing a long series that is only "possibly" successful. However, they aren't against doing "long" series if there's a large enough market for it.

Misc. Industry

After Bandai's exhaustive panel, a General Industry panel started, involving corporate representatives from Right Stuf, ADV Films, Media Blasters, AnimEigo, Pioneer, and Bandai.

The relaxed atmosphere of this panel let everyone ask pretty much whatever they wanted of any of these companies, and their responses were pretty interesting.

ADV Films mentioned the second Eva DVD has entered the production stage, and that the hyper-sugar-spaz favorite "Excel Saga" will be released "sooner" than other series. Later in the day, Matt Greenfield said that they expect Excel Saga to go on sale in 2001.

ADV also hinted that Encore will be showing another of their titles in the near future. Two or three of ADV's TV series are also being finalized to be shown on television, but at this time they were legally obligated not to say what has been acquired for broadcast. We expect a press release from them soon on this matter, as the Fall 2000 broadcast lineups are being finalized, and the Winter 2000-2001 lineups are falling in place quickly.

Right Stuf said that Kare Kano won't see a release this year, but expects a release sometime next year. However, we should expect a subtitled VHS release of this series.

Someone asked about the VHS market, and everyone seemed to be in agreement that anime VHS will be fading out quickly, and in two years will be nearly unobtainable. Even for non-anime releases, within the next five years, we should no longer see VHS tapes sold in stores. This conversion will speed up once DVD-R recording becomes acceptable for recording television shows and such. Already, devices such as TiVo exist, as well as DVD-RAM drives, so it's only a matter of time before this switchover occurs.

When asked about how fansubs impact the commercial industry, one representative said "[Making fansubs] doesn't hurt... but if the property is licensed, then it's illegal. If people stop distributing after the announcement, we're fine."

Others dissented a bit; "The problem isn't with fansubs", Matt Greenfield said, "The problem is with the wholesale manufacturing and distribution."

Other companies had mixed reactions; "Most people usually replace [fansubs]. The people who don't [replace fansubs] usually are the people who won't buy them anyways."

"Fansubs are illegal", said Robert Woodhead, stating that this was his personal opinion. He later commented that fansubbers who break copyrights shouldn't complain when they're taken to court.

Pioneer confidently stated that "No one bothers to fansub Pioneer titles because they come out too fast".

One representative mentioned "From a marketing standpoint, it's wonderful, planting seeds in people's brains", likening it to free publicity.

Bandai's statement was simple: "Don't fansub Gundam". Jerry Chu stated that if fansubbers or bootleggers catch the attention of Bandai executives, expect to "see something happen". Bandai also passed out warnings at the Dealer's Room stating "Bandai has the exclusive right to enforce all intellectual property rights, including the trademarks and copyrights, associated with all GUNDAM merchandise."

(Editor's Note: For those wondering, yes, Anime News Network is considering these comments very carefully, as well as concerns raised by others, because we plan to carry fansub news in the near future. We neither wish to alienate the commercial companies, nor do we wish to disappoint our readers. We hope we can strike an acceptable balance with both sides.)

All companies agreed that Region Encoding should only be done when the licensee requires it; too many players can be hacked to circumvent region encoding. Everyone (AnimEigo most vocally) felt that Macrovision was a waste of money, video quality, and effort too.

ADV Films

After a nice, relaxing discussion with these companies, we once again shifted rooms and listened to the ADV panel.

ADV restated their announcements at the Industry panel before; The second Eva DVD has gone to production, and that future DVDs will be pushed into the queue as quickly as possible, if the 2nd DVD does well. When asked about the possibility of re-doing the 1st DVD, ADV mentioned that it had been discussed, but no decisions had been made. The first Neon Genesis Evangelion DVD received harsh criticism for poor video quality, generally poor "overlays" that replaced the Japanese text with English.

"Codename Robotech", shown only to a few test-markets in the USA, will be released before Christmas in a VHS dub only. The remainder of the Robotech TV series will be released on DVD only in 2001.

The "You're Under Arrest" Movie may see a theatrical release. However, there is no current release date for this title.

At the Anime On DVD Panel, we learned a big AnimEigo announcement; AE has acquired the "You're Under Arrest" TV series. The broadcast rights remain with TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) as they may attempt to broadcast this series on American TV. The original cast of the "You're Under Arrest" OAV series will be brought back to dub the TV series. Dubbing begins in Febuary and will continue for the next year.

Pioneer

The final panel of Saturday belonged to Pioneer Entertainment. Their biggest news was that they have now obtained the rights to distribute Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S! They will be releasing 3 episodes per tape on dubbed VHS (Cartoon Network Edit), subbed VHS, dual-language DVD, and possibly an uncut dub VHS, too.

The Fushigi Yuugi 2nd TV Box set should be available before Thanksgiving. In addition, the Fushigi Yuugi OAVs will be available in early November on VHS only. DVDs of the OAVs will be available sometime in the future. The releases will include the Omake in the original Japanese releases.

A new Akira dub will be produced, with Dolby 5.1 Audio for both the Japanese and the English renditions. There will be two versions produced (presumably on VHS and DVD): a "movie-only" version, and a "special edition" version, with lots of extras. Before we see a commercial release, Pioneer is looking at the possibility of a theatrical re-release, or a TV release first. The Pioneer represenative felt fairly certain that it will be a year from the signing of the contracts until the final product is released.

Pioneer said "No Comment" when questioned about "Hand Maid Mei", but were pretty certain that they were not going to acquire "St. Luminous Mission High School" in the near future.

SUNDAY - Day 3 - WRAPUP

Wow. What a convention! Although it's not quite as large as Anime Expo, Otakon holds a charm of its own, something special that makes it stand out from the rest of the conventions on the East Coast.

The 30,000 square foot Dealer's Room was very impressive, but the lines to get in were excessively long on Friday. By Saturday morning, however, the situation had become much more bearable. On Sunday afternoon, I was able to get in, find the items I was most interested in, and leave within 45 minutes. Not bad, considering the number of dealers in the room, and the variety of goods available.

Otakon hosted hundreds of costumed members, and many were very impressive in design and quality. I was very pleased to walk around and see so many well-designed costumes. One thing I noticed, was that very few guys cosplay, and I'm at a loss to explain why. The number of cosplaying girls dramatically increased from last year, but the number of cosplaying guys seemed unchanged, or perhaps even diminished from last year. I wouldn't be suprised if there were more females crossdressing as males than there were males!

Overall, it was a "smooth" convention. Panels, events and nearly everything else started on-time, with few exceptions. Both Otakon and BCC Staff were courteous and polite to those attending the convention, and those who just came to look. Outsiders and non-attendees who passed through the Convention Center and adjacent hotels received the best show of anime fandom that they had ever seen.

Sunday Afternoon saw the convention officially close, although staffers stayed at the BCC for many more hours, clearing up the largest East Coast Anime convention. Thank you, Otakon Staffers, as well as BCC staffers, for being friendly, attentive, and hard-working! Keep up the good work, Otakon. I'll be back next year.

-George "Cookie" Phillips
Editor-in-Chief

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