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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Hello once again! Hey Answerman is taking a break next week while I bask in the sunny glow of the Los Angeles convention center for the unsupervised four-day madness that is Anime Expo, and I will be delivering free Hi-Fives to all while I'm there.

Until then, though, I still have a column to write and assemble, so here we go!

Why do so many anime characters seem to be missing a mother or a father (or both)? Here are some examples of shows that I can remember where this occurs: Pokemon, Skip Beat, Naruto, Bleach, Best Student Council, Air, Natsume Yujincho, Prince of Tennis, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gokusen, Rave Master, Eureka Seven, Fullmetal Alchemist, Getbackers, Noein, Rurouni Kenshin, Kurokami. Is this part of some universal anime formula, or is it something cultural that exists outside of anime? Is it just as common in American shows, and I just don't notice it?

It's absolutely just as common in American shows. Just think of EVERY DISNEY MOVIE EVER MADE for a frame of reference. Or everything that Charles Dickens wrote. Et cetera.

It's not at all part of Japanese culture or storytelling or anything; it's a borrowed thematic device dating back centuries. It's a way to quickly and easily establish a feeling of conflict and tumult in a character. I mean, who wants to watch a show about a character trying to prove himself to the world and be the best, when he has a warm and supportive family? That's boring. We wanna see characters achieve greatness from nothingness, characters that grow and overcome obstacles who've had much lousier lives than our own. It all makes the cliched, happily-ever-after payoff that much sweeter. It also helps avoid the necessity of giving a character a convoluted backstory to define their actions. Why is Luffy on some grand adventure fighting genetically mutated pirates? Because he's an orphan, duh. Wouldn't you do the same if you were an orphan?

It's an overused device, certainly, but still an effective one in the right circumstances.

Ok, this question has pecking at the back of my head like an angry chicken for a while now. A sort of pet peeve of mine is when people call some animated series "obviously anime inspired" or "based on anime", like the shows Ben 10, Code Lyoko, and most recently a new, French animated series Wakfu. Does every animated feature with more properly proportioned characters and not comically centered need to be based on anime? True, Anime tends to excel in this department, but saying it's "based on anime" makes it sound like (to me at least) that these shows are merely copying Japan. Granted Teen Titans and most things produced by Marathon (Totally Spies, Martin Mystery), could be under that title with less chagrin becuase it does use anime's exaggerated expressions (which I believe they tried too hard at). In order to be non-anime based, does it have to have deformed characters and no plot? Shouldn't they just be called plain animated series or something?

I agree completely, since most of those shows simply use "anime style" as a window dressing or a marketing ploy. It's like the "Rap: The Musical!" sketch from Mr. Show. I mean, anime is great and all, but does it have to be so... Japanese and strange? Wouldn't it be great if a show was like an anime, but without all the anime?

Teen Titans, though, is that rare example that used some of the distinct stylistic elements of anime by artists that truly understood, visually, what they meant. Totally Spies just looks like your average, cheaply-made cartoon show by people that think Ben Dunn is an actual manga artist. It looks and moves really clumsy and feels inauthentic. I'm not at all a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but again I'll give its artists credit for truly understanding how to make anime-inspired characters move and act convincingly.

It's an inconsequential marketing move that's sort of endemic of the thought processes of the complete idiots that run cartoon networks these days, but in the right hands, with the right sensibilities, it can still be pulled off correctly. Even though I've never met anybody - hardcore anime fan or not - who has been fooled by it. Even inattentive parents can tell that Avatar is an American-made show designed to look like anime, but without all that gross anime stuff with the tentacles and robots.

Hey Answerman,

In light of the recent self-imposed regulations of the EOCS towards the unconditional banning of rape-related games throughout the Japanese eroge industry, I'm curious towards your take on this entire ordeal. Many have strawmanned this issue as a for or against rape argument while others see this as a violation of freedom of expression; I personally, side with those who argue for free speech but I'm curious towards your opininon on this matter.

The eroge and doujin industry in Japan are very much an integral part of the Japanese Anime industry with many of the most talented names and groups stemming from eroge/h-doujin roots (CLAMP, Type-Moon, Hiroyuki of Doujin Work fame). To many of these companies who don't even deal with rape in their games, the newly implemented regulation is seen as the result of an open attack upon the eroge industry with companies like Minori (second home to Makoto Shinkai) going so far as to ban all IPs from outside of Japan from accessing their website.

I'm curious as to how you feel in regards to the ban, how it may affect the future of the Japanese anime industry and anime industry in America, and on a completely subjective note, what consequences (social or otherwise) this come as a result of this.

Much like my thoughts on the current Iranian demonstrators, I, as a coddled white guy living in the US, cannot speak on behalf of the mores and moral decisions of another country.

However, as a coddled white guy posting on the internet, I will do so anyway. This issue, wrought by the negative publicity afforded to the game "Rapelay" from TWO YEARS AGO, is apropos of nothing. It feels like a lot of hand-wringing by frustrated policymakers feeling undue pressure from a scant few major articles on the US press that like to point at scuzzy Japanese porno games and say "lookit 'dem gross games where you rape people for points. 'Dat's gross. Oh Japan! You crazy country." Instead of simply moving on with their lives like we always do whenever a new Grand Theft Auto game gets our collective Puritanical Panties in a bunch, they're waving a big angry stick at scuzzy porno game makers and frowning.

I don't think this is going to have much of an impact on the doujin "industry" at large, though. That's a community that exists solely below the radar of just about every law imaginable, for better and for worse. I can understand why many of them are blocking foreign IP's, although honestly I'm shocked that they weren't blocking foreign IP addresses all along. If anything, they'll withdraw themselves from the public eye moreso than usual, making sure no leery non-Japanese people can peek at what they're doing and report them to the American Morality Police, and in a couple of months this whole thing will be old hat and scuzzy ero-games will continue to scrape the dankest pits of despair for the titillation of a die-hard group of social misfits.

The real question to come from all of this is: Will Rapeman make a triumphant comeback? I, for one, hope not.

I have been hearing about a...thing...called a yaoi paddle in various places, including ANN.com, but I have yet to find a definition of it. Just what the heck IS a yaoi paddle?

You are simply confused, sir. A yaoi paddle is a state of mind.

Hey Answerfans! is here to knock me off of my exceptionally tall pedestal and allow the voices of the community to speak up against my tyranny. Here was last week's assignment, for those suffering from short-term memory loss:

Rednal begins the festivities with a little bit of context:

Let's start off with the context: The largest convention I have been to is Sakura-con in Seattle, which had something like 17,000 visitors this year. The smallest convention was Aki-con, which I'm not sure had even 1,000 visitors last year. It was tiny. Sakura-con had several floors taken in the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, a very large Dealer's Hall, huge groups for things like the AMV Contest, fun things like a Touhou panel and Cosplay Chess, and all the usual fun things of the larger conventions. And the not-so-fun things, like waiting in line for an hour and a half if you ordered a badge early, or for my friend, about six hours. Bit much, that. Aki-con had... let's see... six... seven rooms in a hotel's ground floor? A small dealer's hall by comparison, though still with some fairly nice stuff (granted, you could get most of it online, but isn't that always true?), one room that was selling lots of Pocky and Ramune, and almost nothing to do except shop or watch anime.

I prefer Sakura-con. While I would seriously pay another five dollars or so to have my badge shipped to me and just pick up the bag with the convention guide upon entering (waiting in line that long was NOT fun; there's got to be a better way to do things), I very much enjoy the larger convention's diversity, panels, and the dealer's hall. And some things just won't happen at smaller conventions, like the entire audience of the Comedy AMVs singing along to twenty repititions of "I Know a Song That Gets on Everybody's Nerves", featuring Evangelion clips. But seriously. A workable way to get badges to people faster will do wonders for the big guys.

I'm making this face D:< to Azure for stopping right there:

Howdy, Answerman~

As a relatively avid congoer (if only the ones in Texas), I really enjoy the larger cons a lot more than the smaller. Sure, I waste more money on the hotel, on admission, but voice actors and guests that I'm actually interested in are more likely to be there. All of the latest merchandise will certainly be there (it might be sold out by the first day, but it was there). The cosplay is more diverse, the fans more avid.

But there's a lot to be said for the little dinky cons on non-holiday weekends. For one, the merchandise is much less... competition based. You don't have to run over people to get to that one figure or plush. There's probably only two or three people there that are even interested! These cons are much safer for new people, too. They get a feel for the culture of cons without actually having to jump into A-kon or Onicon. I love these for a casual geeky weekend, rather than a big, event-like day or so. Much less hassle.

That being said, I go as a family unit to these things. My younger brother and mom cosplay every time, and we really don't give much thought to things like panels and getting up early for specific events. Everything we do is spur of the moment and we have a better time being spontaneous at bigger cons. If you don't have specific plans, a big con will certainly satify you where a little one may bore.

(I'm going to stop now. :D)

I didn't realize the untapped pun-related potential of the idea of "pros and cons" related to cons, until Zack's answer:

Having been to the biggest convention in Anime Expo, and also having attended the much smaller (but still good sized con) Anime Boston, I've found that both have things for and against them.  The pros of the big cons are that they have so many more things going on that you can always find some panel or activity that is interesting.  So much so, that it leads to a con which is with all that's going on, it can be difficult to find the time to grab a bite to eat!  Another pro for the big cons is that they can afford to bring in more high profile guests.  With the smaller cons, you might get one somewhat well known guest from Japan and a bunch of dub voice actors (which if you're a dub fan is great) while with the larger cons, often there will be multiple guests from Japan, both voice actors and industry, and many musical acts from Japan as well.

A major con of the large conventions though are the huge lines.  At Anime Expo, I waited in lines for hours at a time to get in to certain popular events.  There were things I had to sacrifice just so I could sit in line.  With the smaller Anime Boston, the lines took only a fraction of the time.  Even if I got in line just 10 minutes before the event started, I would be inside the room and in my seat in that amount of time.  Also, a con for the large conventions is that they are usually so spread out that it takes a long time to get from one end of the convention area to the other.  The smaller conventions have things in a smaller area, so less time is wasted getting from point A to point B.

Finally, a pro for the large conventions can be that their dealer's room likely is going to be much larger than a smaller convention's, so if you're into the collecting aspect of the fandom, you are much more likely to find that rare figurine that you wanted at a larger convention than a smaller one just based on the fact that you'll have more booths to choose from.

Basically both sizes of convention can be fun, just as long as you know what you should expect from each.

Sean is all about the groove, baby:

I find the big difference between large and small cons is really the atmosphere and the people interacting in that atmosphere. Cons, big or small, are mostly the same. There are panels, the dealer's/exhibition hall, screening rooms, and all the other good stuff conventions have to offer. Sure there may be higher profile people at a bigger con or a wider selection of panels, but it's all in the same vein. But it's the crowd that changes everything.

I find smaller cons to be a lot more personal. Since there's a smaller attendance, there's a lot more communication between fans. There's plenty of talking between fans at big conventions of course, but smaller spaces tend to bring people together more. Smaller screening rooms garner conversations about what's going on on-screen. It's almost like just getting a bunch of friends together and watching anime in your living room. Strolling around the convention center halls is more like visiting a mall with said friends, peeking in on panels and whatnot.

In contrast, big conventions are more like, how should I put it, like some resort vacation. You don't interact too much with the other people at the con and the screening rooms are more like theaters, where you just shut up and watch the movie (unless the sound goes out, whereupon it's a rule that you must shout "SOUND!" in order to notify the projector operator that there is, indeed, no sound). It's a sea of fans, each going to different place.

Those are just my personal observations. As for a preference, I would say bigger cons, only because I tend to attend them more, but it doesn't really matter. In the end it is, like I said, all about the people and atmosphere. If I go with a group of friends like I always do, it's guaranteed to be fun.

I like Alan's use of the word "olfactory":

The largest con I've attended was A-kon and faithfully made the trip for 5 straight years. I stopped going in 2003.  Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed it for the most part, but as it grew bigger and bigger, problems also arose. Getting through crowded hallways became tiresome, and, as you certainly know well, rubbing elbows wih otaku that bathe once every year (maybe) in said hallways is an unpleasant experience for my olfactory organs. And then there's the neverending wait for elevator service because of the large crowds. And when you do manage to squeeze into an elevator, you've got to deal with other attendees in full cosplay mode and their various protruding costume parts, more foul BO-covered otaku, and those who recently ate at Taco Bell and are desperately trying to sneak a silent one in order to avoid the embarassment of letting one rip.

But there are good points to the larger cons; you've got an extensive, diverse programming schedule with something for everyone. Then there's the guest list with people from various parts of anime fandom, not to mention reps from most of the North American anime companies. And, of course, a huge dealer's room with all kinds of goodies!

And then there's the other end of the spectrum. Unlike the larger cons, smaller cons are more intimate, not nearly as noisy or crowded, and the weekend tends to go at a more leisurely pace. But things are more scaled down compared to the larger counterparts; the guest list is minute, almost non-existent, gaps in the programming schedule are commonplace, and a trip through the dealer's room can be done in about 10 minutes.

I don't really have a preference of one or the other. Each have their good and bad points. I attend about two to three cons a year, and with each one, I pretty much know what to expect. As long as I can prepare for each one mentally, I can still manage to have a good time in spite of the usual problems I know I'll come across.

Derick grows another day older and deeper in debt:

I've been to a large amount of cons having formerly worked for an anime store. Not a half bad summer job. I've found in general that I prefer smaller cons for having fun. A larger con is good for business obviously, time goes by quickly when you're busy, but at the end of the day you're to tired to do anything. I've found it to be the same when I'm not working at the same cons. Just getting from one end of a convention center to another is a trial. It used to be that a larger convention would be filled with amazing things that you'd never see anywhere else, and awesome panels to go to. Now the only thing worth going for (for me) is the guests. The larger conventions do get amazing guests. I'd have never thought I'd see Jam Project live without Otakon for example. Yoko Kanno, Go Nagai, and long long ago, Osamu Tezuka. These are the awe inspiring things that a large convention can bring.

The biggest problem, bigger than those I've already mentioned, is that of friendliness. When I go to a large convention and try to strike up a conversation with a random person they're more likely to be disinterested or with a group and leave quickly. When I'm at a small convention, it's possible to make friends. You can sit and talk to someone for 20-30 minutes, get a feeling of likes, dislikes, get to know a person. That is why I like the smaller conventions better.

Closing the door on this week's final Hey Answerfans is Ben, whose rhapsodic waxing on conventions is both staggering and interesting:

Having attended a few different conventions since 2001, I can say there are a number of differences between both small conventions and large ones. (For the sake of argument, let's use Otakon as the large example, and Anime USA & Katsucon as the small ones.)

Otakon, being a large convention, literally goes all out every year in its attempt to please the 20,000+ attendees that burst through the doors of the Baltimore Convention Center (some of whom come from as far away as California or Canada). Guests range from the likes of hot-shot American voice actors to established and world-renowned bands (such as Yoshiki) and creators (like Koge-Donbo). In addition, the Dealers Room is, quite literally, the size of a warehouse (with booths planted everyone, to the point that it feels like walking around a giant maze; the same goes for the Artists Alley). The Game Room looks and feels like it was built inside of a hangar. Add in a diverse load of panels and video rooms, and you've got yourself the ingredients for a top-notch anime convention (not to mention the fact that most cosplayers bring their A-game to a convention this large).

However, a massive amount of choices also leads to one gi-normous problem: crowds. Regardless of the time of day, weather or event, the halls are constantly packed with people (glancing at the first floor in the middle of a Friday or Saturday afternoon is akin to watching controlled chaos). If you are travelling in a group and end up getting lost without a map, good luck finding your way back to them (especially in the Dealers Room). Then, of course, there's the scourge of every large convention: lines. Seeing a line out the door to a popular performer, panel or viewing session is not uncommon, and waiting times of two hours or more to see any of the above are certainly not out of the ordinary. Add in overly-expensive food stalls and water fountains that taste like sludge and you've got enough turn-offs that can deter con goers new to the experience.

On the flip-side of the coin, there's Anime USA. While only 1/6th or 1/7th as large as Otakon, it makes up for its lack of size in energy. Most of the convention is built on pure fan stamina (with most panels run by local fans that are willing to give their all to educate and entertain all who attend). In addition, there are shorter lines (with wait times being non-existent in some instances), everything can be easily found (easier than Otakon, at least), admission is generally cheaper, and there's a nice local vibe which makes the convention feel less like an arduous task and more like a neighborhood gathering (perfect for anyone new to anime conventions who can't stand massive crowds or long drives to larger cons). Plus, since it takes place inside of a hotel, you can sleep over and simply head downstairs the next morning in order to rejoin the action.

Yet, if you do spend the night at an anime convention, don't expect to sleep much (or at all, in some instances), as there will be people shouting in the hallways at 3am, fresh off their night out at the rave. Also, don't expect any big-name guests from Japan, as such high-profile guests cannot be afforded by lower-end conventions (and don't expect to find any renowned super-talented artists in Artists Alley, but look hard enough, and you could find some skilled gems in the rough). But if you keep your expectations low and think of it simply as a gathering among friends, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

With fewer possibilities for error, one might think a smaller convention would hold a definite advantage over a larger one. That, however, isn't usually the case, as I've been to a couple of smaller conventions that have failed worse than bigger ones. One convention (T-Mode) was new to the scene and tried to please as many people as possible (by focusing on J-Pop bands, video games and anime, in that order). Unfortunately, they also charged too much for admission, had sloppy scheduling and technical problems, and tried to spread things out over a single hotel floor…without any A/C. As a result of their lack of experience, they ended up with only 50-100 people in attendance (they tried to improve on their mistakes, but pretty much ended up making the same ones all over again the following year, landing only 200 people at most, staff and guests included; they've since folded).

Another long-standing convention (Katsucon) has proven time after time that, if at first you don't succeed, fail, fail, fail again. In 2005, they came up with the brilliant idea of splitting the convention between two hotels…in the middle of February, with one of them undergoing renovations and having no heat on the first two floors. The following year, they moved to a larger hotel, only to be undermined by poor crowd control and lack of logistics coordination. Signs of improvement started to appear in 2007 and 2008, with better-designated areas and slightly-better crowd traffic control…at the expense of the guest roster (where once stood the likes of Range Murata and Johnny Young Bosch, now contained only lesser-known web comic artists). The capper came in 2009 when, having learned nothing from the events of the last five years (including the fact that the hotel they stayed at in 2004 had to be cleared out mid-con due to a bio-scare, which was only makeup powder), they crammed over 6000 people into a hotel intended for only 4000 at most. I could go on, but I'm getting way too negative (that, and there are plenty of blogs that'll tell you what happened; spoiler alert- Murphy's Law).

So, to summarize, if you can only make it to one convention and cannot afford anything else, make it a large one (heck, my first experience was the natural disaster that was Otakon 2001- and even after all I went through, I couldn't wait to go back the following year). If, on the other hand, you're new to the whole convention experience and hate large crowds and the long lines that come with them, stick with a small one (even though I didn't experience a small convention until Anime USA 2004, the differences between the two of them are worlds apart- and worth exploring, if you can afford it). Personally, if I had to choose, I'd go with the smaller one (only because there's less prep work, equipment and money involved). Regardless of size or credibility, get out there and go to a convention near you- it's an experience worth undertaking and one you won't forget anytime soon (at worst, it'll be a good story to tell your therapist).

And with that, I'm putting Hey, Answerfans! on a little break to coincide with, once again, Anime Expo for the coming week. I look forward to meeting y'all at our guaranteed-to-be-awesome panel on Day 1! It'll be good to soak myself in convention insanity again after I missed out last year. Hopefully this time I won't be molested by a physically intimidating man like in 2007.

And on that note, adios everyone! See you in Los Angeles!

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