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Hey, Answerman!

by Brian Hanson,

Welcome back! Yet another week slowly passes, and once again I'm here behind a pulsating, dying computer monitor, pouring over emails and attempting to find ways to make myself sound engaging and informative! Let's hit it!

I am concerned by the recent disintegration of Anime Expo; apparently a major point of contention between concerned parties is that the attendance number didn't rise significantly between the last two years. In my view...these fans who've been running these things since the 90's think that the sky is the limit, and that the same half-dozen cons will always keep expanding...ALWAYS.

Have the biggest cons simply "topped out"? Not just Anime Expo, but Otakon on the east coast, have stopped significantly expanding...frankly, I think they've just reached that natural point in their evolution. How many more people can physically FIT INTO these cons, when they already face major overcrowding problems? Lines are long no matter what they do if you've got *20K* or *40K* in a convention center. The other "big cons" are still in the 14-16K range, and while large, keep expanding by a few hundred each year, even during a supposed "downturn" in the industry. How could Anime Expo's staff be tearing themselves apart over lack of expansion, when they've simply reached the natural saturation point?

For that matter...wasn't what got us all into this mess of an anime bubble burst that "the anime companies thought they could keep expanding forever, well beyond the saturation point? I think it's just a mentality ingrained into these people that "the big convention is Anime Expo/Otakon/Fanime" etc. 10 years ago, EVERYONE on the east coast went to Otakon, it was *the* East Coast convention. Now...why would I go there? Much less, Anime Expo? I live in the northeastern USA, and everyone I know can now travel to CLOSER conventions like in Boston or New York. If a "convention" is just a "gathering of fans"...why not just run our panels closer to home? Have our costume contest closer to home?

Anime cons aren't just 2 or 3 big events anymore, they're spreading across the country; I think Animecons.com posted something like 250+ conventions across the USA last year. Didn't AX pause to think that maybe they have overcrowding problems? Further, a major reason to go to cons is for voice actor guests, and for industry panels for news. Many companies are actually shifting to making big announcements at smaller, more controllable cons that aren't as much of a madhouse as the crowded big ones. ADV/Section 23 has been making announcements at smaller cons like Tekkoshocon, Nebraskon, Sogen Con, or at biggest, Ohayocon. FUNimation had their big yearly announcement panel at Anime Boston last year (though they re-iterated the panel at Otakon and AX, the point is that they didn't feel compelled to wait for AX as "The" Event of the year).

So are we seeing a major shift now in the nature of the convention scene? In this internet age, where they just record the big panels at put them on their company youtube accounts anyway, does it really MATTER if I make a nation-crossing trip to AX, when there are plenty of well run, and pretty big, cons in my back yard?

First off, yeah, I'm sure there was concern among the SPJA concerning the lack of "growth" in Anime Expo during the past year or two. But that's hardly why these mass-resignations are happening; every other day it seems there's a new, horrific piece of drama and bitterness that gets posted by ex-SPJA members regarding the way the organization was being handled. The problems within the SPJA run much deeper than just attendance numbers, unfortunately. If that *were* the cause of most the strife and drama, I don't think the issue would've exploded in such a messy and vocal manner.

Anyway. Personally, I do agree, to a certain extent, that the "big conventions" (Otakon and Anime Expo, natch) have reached their glass ceiling, attendance-wise. 30,000 to 40,000 attendees is a pretty damn huge number, though, and it's a testament to the staying power of those cons that they can still keep up those numbers even when the "anime bubble" has effectively burst. But that's all the fault of the anime "industry" at large - the fanbase has essentially stagnated, so it's hard to see exponential growth when there's a lack of new fans.

There is one point that I want to harp on, though. Overcrowding? I haven't been to Otakon, but AX is far, far from overcrowded. I've been a fairly regular attendee there for the past couple of years, so kudos to the SPJA that even with all their internal strife last year, their last gig at the LA Convention Center ran smooth as silk. Even with 40,000 kids in costumes running around, not *once* did I feel claustrophobic or awash in a sea of nerd funk. This isn't San Diego Comic-Con, here. And, yeah, of course there's "long lines." NERDS LOVE LONG LINES FOR THE THINGS THEY WANT TO SEE. They love to line up for things. They line up for movies, they line up for books that go on sale at midnight, they just love to hang out in a geometric pattern with their fellow nerd brethren. They love to make a big production out of getting in to see the Masquerade and the AMV competition, every single year, or to see whatever big concert is being promoted. Those events are big, big deals, and that's what drives nearly all of the convention's ticket sales. Sure, smaller cons also have masquerades and AMV contests, but you're not gonna get to see your cosplay troupe or your meticulously edited AMV preened for an audience of tens of thousands at Ohayocon. That's only possible at AX and Otakon. And for those reasons alone, I don't see their numbers waning significantly anytime soon.

As for the trickle of news and announcements? Like I said above, people don't go to cons to for those. At least, not anymore. And the companies have started to realize that, and instead they're siphoning off their big news and release announcements for the smaller cons because the bulk of the excitement and discussion about that stuff happens on the internet, not in a sterile convention hall.

Cons are social events. "Social." You don't get more "social" than having 30,000 or so anime fans running around in downtown Baltimore and LA every year. It's true that anime companies aren't spending as much money on them or making big announcements during them anymore, but that's because they've since realized that the "industry" stuff isn't what people are there for. The small cons will always be around to serve the local community of fans who need to kill a weekend or two while waiting for July and August to roll around, but there's no substitute for the crowded, confused orgy of fandom that the larger cons deliver.

Hey, Answerman!

It seems like recently light novels, particularly those from which anime have been adapted, are becoming more popular in the U.S. For instance, the novel version of Spice and Wolf was released simultaneously with, if not even slightly before, the anime in December, and with quite a bit of hype, where it used to be the case that we would be lucky if the DVD sales were high enough for the novels to be considered for licensing at all. So my question is, what factors do you think contribute to the rising popularity of light novels, and do you think they will become more popular over time? And how much of the recent novel craze do we have Haruhi Suzumiya to thank for?

I don't know if I can say that they're becoming more "popular," really. Considering that, as of only about a year or so ago, we now have about five different light novels being translated and released, as opposed to only one, or two. But, hey, they're definitely making some headway.

I think it's all a big experiment. Harry Potter and Twilight have essentially shook the very foundations of the publishing industry to it's core, and now, every kind of book imaginable that could conceivably sell to the 12-24 demographic is getting published in mass quantities, with eager publishers hoping to catch some of the headwind and become the next "thing." And light novels are just a part of that. Look no further than Spice & Wolf's goofily-altered cover art as proof; they're hoping that with a generic-looking, fantasy-inspired cover, bookstores would be more likely to keep it shelved in the Young Adult section, rather than the Manga section. (Not that it's worked, really; my bookstore keeps it shelved in Manga, right next to the Haruhi Suzumiya novels.)

Again, it's far from a "craze," and I don't particularly think that Haruhi Suzumiya had much to do with it, at least intentionally. Publishers and bookstores just happen to be in a position to take a few risks again, and luckily light novels managed to fit the proper criteria (youth-oriented, based on existing properties, and bingo!) to be given the chance. And now it's all up to the fans to go out and buy the damn things so that they keep making them.

Hey, Answerman!

I took a Legislation in the Media course last semester, which, as a side note, I'd like to recommend to anyone. Taking at least a basic law course, while hard, is a decent way of learning how to avoid several annoying headaches in life. Remember what G.I. Joe always said!

Anyway, during the class came the old 'Obscene material' section, in which we learned about the laws in the U.S. concerning obscene material, et cetera. Oh, and there was a bit of info concerning child porn, too. This theme interested me enough to devote my final essay to the topic of obscenity.

While I always knew (courtesy of George Carlin's '10 Words You Can't Say' gig and Kevin Bacon's commentary on 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back') that the Western World was pretty darn uptight about 'obscene material' and putting the smack down on child porn (which is something I agree should be stamped out, mind), it raises a few questions.

I'm part of the sizable population of single, college-aged anime nerds who, aside from GaoGaiGar and Aria, enjoy Japanese ero-manga. As we know all too well, Japan has a rabid worship of the all-mighty High School Girl, which is usually centerpiece to various entries of Japanese porn. Much of this porn, particularly after the bi-annual Comiket event, is usually scanned, uploaded, translated, and distributed among various blogs, sites, and of course, The Imageboard That Shall Not Be Named, where many colorful individuals such as myself enjoy them for 'X' or 'Y' reason. This all violates a smorgasbord of international copyright laws, yes, but to my understanding, it also violates the recently-created PROTECT Act, which states (and I'm summarizing) that any depiction of a minor, whether real, drawn, or whatever, in sexual situation is illegal, and (as many put it) warrants a visit from the ol' Party Van. That said, a lot of blogs (and more every day) distribute all kinds of Japanese eromanga every day. I've yet to hear of any of them being caught or shut down, although I do know of the unfortunate Chris Handley (apologies to the guy in question if I misspelled his name) case.

I would, mind, like to clarify that I certainly don't agree with Loli or bestiality, which just gross me out. I'm one of the few-ish that prefer's the more 'normal' stuff (Guy confessing to girl, and stuff). The stories that have girls eventually enjoying rape also rub me the wrong way.

What's keeping us all from being locked up and being marked Sex Offenders until the sun falls from the sky? The fact that there's a massive moral panic concerning possible 'child porn' makes this anime nerd pretty damn nervous, which isn't helped when we take into account Japan's style of making everyone look about as far away from their (almost indecipherable) ages as possible. Are we really doing that big of an injustice to the world? It's a frightening thought for someone who just likes the Japanese style of drawing a lot.

Yikes, this is a tricky, narrow line to tread. I'm honestly and truly the wrong sort of person to ask for this sort of advice. I'm no lawyer, obviously. I'm no saint, I'm no prude, but that doesn't mean I don't get offended. But I will touch on a few things, somewhat unrelated to this issue, that I feel very strongly about.

The gist of the PROTECT Act as it would, potentially, apply to ero-manga would be the incredibly outdated, incredibly ineffective "Miller Test." That is, the three-pronged legal definition of what constitutes "obscene" material. "1) Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. 2) Whether the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions specifically defined by applicable state law. 3) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value." As you might suspect, it's kind of hard to legally enforce something so vague and all-inclusive. Especially when, in the age of the internet, "Community Standards" are impossible to define in a globally wired society.

From the sound of your email, though, I don't think you have anything in particular to worry about. There hasn't been a big roundup of 4channers being sent to the gulags for loli porn. Then again, none of them have since dared to attempt to cross an Airport Security Check with a big bag of the stuff, either. Considering that it doesn't sound like you're into the really depraved pits of the hentai world, I wouldn't be terribly concerned. Or at least any more concerned about that than the above-mentioned copyright infringement.

And, look, no, as a guy writing about anime on an anime website, of course I'm not going to say that you're doing the world an "injustice." There's enough real strife and anguish and injustice in the world to reduce anyone to a sad, sobbing pile. That said! I can't exactly defend most hentai as "art," in exactly the same manner I couldn't classify guro manga as "art" in the column last week. It's a moral conundrum, and considering that there's no real flesh-and-blood "victims" in any of this, only lines on paper and on the computer screen, it only gets more complicated and confusing the more it's discussed and analyzed.

Jesus. That sort of winded me. On to the fun stuff!

Once again! I couldn't find an appropriate Flake this week, so we're barreling onward to Hey, Answerfans! Here was the question I asked last time:

Tannim begins the sticky, fermented festivities:

I'm going to have to chime in with the 99 other emails you've probably received and say there's one item that easily tops that list for me.


It fails on all accounts food should normally aspire to: smell, texture, and flavor.

For the curious, it's a dish that first ferments perfectly good soybeans, then mixes them liberally with a bacteria called Bacillus subtilis natto. Just the smell alone is the stuff of legends, and what keeps most people away from anyone attempting to eat nattō.

For a whiff of the smell, go ahead and gather all the dirty socks in your household and set them in a pile. Then stick your head into the mound and take a good, long sniff. It smells kinda like that.

Then, you have to stir the offending food until the sticky strands of bacteria are a nice, snot-like consistency before eating. Yum.

I'm told the flavor varies from person to person; some say it's like a cheese, others tell me it doesn't have much of a flavor. For the horrific smell and slimy texture, it'd have to taste like chocolate-covered strawberry sundaes for me to even try the stuff (hint: it doesn't).

I'm told it's an acquired taste. I just don't see me sticking around long enough to acquire it.

Daltonater includes citations:

This isn't something I've personally tasted, but the very idea boggles the mind. #1 on Cracked.com's list of horrifying drinks.


Food wise, I'd probably go with...well...


Sorry about the links, it's just...well, yeah. I don't think I could more accurately describe them.

Brando prefers his fish to have some moisture:

About two weeks ago, I made a trip to the nearby Japanese market with a few of my friends. While there was a good deal of odd food, by far the thing that grossed me out the most was a bag of about thirty dried fish. I wasn't too concerned about what kind of fish they were as much as I was that they all appeared to be staring at me. I freaked out. One of my friends took much delight in my reaction, as she continued shoving them in my face at random points throughout the store. Even if I got past their soul piercing gazes, I can't imagine them being particularly tasty as they were probably brittle and overly salty.

And while I was thoroughly disgusted with that, I went ahead and bought a bag of freeze dried squid, because at least that doesn't look back at me while I'm eating it.

Josie is no friend to the octopi:

Long before I saw my first anime, I was introduced to the love of Japanese food by my father, who in turn was introduced by my Nihon-no-phile grandmother (pardon the pun). I've enjoyed every bite of every tuna roll, croquette, mochi dumpling, adzuki pastry, and gyoza. It definitely wasn't hard to convince me to try and love Japanese candy, soda, canned coffee and choco-biscuits. I homemake Golden Curry at least once a month (sometimes I even share), and there's nothing I'd rather eat than Katsu-Don or U-Don. I've even acquired a taste for umeboshi. I had always thought I'd never meet a Japanese dish I wouldn't like; until one day, after seeing Anthony Bourdain eat them on TV, my dad and I ordered takoyaki when a local Japanese joint had it on special. I think they were one of the worst things I have ever eaten, Japanese or non. Takoyaki are fried dumplings made of batter and diced or whole baby octopus, and are served with delicious sauce on top and mayonnaise. Which sounded pretty good to us. When they came to the table my first thought was that they were writhing. I later realized that the topping of fish shavings was waving in the wafting steam, but I don't think I ever got over the sensation that my food was still alive. When I finally got up the courage to try one I was met by the three distinct textures of crispy eggy batter on the outside, a thick rubber band of octopus on the inside, and runny eggy batter in between with very little flavor throughout. I chewed and chewed and chewed but nothing got any better or any smaller. Oh God it was terrible! It's one of the few times we've ever left food on the table at a Japanese restaurant. I think I preferred Korean fried pig's feet and that's saying something. Maybe there's a worse Japanese snack out there but takoyaki is definitely the worst one I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Fishcake and soy? Ew, Nermal:

I recently had the displeasure of tasting the grossest Japanese candy ever, Tokyo Ramen-flavored drops. It seemed like a good idea at first; I love eating ramen and having it in hard candy form seemed fun. Plus I usually enjoy combining sweet and salty foods, like Chex Mix with M&M's or french fries in vanilla soft serve. But no flavor combo could prepare me for the bizarre blend of sugar, fishcake, and soy. It was like having a shoyu ramen smoothie mixed with corn syrup, which needless to say is very gross.

Rachel finds the evil Pocky twin, who lives chained in an attic and mysteriously escaped:

One of the things I remember most vividly from my trip to Japan was this time I ate this horrible Japanese snack someone in my exchange class had bought out of a vending machine. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what the product was called, but I can describe it in detail. It was a breadish stick with the upper three-quarters or so a pinkish color, similar to a stick of Pocky that those fans outside of Japan are so familiar with, except this was more like Pocky's evil, demented twin. The problem was that it was flavored like umeboshi. For those who don't know, umeboshi, or pickled Japanese plums in English, is actually a popular flavor in Japan, and they're a common item to top a riceball with. Fruits Basket fans might remember Tohru saying that riceballs are never aware of the umeboshi on their own backs; they see only the umeboshi on other riceballs. If you've tried an actual umeboshi, however, you'd know why it's also one of those Japanese food items that's shunned by foreigners, up there with natto. It's horribly salty and sour. So now, picture biting into a stick of pocky, and to your horror, rather than that sweet chocolate coating, you bite into something that is so completely coated with pinkish salt it was like biting into a salt lick, and then this horrible sour undertone hits you. It's a powerful flavor combination that you'd hope to never, ever experience indivudually, let alone together. It's certainly beyond me why Tohru would think to compare a person's good qualities to an umeboshi.

Crystal, now in MSG flavor:

In general I really like Japanese sweets. Green tea candies, milk candies, Horn, Pockey, Daifuku, Taiyaki and all. However, there was one time i found an assortment of hard candies. I bought it because it had the green tea ones I like Matcha Ame. Well there were some clear ones and black ones included. MSG and Soy sauce flavor respectively. Let me just say those flavors just don't need to be in sweets. My friends and i tried them and no one liked them. I think we ended up throwing the suckers away they were so nasty.

AwesomeLucy also thinks Natto is not so awesome:

I'm going to come right out and say it; the nastiest Japanese food I've ever eaten is natto. I don't care that it is a staple in the Japanese diet. I don't care that you "can't appreciate the cuisine" without liking natto. I just don't care for it in the least.

Yeah, I like soy beans. Soy milk is tolerable, and I've actually enjoyed some tofu in my day. And I don't have anything against fermented foods either. Go cheese, pepperoni, and sauerkraut! So logically, I shouldn't despise natto.

But I do. With a passion.

The stuff looks like someone got stuffed a bag of soy beans down a congested person's nose, forced them to swallow it, and then made them barf it back up. Smells like it too. I have had natto before, despite the nasty appearance, and can say that it tasted just as I described.

If you can brave the stuff, more power to you. Just don't expect me to stomach it.

Yuuki-chan, wrap this thing up with some sagely, timely advice:

This has to be the worst: the candy that you sometimes get in the bottom of the boxes with the small anime figures. Never eat one of them. Ewww!

Consider my appetite officially ruined! Thanks everyone! And now for a question related to a different sense for next week:

Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.

For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.

Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.

That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.

Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!

Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers
. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.

We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.

Things To Do:

* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.

Things Not To Do:

* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.

* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.

Well thanks for reading another one of my many columns, and I'll be back next time! Hopefully with less depressing questions! G'night!

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