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Con Sketching: New York Anime Festival, Day 2
by Evan Miller on Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:47 pm
Transport Hassles: Seriously, what the hell. I get up this morning, get out of bed, and suddenly I find myself on the convention floor in a cardboard box. I don't remember being stuffed in the box, I just remember the feeling of being tossed around in my corrugated cage as I was dragged to the convention center. People, I have two working legs and I can take the subway - I don't need to be treated like a FedEx shipment. Still, my escort was that charming "Snake" fellow. He's awfully nice, especially considering that he didn't charge me any transport fees. I think I owe him a beer though.

Fun can be scary: Scariest cheer I heard in the hall today: a cheering war between people screaming "Yaoi" and "Yuri." Uh... yeah. Which reminds me: this convention needs to ban those Yaoi and Yuri paddles (like every other convention has). Please.

Unintentionally Hilarious: Right next to an anime convention that extols the virtues of Pocky, sugar, and hyperactivity, we have this:

I love irony.

The State of the Event Hall: Things are far busier than they were yesterday, when you could hear a pin drop in here. The convention has grown a lot in its second year, and it looks like crowd control may become an issue. I still wonder why people have to stop and take pictures in the middle of a lane of traffic, but hey... at least everyone seems to be having fun.

Shout out to: Sarah Arai, who was our featured Gallery artist a few weeks back. She brought us a bag of anko-filled doughnuts that essentially kept my empty stomach from caving in on itself. Thank you, Sarah, for keeping me from passing out in the fan-filled hallways of the Javits Center.
Con Sketching: New York Anime Festival, Day 1
by Evan Miller on Fri Sep 26, 2008 10:43 pm
High Noon: The event hall opened around Noon, but it's pretty clear that NYAF is still not drawing the kind of huge Day 1 crowds that conventions like AX and Otakon are bringing in. Artists in the Alley reported slow sales and things still felt pretty spacious most of the day. I expect that things will pick up a bit more tomorrow, considering that this convention seems to be based less on traffic from area hotels and more on the locals themselves.

Adjustments: The convention is in the same amount of space it was in last year, but a few necessary changes were made: the main event hall is now in a hall (as opposed to the curtained-in setup they had last year) and the "maid cafe" now also features butlers. So for those of you who are unsure about whether you prefer girls in frilly outfits or skinny guys in spiffy shirts, congrats - you can have expensive convention center priced coffee (six bucks, such a deal!) with both! One of them did have a hamster with them though, which is pretty awesome. As long as it isn't named Ebichu.

Night Life-less: My biggest issue with this convention - and this is partially not the fault of the con itself, but convention center regulations - is the lack of any nightlife to speak of. Things shut down around 9 or 10, and then the convention center is locked. There's no dance, no Karaoke, and no all-night video room. While that hasn't kept fans away, I can't help but feel that the convention feels less "fun" as a result.

So... some of us simply opt to create our own fun. These photos are from the staff dinner last night, where Bamboo Dong, Jon Carrera and a few others decided that the best post-dinner activity we could engage in would be to recreate a scene from the classic video game Pac Man on the table. Observe:

Looks like fun, right? It's amazing what's possible with a straw wrapper, a few pairs of chopsticks, mochi, and a lemon slice.
Con Sketching: Otakon 2008, Day 2
by Evan Miller on Sun Aug 10, 2008 12:03 am
The Longest Jam: I've been to many live shows before, but I've only seen a band try to play more than 90 minutes or so once. According to attendees, the JAM Project concert went for over 2 hours. My hat goes off to the band - that's no easy feat, particularly in a humid auditorium packed with fans.

The Kano Sisters have a new anime project, Abunai Sisters in the works with Fuji TV, Production I.G, and other people who have prestige to spare. The two Japanese superstars/models/entertainers/fashion experts paraded around the convention floor today, along with two giant drawings of their anime alter-egos. They posed with cosplayers, Otakon staff, and with Pedo Bear (your joke here). The sales and distribution plan for the anime is quite ambitious: a worldwide simultaneous release centered around pre-orders of the anime DVD. The Kano sisters aren't uber-superstars on this side of the Pacific yet, but this anime - not to mention the sheer amount of production power involved - could push them a little closer.

And while we're on that topic...:"Abunai" (危ない)
Often translated as "dangerous" or "bad," but can also refer to something as "really" or "incredibly." Think of how people used "Bad" in the 1980s and you'll know what I'm talking about. Sample uses:
"Ano dekkai Pikachu wa abunai yatsu da ne." - That giant Pikachu is a pretty dangerous guy.
"Usagi no kawaisa ga chou abunai!" - The bunny is unbelievably cute!

Dangerous? A few voices of concern could be heard over the din of Otakon's very full convention hall today. The reason: the convention is becoming pretty crowded again, and a few people are wondering if the dreaded "attendance cap" will rear its ugly head again. Personally, I doubt it... but who knows?

A few random pictures:

Ubiquitous translator and ukelele master Taka, with Ai from Pony Canyon. As you can tell, they're hard at work at the Kano Sisters panel.

Am I the only person who finds this fellow both cool and scary looking at the same time?

Oh, and just in case you care: The reason I'm not doing art recs at this convention shall be revealed next Saturday. So hey, if you needed an extra cliffhanger in your life and don't care about the quality of suspense that said cliffhanger provides, there you go!
Con Sketching: Otakon 2008, Day 1
by Evan Miller on Sat Aug 09, 2008 1:40 am
Year 15: After an off year when the convention was sandwiched between Anime Expo and San Diego Comic Con, Otakon is back in its usual August time slot. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this con that one notices when arriving is the fact that other local businesses actually seem excited to have the convention here. Every single bar and shop on the main drag of Pratt Street has a "Welcome Otakon" or "Welcome Otaku!" sign out - even the bars, which probably can't even serve half the convention attendance legally. By the same token, when the streets were a bit crowded during rush hour this morning, Otakon volunteers were out on the streets to stop con attendees from jaywalking into someone's windshield. Seeing all that, I can't help but think how much nicer the world would be if every anime con had the kind of relationship with their host city that Otakon has with Baltimore.

Complaints: I have heard a few, and most of them are what you'd expect: the layout is confusing, certain places are hard to find, and it would be helpful if there were more signs to direct people. I've also heard the usual complaints about long registration lines, which (as usual) snaked around the entire south and east skywalks.

Hospitable: "American fans are always very polite. So many people try to speak Japanese with us, and if they want an autograph, they wait in line politely. In Japan, it's totally different."
- Animation Director Hiromi Matsushita, Otakon GOH

Just in case you're curious...: Here's a look at some of the hard-working ANN staff here to cover Otakon. From the top:

Mikhail, Events Correspondent and author of many panel reports and other con-related pieces. This man is a Karaoke wizard.

Jon Carrera, our Video Director (and appreciator of all things humorous).

Me, working on interview questions and chugging coffee. The expression conveys the sleep deprivation nicely.

Tom Carrera, brother of Jon, is once again on board to help with convention coverage this year. He hasn't been kissed by any cosplayers yet this year, but you never know... the con just started, right? And to his right, we have...

Christopher Macdonald! Chris is the head honcho of ANN. He doesn't show his enthusiasm like Tom, but don't worry - he's thrilled to be here!

Justin Sevakis is here too, but he was not there when the pictures were taken. Rest assured, I'll find some mildly hilarious picture of him to post later (as long as he doesn't threaten to kill me in the process...)
Con Sketching: Anime Expo 2008, Day 4
by Evan Miller on Tue Jul 08, 2008 3:46 am
Mecha and b-boys: The third and final night of Anime Expo 2008 was a combination of all the stuff that make "24-hour" conventions so fantastic. The karaoke was rocking, the dance was packed to capacity, the DJs were good, and the Arcade was always busy. A friend of mine and I were playing air hockey, and it took all of 30 seconds before a cheering section assembled around us. In the hallways, people were breakdancing in the hope of showing their moves off on the dance floor. There's no doubt it was a good time, but I still wonder about a few things. For example, who is that guy on stage during the dance who looks like Ozzy Osbourne? He's there every year, but I've never heard an explanation for his presence. Here's another puzzler: why do people not wear deodorant when going to a dance? I thought we were past the whole "anime fans are smelly" thing, people!

Energy: Today, I had an interview with Kikuchi Hideyuki and Takaki Saiko, the original author and artist for the Vampire Hunter D series. Due to a lack of time/space, we ended up conducting the interview on the floor of the Exhibit Hall. The interview went fine, but every 2 minutes or so, a huge cheer from one of the giveaways at the Gaia Online booth would distract us. After this pattern repeated a few times, Takaki-san turned to me and quipped, "That sort of thing [the excitement and noise] is pretty rare in Japan." Not that it's a bad thing; pretty much ever Japanese guest I've ever interviewed is impressed by the enthusiasm of the American fans. I talked to Takada Akemi (who we first met at TAF) on Friday, and she was quick to mention how happy she was to have a chance to meet with her North American fans again. Congrats, everyone: you were fantastic hosts.

One last round: Some alley dwellers have already found their way to being published. Lincy Chan was in the AX alley promoting the manga she's working on with Anthony Andora, Rhysmyth. Volumes 1 and 2 of the series is available from Tokyopop. Speaking of Tokyopop, Rising Stars of Manga winner Lanny Liu was also in the alley doing watercolor commissions. Finally, Mason Totoristiki's Amber-Tuned Jazz is being adapted into a PC game slated for debut in Spring 2009.

Looking back, I'm really not going to bother labeling this convention "good," "bad," or anything else. Besides, no matter what I say, that's a debate that will undoubtedly play out on forums across the internet from a countless variety of perspectives. Cosplayers will have one view, the industry will have another, and so forth. I'll leave it to each side to express their view as they see fit and keep my uninformed opinion to myself. (You're welcome.)

Cons are, on the whole, really a matter of perspective. If you're in the industry, things might not look so good. On the other hand, Cosplayers might be a little happier this year simply because the masquerade started on time for the first time in recent memory. Artists had a slower con weekend; I've already heard estimates from artists that say they're only making about 30% of what they made at AX last year. As for the press, many of us noticed that things simply ran smoother this year.

I remember joking with a friend last summer after AX 2007 wrapped up and people were panicking about the LA location that "fans will still show up, even if the con is at the bottom of the ocean." I still believe that. Although guests, exhibit halls, and everything else is important, events like AX are still the perfect place for like-minded fans to gather, meet one another, and have a good time. Even if all the extra stuff disappeared, I still think the fans would find a way to gather to hang out.

Furthermore, I think this weekend's attendance reminded both the industry and the SPJA that the fans are still there. I think AX earned a lot of goodwill back from the fans this year, and they'll probably reciprocate by making sure AX posts yet another attendance increase in 2009. Now the industry has to do the same - gather the fans and earn their support to make the anime industry healthy again. How will they do it? No one's really sure. However, after this weekend, one thing can be said for sure: in the game that will determine the health of the industry in the future, the ball is still in the court of the fans.
Con Sketching: Anime Expo 2008, Day 3
by Evan Miller on Sun Jul 06, 2008 11:22 pm
Fan Powered: This morning, heading into the convention hall after missing my shuttle, I found myself behind a gigantic group of people that were attentively listening to a Japanese tour guide explain to them how to get registered for Anime Expo. Curious, I stood in the back of the group and listened. It wasn't long before I was approached by a guy in a pink t-shirt who asked: "Are you here for Shokotan?" It turns out that I had wandered into a group of about 100 people from Japan, most of whom have never been to the US before, who came to the states exclusively for Shokotan's Saturday concert.

The group was an interesting mix of people: a bunch of people in pink shirts, a few cosplayers, and an older guy who had one of the best sentai hero costumes that I've ever seen. Half said that they weren't even planning to visit AX - they just wanted to hit the concert. After that? "Disneyland!" said one pair of women. Others were less shy about experiencing the convention, and they liked what they saw: "The level of quality is so high," said one Japanese cosplayer, impressed with the skills of his North Ameircan counterparts. The group asked to take a picture with me, and I happily obliged:

Since a lot of people in Japan worry about privacy and so forth online, they requested that I blur their faces before I posted this. I've covered their faces with Ninas, and I've left my own mug exposed as an example of why taking pictures in bright sunlight isn't always a good idea.

The family: One of the cutest group cosplays in the entire hall was this one:

These blocks also made a stop in front of our humble booth. I asked the girl in the "s" shaped block why they chose the Tetris theme. "Well," she said, gesturing to the young girl in the square block, "we're all cousins, and we wanted to get her involved too. So we went with Tetris." Besides being cute (not to mention serve as an example of how Cosplay can be about inclusion instead of DRAMA DRAMA OMG), the group gave me a good idea:

Cosplay or Box? Yes, I know that cardboard is a useful material, but sometimes it can be the stamp of laziness. Tetris? That's cute. This?

Eh, not bad. And then there's this:

Come on, buddy. A little effort doesn't hurt. Dig deep and find that inner creativity!

Speaking of Creativity: For some reason, many of my alley selections for Saturday tended towards the macabre. It was completely unintentional. Really.

Eikuu Hyo has the second volume of her series Bless the Metal out, and rumor has it that she'll also be at San Diego Comicon. For a bit of cute with your macabre, there's the Molly and Ian series by munchicookie at Poyo Studio. Finally, Goddess Boutique (who were generous/kind enough to appear in our Otakon Artist Alley vid last year!) made their AX debut this year with all kinds of accessories, cat ears, and "lolita" top hats.
Con Sketching: Anime Expo, Day 2
by Evan Miller on Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:14 pm
Sign of the times: On the first two days of Anime Expo 2008, two industry roundtables were held that touched upon the "state of the industry." While this kind of panel may seem like the ideal place to reflect on the health of the anime industry, Funimation's Ouran High School Host Club panel offered a far more interesting picture of how anime fandom has become. The room was packed with people who were most likely introduced to the series through fansubs. The fans were hyper throughout the panel, and the voice cast on the stage were more than happy to play along. However, all the cheering and laughter began to sound a little strained when the VAs were asked when they saw the show and Greg Ayers answered, "Well, I hadn't seen the show since I don't watch stuff illegally." Although looks of guilt lingered on some faces in the crowd, the fans quickly got back into it. Still, I couldn't help but think that the moment perfectly captured the essence of how the industry is today: although many people say they like to address the fansub issue, in many cases, it's still the the elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss.

Nightlife-ing: As I mentioned yesterday, the fans are pretty happy that all the con events are actually in the same building this year. By comparison, there are a lot of folks who seem to be day-tripping from their homes. If the hotel parties and chaos I saw at some of the convention hotels this weekend are any indication, it looks like half the con attendance goes back to the convention center at night while the other half just parties at their hotel. I hope that no one has given the hotel staff too much trouble, but considering how nice some of the area hotels are, I can certainly see the appeal of just holding a room party as opposed to hauling yourself back to the convention center. On that note,

Scariest thing to see when exiting an elevator at the Westin Bonaventure:

I had nightmares. Perhaps I should invest in some kind of low power taser or tranquilizer device in case he's out for blood.

Oh yeah: We finally launched our video player today. You probably know that already, but I figured it was worth mentioning again considering how much sleep the video staff lost during the half-year (more than that, actually...) period that the player was in development. Go watch trailers!

Art Art Art: On with the show!

For those of you who like "engrish" or have/know someone who has taught English in Japan, you owe it to yourself to check out Azusa Ogawa's hilarious manga The Z-Files. Alley favorite Sylvia Shi is back in the alley with a whole new set of gorgeous Final Fantasy prints, and then there's Letz and Ningyee, who have some new character prints rendered in a gritty, almost mythical style. The mechafetus (some links NSFW) people are in the alley and are quickly building a sizable fanbase due to the success of the pixel-animated short film Kings of Power 4 Billion Percent. Finally, Laurianne Uy and her friends are in the alley promoting the release of their romantic manga anthology First Confessions.
Con Sketching: Anime Expo 2008, Day 1
by Evan Miller on Fri Jul 04, 2008 4:31 pm
Special guest message: Around lunchtime, I found myself reading Shokotan Blog, the extremely popular blog of AX Guest of Honor Nakagawa "Shokotan" Shoko. Unfortunately, the blog's top post at the time yielded a bit of bad news: Shokotan was unable to give any kind of opening greeting at the Opening Ceremonies this morning. This afternoon, we did an interview with her for an upcoming ANNTV segment (coming soon!). Since I felt bad that she wasn't able to say her greetings this morning, I let her open the interview with them. Here's a bit of what she had to say:

"I'm giza excited to be here in California among all these anime fans for Anime Expo! My first live show in the USA is Saturday, so please come watch the performance!"

As a side note, in case you're wondering...

GIZA: "Giza" means "very." Example sentence: "This is giza cheap!" Shokotan hopes that this word can become a slang term in the USA as well, so there you have it. Practice it, use it, tell your friends.

Times I was almost killed with a buster sword today: Only once! That, plus the generous width of all the hallways, may be the best fringe benefit of AX moving to the LA Convention Center. Sure, there are still people that insist on stopping to take pictures in the middle of doorways, but for the most part, the convention has struck a good balance between "empty" and "crowded."

But what do the fans think? That's the question I posed to a few groups of fans I met in the hallways. There seems to be a general consensus about one major thing: the space is a whole lot better. "There's more stuff to do this year," remarked one fan, while another mentioned how thankful he is that the dance, the arcade, the karaoke, and all the video rooms are in the same place instead of strewn through multiple hotels. However, while there's ample appreciation for the LA Convention Center, LA itself isn't that popular among the attendees. One Pokemon card player was quick to criticize the area: "My friends have been harassed by bums. In Anaheim, people could hang around outside and mingle. We're stuck indoors here." Other fans were a bit more forgiving; one girl cosplaying with her friends remarked on how the city seems safer than she expected it to be.

Beyond the venue: Aside from venue-related comments, the registration process continued to be mentioned as a reason fans are happier with the convention this year. I have yet to meet anyone who says they waited in line for more than 10 minutes.

Show some love: Every convention, I head into the Artist Alley in search of talented artists that will take my cash and give me nice looking art in return. Although there is a fantastic amount of talent in the North American fan community, it's far more difficult to find someone to publish your work here than it is in Japan. So, for your viewing pleasure, here's a look at some of the artists in this year's alley:

One week after launching a new non-deviantArt site and original art gallery, Finni and partner-in-crime Zimmay have seen a good deal of traffic at their table to buy buttons and other cute stuff. Across the alley, Bryan Wong and Studio Constancy Roman have taken matters into their own hands: they're on their third self-published volume, a collection of the comic Seasons of Constancy. Aside from working on fanart and other stuff for AX, Agnes Wiguna has some new color stills up from her short film Layang-Layang. If a softer colors and tones are your thing, you might want to check out the work of Lisa Tao. Finally, Vivian Lai has some shaded L stills for the Death Note fans.
Anime Expo 2008, Day 0
by Evan Miller on Thu Jul 03, 2008 3:40 am
A look back at the Wednesday before Anime Expo 2008:

So far so good? Perhaps. After chatting with a handful of fans who hit the registration lines on Wednesday, I've heard comments that are both good and bad. The good: lines moved quickly and the convention didn't close things down early as they have in previous years. The bad: the badge printing system had a few errors, a few duplicate badges were printed, and some badges had information missing. The real test for the system begins tomorrow, as both pre-registered fans and "at the door" fans rush to fill the...

Gigantic Event Hall: The LA Convention Center looks as if it could fit the entirety of the Long Beach Convention Center inside it three times over. This should help fix a lot of the space and line issues fans experienced last year, but I can't help but feel that the amount of space may wind up feeling a little excessive.

AMVs: One event I expect will be a whole lot better this year is the Anime Music Video contest. Last year's errors, not the least of which was most of the show vanishing along with the laptop of the person in charge of things last year, left a lot of AMV fans feeling burned. This is one of the things that AX marketing guru Chase Wang specifically mentioned would run smoothly this year. Considering the growth and popularity of the contest (not to mention the vocal fanbase), I would be extremely shocked if it has the kind of problems it did last year.

Artist Alley: Last year, Anime Expo caught a little flak for putting the Artist Alley in... well, an alley of traffic. Reflecting that, the convention has moved the alley into a separate room this year, and is encouraging the artists to avoid sit down sketches to keep traffic moving. Hopefully the wide open spaces of the convention center will help with space issues, but I still expect things to be crowded. After all, it took less than five minutes for Anime Expo to sell out spaces in the Alley this year.

I'll be back tomorrow with a report from Day 1!
Tokyo Int'l Anime Fair: Day 2
by Evan Miller on Sun Mar 30, 2008 6:35 pm
The Rush: Picture a convention where people aren't just hanging around chatting. Instead, they are all rushing to get somewhere for some kind of a meeting. That's TAF - a constant rush of activity. I've never felt so exhausted at an anime-related event in my life, and I'm not alone; there are people from all corners of the anime industry here running around and attending 12+ meetings a day. Many thanks to Shawne Kleckner for stopping to joke with us for a while.

Popular Displays: Studio 4°C has one of the nicer looking booths at the fair, but half of their promotional efforts are going towards a Second Life style game called Tokyo Zero Ward. Although Gainax has devoted their entire booth to the Gurren Lagaan franchise, you have to like their freebies, which include pins with flashing eyes and a cafe-esque area with FREE coffee. Chi's Sweet Home plush toys and magnets are everywhere, and the Detroit Rock City booth has you walk through the mouth of the main character to get in. As for the most impressive display, I think I'm giving my nod to NTV's exhibit for Mamoru Oshii's Sky Crawlers, which is equipped with a huge system of surround sound speakers for watching the trailer.

Speaking of Sky Crawlers: Although Ultraviolet Code 044 stole the headlines on Thursday, it's pretty clear that Oshii's project is the most anticipated of the year. The NTV booth dedicated to the film is always busy, and although there's lots of impressive stuff on the horizon, Oshii's long awaited return to anime is easily the most significant.

Other new stuff: From TV Tokyo, Soul Eater and the new Golgo 13 look pretty good. NTV should have a lot of success with RD, while Library Wars should continue the success that Fuji TV has had with their "Noitamina" block of anime programming. The other networks? We'll see what happens...

Weirdest Convention Haul Ever: I've ended up with some weird stuff at cons before, but Friday was special. My haul included some Chi's Sweet Home magnets, a book about Japanese hip hop that someone gave me after I took a pic with him and Golgo 13, and a monkey with a square head. It was a busy day, but every time I look at my square-headed monkey, I'll remember just how much fun it is to be a nerd.
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