Sakura-Con 2011
Day 1

by Carlo Santos,
For those who remember the interminable, feature-film-length opening ceremony that began Anime Expo 2010, there's something to learned from the way they do things at Sakura-Con.

With wildly-costumed fans already milling about the Washington State Convention and Trade Center by nine in the morning, it was hard enough herding these Japanese-culture-loving cats into a line for the ten o'clock Opening Ceremonies. Indeed, the event got off to a twenty-minute late start and was further hampered by audio difficulties. But once things got off the ground, there was plenty of entertainment that went beyond the usual Guest of Honor parade. What other convention features their local Japanese Consul-General greeting the crowd in full samurai garb? Or a wushu demonstration team showing off athletic martial arts moves? Or a men's glee club performing a choral rendition of the Space Battleship Yamato theme? Also, with current events being what they are, there was a heartfelt appeal for continued support toward the victims of the Great Tohoku Earthquake.

When the time finally came to trot out the guests, though, most of them ... didn't actually trot out. Voice actors (English and Japanese alike), artists, and cultural luminaries were only announced by name. Considering the sheer length of this year's Sakura-con guest list, it's a smart, time-saving stroke. The guests that did appear, on stage, meanwhile, were the ones who make a living from their outward appearances: fashion-designers-cum-rock-band Sixh., visual-kei act exist†trace, and pop idols Berryz Kobo, who all introduced themselves briefly before the Opening Ceremonies came to a close.

Those familiar with the anime industry in America know that Funimation is a must-watch company—and that Funimation's panels are must-attend events for the latest news. At this year's Sakura-Con, the big announcement was the acquisition of shounen adventure series Fairy Tail. However, the rest of the panel was hampered by technical difficulties, leading to an extensive question-and-answer session. Most of these questions, though, ran along the lines of "What's going on with my favorite series?", which were met by typical "No comment" and "No update" answers. One positive note to come out of this panel, though, is that Funimation seems quite happy with their current approach toward Blu-ray and DVD releases—no worries about any particular format dying off or overshadowing another. "As long as there's a market, we'll produce goods for that market," goes the mantra.

Full details about Funimation's industry panel can be found here.

With no other major industry-related panels on Day 1, it was time for some prime-time fan nostalgia at the "Sailor Moon: 15 Years and Counting" panel, presented by Moon Chase blog administrator Emily Gonsalves. This is, of course, a perfect time to be buzzing about Sailor Moon, with the heroine's voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi making an appearance at the convention and Kodansha recently announcing a new North American edition of the manga. Yet at first glance, the panel seemed about as lively and excited as a dentist's office. The early part of the panel consisted of a bland recitation of facts: results of a fan poll taken by the Moon Chase blog, some discussion about Kotono Mitsuishi and her thoughts on voicing the character (which seemed redundant, as everyone would get to hear from her in person on Saturday anyway), and details about the new manga edition.

However, the facts got more interesting as they turned toward the "worldwide Sailor Moon revival" that North American fans may not be aware of. Over the past couple of years, creator Naoko Takeuchi has been feverishly re-negotiating distribution rights for the series internationally. In nations as diverse as Brazil, Hong Kong, Portugal, Malaysia, and Israel, the Sailor Moon anime has returned to TV airwaves years after the series' original run, typically running on children's channels. Whether this means Sailor Moon will also make a triumphant return to North American television, however, remains to be seen. Furthermore, not everything coming out of the revival is positive news: some countries have inexplicably started running the series from the middle seasons, and there have been no new recordings of the various foreign-language dubs. Word has it that Takeuchi refuses to sign off on any "re-dubs" of the old broadcasts.

(And then there are the crazy censorship stories, like the Italian version of Sailor Stars trying to explain away the gender-changing Starlights by saying that they are brother-and-sister twins. And you thought the "cousins" stuff was silly?)

The panel audience finally loosened up as the discussion drifted to a scathing review of an Italian-produced video game called Sailor Moon: La Luna Splende. A hilariously bad piece of shovelware for Nintendo DS, this game features such remarkable innovations like no touchscreen functionality and a platforming system where the player cannot simultaneously jump and attack. Perhaps that was what was needed to get folks laughing and enjoying this panel: not recitations of facts or wide-eyed adulation of how Sailor Moon is still famous worldwide, but a little fun at the expense of merchandising gone wrong.

Of course, on Saturday we all return to wide-eyed adulation, basking in the glow of Ms. Mitsuishi. But for a moment, I remembered that sometimes the best part of fandom is not fawning hero-worship, but those weird, silly little things that just make you laugh.

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