Otakon 2011: a con in review

Otakon returned to the Baltimore Convention Center and the Hilton for it’s 17th year. From July 29 to 31 (in the midst of the impressive heatwave,) cosplayers, attendees of all ages took over the inner harbor for the biggest convention on the East coast. Second biggest in the US. Japanese movie premieres took place throughout the weekend which brought a guest list that encompassed directors, producers and seiyuus. Director Shinkai Makoto-san of Voices of Distant Star came to introduce his new movie, Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. Director Bob Shirohata-san and Sasanuma Akira (Austria,) promoted the movie Hetalia: Paint It White. Director Murata Kazuya-san was present to show the fans the latest addition to one of the most popular series of the decade, Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos. Director Ozaki Masayuki for Tiger and Bunny, Director Ishiguro Noboru’s latest project Angel Scandys…the list was extensive. Our own talents of the US were present as well. Voice actors Johnny Yong Bosch, Scott Freeman, Tom Wayland, Cassandra Lee and more were in attendance and had packed rooms and screaming fans. Peter S. Beagle made his third appearance at Otakon sharing his wisdom, his thoughts for the future generation.

Fashion designers and ambassadors, introducing and discussing the latest of the chic of culture and fashion in Japan, Sixh, Takamasa Sakurai and the Baby the Stars Shine Bright tookover the runways. The musical guests included Chemistry, Kylee, Eyeshine and the genius and legend, Uematsu Nobuo. His presence and words surprised us all.

The convening of fans who share a love of anime, manga, games, fashion and music. Truly, one convention center (and an arena) is not big enough to whole them all.

Friday: July 29

Early Look: Dealer’s Room

Only the first day of the con and the Dealer’s Room sported a line that circled around the autograph area on the 3rd level. And this was before it opened at 12pm. Press was able to access the room early and I took the opportunity to grab a few pictures.

The Madoka Magica poster at the Funimation booth was actually signed by the Japanese seiyuus. (Not present at the convention of course.)

Hetalia with Shirohata and Sasanuma

The 12pm panel was for Shirohata Bob (Hetalia director,) and seiyuu Sasanuma Akira (Austria, Hetalia.) I settled myself to the right of the room before the panel began. I will say this much, Sasanuma-san’s speaking voice is his voice for Akihito from Viewfinder drama cd which had my picturing Akihito throughout the entire time. XD It was amusing and I can’t help imagining anything else.

Peter S. Beagle panel

Upon leaving the Hetalia panel, I discover that there is already a line forming for the Uematsu Nobuo-san panel. I stepped out to rest a bit before returning to the panel room for the latter half of the panel for Peter S. Beagle.

After speaking with Peter S. Beagle last year, I learned that there was a legal battle over the nonpayments of revenues owed to said author from the animated movie. This year, Beagle announced that they had reached an agreement with the company and although details were surpressed, it is good to know that he is getting the financial recognition he rightly deserves for the movie.

Upon entering the panel, I sought a seat near the right side again…quietly, as Beagle stood on the stage speaking. As I was sitting, he spoke about the dangers of authors writing things down.

    Beagle: Inevitably, you pile up stuff that you don’t think is worth publishing. If you’re not careful, some of it gets published and you have to live with it. I’m always careful because that prose can hang around your neck forever. I take great comfort from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, he talks about bad days for writing. “Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featured like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope, With what I most enjoy contented least;” It’s a comfort to know that Willy the Shake has days like that too. *audience laughs*

I find myself enjoying the way that he speaks. He speaks as a professor would, knowledgable and wise, teaching and sharing of his mind. And of course, like a writer, his words envelopes others in a rich atmosphere of understanding. To be a listener at his panel during such a hectic and chaotic convention (where anything can happen,) as Otakon, is a like a breather in between.

    Q: I would like your opinion on fanartists and fanfiction. I know that other authors may not like others making up new stories and including other characters in their works.
    A: I’m always touched that anybody is affected enough by my characters and my stories to want to continue it and do something else. I haven’t seen very much fanart. I have trouble enough getting used to masquerades where every now and then, people would show up, dressed in costumes like another of my characters. I’m fascinated by this. But as far as I’m concerned, more power to them. As I say, I can’t help but consider it an honor one way or another. I haven’t figured out exactly what kind of honor, but it is one.

    Q: When you’re working on a story, it seems sometimes that there is a brief period of nothing. And other times it seems that the characters in the story starts to overwhelm and the story just starts writing itself.
    A: I dropped ‘The Last Unicorn’ once. And if it hadn’t been for my wife nudging me to start again because she wanted to know how it came out. And if I hadn’t seen in my children who encouraged me, I don’t know, I was so close to dropping everything. The paradox is that I never thought it would get done, and when it did get done, it wouldn’t be any good. I thought the worse of it. The worse you can feel is that you invented good characters, but you don’t know what to do with them. And you had a good idea, but you’re screwing it up. I was haunted by that feeling. There are a few books of mine, that I would take a look back to remind myself that on a good day and when the winds’ right…I can write. ‘The Last Unicorn’ isn’t necessarily one of them. But it’s just very tough. Alan J. Lerner who wrote ‘My Fair Lady’ was a screenwriter, a playwright, a wonderful song writer tells a story of a Fred Astaire movie, ‘A Royal Wedding’ which he was writing a screenplay at MGM. Astaire was working, practicing, rehearsing, trying things out in another bungalow, another studio further along the line. Lerner finally knocked off for the day and was walking back to his car in the parking lot, when Astaire came out, looking for small and sweaty with a towel draped around his shoulders. He didn’t say anything but fell astep with Lerner. They walked to the parking lot in silence when they separate to go to their cars. Astaire just heaved an enourmous sigh and said to him, “Oh Alan, why doesn’t somebody have the guts to come right out and tell me that I can’t dance?” Yeah, I know something about that. Just stick with it.

    Q: In the first draft of ‘The Last Unicorn’ all the way into the final printing, alot of the anachronisms were taken out. How important was it to keep a sense of timelessness in ‘The Last Unicorn’?
    A: It was very deliberate. T.H. White had done so marvelously with ‘The Once and Future King.’ I know I was imitating him. Very deliberately because White knew that his English history and English culture so well that he could play games with it. I wanted to see if I could do the same thing with a fairy tale. It wouldn’t have worked with animation, but it’s back in the graphic novel. This point where Schmendrick, Molly and the unicorn starting down to Hagsgate were menaced by a couple of men. Two of them, I remember had swords. The third has a Colt 45. Its not even commented on, it’s just there if you look at the artwork.

    Q: Are there any favorite anachronisms that didn’t make it into the book?
    A: I had people ask to sign this, ‘Have a taco’. I remember writing that very clearly. Living on 5 acres of wildland in a place called Corralitos, California. Working in my office in a barn, all day, I had a cat who comes get me at a certain hour when I’m not working. He would lead me down to the barn to go work. He would come and go through the window, but I had to be there till at least at 5:30, when he allowed me to come to the house to have dinner. Cats like people to stay where they’re suppose to be. “You are welcome here, sir sorcerer…. Come to the fire and tell us your tale…What have you heard of dashing Captain Cully and his band of freeman? Have a taco.’ And ‘Have a taco’ cracked me up at 5:30 in the afternoon. If it is funny tomorrow, it stays in. And it was funny the next day. But there were alot of lines that worked, but weren’t funny the next day and they went.

    Q: How long were you writing before you were published? What age?
    A: I started writing before I could write. Because I would make up stories and my mother would write them down. I would dictate them to her. I was first published when I was 17 in Seventeen magazine. There is a story of mine that’s in one of their collections which as far as I’m concerned, was a pure imitation of J.D. Salinger. Because every young writer was trying out his ‘Catcher in the Rye’ imitation. And I won the Seventeen magazine contest. I was published in my college magazine. I can still remember getting the word from my agent that she had gotten an option, not a sale, from Viking press. $250 against a completed novel. If they liked the novel, they’ll give me another $250 and they’ll publish it. If they didn’t like it the way it came out, I can keep the $250. I remember that while walking through the streets of Pittsburgh that day, not quite in this world, just drifting along, humming to myself. Nothing since, no sale of anything was ever since was ever quite like that. When the book was published and I was 21, I started carrying it around me for a many days, waiting for it to change my life. And I learned when I finally get published that nothing you can do, but to write something else.

    Q: What kind of relationship did you have with your main editor?
    A: I was very lucky with that first book. I had one of the great old time managers, his name was Marshall Best. He made that book. I didn’t mean he wrote it. He fought with this kid who just knew that everything that he had written was gold. He fought with me over things like comma placements. There was nothing that Marshall wouldn’t sit up and argue about. This guy would those 4 chapters of my mystery subplot that I worked so hard on, out of the final print. He found the title for the book, because he read poetry to his wife at night and one of the poems was Andrew Marvell’s ‘To his Coy Mistress’ which had the line, “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace” which was perfect for the book. I hope to this day that I had the manners and the sense to thank him. I think I did, but I don’t know. I never had, clearly, an editor like that ever since. But worse was the stretch when I had no editor. Essentially, the editors changed over the years. Now, especially with smaller staff, editors are doing so many other things besides editing, that they now don’t have a chance to fight with you late at night over comma placements. So in a way, I’ve lucked out by my business manager, Conner Cochran who is also my first reader. Because Conner has the unnerving habit of pointing his finger at the soft spot of the story I was hoping nobody would notice. He always does. There are some stories in the collections that have been through 15 to 16 drafts. I hated doing it, but the stories are better for them. Your best editor can be your husband, your wife, your best friend. An actual editor for publishing is just somebody with an ear or eye for what you’re doing. I should mention, that it’s important to remember that publishing is a business. That just because your book got rejected doesn’t mean it’s bad. As you know, I’m sure when you see what’s out there, just because it got published, doesn’t mean it’s good. *audience applauds*

    Q: You mentioned that you will try to get a remastered version of the animated movie. If you will try to keep the artstyle the same or similar.
    A: It’s not that, it’s mostly technical. It’s more bringing the sections, like for an instance, the first scene with the red bull. There, they were full tilt and spending money. The other sections were done in cheaper style, with something that Conner can explain better than I, something about the 1s and the 2s and the 3s…just how many frames per second. Doing something on the 1s is doing something with the money you have to do it. Otherwise, you save your most important scenes with the 1s and save a little money. The artstyle itself is wonderful. There are one or two things I would change myself, but personally, I’m very happy with the way it is. Its more technical matter than anything. Not artistic.

    Q: I heard that Neil Gaiman’s Death from ‘The Sandman’ was inspired by the main character, Amalthea. I would like to know how you feel about that.
    A: I have only met Neil once, in Baltimore. In Balticon, we were thrown together 5 min. before we were to be interviewed together on stage. Maybe it was because we were both wearing black, I think Neil had a beard at the time, somehow we looked almost like father and son. We came on like an old vaudeville team, bouncing off each other instinctively like we’ve been doing this for 20 years. I haven’t seen him since, but he has been immensely kind and very complimentary. I don’t know ‘The Sandman’. I do know is that he sent me ‘The Graveyard’ book and manuscript saying that if it wasn’t for ‘A Fine and Private Place’ and Kipling’s ‘The Jungle’ books, this book wouldn’t exist. I was very honored, especially because I know ‘The Jungle’ books by heart. It was very much a parallel which was fine with me. I got nothing but good things to say about Neil.

    Q: How much input did you have on the character designs for the animation?
    A: Very little. Very little unless you’re an animator or director yourself. I was just grateful that I got to do the screenplay.

    Q: Christopher Lee also did the voice of the German track for ‘The Last Unicorn’. What are the chances of other languages being in future releases?
    A: I know it’s been dubbed in French. Christopher said to the producers that he had such fun doing Haggard that he would do it in German just by paying the expenses. That was probably the worse mistake they ever made. They simply should have just paid him a salary because he is a master of language. To watch Christopher take a side trip up to what was then Yugoslavia to dub a film in Germany. I was in awe. I spent time with him more than the other actors. Christopher knew Italian and wanted to do it in Italian. Anyone who is around Christopher for 15 min. starts doing a Christopher Lee imitation. *audience laughs* You can’t help but not realize you’re doing it. He is the last of the great 19th Century actors. When he goes, I like to think his voice will survive all the same. But he said on Austrian television that *imitates Lee* I simply couldn’t resist another chance to do King Haggard because let’s face it, that’s the closest that they’ll ever let me get to doing King Lear. My jaw dropped. The camera wasn’t on me at the time and Christopher looked over to me and winked. I hope it will survived. I’m not sure how many languages it already is dubbed in. I only know that it was German and French.

    Q: What is the one question people would ask you?
    A: I can’t honestly say. It’s a good question to ask. I wish that I was less associated with Tolkien. It’s unavoidable considering that I did the introduction to the Tolkien reader and the paperbacks. There is the old business of doing the [1978] films. I can’t complain about it, but there are very few writers whom I have less of an artist connection with then Tolkien, though I admire his work enourmously. I should mention that when I do speak at schools, I get my best questions generally from elementary schools. Colleges Q&A I can do in my sleep and frequently have, because college students already know what they shouldn’t ask and they’re afraid of making fools of themselves. Little kids don’t know. They’re most likely to ask you something that nobody asked before and you have to stay awake in elementary schools.

Beagle concludes the Q&A by speaking about the e-newsletter….

    Beagle: I should mention that my here (and my business manager will kill me if I don’t) that I collect e-mail address since we put out aa newsletter called ‘The Raven’. It’s starting to become regular, a monthly rather than two or three times a year. Thank you…thank you for coming.

all about the music

I had the honor of attending the Distant Worlds concert at the BAM this year and of course, the pleasure of greeting Uematsu Nobuo at the signing afterwards. To actually listen to him speak is an overwhelming dream come true. To hear the epic experiences of the epic man behind the epic music…it’s no surprise that the line stretch far and beyond.

a bit of con-related activities

The autograph line took a long time since director Shinkai Makoto-san was taking pics with everyone who asked…which was practically everyone. Through the signing the latest memes of the year floated through the year. It ranged from the ‘Ice Cold Water Guy’ song to the elusive ‘buttscratcher’, ‘Marco Polo’ and of course, ‘It’s Adventure Time!’ I bought 2 glowsticks from the Dealer’s Room for the upcoming Chemistry concert since the Chemistry pen lights were sold out.

Chemistry concert

Before the concert, the large screens on the side show the various PVs for Chemistry. The the concert began with the music and spirits on high….

    Go Alone
    Wings of words
    This Night
    Life goes on ~side K~
    Keep your Love

The song ‘merry-go-round’ was performed accompanied by Gundam Seed anime footage on the sidelines. They spoke in English (prescripted as usual,) and really tried to reach the fans. ‘I really love anime!’ and ‘My favorite anime is One Piece.’ The dancers that accompany the duo were fantastic in their R&B mixed pop style. It was modern and catchy and the interactions between the singers and dancers were very well balanced in being entertaining and surprising.

There was no encore sadly and the concert was not even an hour long. However, it was wonderful and renewed my love for them again.

    ~ Photos courtesy of Linda Yau

Saturday: July 30

a morning of autographs

While I was waiting on line for Shirohata-san’s autograph line, I confirmed my schedule for the day, which was pretty packed as usual. Surprisingly, the fans discovered that Shirohata didn’t come by himself and that Sasanuma Akira joined him in the signing! Thankfully, I was carrying my Viewfinder drama cd with me so I was prepared. (His official signing still took place on Sunday.) Sasanuma-san signed the Viewfinder cd.

He told me that it was his first BL drama which was surprised me since it was very well done.

Shirohata-san signed my Gravitation vol. 1 dvd and I thanked them as I left.

Next door was the Ozaki Masayuki signing. I’m surprised at the lack of a line. He is a the producer of the currently airing series, Tiger and Bunny as well as worked on many other Sunrise anime including Gundam.

from a director’s mind

The same interpreter for the Shirohata/Sasanuma panel, Karahashi Takayuki interpreted for director Ishiguro Noboru-san. He introduced the guest and Ishiguro-san said good morning and then mentioned something to which turned out to be. “Ishiguro-san gives permission to the interpreter to finish his muffin.” The audience laughed as the interpreter stares at said muffin for a moment. The continued with “The interpreter politely declines and will continue.”

an autograph-athon

I got on the line for Iwakami Atsuhiro, the producer for Madoka Magica and Togainu no Chi.

The got on the Murata Kazuya-san line afterwards which was nearly nonexistant. I was the 19th or 20th person and we were shown in quickly. I’m surprised since it Murata-san was the director for the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood movie.

Aniplex also brought the Japanese limited movie items from the theaters. These items were given when people in Japan preordered their tickets. (Those whoe received their tickets at the theaters would receive a limited edition manga short by Arakawa Hiromu-sensei.)

Since I got through so quickly, Angel Scandys cast was still signing. With the first being Fukushima Orine-san, then Shimogama-san and Ohara-san.

only beautiful films

Yoshida Toshifumi-san was interpretering for the Shinkai Makoto panel that followed. The expanded 1.5 hour to discuss the beauty of Shinkai-san’s film is definitely still not enough. Shinkai-san went for animating and voice acting on his own to creating a full length movie with a full staff. And from the very beginning, his art and story took everyone on a beautiful journey. At 38 years old, he is nothing short of amazing.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos

The area in front of the fountains was FILLED to the max with cosplayers and the line for the the movie, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: Sacred Star of Milos. I heard there may have been a prize or gift for people who waited on line. As proof, they gave out movie postcards and asked those with postcards go to the side of the room at the end of the movie premiere.

Needless to say, the room was so packed that they had to add an additional screening on sunday since they couldn’t fit everyone.

Angel Scandys stage show

After the movie, I headed to the 1st Mariners Arena where the masquerade was being held. I got there during the half time show, when the seiyuus Fukushima Orine, Shimogama Chiaki and Ohara Momoko were on stage doing their introductions as their Angel Scandys characters…in English in exaggerated though understandable motions. This kind of stage reading in character is atypical of Japanese CMs, promos and done even during their stage shows. It’s a wonderful experience to see it live since it gives a hint of how seiyuus are when they’re in the recording studio. Working off of each other, the expressions that they give. Also, as a promo, it gives a surreal quality to the character. They aren’t just a design on paper and the screen, but pure voices filled with emotions.

They did the drama sequence in English and then in Japanese which I found to be much more understandable. The acting was much more fluid and expressions of the characters much clearer. I do applaud their efforts in actually translating the script into English and performing it on stage for us. Afterwards, the 3 of them launched into a short concert which was happy, cute and uplifting. The songs and characters are such, but I hear the anime will have it’s dark side as well.

What I found disappointing was the lack of press coverage for the Angel Scandys halftime show. Besides me, there were only 2 other photographers seated at the press area. I’m sure it was filled during the masquerade itself, but for a new anime such as this…. *shakes head*

Following the halftime show, the awards for the hallcosplay and masquerade were announced. Though I missed the show, just hearing the descriptions of the awards show that there must’ve been some interesting acts that night.

Sunday: July 31

Press Conference: Shinkai Makoto

As mentioned before, 1.5 hours to speak to Shinkai-san is definitely not enough. Thankfully, Otakon was able to arrange for a press conference to speak with the young director.

when geniuses come together

One of my fav type of panels are those that bring together minds from different studios and works. The 10:30am panel was for Japanese Directors/Producers. Those that were in attendence were, Ishiguro Noboru-san, Murata Kazuya-san and of course, Shinkai Makoto-san. Varied in ages, experience and genres, definitely a highly anticipated and interesting program.

last of the autograph lines

The line for the band Eyeshine opened on time but still was a bit slow. Turns out that Johnny Yong Bosch and his crew was taking on various requests that varied from group shots and ‘beat me up’ poses.

Of course, Bosch prank calling a fan’s friend was also one of the requests.

Merch was sold at the table from picture postcards, bumper stickers, braclets and buttons.

Afterwards, I headed downstairs to the Dealer’s Room for the last signing session: K-on. The line at Aniplex wrapped around the booth and snaked into the booth itself. Stephanie Sheh (Yui), Cassandra Lee (Ritsu,) Christina Vee (Mio) and Shelby Lindley (Tsumugi) was present. No wonder the line was so long! Everyone excet Christine Cabanos (Azusa) was there to make the complete band.

Taking one last look around the Dealer’s Room was a wonderful way to end the con day.

Otakon is steadily growing despite the country being in economically drastic times with numbers registering at 31,348 paid attendees. The dates for next year has been set on July 27-29 and already Otakon deals for hotels are up and disappearing. Even a year away, it’s clear that this is not a convention that people want to miss.