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Reviews of North American Cons, 2018 Summer

Going to do some personal reviews of North American anime cons, obviously only from my point of view:

  • NY-region based – defines what is local (Northeast US, East Canada), what is expensive (flight-wise), and what I think is expensive (not a lot)
  • 20+ years going to anime cons in the US and Canada. And nowadays flying to Asia for events but anyways…
  • Mainly for JP guests – Is Learn2Offkai still a thing?
  • Not that poor anymore? lol – Time is arguably more valuable to me than money.
  • Some cons I have not been in recent years. I’m limiting this list to only cons I’ve attended in the past 5 years.

Goal is to be concise and easy to compare, largely as pros/cons listed. Why? Because cons lend themselves to long-form write-ups as I’ve done on this blog thus far, but I want to change the framing to see what yields from this exercise with short form writing. I’m breaking general estimate on “JP guest count” by “few, some, quite a few, a lot” in incremental amounts.

Notes: I break out cons by small (<10k), medium (10-20k) and large (20k+). Just about all anime cons are < 35k in the US and Canada. Anime Expo is the one exception at over 120k in 2018. (Fanime may be the other exception…) I generally only go to larger cons because of the guest issue–hard for small cons to bring guests, except the very dedicated ones… Anyways.

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Anisama – Animelo Summer Live 2018

It’s not an anime con, but it can feel like one. To me Anisama is a music festival but also kind of like a Japanese festival where people come and hype it up to have a good time. Anyways, thoughts and such ahead.

What dominated my thoughts 12 hours after Anisama day 3 ended and taking this photo were:

It was HOT. Like, the weather. I was talking to some friends while waiting for other friends before going into the venue (~3pm) Sunday afternoon. It was hot all weekend but Sunday was the hottest. Just take a look. There were 2 days in July and 1 day in August that had a higher high temp, during this heat wave. Saturday was hot too, at 95F (an undetectable difference compared to 97F that was Sunday). I didn’t land in Japan until Friday night so I had no comment on Friday’s weather, but the high temperature coupled with the usual high humidity in Saitama meant life was pretty hellish if you were under the sun. As someone pulling a weekender from the comparatively mild NYC weather, the hot weather had a visible impact on my enjoyment of Anisama this year.

I did buppan on Saturday. I was “taking it easy” in that I got to the line at around 7:45, but I already have sweated out about a liter of fluids by then. That was pretty crazy, and it was not just me–everyone in line was in some form of hazard management mode. There was one big guy near me and he was just as drenched as I was. When the sun came out it got tormentingly hot, as a good chunk of the lineup was not in the shade. At some point I did get used to it, but it was draining my energy just by being under the sun, even when I was doing nothing. I had to deal with this until ~3pm, when I went into the venue. And that made day 2 a real chore.

Imagine if you were going nuts at Keiyaki Hiroba because oshijumping at 97F weather really means you like your oshi? I don’t know, maybe that is why things were not as crazy this year compared to last year? LOL. I was talking to Rop about this during the aforementioned Sunday afternoon wait, and we talked about how Animax Musix had proper anikura and I was like, LOL people are gonna die if you do Anikura at Anisama, because this weather is deathly. Shortly after he spotted a guy who has succumbed to heat stroke and had to be taken out of the Keiyaki Hiroba on stretchers. It was bad.

This was a huge contrast to my buppan experience last year in 2017, where a balmy 80F temp with 100% cloud cover meant actually good nap weather. Yeah it was still 80+% humidity, but it did not threatened kill anyone. I got to hang out with Ken P last Sunday, in contrast of this Sunday where he bolted from Station to Inside the Arena because it was hot as all heck, LOL.

The usual eventer oshi whine always come up. Last year’s Anisama was the exception than the norm–it was epic and really freaking great. This year was more of your standard Anisama with the usual hits and misses. For people like me who appreciate anisong in general, it was still an overwhelmingly good time. But if you were at Anisama mainly for a group or two (or even five or six), there will be a bunch of misses you gonna sit through. Even for me, day three’s farewell to Milky Holmes were mostly a miss, although I liked the songs they did and the way they went about giving them the farewell treatment. Yeah, if that rubs you the wrong way (and it does–given how I am into WUG and they too, had a farewell thing), it doesn’t always leave you with a good taste in the mouth as you go home from the venue.

But that’s not the point of events like Anisama. Actually, for the discerning people, you would even realize the Big Three anisong fests in Japan–Anisama, Animax Musix, Lisani–all have their own niches and approaches. I would legit enjoy going to them as their own things and to enjoy their signature strengths. Of course the issue is more that we all have limited time and money and energy and attention span, so we can’t go to all of them. Some of the artists who perform at anisama do a much better job during their one-man lives than as a fest-style performance. The venue sometimes don’t cooperate. The stage presence of some of these artists are completely different in a live house versus at a big arena. The list go on. So yeah, pick and choose what works for you, but realize just because you see so-and-so at Anisama, it might not mean you’ve really seen that artist.

The same can be said of those who go to Anisama for certain artists only–you’re not getting why Anisama exists in the first place. Or why people move to tears to see The MONSTERS jam to Snow Halation. Or many other things that makes me go to Anisama, actually. Anyways, that might be a topic for its own post.

Is Anisama the place to be? I don’t know. Of all the “places to be” in Japan for general western weeaboo-dom, like Comiket or Wonfes or Cosplay Summit or Chokaigi or TGS or whatever, Anisama never gets talked up as one of them. This is the change I want to see. For the longest time Anisama is probably the most directly related thing to anime otaku fandom outside of actually celebrating it in the comiket style or via cosplay. But those expressions of fandom have long since came into their own. Anisong, on the other hand, is still a classic, top-down, pro-to-consumer style cultural distribution and export. Without the marketing there is not much of a scene, and much of the western scene involves importing the marketing (besides, of course, importing the music–which is also becoming marketing itself more often than ever). Unlike video games, anisong is this unknown and not-thought-of category outside of Japan. I guess it’s also a precious thing inside of Japan, which is partly why Anisama exists to begin with.

Because ultimately this is a new genre of a thing. It’s not like we can do anime conventions with just music, like how you can do a show with just a dealer’s room or artist alley or just cosplay meets. Anisama actually fills this gap in its 2018 rendition. Maybe this is why I (and some others) feel the need to import anikura to the west, because it also fills a similar gap.

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Otakon 2018: Wrap

Otakon came and went. This year it was a “miss” for me guest-wise so I spent a lot of time chilling. This is also the first Otakon in a very long time in which I did not get into the con area until Friday morning, breaking some kind of a streak. Turns out the con was so chill I just went to hang with a friend in the area the night before, so there you have it.

Despite DC being farther than Baltimore, it was easier for me to bus down and up. A ride on Megabus or OurBus or any of the many other carriers is easy. There is a Chinatown bus stop right down the street from the con too. Taxi are plenty if surge fares on Lyft or Uber got your tongue, plus it’s so close. In this way DC is already way superior than Baltimore, and I didn’t even mention the Metro, which was partly under repair that weekend.

There was also a whimper of a white supremacist rally scheduled Sunday afternoon but the counter protestors came in droves and it didn’t go anywhere. The lead up FUD (like that kek ANN drama) was IMO more damaging than the actual protests by probably a multiple, in terms of the wet blanket on the Otakon population. To me, the city of Washington DC is more dangerous than any white supremacist (circa 2018) rally, just by default. To put it into perspective, Otakon was in Baltimore all this time until 2016, and even the Inner Harbor is probably 10x more dangerous than the area surrounding the DC convention center. Otakon attendees are already a hardened bunch.

I’m also glad about the good attendance numbers. Otakon had 29k or so uniques, which is a nice bounce back. It shows that a well-run con with reasonable price scheme (lol selling single-day badges this year) will draw.

Otakon this year is just as well oiled as any other year, except I feel they are still not that organized if you want to do year-to-year comparisons. The downstairs concourse was basically completely screwed during the lead up to dealers room opening, as there is nowhere to put that line and not enough staff to police it. Swelling lines snaking along the walls choked the actual thoroughfare. Sunday morning, even, I was stuck in that passageway to the panel room areas (along with Nagai and the Bandai/FUNi folks) trying to get there on time, LOL.

Dealer’s Room supposedly had some issue with vendors unable to show for whatever the reason, but it was overall an improvement over last year (not the least without a giant leaking problem this time). The rain was a minimum.

Autographing was done somewhat differently this time, but it was clubbed with the dealer’s room which meant doing two lines if you wanted in. It has to be addressed next year because it is compounding the problem, although I don’t know what that would be like. Right now, everyone gets into the autograph area and form a single lineup, which is parsed into buffers for individual sections that lines up by the autograph tables. If the lineup exceeds the area by the tables it backs up into the main line into segments. It’s a mess.

Still, mailing badges was good. I picked up mine on site and it took 20 minutes or so from Friday morning. Getting into the con took a while Friday as well, and during peak hours both the front-of-con and the Marriott underpass can get backed up. The latter is a tad slower, but it is air conditioned.

What did I do at this con…mainly attended the two Kawamori panels, in which he goes over some ancient history and explains his approach in designing stuff and creating stories. They weren’t mind-blowing but all very interesting in beyond just an academic sort of way. I got a couple autographs from the IBO guys, and attended part of Nagai’s panel on Sunday plus the IBO panel on Saturday. I also went to the wotagei workshop friday after midnight but that was just anikura with a bit of cringe leading in. Amazingly, there was this Japanese dude there who was a passing traveler at Otakon. Knows his wotagei!

That is probably more panels than I have attended since a long time ago, which is just to say Otakon this year is a big snooze, or actually chillax enough that I can go to panels. I passed on the Final Fantasy music stuff, although I’m sure it was good. I killed some time goofing around to anikura guerrilla style on Saturday night, after Otabrew.

Otabrew was also an unusual experience, since the organizer used it to launch a manga publishing imprint/company. I guess it is very Ed to have this happen. The beers were all pretty good and conversations are fun, so is getting tipsy. This is the year of the Sours, isn’t it.

I tried to not go into the dealers or do autographs, but I ended up walking the dealers and picked up some Million Live things. Thanks Sahvin &c for bringing back the first anniversary stuff for Million Live in July. Compared to Otakuthon, which I did not plan to spend anything, I spent almost nothing at Otakon dealer’s room. I guess I bought a couple keychains and pin badges, and that was it.

What else are of note?

  • There’s a makerspace this year, which was neat
  • I did the preview screening for Release the Spyce, that was neat.
  • Our hotel room got upgraded to a suite in the Washington tower. It had a walk-in closet lol.
  • Breakfast was business as usual, but we didn’t go to the lobby restaurant this time.

PS. Eat-wise, we hit up a Cajun place a short way across from the Marriott Marquis, across the square. It was restaurant week a weekend earlier there, so we used their promo menu. It was very good. Friday I also went to have small plates at a modern Greek place, supposedly kind of famous, that was just blocks south. Both very Instagram-worthy and the price was reasonable (for a Manhattan kind of person). Beats Fogo I think. After LA’s M-Grill I’m not sure I’ll be in the mood for Brazilian cuisine for a time anyways.

Looking at the photos, only the glazed roast duck over dirty rice is worth posting here…


Otakuthon 2018: Wrap

I went to Otakuthon 2018. The primary reason this time is to see fhana as their last tour stop. It would make sense if I can at least hit their North America stops, although sometimes I wonder if the 6 stops on the tour t-shirt and graphics were it, what about the other countries they visited during this time–namely PH and CN? And they only made stop-specific merch for the Japanese shows anyway.

There are a lot of reasons to visit Montreal for Otakuthon. Aside from fhana’s lit show, the locals put up a anikura event that was pretty lit too. Lia was in town to do some songs, and they are her perennial hits. Maidreaming sent 3 maids to do wota culture stuff and you can buy cheki with them. Anisong rocker Nishizawa Shiena was also there and it was really great. There were other guests there too, but these were all I had time for. OK, there are plenty to see and eat at Montreal too, and I tried to squeeze those in.

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Release the Spyce Preview @ Otakon 2018

I was still working on my Otakuthon post before I went to Otakon, so uh, here’s the timely nugget first.

Otakon 2018 featured two premieres, High Score Girl and Release the Spyce. The latter seemed more feasible schedule-wise so I attended it. That said, I was a couple minutes late so I walked into the opening action set piece.

I wanted to write about it because this show is really up my alley. It’s a fun spy/ninja piece about a bunch of young women who gain superhuman powers after biting on special spice. Spice, as in stuff you put in food, not the drug from Dune. The main character is a 11th grader who stumbled upon the secret organization in her town, Tsukikage, after her 99.99% percentile perception powers let her spot some shadowy figures flying around rooftops one night.

The lead character, Momo, who is voiced by Anzai Yukari, is a “shopping street kid” type character who seemed to lost her father to something. I won’t go too much into it but a truck ton of foreshadowing was laid down during the 2-episode pilot. And yes, it is a 2-episode sort of thing, which is why they showed 2 episodes at the con I assume.

If you have been following the marketing of Spyce over in Japan, which I have in a very casual way, you would know they have had some live stages featuring the voice cast. The main gang of the story is the Tsukikage group of ninjas Momo becomes in association with, and they’re joined in pairs by master-student setups, where the girl each have to train a successor since once they get too old, the spice super power gimmick stops working. This is partly how Spyce features a really solid of current-day voice actresses. Only a handful has been credited online, but after seeing the full credit after ep2 I can say that this is a show that scores well on that front. Well, it’s a Pony Canyon thing I guess.

The other non-spoiler-ish info I can share about the plot, I guess, is that there is an enemy group opposing Tsukikage. And it seems they’re full of female voice overs, too. That seems like the initial main conflict for now.

There are a lot of pieces of the setting that tickled my fancy–the use of curry for example. There are a lot of spice-themed things in Release the Spyce. There are also some actual spy kind of things, like manipulative interpersonal skills and 007-esqe gadgets. There are some solid parkour animation here and there, and the action leans on movement more than clashing of weapons. The 2-part pilot even ended with a car chase. It’s also the feeling you get when you witness the two sides of a pun moving in slow collision in the form of a TV anime. It’s like when galaxies swallow each other up in the course of millennia, despite being an exciting astronomical event. Or maybe a super slow-mo video of a vehicle test crash. I like it when a pun takes on a life of its own I guess.

Momo and her shishou Yuki (CV: Numakura Manami) use a stick of cinnamon-like thing as their power trigger. One of the other girl uses a bay leaf I think. There are a total of 6 active ninjas in Tsukikage as far as episode 2, and each of the student-teacher pair use the same spice, for up to 3 different spices. The media-mix property is already getting a novelization and manga adaptation since earlier this year, so it’s probably written in there.

I’ll leave the big spoiler on twitter. Well, big on impact, very small on substance. Anyways, the series is slated to air in Japan in October. No word on international streaming yet, but I’m guessing whoever typically Pony Canyon works with being the good bet (HiDive?). The full credit roll of the two-part screening was translated into English, so I’m guessing that’s the case.