(Sticky) Eventing: 2020

[Last updated: Apr 7, 2020]

Last year’s note here, my Eventernote here.

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2020 Vision: Trends and Wishlists

Originally I was going to write up a recap for 2019 (and finish my recap of 2018), but I just didn’t get around to it in late December due to work and other unexpected things taking up time and attention. This January, I’ll try to work on them.

The plan was also, instead of a list or list of lists, I was going to write in bigger strokes some of the trends and the big picture view of some stuff; thus.

For starters, we are right in the thick of the next wave of original content localization, with more free-to-play mobile games being ported to English than ever. FGO being a top-10 gross revenue game in 2019 is a big deal, one which doesn’t even seem odd as Japan has always been a powerhouse when it comes to video game/electronic entertainment. But for those of us who followed this franchise from the start, it is a surprise that no one could have really seen 20 years ago.

The meaning behind it is that unlike manga and light novels, we are doing an 180–these incredibly (comparatively) effort and cost-intensive properties can have their showdown across the Pacific because they also make a truck load of money. Not even One Piece or (and?) Naruto can make a billion US bucks in a year (and yet they are still gated heavily by their publishers…oh well). Let along random B-grade light novels. Or any print books for that matter.

On the other hand, it’s easy to translate books and manga–that’s why escalation is so rampant. And it’s relatively easy to localize anime and the non-online kind of game content. As an IM@S fan I know all too well the problem when Bandai Namco is your game’s publisher, judge and executioner all in one, and that multinational beast is going to face some challenges in this ever-evolving landscape where there’s a lot of money to be had only if they could agilely maneuver to fight for a piece of the biggest pie in all of electronic entertainment. So Money is only motivation–the rest is incredibly difficult work (in some cases).

How that trickles down to the nuances of why someone loves some anime character is harder to see, and that’s where we introspect with our 20/20 glasses on, looking into what has happened to gleam some insight to produce, hopefully, good foresight.

Eventing culture is both being normalized and regurgitated overseas. The best example I can give is the flower stand thing. Like, why do people do it at cons? Does TGS have flower stands? I guess for the event? It is kind of weird to do it for the guests of the event… But as per the usual case with weeaboo culture, this is basically the morpheus strip where the West take whatever pieces of the culture they want from the East and repurposes it for their own, usually out of context (or only in the context of Reddit, Youtubers, and random blogs). It is what it is on some level, and it’s mostly fine as long as it’s only kids blowing disposable income to stan some Asian celeb, and remain mostly fun and games.

And that’s just flower stands. I think there are other examples, but let’s keep it under control and make sure it doesn’t cost pain or suffering, or even minor irritation, folks.

Thanks to largely Bushiroad pushing their more niche, event-tie-in content into English, we also see more of it via their guests appearances and Chara Expo USA. It is still a different story regarding localizing concerts, but live viewings seems to be taking off.

If we think of anime and games (and as I write this sitting in a hotel at Arizona, attending TaiyouCon, pro baseball) as what connects the West and the East, the long terms growth of anime films (both the snobby kind and the TV anime excuse kind) necessitates the same distribution overseas. The growth of anime movies for struggling theaters out in North America is a bright sign. I just think how the Konosuba film did in 2019, and of course, Promare, covers that spectrum quite nicely. It is also still a shame that Americans won’t get to see Shinkai’s new film until 2020 but the rest of the world have already put Weathering With You to bed now. I think that’s just because it is a stupid business reason but it is still unfortunate.

Speaking of the Konosuba film, some anime con better bring Takahashi Rie to America in 2020. Isn’t it amazing that so many theaters in North America screened that little pre-movie intro interview?

From the con front, I think we are well in ripe territory for competent, for-profit entities to provide actually good anime con experiences to adult fans in the anime side of things. In my view, the biggest barrier so far is actually that profit-seeking motive trying to outthink execution with galaxy-brain approaches. It is much sensible to copy what already works and just focus on how to execute better. And I don’t mean just con runners, but also service providers for cons. I think we still have a long ways to go when many cons aren’t even done picking the lowest hanging fruits. As attendees become more sophisticated and well-off there will be more headroom for growth.

In this decade, I hope, there ought be more scalable way to make sure that basics like line management and registration are not messed up for any con. We were already there for the most part in the 2010s, and even more so as fan con management services provide more layers of services such as RFID badges and badge mailing. We really shouldn’t have ticketing server screw-ups, even for high-demand weeb concerts (and better ways to handle those as well other than just an online rush). There are just not too many events with that many attendees.

This is also on top of existing developments. For example the cruise cons, the resort hotel cons, and that fans are doing their own hanger-on events on top of cons. Wota Peace Party is one such thing, and I wish there are easier ways for enterprising fans to plug into a con and cons to help those fans leverage these experiences so they can run their own “panels” so to speak. There are no reasons to be strangers, you and I. It’s about time for the Room Party to grow up, and maybe that could happen in the next 10 years.

As for con programming, I also think it is high time we actually import Asian best practices. I want more engaging guest panels based on their entertainment skill strengths. If Aniplex is going to fly Yuki Aoi to NYC, it would be a damn crying shame to not have her perv in front of your attendees. That’s what all the fans know her for! I mean why else did you spend all that money? What for? There are other examples like this. I know it can be hard to actually think about the content of the panel from the perspective of putting up a show–most industry style panels are closer to marketing to exec decks than actual fun stuff, but there is no excuse to put on $10000s of HR into an offsite location and just have them read off a spreadsheet. It is a poor use of money, time and effort. I’m glad at least some folks get this, but please put some of that money into use to bring us enjoyable context that properly flex the guests charm points. You want to make fans, you want them to be engaged, so it’s time to go all the way. Don’t fly 1000s of miles to meet us and only stumble on your last step.

Also related to this but coming from the other side of the world, maybe the next 10 years is when Japan-hosted otaku experiences will actually take off. Or I hope. The Love Live concert tours (and the upcoming Numazu tour) is something that Japan has really tried to do with wide ranges of outcomes. More often than not it doesn’t work, but guided tours are an easy way to bridge the gap, given if the fandom is old enough and reach critical mass of eventers. The work I’ve been involved in the past 10 years with showing some Producers the ropes probably helped, but the only horn worth tooting is the greater Bushiroad-Brand fandom that brought in the folks through their work with both the mothership and their fellow fans. Eventers all across the English-speaking world also helped to cobble together enough information to funnel folks far and wide into Japan, paving the way for more to follow. I think it’s rewarding to see the little drops of participation all of you contributed bearing some long-term results. And this just goes back to why some folks are so hung up on flower stands LOL.

Time to update my 2020 Eventing post!


Million Live 6th SSA

The final stop of the 6th Live Tour for THE IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE was in good ol’ Saitama Super Arena, in September. Unlike Million 3rd, this whole tour dragged on from April into late September. It crossed from Spring to Summer and ended on the second day of Autumn. That is a really long stretch.

I was only able to go to the Fukuoka stop in June prior to SSA. But that made a big difference. I guess it’s fair to assume even if people did not go to all the stops, many have live viewed at least some of them, if not all. It’s a big commitment to go to SSA for the live, in terms both of obtaining the tickets through one of the lotteries or by other means, and the effort of doing so. Producers across the country attended the biggest stop of them all, even if many traveled less as I did. It is still quite the effort to travel from the edges of Japan. I remember seeing tweets of the guy from Okinawa, trying to bribe tickets with local delicacies.

My crusty, jaded mentality aside, I thought 6th SSA was a lot of fun. Like what I tweeted for day 2, it left me with this sweet aftertaste as Tokugawa Matsuri in the form of Suwa Ayaka came up from the elevated stage and ended this illumination festival.

Day one and day two both followed the format where each subunit came out and do a part of their Angel/Princess/Fairy stop sets, with the collab/guest songs thrown in there and mixed with covers. During the 3 non-Kanto stops, each unit had more time to themselves, and the last 1/3 of the live each day was dedicated to covers and solos. So for SSA, they cut basically almost all the solos. For new content, we got the TB songs and some new covers.

Overall I thought this was fine, purely in terms of going to a live and looking for the songs we like. But this format does not flow very well, since we know what is coming, and the units have to do their key songs. Like, you knew EScape had to do LOST because of the way the song fits their group concept. Or that baller mix of Art Needs Heart Beats has to go with Jelly Pop Beans. It was more a toss up for, say, Charlotte Charlotte and D/Zeal and their covers (which both were new for SSA). But it also felt like day one’s groups were kind of a bore as a result.

In some sense, the overall limp malaise-y feel I get from SSA has to do with the way the approached the tour. It felt less like a live tour, and more like just 4 different shows, for some reason, that had to take place inorganically and in far reaches of Japan, so they had to get the tokyoites to move out by holding back the 4th one until the end. During 3rd it was almost the opposite–you didn’t get to go to the remote one because it was hard to get in those smaller venues; the small venues also made the lives a bit more intimate and different than the big shows Millions do. Tokyo types who want to camp out for the Makuhari stop are free to do so, that one felt fine because you knew it was its own thing, and not a summary like 6th SSA. Maybe that’s why it took me months to finish this recap, lol.

In terms of practical things on the ground, I was able to squeeze in a Kayafesh event on Saturday. That’s basically a really bad costpa sake festival with seiyuu content. I liked it because I can be a lush at times and it’s my first sake fest in Japan. Plus, you can’t go wrong drinking with seiyuu. I also stayed one extra day to enjoy Takagi Miyu’s birthday event, as things turned out to be. It was nice to stay that extra day and hang out with some local friends. Rest of the time, it was business as usual.

As of the latest update, the splash screen for Theater Days changed over to a new quintet, so maybe this post is apropos. For this flower project, we utilized the same shop we did for 5th’s flower stand, and it was a bit more on the cuff with Miri helping out big time. Funding-wise, we basically broke even like last time, but we needed a bit more of a push since the suggested donation is lower this time around, and everything cost more. No pin badges… Again, I cannot thank y’all enough.

It’s a weird feeling, thinking about the live again. In a way the hype was way less than 5th, but the live itself was way better than 5th. I liked how the tap dancers, at least, came back for a nice encore performance from Sendai. It does make me want to look forward to both that and the SSA version, which is a slightly bigger presentation. There are other touches that was nice for 6th. The streams of small videos promoting the live, the goods, and now the blurays, is appreciated but not too sure if it added much. Well, they did a good job promoting that costume book at least?

I mean, they could just say it smells good and I’m sure it will sell oodles.

Set list here: day 1 and day 2.

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Tanpopo-free Life

In Oresuki, the anime about meta-4th-walling romantic polygonal turned actual plot, the characters all have nicknames from different flowers. The flowery names take on literary significance both as summaries of the character concepts respectively, but also for fun and jokes. There is also a flower language layer in which is both in-universe and in interpreting the theme.

What I really want to talk about is Japan and its view of the Dandelion, or Tanpopo. This flower gets romanticized a lot in Japanese films and TV, as well as anime, games and manga. But as an American I just cannot bring myself to like it.

It is a bit like how a hardcore terran marine cannot quite bring him or herself to like zerglings. You dehumanize them. You fight them all of your life. You know they are worthless weeds, literally. You don’t even really think about it other than annual chores that took up countless hours since your childhood, eliminating it from the places that you call home. Or if you own one, also the time (and money) spent dealing with the plant pest. Sure, it’s neat that the plant propagates by airlifting its seeds. Sure, it is a hardy species in which can survive in all kinds of temperature zones. You can even eat its flowers, or make it into tea or whatever (I don’t recommend this in North America, just because of residential and commercial herbicide in use).

Which is to say I was delighted to see a character named Tanpopo in this anime, being literally the stupidest thing alive, being sidelined by the main characters. Unlike most depiction of tanpopo in JP media, this one is a lampoon of such. It isn’t her fault and her intentions may be acceptable, but Tanpopo is a nuisance.


C3 Anime Festival Asia Singapore 2019: Wrap

A Thanksgiving…weekender? I guess that’s the best description for this American. It is far, and it was fun. Singapore is both at the same time, this SEA city-state that is steeped in the best (and not so best) Asian tradition but also, like Crazy Rich Asians. For one, it’s an expensive place. The con is at Bugis, and we walked to the Merlion for some photo ops. The place is full on a tourist trap. The whole place is also steep in instagrammable setups that it felt a bit too much. I’m not a huge fan of living inside a mall either, and of all the times I visited Singapore, that was my persistent impression. Well, it beats walking outside that is for sure.

The series of events known as AFASG is on its, what, 11th year now? After its corporate overlord merged with the C3 brand, this name labels a few other cons in the SEA region, such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s kind of neat because there is significant coverage of these events (relatively to all anime cons, I guess) in English because the attendees often use that language. It’s certainly the case in SG. It’s weird to me because other than the UK cons, you don’t hear much about the ones in Continental Europe, for example.

The con itself is similar to a lot of other Asian cons–basically most of it is a big exhibition space/dealer room. This is what AX is basically moving towards, this is what ANYC is moving towards, this is what everything is moving towards–for better or worse. I can get into it, but let me just say that the room doesn’t make the con and it’s too much of a tangent. Maybe later this month.

Given this is my first time at AFA, I thought the con was run with a degree of practice among the staff and attendees. That turns into a pretty okay experience overall, as far as the nuts & bolts of the “con stuff” goes. I didn’t experience major gaffs other than finding myself not having a seat for Friday’s concert. Thankfully that was resolved just before the show started.

(But, like, imagine you’re ready for fhana and you get to the concert hall and there is no seat with your seat number on it. You commiserate with the other guys just standing there who also have no seat, knowing that someone already told the staff and they are trying to fix it. Then a few hurried staff came with seats and added the chairs and moved people around to reassign the alignment. Great. Show begins in 5 minutes.)

In case it was not clear, AFASG has basically 2 components: the exhibit hall (which has 2 stages–the Akiba stage which is more like a community stage in AX terms, and Lumica has one at their booth), and the main event space. During the con there are stage events that are part of the exhibition. At night, there is the “I Love Anisong” concerts which require another type of admission. All admissions are done via wristbands (daily). So for each day, there are like 5 different wristbands, and times three for the full weekend (they could have done a weekend wristband I guess, but didn’t). At least that’s for attendees.

One notable thing about AFASG is its size. For some time it has been one of the largest anime conventions outside of Japan. Today, it still is very big, but not that big. Just going by warm-body counts, I think it’s on par with Anime NYC 2019. AX is about two or three times as large, give and take. Like, if you’ve been to the big anime cons in the USA, AFASG should be familiar territory. The Anisong concerts don’t pack out (just like how it is here), but they do charge an arm and leg for the designated seats and nearly nothing for the standing space in the back, a nice contrast. The venue sounded pretty okay, and if you buy into the AFAWorld VIP thing, you can even get a decent seat easily.

To spare you with all the negative hearsay I hear from AFASG, I think you should expect a pretty typical anime con experience (state-wise). The venue is about the right size for Singapore, and the crowd is just right between laid back and intense to not cause too much trouble. I didn’t really camp at AFASG until Sunday, plus all the fun stuff I got at the con didn’t require queueing, most are either lottery or through online sales.

Like, I literally waltzed into DJ Arisha’s Akiba stage set half way through and got to the rails, LOL. Or just going to her set at Lumica when it starts, a few rows from the front. The exhibit hall was crowded on Saturday, but it wasn’t crazy. The shopping game is strong, but at the same time people tended to queue a lot at the bigger industry-based booths. Without Lumica and the like I’m not sure what people did at the con–it isn’t like there is a lot to do actually.

Maybe it’s also that the crush is not concentrated at specific things. There were plenty of livers on hand to make a ruckus at the various Arisha stages, but unlike the States it isn’t even a notable quantity of them. This is what a healthy convention environment should look like I guess.

Cosplayers generally gathered everywhere outside the exhibition area. Suntec’s con spaces is built on top of a two-floor mall, and it’s quite vertical with big lobby spaces. People sprawled there, but also there are designated photography spaces. Still people formed photo bubbles around major choke points on Saturday and that is kind of a pet peeve of mine. It’s more the JP style photo circle than just one or two folks stopping to take a pic. Cosplayers should have more awareness on that… But man, turfing this con is super easy–it’s almost by design.

What else is there to say about the con? Let me stop noobing and get to the specifics.

The concerts are kind of broken out by companies this year. Day 1 is mostly Lantis. Day 2 is Sony and others. Day 3 is HoriPro. Day three is almost like Anisong Ichiban, for those of us who remember them. There wasn’t a lot of zooing despite Koroazu’s best attempts, but having a live band to set up May’n and the ensuing collab songs was a nice touch. Don’t Say Lazy is so much better with a live band, I kid you not.

For better or worse, we actually didn’t stay for the whole concert until Sunday. Saturday was really not our thing anyway so we skipped out after half way into ReoNa, and came back to a couple Junna songs to pick up a straggler and go eat dinner. Friday I was just exhausted from traveling and left after Mayayan. The fact that most of the city closes by 10pm makes dining late a problem, but we ended up having decent eats for the most part, going to tourist traps for western bar food. McDonalds is decent eats, I guess? I don’t know.

The show itself didn’t have live band except for actual bands (Scandal, fhana, etc). May’n had a live band backing, which was cool. It makes me think that AFASG’s composition is sort of a ragtag alliance of strange associations. In a way that might have allowed more artists to show up but how much say do the organizers have on the management and labels? I have no idea. It didn’t feel like merch was heavy for a lot of them, which seems to be the case for other shows like AWM. That made sense.

The crowd was proper energetic and it felt like a festival live in Japan, but smaller yet not that intimate. Calls were largely missing actually, but you can hear it, which makes it more in line with American lives but just a bit better.

I think most of the takeaway at the con, despite the big focus on the concerts, were the talk stages and meet & greet sessions. The stage events are basically what you expect, Japan-style talk shows. Unlike the lame versions you see in the US, they got some instigators (namely Yoshida Hisanori) to keep things lively. The FGO ANYC panel is closer to what you want out of these, not dumb walkthrough of some script. That is a waste of all our time. Please, Aniplex and Pony Canyon, do it right.

Of course, that’s asking a lot. AFASG stage were only this good because of the top MCs which can pull it off. Between Ash, Reiko and Yoppy they covered all the Japanese-side of things, and I don’t think you can understate how much they make those panels enjoyable. Especially Yoppy. I mean how do you even get this to work outside of Singapore or China/HK/TW/KR? We also had this random Malaysian talent in Shinonon who cutely handled the meet & greet session, even if mostly that was just telling us to spend the 45 seconds per person of face time. It’s kind of important to give the guests something to remember, and that usually happens when we talk, and by talk I mean nervously stammer, to the guests. Surprisingly all four of the M&G guests were decent at this. Eriko probably was actually the worst, lol. Arai has this comedy act down pact, plus you know how she looks, LOL. The surprise was talking to Fujita Saki, who doesn’t do this kind of thing often but I guess, thanks to Miku, is doing more of it now. Tano Asami was more like, lol. But it was nice talking to her.

I only stayed for a few stage events, such as the epic one where Yoppy and Eriko tried to talk about Eriko’s stuff in English only, with Ash backing up as narrator voice. Tsugu and Kayanon did their usual Saekano stage (about SAO) and SAO stage (about Saekano). I was only at the Saekano stage so I can’t really comment about the SAO stage, but Yoppy did his usual thing and the camera guy really played to Tsugu’s facial expressions. The Null&Peta stage was literally them shelling us the game with Ajuju doing a quick demo of the gameplay. That was neat and interesting, as someone casually enjoying the short anime TV series. I also played the demo there, which supposedly was its first public reveal.

To put it into perspective, the Eriko panel was so good, it probably even tops the Trysail radio event at Taipei during the first Lisani TW as the most enjoyable panel that I’ve seen at a con or any event. It’s pretty awesome to have cross-language panels with canned guests and scripts (well, Yoppy and Sensei kind of destroyed theirs), but I’m just thinking when will we get that in USA? Maybe Toronto first? That kind of MC skill is badly needed and AFASG is a bit of a proof-of-concept that if you hire the right folks and have it planned, it can happen.

Overall, this year’s AFASG felt like a great time, and as a con AFASG is all right. I think if I was more thirsty or the “right” guests comes, I might be more peeved, but for people who are laid back about a lot of this, the con offers people to roll money for access, and there is a lot of laid back kind of things to enjoy if you’re sufficiently tuned into the programming. Money as a gate works in SEA. On the other hand it doesn’t cater to a wide audience unlike US/Canadian cons, so the appeal might be kind of limited and definitely way more industry focused. Singapore is also a bit tiresome in that the weather and the urban environ gets on my nerves after a while, but that’s just me. I’m just glad the people are good and they made my short stay there fun and welcoming.

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