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Otakon 2014: Prep Notes

A fellow wota has one nice schedule that he was sharing with people on his social network attending Otakon. It sort of sums up my feeling about Otakon this year.

Despite being located a 3-hour drive away from home, Otakon is my home con in that I feel at home there. I am familiar with it. The con is run, for the past decade plus, by the same group of people. For better or worse, it brings a strong continuity and a sense of familiarity to the convention that I’ve been attending since I was way younger. And I’ve met all kind of people via Otakon as an offkai. Don’t offkai at cons, they say, but that’s only because it misses the fact that America is huge-large and it’s in this context of physical reality shaping cultural sensibilities that one can have a home con at all. It doesn’t seem like a strange concept, but it makes you wonder how do Tokyoites feel about the events that happen year-round in the city, versus some countryside hick and the few events they have locally.

Enough about that. My seventeenth-to-be Otakon is shaping up to be a chill weekend. A major programming track called “Yoshiki” is largely off my schedule due to non-interest. I guess I could splurge for his MSG show with the rest of the X-Japan crew if I must, but I just can’t spare the energy–attention span–to mark and process it. There are just too much else going on that I can barely keep up with.

For once, Otakon is going to be focused on hanging out. There is still plenty of logistical challenges that face the fans following the GOH tracks I follow, plus the usual ones that almost everyone has to deal with. So let’s see. Like how to score some time to eat dinner on Friday.

Back meme

Baltimore RW week begins last week and continues into the next. This means some good deals for people who want to eat a little more upscale.

There is a possibility that panel tickets will be in play this year for autograph sessions, which applies mainly for ALTIMA and Hayami Saori. ALTIMA might have an autograph session after their concert, it’s not certain and it may not be likely. There are not much in terms of changes in how Otakon is suppose to do autographs (and the fact that you can find out well before the con is a huge plus for Otakon and how it works the thing), but they are using a new space this year, in the Hyatt. We’ll see how that turns out. More info here.

Opening ceremony might be worth going to just to catch Ojou/Sats/Motsu before her show during the day. Hayamin supposedly has a rough schedule and might only be at the con in a meaningful sense on Saturday. Gotta play that by ear.

I’m a big sucker for Mai Mai Miracle, and I think Katabuchi can do it…as in, become a popular anime filmmaker. The question is how. He is going to talk about his new film at Otakon and I might even make it to the first panel where he’s going to talk about it. There’s an art exhibition, which hopefully I can catch at some point during the weekend. One last thing, his birthday is on Sunday, 8/10.

Matsubara-san is also a cool bro. I just hope I can make his programs without issues, at least he has a bunch of them. Play by ear. It’s a bit like Katabuchi, I met both of them before so the urgency is less about attending their programing, over the people I didn’t. It’s times like this that makes me feel a weekend for Otakon is just too short.

The Baltimore Ravens and SF Giants play a pre-season game on Thursday. I know one guy who’s going to see it. I also know I will do my best to avoid all that traffic. Sport-wise, the St. Louis Cardinals are in town Friday to Sunday for a series with the Os. STL fans travel well, but probably not in large droves as Yankees fans do for Baltimore. Both the Cards and Os are (birds, and) doing well so it should be a fun inter-league match.

I totally don’t have the CIA guys on my radar, but it would be nice to say hello to them.

There will be a Real Escape Game event at Otakon. I would like to try it, actually, but who knows if timing would work. Presumably you just sign up for a session?

Peelander-Z will be at the Otakon Matsuri. That’s a free show on Thursday.

Aniplex has a Game Show… And they’re giving away some freebie at Hayamin’s panel. Usually Aniplex guests will do an autograph session for their booth, but it doesn’t sound like that’s happening. Well, who knows.

ALTIMA has only one full studio album on their discography, so it’s easy to guess what they will perform at the show. It probably won’t be too far from what they did in Europe. The question is which songs they will cover, and if we’ll get lucky with any of Maon’s (or even motsu or Sats’s) discography. I’m okay with the KOTOKO songs Sats wrote, if they choose to do those.

A particular P is trying to get a bunch of notes for Hayamin. Not sure how he will collect it but it will make a nice memento, I hope.

Meanwhile I still can’t quite find my copy of Love Plus+, so I can’t import my latest save…don’t really want to start over. I’ll probably still get my game box signed, though. I have all those.

I hope I can wrap up all that I have to do before I take off, and that looks to be a list that gets long each time I glance at it. Sigh.

Otakon is doing info desk duty using social media this year–there’s a SMS line, twitter and a ticketing system?

So, as you can see, even in such a laid back Otakon schedule-wise in terms of priority, it’s still conflict hell full of strife and programing inefficiencies.


Perfectly 2.5D

When it comes to seiyuu idoling, I have become a shell of a man that I used to be. Partly because I’ve had enough exploding from the shelling of Japan’s next-generation seiyuu idols, each lobbing nutbladder bombs badder and deadlier than the next. Partly it’s also because my exposure to the fandom makes all of it a race condition, so to speak. Hype begets hype. If I was a jaded homebody sitting in front of a PC during some ungodly hour and trading judging phrases with other like-minded, I wouldn’t be in this shape. So I guess while going all out for the 2.5D is both fulfilling and thrilling and a total blast, it comes with that cost.

Otakon is on my radar, but I’d like to take a moment to enjoy the most softly-decorated itasha. And yes, I’m enjoying Hanayamata. WUG has made me soft against Kaya’s rather typical northern charms. And speaking of Otakon, Hayamin transcends her status as an anime otaku favorite and transforms into a, well, Cinderella Girl.


Sports Anime Should Be about Art

This below post was kind of something that came to mind after I hit “publish” on the previous post, and it’s too big to just edit into my previous post. So.

I actually watched half of S2 marathon style

To summarize my last post, I am just complaining that sports manga/anime stories shouldn’t be taking sports just as a character development vehicle. It’s not to say don’t develop characters. I’m not saying we shouldn’t focus on intercharacter relationships, teamwork, or any of that good stuff. What I am saying is the way the actual sport is portrayed in sports anime/manga should be taken seriously and more thematically thorough. It should not just be a means to an end.

To go to the next step, maybe Chihayafuru is a good example because that is a pretty hollow example. By that I mean competitive karuta, as much as you dress it up to be, is still not much more than Egyptian Ratscrew. There are techniques, but it’s hardly a game nearly as complex as, say, motor sports in general. Or even most team sports. Is it more complicated and nuanced than curling? Anyway, that’s not the point, and I don’t want to belittle anything. But part of what makes Chihayafuru ticks is how it explains one of the most ethnically obscure sport of Japan to an audience who largely isn’t aware that it is a thing. There’s the whole exploratory angle. It really isn’t a story focused on an audience of pro karuta fans who follows the scene, but we share Chihaya’s point of view, starting a novice, as she explores the world of karuta.

What I enjoyed from Chihayafuru is that it plays pretty hard on the artistic nature of karuta. That the poems’ history as courtesan time-wasters is not lost on the audience. The art to “singing” the poems, for example, interplay with how fast someone can pick up the audio cues and thus get the right card first, is precisely the kind of thing that ties both the athletics and artistry sides of the sport and what it means to people who play it, in light of karuta. It’s not done in light of some intercharacter conflict or struggle, but as a nature of karuta. And in a way that karuta is such a simple game means there were only a few ways they can make these sorts of things stick out in the anime. I think that is a mixed blessing because the story can focus on the “go to koshien” aspect, which is, admittedly a necessity if the game here is foreign to most viewers. I’m also glad, visually, Chihayafuru is all about those artsy things.

And I think that’s the best way to approach sports anime: treat it as art. To use K-ON as an example, music is, by default, treated like art. It is about how it affect our lives. It’s not as much about how competition, pressure, a desire to be successful, self-worth, or whatever teenage angstbait or page-turning trick, but about what it means to learn to be a craftsman in your art. It’s partly what makes team sports so much fun to watch, because it’s not just a single guy doing the physical equivalent of hunting wild boars in a MMORPG until he dings level cap. Mio and Azunyan can practice until their fingers bleed through and their guitars stain crimson, but it’s not what music is about. Just like how abusive and difficult summer camps is what Koshien is about, but not so much what baseball is about. But singing a nursery rhyme when it’s raining outside and you’re doing absolutely nothing on a Saturday afternoon is exactly one way what real life music is like.

This is partly why I really like Oofuri. That is one story where you know whoever wrote it paid the gods of baseball the proper respect. It’s a plain koshien story, sure, and it still focuses on the battery like 90+% of baseball anime, sure, but the treatment of the sport is glorious. You can actually find what is artful about both baseball and Oofuri just by watching a bunch of people play the sport. Despite swimming in its very culturally-specific context of the Japanese high school sports club experience AND the whole Koushien culture context, Oofuri takes a big step beyond just all of that, and talks, well, baseball.

So, yeah, the other big reason why I like Oofuri is because it goes beyond the rigid genre walls of sports anime, the go to koushien schtik, and even the walls of high school baseball stories (and high school stories). Maybe another way out of these barriers for a non-Japanese to enjoy sports anime is through the appeal of these simpler, fundamental concepts like teamwork or raw human emotion and growth/character development. But if the focus is on that, I feel the work would lose its sports appeal.


Sports Anime Is Really about Character Development

This is the trigger, but I gave this topic a lot of thought over the years.

And it still is kind of the same thing.

Sportsball

The problem about sports anime is that isn’t about sports most of the time. I think it might mean I should give ESPN’s oft-praised 30-for-30 a try, because as they say in American sportscasting, it’s still about telling a story. I think the problem with sports anime is not the stories they tell, but how deeply the sports play a role in the story. How does it integrate thematically? I keep coming back to Cross Games (because it’s the most moving sports anime I probably have watched, and it’s also the only Adachi thing I saw to completion) because it’s a great story that probably has nothing to do with baseball, yet it’s about baseball. It is entirely engaging for me as someone who knows about high school baseball in Japan, but it is totally boring as someone who enjoys following the MLB. In that sense, it’s a story that engages me as a person and as someone who knows about the whole koushien religion but not someone who enjoys watching baseball.

I want to also point out One Outs, a show I dropped about 2 episodes in, because it is ridiculous and honestly I’d rather go sit down and watch that Million Dollar arms movie first. What I want to see is more like, Moneyball. Because one is actually a book about baseball and the other is just gambling. It isn’t to say the cat-and-mouse game depicted in One Outs is not a part of baseball, but it’s characterized in such a way that becomes a very different thing to enjoy; I wouldn’t so much if I didn’t enjoy that gambling aspect. I would say if I was a bigger fan of the sports I might enjoy One Outs on technicalities of how it portrays the sport in such an out-of-box way.

Baseball fans are blessed because Japan loves this sport, so there are probably more baseball manga and anime than most other sports. It’s also easy for me to draw from to make my points because of that. And because Oofuri exists. That is the kind of sports anime I love, because it uses baseball to tell the story, even if ultimately it’s the same human narratives you find in Adachi’s works. It’s just also the same kind of narratives you find on a pre-game show on ESPN. What drives it isn’t the ships or the feelings of the players, but what the sport does to you, how it changes the way you think and see things. This is kind of also why I am sticking with Ace of the Diamond.

Over time I also found an increasing reason to justify why Ro-Kyu-Bu is a great sports anime (as far as sports anime goes–in my opinion very few are any good for fans of sports), and that is precisely why. The story in Ro-Kyu-bu is about a bunch of kids, through their pursuit in basketball, actually learn something about life, and they apply it to their sport. For those people who follow developing pro basketball programs, you know this is actually exactly how it works even at the highest level. And the fact that one of the lolis has a post game just tickles me.

To that point, this is also why I’m not talking about, say, K-ON or Hanayamata (or GaruPan or Love Live or many other similarly formatted stories) in this blog post, because they don’t even enter the picture even if it may be natural to graft on a Go To Koushien trope in the plot for any of those. There needs be some  kind of texture, at least, from the “sports” thing. For me K-ON was actually the closest out of the bunch because it totally channels a form of what music means to people. And because music is such a big topic and experience, it’s hard to box that in the whole sports context. Another one that I see people harp on is Chihayafuru, which feels like a koushien thing through and through and does the sports aspect right, but competitive karuta is as sports as Concentration. It’s about the novelty of the thing, not the thing itself.

And it’s also the distinction between just showing it and explaining it. K-ON is a story that just show you what music is, and what it does to people (eg., not always good!). Oofuri on the flip side is a story that explains everything to you, both directly and through how the story progress, how people relate to each other, and how they develop.

This is actually my biggest critique to GaruPan–by all means it’s a solid sports drama, but it only has one major character development point, which is Miho’s backstory and how she reconciles it with her sister. Seems like a lot of time spent to do very little, at least in that sense.

Also, part of this is just the way how the concept of say, team play and competitiveness, play into character development as showcased through sports. To me that is bull caca in that we’re still telling the same old story told everywhere and does nothing about the sport. If execution is where it counts, then it becomes just a matter of executing the thing on the sports. The catch here is that people come to anime narratives for exactly that–the intercharacter drama, the growth and maturity of individuals, the beauty of friendship, what have you. But who isn’t into this stuff? The sports component is like the moe component, in that it becomes a database element. All too often the sport is merely a subject of respect and not so much a subject of love and passion. It’s not the focus of the story. It’s not thematically thorough.

So yeah, more real sports anime please.


IM@S Still Cleans Me Up

There’s not much else to say on my part. Words probably could describe how I feel today and how I felt back when in February, but this means so much to so many and it was executed so well that it says all that I wanted to say.

Oh, I guess at least I can attribute.

For those who are new, let’s just say that back in Feb there was a great IM@S live event and I was able to attend. In many ways it was possibly one of the most moving attempt at mix media marketing ever, and one of the best anime/game event ever. It was also a great concert on its own. Now we can relive it on Blu-ray comes October 22nd. There was a live stream earlier today that I clipped and put on the ‘tubes and you can look at the samples above.