Sakura-Con: Episode One

Before this year, I had never been to Sakura-Con, either due to lack of money, lack of time, or sheer forgetfulness at when it was occurring.  While the lack of money is still a concern, this year I had time to go on the first day of the convention.

The only anime convention I’d ever been to (also for the first day) was in Boston in 2005.  Now, eight years later, I found myself on the other coast, at another convention.  A few things were different, though.  For one, I went with a friend to the anime convention in Boston; I went solo to Sakura-Con.  For another, the lines were longer in Boston; because of pre-registration the day before, there were no lines to register at Sakura-Con.  In fact, there was only one person in front of me (though I suppose Friday isn’t the most popular day in which to attend an event that starts when most people are still working, which might also explain why the median age at Sakura-Con on Friday appeared to be 18 or 19).  Finally, the goodie bag included two manga samplers in Boston, with one sampler dedicated to Korean manga; in Seattle, the contents of my goodie bag looked like this:

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Because I arrived at the Convention Center at 7:30 am and doors didn’t open until 9:30, I had a lot of time to take photos (though I didn’t) and to plan my day (which I did), which also involved wandering around the Center and figuring out where everything was located (with my badge attached to my shirt at all times–yes, they checked!).  By 8:30, a sizable crowd had formed.

Before lining up for the Opening Ceremonies, I lined up to get my wrist stamped for any 18+ events that I planned on attending that day (which ended up being zero).  There was also a line next to me for people staying at Sakura-Con affiliated hotels.  In that line, they could get wristbands that would allow them to be seated for Main Events 15 minutes before everyone else.  Besides seeing some awesome costumes (including a Steampunk-influenced one), the coolest thing about waiting in line was that the person in front of me could whistle like a bird.  I told her she should whistle during the panels and see everyone try to spot the imaginary bird, but I don’t know if she took me up on my suggestion.

Once I got my stamp (which looked like cherry blossoms), I lined up for the Opening Ceremonies.  This is what the line looked like in front of me:

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And behind me:

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(Note: the people closest to the wall had wristbands.)

The Opening Ceremonies weren’t that exciting.  It began with a montage of cherry blossoms and cherry trees that went on too long.   Afterwards, Christopher Louck, A.N.C.E.A. (Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association) President and Sakura-Con Convention Chairman asked us if we wanted to see the official opening video for Sakura-Con.  My thought was, “You mean, that wasn’t what we just saw?”  but it wasn’t.  The official video included an animated female singing in Japanese with an English translation provided in supertitles.  Then, the Acting Consul General of Japan, Tomoko Dodo, spoke for a bit and Louck got to show off the official plaque that the Consulate General gave to A.N.C.E.A. for its work in deepening relationships between the U.S. and Japan.  Other events included a kabuki dance (before which Louck shared some stories when the sound system experienced technical difficulties), a shamisen concert that started with traditional music and then transitioned into a few songs from one of the Legend of Zelda games (and included an appearance by a female Link), guest introductions, and a super cute sakura (cherry blossom) dance performed by elementary school students.

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I went from there to my first panel, at which Atsuko Ishizuka spoke.  In Boston, I didn’t go to any of the panels, so this was my first experience at one.  Ishizuka-san had two translators to help her answer questions, though her introduction (“I am Atsuko Ishizuka.  Nice to meet you!”) had impeccable pronunciation.  Once some technical issues were resolved, she showed us part of the dubbed version of the series she is currently working on as a director: an adaptation of the CW show Supernatural.

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While she is now an animator and director at Madhouse, she actually was in amateur bands for 10 years before realizing that she could combine her three loves — music, stories, and drawing — into a career in anime.  One thing she especially enjoys about Madhouse is that they approach animation from many different angles, including animation as art and animation as conversation.

Of all the questions asked during the Q&A, the one that seemed to touch her the most was about Sakura Sō.  Unlike other series she has worked on, which has been geared towards guys, Sakura Sō is “more moe, more shojo.”  In fact, when the series was over, they had a graduation, and she gave a speech.  After the speech she cried.  It has been her best experience so far on a show, proved by the fact that she kept taking out Sakura Sō souvenirs and placing them on the table.

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From this action and from comments she made, I noticed that she also has a great sense of humor.  She mentioned how all the staff gathered in the office for a Buddhist exorcism before making Supernatural, to cleanse the production of any evil spirits that might be lingering.  She ended up injuring herself afterwards, but no one else was affected, so she assumed it just didn’t work on her.  Also, the microphones kept dying on her during the Q&A, so she joked that they must be possessed by evil spirits.

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After that panel was over, I went to the Artist Alley in the Exhibitor’s Hall, where I browsed many of the tables before being drawn to the Spinnerette table, where I broke down and bought an ashcan comic of the web comic series, which the writer signed for me.  I have since checked out other issues online.  The blending of humor and action is well-done; it remains to be seen whether further issues will delve deeper into the characters’ psyche (then again, I’m only three issues in).

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Next came lunch at Subway, which involved dealing with an employee who was a bit rude in her method in keeping the line going.  This isn’t New York, lady.  Still, I could understand how people dallying with their order could hold up the line and annoy her.  Even though I had a fo0t-long sub, it wasn’t enough food for me, though it might have been more a lack of water than a lack of food that was the problem.  Because it was such a beautiful day outside (and because the few tables inside were packed with people), I went out to eat among the cosplayers, some of whom were taking cigarette breaks.  It’s where I found this guy…

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…and got to hug Totoro.

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I then tried combining panels, though I discovered that most of the best costumes went by as I was standing in line, and since the halls had to be kept clear, taking photos proved problematic.  Still, I enjoyed the next panel I went to, called Dark Horse: Celebrating 25 Years of Manga.  Dark Horse Comics, for the uninitiated (including me) were the first comic book company to bring manga titles to the U.S., with the first title being Godzilla (1988), based on the 1984 film.  Fun fact: the manga was put together by two guys who enjoyed the film, but couldn’t read or speak Japanese.  So, instead of being translated, the dialogue in the issue was made up, based on the movie and what the two guys thought the pictures were showing.  Another fun fact: this year is the 50th anniversary of anime on TV in Japan, with the appearance of Mighty Atom (Astro Boy).

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The two Dark Horse representatives who ran the panel went through the history of Dark Horse Comics as it relates to manga before delving into new titles being released (including a sequel series to Lone Wolf and Cub, an older anime series that is still Dark Horse’s biggest seller).  Amazing, too, that the original translator and inker for Oh My Goddess!  are still working on that series, which premiered in 1994 and was one of the first manga series that Dark Horse published, originally starting in comic book form, while Outlanders was the first manga paperback to be sold.  I did feel old, though, when the two Dark Horse representatives had to explain what Wizard magazine was, and why it was such a big deal when Ghost in the Shell (another anime series published by Dark Horse in the U.S.) became the first and only manga to appear on the front cover of that magazine.

In fact, because it was so interesting, I didn’t sneak out until the Q&A began, meaning that I had to wait in the overflow line for Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which in Boston had taken place on the main stage, rather than as a panel.  I did get in, however, and even got some cosplay photos while waiting.  As for the panel, it’s the same as the show, except that everything has a manga/anime/video game tinge to it.

I then grabbed dinner back in the gallery, said “hi” to one of my friends at one of the booths, went back outside to take more photos of cosplayers, and then headed to the Anime Music Video Contest, which involved several categories of AMVs, including trailers, drama, romance, and comedy.  At the end of each category was a short recap of each of the videos.  I thought two of the best AMVs were in the romance category, where I had trouble deciding between one set to Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and another one set to Victoria Justice’s “B.F.B.”  I eventually went with the former.  For best overall, though, I choose my pick in the action category, which had lots of quick cutting and gunfire, in time to the music.

The end of the contest led to a mass exodus down the escalators, though minors could stay until 1 am, and some events lasted until the early morning hours.

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While waiting for the Epic Glow Gala to start, I headed into the karaoke room.  As not much was happening in there, I went upstairs to the AMV room, which I had often popped in during my free time between panels.  That and the video game room.  I stayed for several of the AMV sing-along songs, though most of the sing-alongs did not have words to follow on the screen.  They included AMVs set to Disney songs and even one set to the “Time-Warp.”

I had to check in my bags before heading into the Epic Glow Gala Dance, which was DJed club music, much as you would find in a Japanese club, except that nearly everyone on the dance floor was younger than me by ten or fifteen years (and, true to its name, people had glow sticks, glow hula hoops, and those yo-yo like glow balls on strings, which I always noticed in the clubs I went to in Tokyo).  I took a break in-between dancing, and the second time I went back in, spontaneous conga lines were forming for each song.  So yes, dear reader, I joined one of them.  Apparently, the thing to do in a conga line is to then high-five the people you’re passing, which I did.  When the conga line ended and other ones formed up, I was one of the ones high-fiving everyone that streamed past.  Heck, earlier in the day, I high-fived someone heading down the escalator as I headed up it.

Once I retrieved my bags, I took some last-minute cosplay photos, took a peek at AMV parodies of TV openings, and then headed home.  I must say, the drabness of everyday clothes on the bus shocked me, considering that I had been surrounded by this all day:

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As I snapped photos, attended the panels, and watched the AMVs, it occurred to me, as it often has, that anime and manga are not an accurate representation of what Japan is like, but rather what it aspires to be.  That is part of its power.  In a reality where cultural norms dictate behavior, dress, and decorum in all things, there exists an emotional brand of storytelling that reaches past that, to highlight the best and the worst in human nature, with the best winning out.  And yet, as a Dark Horse representative said, the greatest power of anime/manga is its ability to create empathy in the reader.  For once there is empathy, communication and understanding are possible — two things we could use more of in this world.

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