Sakura-Con 2015: The Quickening–Day One (which includes panels, a lost item, and an interview with Sumi Shimamoto)

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Back in 2005, I went with a friend to Anime Boston.  We went for the first day only, with him driving back that evening as my contacts sucked all the moisture out of my eyes.  Digital photography had been out for a few years, but I still had a film camera, and I filled a roll.  That was the first anime convention I attended.

Two years ago, I went — also for the first day — to Sakura-Con.  This time, I took photos with a point-and-shoot digital camera and wrote about my experience on this blog, while mentioning my experience in Boston.  Sadly, Sakura-Con has since gotten rid of day passes, so the only passes available to the public are weekend passes.

My Sakura-Con 2015 journey began when I found out I could apply for a press pass as a blogger, and did.  Even better, I scored an interview with Sumi Shimamoto, who has done voice acting for as long as I’ve been alive (I’m not speaking metaphorically; her career started the same year I was born).  So, with one bag carrying my laptop and a notebook, and another bag carrying my DSLR camera, I was ready for Friday’s festivities.

10-11 am, Opening Ceremonies (Main Stage, 4A)

I was a bit late to the opening ceremonies, due to a delayed bus and technical difficulties with one of the computers used to register press and industry representatives (i.e. it died).  Still, I was able to catch part of the opening performance…

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…including the opening video, despite technical difficulties (they played it again at the closing ceremonies, glitch-free), before heading to my first panel.

Note: all the information provided during the panels was provided by the panelist(s), unless included in brackets or otherwise noted.

10:30-11:30, Manga Translation 101 (Panels 4, 4C-4)

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This panel was conducted by my friend, Zack Davisson.  He is a translator for Dark Horse (Satoshi Kon) and Drawn & Quarterly (Shigeru Mizuki).  After opening in Japanese and finding another convention goer who could speak it well enough to converse with him, he switched to English and provided a brief chronology:

1983: reads his first translated manga (I Saw It)

1988: takes Japanese as only one of two junior high school students in the class (he memorized phrases, but didn’t really learn them)

2000: moves to Japan as part of the JET program (this is when he really learned Japanese)

2005: receives MA in Japanese while in Japan, with a focus on Edo period ghost stories

2007: starts his website, Hyakumonogatari (literally, “100 stories”)

2011: translates his first manga (Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, with the fourth and final part scheduled to come out on July 21)

2014: nominated for the Japan-US Friendship Commission Translation Prize

He then gave his three tips for being a manga translator:

1. Learn Japanese

2. Learn More Japanese

3. Learn English

Rei, Asuka, and Shinji running away ;-)

Rei, Asuka, and Shinji running away 😉

But what does the word “manga” mean?  It comes from the artist Hokusai, an artist during the Edo period, who wanted to separate his serious work from his doodles (man=frivolous, ga=pictures).  There are four different ways to translate manga:

1. direct translation (manga=frivolous pictures): sucks as translation

2. usage translation (manga=comics): a bit better

3. interpretive translation (manga=Japanese comics): the best and most common kind of translation

4. no translation (manga=manga)

Because interpretive translation is the most common kind, a writer is usually attached to one translator, so that there’s continuity between the translations.

Rules of Manga Translation:

1. Everything goes in the box.

The speech balloons are certain sizes, and while the translator can request horizontal or vertical balloons, all the words in the speech bubble must stay in the bubble.

2. Translation shouldn’t sound like a translation.

This is often the difference between a fan translation and a professional one.

3. Everyone shouldn’t sound the same.

One must pay attention to voice, tone, and character.  The reason this is a bigger problem with Japanese than with other languages is that English is a low context language (the meaning is in the words) while Japanese is a high context one (the meaning is in the situation).

After these rules, Davisson threw up a few pages from Satoshi Kon’s Opus in the original Japanese with direct translations, to see how we would translate the work, keeping in mind the rules above.  There are other issues.  In Japanese, there aren’t swear words; instead, they use personal pronouns to denote how they feel about others.  In some cases, words don’t translate well (oftentimes, you can toss out those words).  Japanese manga also includes sound effects for everything.  The most difficult one to translate is “shin,” which means “silence.”  Davisson usually translates it as ….  He then showed us his translated panels to see how we did.

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Gogo Yubari, Kill Bill Volume 1

Before answering questions from the audience, he gave us some advice:

1. Practice!

To get good at something, you need to speed about 10,000 hours on it, or at least six years of Japanese.  A great way to practice is to buy a Japanese manga that’s been translated into English, translate the original, and then compare your translation to the professional one.

2. No scans!

In other words, don’t do fan translations.  “I’m not judging you if you do them,” Davisson said, “but if you are, stop now.”  Fan translations make it difficult for companies to do professional ones, since the Japanese companies look on those kinds of translations as stealing.  When American companies hire translators, they will do a background check to see if the translator has done fan translations.  If so, that person will be blacklisted.

3. Good luck!

While practice, networking, and face time are important, it ultimately comes down to luck.  And, unlike other languages, one can’t use CAT (computer aided translation) to help translate manga because of the difficulties in translating a high context language to a low context one.  Davisson recommended going on proz.com, which offers freelance translation work, for practice and for building up a portfolio.

During the Q&A, someone asked if Davisson had met Mizuki.  He did briefly, but he said that manga artists in Japan are considered untouchable and are kept away from the public.  Usually, one has to go through their agents.

For people interested in manga translation as a career, he warned that translating doesn’t pay much; you usually need a second job to support yourself.  Another problem is how to get out of the manga bubble.  With Showa: A History of Japan, Davisson fought for the word “manga” to be excluded from the title, as that would limit their audience (there’s a bigger audience for WWII history than there is for manga).  Still, with the success of Attack on Titan, he’s hopeful that the increased audience will mean more leverage to translate more manga, since the U.S. lags behind the foreign markets of China, Korea, Spain, France, and a few other countries in manga sales outside Japan.

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*Lunch*

I ended up having an enjoyable conversation with a gentleman while eating my overpriced personal pizza at the back of the Exhibition Hall, though I forget what was said.

12:30-1:30, An Interview with Sumi Shimamoto (Press Only, 208)

When I received permission to interview Sumi Shimamoto, the email stated that she would be doing a press conference.  Thinking I would be sharing the room with others, I only wrote down three questions.  When I arrived at the interview site, all of us discovered that we would have 10 minutes of one-on-one time with her. I had the second-to-last time slot (at 1:10), so I added more questions and milled about in the hallway until it was my turn.

As this would be my first celebrity interview (and my first interview since working for my high school newspaper as a freshman), I was nervous.  Fortunately, I made Shimamoto-san laugh on my first question, and the interview went smoothly from there, despite the fact that I had to write quickly to transcribe her answers.

You can read the full interview here.

Two interesting side notes:  I later remembered hearing her answer about The Sixth Sense when watching a Japanese show devoted to voice actors, particularly older voice actors, which means she must’ve been on that show.  Also, when I was researching her on IMDB, I came across a movie she starred in called Unico in the Island of Magic.  A few weeks earlier, I had been trying to find an anime about a unicorn who is whisked from place to place, but I couldn’t remember the title.  Looking up the plot summary of the original film (The Fantastic Adventures of Unico), I realized I had found my movie.  ありがとうございます、島本さん!

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A cosplay duo

2-3 pm, Race and Ethnicity in Anime (Panels 8, 206)

My afternoon panels started with this one, hosted by two recent female college graduates from Portland, one of whom wrote on The Last Airbender for her thesis.  Not surprisingly, the panel was very academic, which means it included interesting information sometimes delivered dryly.  One of the better parts included slides of different anime characters, during which the audience had to guess the character’s race, ethnicity, and nationality.

The panelists explained that Osamu Tezuka, the godfather of Japanese anime, was influenced by Walt Disney, and Tezuka influenced Miyazaki, which is why characters in anime often look Western or of mixed nationalities.  There are other reasons.  One is a phenomenon called mukokusei: lacking clear Japanese national, racial, or ethnic markers, culturally odorless (definition provided by researcher Dana Fennell).  This, in turn, is caused by four factors:

1. Anime as a fantasy-scape

Everything’s exaggerated (think of the “colorful hair phenomenon”).

2. Anime as cultural capital

Since the Meiji Era, and particularly since WWII, Japan has been reconstructing its cultural identity to resemble the West, and anime and manga is a 4 billion dollar industry in the U.S.

3. Lack of production funding

The basic face has to be easy enough for different people to be able to draw it, and on a limited budget.

4. Globalization of Western beauty standards

For example, lighter skin is considered prettier than darker skin.

Naruto group photo

Naruto group photo

We then discussed identifiers of race and ethnicity (for the former, things like hair and skin color, hair type, and speech patterns; for the latter, clothing patterns, language and accent, values, food, customs, etc.)  and discussed a study by Amy Shirong Lu, in which pictures of anime characters removed all clothing, color, and background signifiers and asked people to identify the character’s race.  Lu found that the race tended to match that of the person looking at the picture, with 82% of the characters picked as white, despite only a quarter of the characters qualified as consensus characters, and 205 out of 341 having a known nation of origin or race.

Finally, Japan thinks of race differently than Americans do:

1. 98.5% of the people living in Japan are Japanese (compared to America being almost 78% Caucasian).

2. The largest minorities in Japan are Asian (Chinese, Korean, Ainu, Ryukyan).

3. You can live in Japan all your life and still be considered a foreigner.

Therefore, who we consider to be minority characters in anime would not be considered minority characters by the Japanese.  As one of the panelists pointed out, how many Koreans do you see in Japanese anime?

4. Japan has radically different perceptions of race, cultural appropriation, and two-dimensional [anime] characters than the West.

When Avril Lavigne’s Hello Kitty video aired in the West, many writers thought she was culturally appropriating Japan.  Japan, on the other hand, loved it.  From their point of view, she can never be Japanese, so it’s fine to show her appreciation of all the touristy, kawaii things about Japanese culture.

(For more information on the studies included in this panel, you can search EBSCO)

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Asuka Langley from Evangelion

 3:30-6, Anime Music Video Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

I briefly checked out the AMV Contest, just long enough to lose a reusable bag while grabbing some water and to see and vote on the trailer contest, for which I picked Attack on Badassdom.

4-6pm, Ghost Without a Face: Lady Librarian Presents an Investigation of the Origins of Spirited Away’s Kaonashi (Panels 7, 3AB)

 Like the previous panel, this one was also very academic, but delivered with enough wit and fascinating information as to feel like you’d just attended the best university lecture on the subject.  For those of you who’ve only seen the English dub of the film, Kaonashi is No-Face.  And yes, Lady Librarian is a librarian.  Also, every time the mic cut out, she said, “Mononoke-e-e-e,” which is an unknown possessing spirit that traces its origins from the Heian Period in Japan, which I learned thanks to this panel.

If I were to go over all the information covered by Lady Librarian, it would take you as long to read it as it took me to witness it.  To summarize: the focus of the panel was to discover what kind of spirit Kaonashi is by discussing the different spirits and yōkai present in Japanese folklore and mythology, particularly ones that share traits with him.  What makes it difficult is that he seems to blend several spirits together, yet by combining folklore and Jungian psychology, Lady Librarian convincingly argued that Chihiro brought Kaonashi with her, and that Chihiro is a Miko, a child of the gods.  If Haku is her animus, then Kaonashi is her shadow-self, and she must resolve her connection with Kaonashi before she can resolve her connection with Haku (which she does).

You're under arrest!

You’re under arrest!

So, what led Lady Librarian to this conclusion?

1. Chihiro meets Kaonashi at the same point on the bridge as she met Haku.

2. He exhibits traits of Nō drama (his mask), a Gaki (has an enormous belly, spindly necks, and skinny arms), a Hikikomori (he pulls his mask inward, hasn’t developed a private and public persona — like a mask), and a Muenbotoke (a ghost who died without a family to take care of him or her in the afterlife), but is not completely one or the other.

3. The full title of the movie in Japanese is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi.  Kamikakushi is a folk legend in which a god steals someone, usually from a remote mountain village.  When they are returned, they sleep for three days, after which time they either go insane or receive magical powers. In addition, a Kamikakushi parallels death and rebirth as a metaphor for the journey from childhood to adulthood.

4. Chihiro, like a Miko exorcising a demon, asks Kaonashi three questions before he goes on his rampage in the bathhouse: 1. Where are you from?  2. Who are you?  3. What do you want?  She also admonishes, purifies, and pacifies him.

5. Traditionally, someone has one name as a child in Japan, and then would claim a different name as an adult, which explains why Chihiro’s name is taken from her by Yubaba, only to be returned when she’s matured enough to claim it back.

For more information on ghosts and yōkai, Lady Librarian recommended The Catalpa Bow by Carmen Blecker, which is the best book on Japanese mythology, and Zack Davisson, who is the resident expert on yōkai, specifically mentioning his panel on Gegege no Kitaro on Sunday.

While the slides and notes aren’t up on her website yet, you can read more interesting facts about Japan on her website: http://ladylibrarian123.blogspot.com/

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Bender from Futurama

*Dinner*

I couldn’t find Subway (it’s on the fourth floor), so I ate a delicious tuna sandwich at Goldberg’s To Go with potato salad and a pickle.  Not crazy about the pickle, but the potato salad was good.  I then went to Lost and Found, but no one had turned in my bag, so I left my contact information with them, just in case it was turned in later.

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The Joker

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And more amazing costumes!

6:15-7:15, Awesome Anime Openings (Panels 7, 3AB)

I only saw a few of these, including one called Exploding Man, which is self-descriptive.  Bizarre anime openings is more like it.

6:45-7:30, Anime Twitter Panel (Panels 4, 4C-4)

A stamp for 18+ panels

My stamp for 18+ panels

This was the only panel I needed my stamp for, and I arrived 15 minutes late.  I could’ve saved myself the trouble.  The panel is described thus in the Souvenir Program: “Are you a part of Anime Twittter?  Do you have no idea what Anime Twitter is?  Come visit us, talk about the community, make some new friends, and learn how to make great posts in 140 characters or less!”  In actuality, there was a screen filled with Tweets too small to read and a panel of three guys who didn’t do much.  One of them kept telling people to get off their phones and talk to people and then yelled at the ones who left.  I waited until he was distracted and escaped with a group of cosplayers.

7:45-8:45, Final Fantasy XIII with Rachel Robinson (Panels 2, 4C-2)

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Confession: I haven’t played Final Fantasy XIII.  I haven’t watched anyone else play Final Fantasy XIII.  And yet I went to this panel, because why not?  It ended up being the only guest panel I attended, and proved that you don’t have to have a structured panel to have a great one.   Robinson started by going into her background, which includes watching Hannah Barbara cartoons and mimicking the characters, and later taking a dialect class with Larry Moss, who can do roughly 75 different dialects (when asked about it, Robinson says she can do about 20).  Currently, she’s involved in Dragon Ball: Xenoverse.  She then opened it up to questions, which she answered until the panel ended, even taking photos with fans in the hallway after the panel was done.  Looking at her bio on IMDB, I also see that she’s a classically trained pianist and has perfect pitch.

In FFXIII, she plays a character named [Oerba Yun] Fang (Wikipedia entry).  Since Fang is from a planet “Down Under,” the writers chose to give her an Australian accent.  Robinson was super-excited to be in it, as she knew how big a deal it was, especially as Fang is one of the playable characters.  She didn’t know there would be two other games in what would form a mini-trilogy, which made her even more excited (though she only appears briefly in the second game).  While she also read for the parts of Vanille, Hope, and Lightning, she’s glad she didn’t get the part of Hope.  And, despite acting in video games, she doesn’t own a console gaming system because, if she did, she would “play for hours.”

Someone asked her about the unusual relationship between Fang and Vanille.  She said they adore each other, but it’s meant to be an unusual and ambiguous relationship, though some of her most fun interactions were with Snow [another playable character].  When asked who her favorite villain was, she said, “Cid Raines is kind of an asshole,” and prefers bad guys who hide in the background before revealing themselves [she must love Kefka from FFVI].  Also, if she could fight someone as Fang in real life, she said, “I would want to destroy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze because oh my god awful.”

For a film on voice actors, she recommends I Know That Voice, which is a documentary, over In a World [surprisingly, both came out the same year].  From directors, she prefers “a director who trusts you to do your job,” which she had in FFXIII.  Other video games she’s done include StarCraft 2 (Blizzard) and The Elder Scrolls Online “but not Skyrim.”  She also wants to be in the Marvel universe.

When asked if she prefers working in anime or games (she played Zorin Blitz in Hellsing, among other series), she said she likes both.  As for tips when voice acting?  She tries to drink a lot of water, and there’s a miracle drink that [director Taliesin] Jaffe told her about when working on Hellsing [X] that helped, since you “scream a lot when you’re a Nazi vampire.”

Speaking of anime, I wish I’d gone to the FUNimation panel the following morning, as there was an announcement of a project that Robinson’s “been sitting on for a year.”  I’m thinking it’s this one.

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8:45-10:15, Anime Showcase of 2014 (Panels 7, 3AB)

One of the reasons I like going to conventions is to hear about the hot new shows.  This year, I knew about Attack on Titan, but not Kill la Kill nor the ones suggested by the two male panelists here.  They showed the intros for each series and then put up a slide that mentioned the genre and where it’s playing (e.g. Crunchy Roll, Hulu).  Unfortunately, I came 15 minutes late to this panel, so I missed the shows mentioned before 9. Here are the ones I did hear about:

Haikyuu (sports, comedy) — about volleyball

Barakamon (comedy, slice of life) — a city boy calligrapher is sent to a rural island as punishment

Terror in Residence (psychological thriller)  — show things from two terrorists’ point of view

Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun (comedy, romance) — a shonen (young boys) show that pokes fun at shojo (young girls) anime, which tend to be romances

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior (comedy, romance, slice-of-life) — a sweet and funny series with great characters

Tokyo Ghoul (action, psychological thriller) — the main character is a boy who becomes a ghoul and has to adjust to ghoul life

Fate/stay night Unlimited Blade Works (action, fantasy) — branches off in a different direction from the original series, for the better

Space Dandy (comedy, sci-fi) — “a mix between Johnny Bravo and Cowboy Bebop,” and you don’t need to see the episodes in order

Parasyte – the maxim (action, drama, thriller) — similar to The Thing, a parasite comes to earth to murder whole families, possibly humanity in general.  In the series, a parasite takes over the main character’s hand.  Watch the first three episodes before you make a decision on it.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (action, adventure, fantasy) — based on a mobile game, this series uses a lot of religious figures.  And unleashing Bahamut would be a bad thing.

Your lie in April (drama, romance) — about a piano prodigy who one day loses his ability to hear music, and a female violinist.  The panelist who liked this show did so because they play actual classical music, the one who didn’t because the show kept throwing jokes in the middle of serious scenes and he wasn’t sure how he should respond.  He still recommended seeing it, though, as the ending is “one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”

The Seven Deadly Sins (action, adventure, fantasy) — the most shonen show of 2014, and it’s ongoing

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One of the best costumes of the Con

The last panel started their Q&A around the time I had to leave to catch a bus, so it worked out well for me — except that the bus was packed, and no one from Lost and Found had left me a message about finding my bag, though my phone had overheated earlier and shut itself off.

Since the first event I wished to attend on Saturday wouldn’t start until 11, I could sleep in…a little.

Press goodie bag and badge

Press goodie bag and badge

Next post: Day Two!  In which I don’t go to as many panels, but instead to something called Cosplay Chess…

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