Sakura-Con 2015: Day Three — The Ending (which includes my final panels, autograph session, and thoughts)

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Cosplayers in front of the Exhibition Hall

 Sunday, April 5

Sunday ended a three-day sojourn into a world of make-believe, one that enriches the real world by being unreal.  I saw the older adherents of this love of anime with my first panel of the day, slipped into discussions on supernatural beings with the second, spent an unreal amount of time waiting for an autograph, and ended with a nod to martial arts and multiculturalism.

9:30-11:30, Otaku 25 and Older, back again! (Panels 6, 4C-1)

Scorpion.  Monkey D. Luffy.  Some dude in a hat who normally dresses as Sub-Zero buts needs his costume repaired. What do these three people have in common?  To be fair, the first two are anime characters, but panelists played them during the Otaku 25 and Older panel, which returns to Sakura-Con from Portland.  To be more fair, the man dressed as Scorpion is known as Animeman73 on YouTube.

I have a confession to make: one of the reasons I joined this panel was to find a girlfriend make new friends with people around my age who love anime.  While I did have friendly seat-neighbors, I didn’t become buddy-buddy with anyone.

The format was as follows: the panel would ask a question.  The panel would answer the question.  The panel would then ask audience members to come up to the mic and answer the same question.  These questions covered the following topics: getting into anime, getting into anime later in life, anime as an art form and inspiration, is there a place for anime style on TV?, anime as a tool for social commentary, the benefit of attending anime conventions, and where does anime go from here?  Within the answers themselves sprouted more topics, such as whether anime conventions should be more inclusive (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) and if ads and commercials should use anime characters, as they do in Japan.  Also mentioned were favorite anime series, including the original Bubblegum Crisis, Outlaw Star, and Sword Art Online (which I heard about during Sakura-Con 2013).

I found myself nodding to the series mentioned (many people got into anime with Voltron, Thundercats, Transformers, Go-Bots) and to the points being made.  Then again, this is my age group. 🙂

The panel ended 15 minutes early, even including a Q&A, which asked questions such as, “Will otakus be pushed out, like in Vancouver?” and how can we “break anime” to people our own age (The answers, respectively, were “no,” as they’re too big a presence here and in Portland, and “be proud” of anime around people you know.  One person in the audience suggested describing the show you watch to someone first, then mention it’s an anime after they act interested).  The early end-time gave me more time to search for something Full Metal Alchemist related for Vic Mignona to sign.

*Exhibition Hall Scramble, Part One*

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One of my favorite photos from Sakura-Con, despite not quite cropping out the sign for compost.

I was specifically looking for a t-shirt, but I also noted the Exhibition Hall rows I visited so that I could continue searching after the second panel ended without covering the same ground.  I did not find a t-shirt, but I did receive a handout from a female cosplayer (not the one in the photo) on the Yuki Yuna Is a Hero booth.

11:45-12:45, The Weird World of Gegege no Kitaro (Panels 6, 4C-1)

Kitaro cosplay!

Kitaro cosplay!

Time for Zack Davisson’s second panel, this one about his area of expertise: Japanese yōkai!  Even better, I found the subject of his talk hanging out in line.  Davisson was also excited to see him and posed for a photo with him after the panel finished.  He said he’s never seen anyone cosplay Kitaro before.

The panel began with Davisson showing us how popular Kitaro is in Japan.  There’s Tottori Yōkai Road, which includes sculptures of yōkai from Gegege no Kitaro, a Kitaro train, a Kitaro airport, and even Kitaro toilet paper.

The origins of Kitaro borrow from Lovecraft, as well as Japanese lore (Kitaro is the last of the yurei zoku, which is a monster race that lived on earth before humans, much as Lovecraft’s old gods predate human civilization).  His parents summon a human to “hear their testament.”  When the human returns to the house, the wife has been buried, while the husband lies dead on the floor.  The wife, however, was pregnant when she died, and her unborn child (Kitaro) claws his way out of both her womb and her grave.

Main Characters in Gegege no Kitaro

Kitaro: He fights yōkai who harm humans.  His special powers include hair that can turn into needles and shoot at enemies, remote-controlled geta, and his chan-chan-ko (spirit vest), which is woven from the hair of his dead ancestors and is his most powerful weapon.

Medama Oyaji: Kitaro’s father.  When he died, his corpse liquified, except for an eyeball, which grew a new body.  He is very wise and gives Kitaro advice on the yōkai he faces.  He loves taking baths in a teacup.

Neko Musume: A half human, half yōkai whose uncontrollable cat instinct comes out when she smells fish or mice.  Of all the characters in the manga, she changed the most over time.  She also appears more in the anime than she does in the manga.

Nezumi Otoko: Literally “Rat Man.” Mizuki’s favorite creation, Nezumi Otoko is also half human, half yōkai.  He’s 300 years old and doesn’t bathe.  A scoundrel, and the voice of the narrator.  Donald Duck to Kitaro’s Mickey Mouse.

Origins of Kitaro

Of the most popular characters in Japanese anime (Doraemon-1969, Mighty Atom-1952, Hello Kitty-1974, Gundum-1979), Kitaro is the oldest (he was created in 1933) and the only one who looks to Japan’s past (the rest look to the future).  His origin story borrows from the legend of the ubume, a woman who dies while pregnant, first created in the Edo period (1603-1858).  Kitaro himself comes from the Showa period (1926-1989) and from kamishibai, a shadowbox puppet show that was popular around Japan, but went into decline with the rise of TV.  Though Shigeru Mizuki made Kitaro famous, Masami Hito created the character, whom he named Hakuba Kitaro (literally, Kitaro of the Graveyard).   Three of the kamishibai crossed over into manga, when one could rent manga to read (kashi-hon).  Mizuki worked on the manga, and when Hito retired, Mizuki asked him if he could continue the series and make Kitaro his own character.

An important thing to know about Mizuki is that he was a child prodigy when it came to drawing.  He was so good that he gave his own art show while in fourth grade.  In WWII, he lost his left arm in an Allied bombing and had to relearn how to draw with only one arm.

At first, Mizuki ripped off American horror comics (sometimes panel-for-panel).  Then he was kicked off the series over money, and the series was given to Kanako Takeuchi.  Mizuki created Kitaro Yaba for another publisher, and it ended up being more successful than Takeuchi’s series.

Then Mizuki got lucky.  Around 1962 or 1963, Osamu Tezuka, the grandfather of Japanese anime, pulled out of the popular manga magazine Shonen Jump over money.  Needing another manga to serialize, they asked Mizuki to come in.  One consequence of this was that he had to make his character more kid-friendly, since Shonen Jump‘s target audience is young boys.  First, he changed the title to Gegege no Kitaro (Mizuki couldn’t pronounce his name when younger, and so his nickname became “gege,” which is where the title comes from).  Kitaro also couldn’t drink or smoke anymore.  Finally, what had been a horror comic became a versus series.  Every episode, he fights a yōkai, and since there’s no continuity, you can pick up reading anywhere.

Two more innovations he created (one of which heavily influenced Miyazaki) was the yōkai mura, where all the yōkai live together (Totoro-like — also influenced the bathhouse in Spirited Away).  The other was to reinvent Japanese mythology, so that people’s conceptions of what yōkai look like match how Mizuki draws them.

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Kitaro through the decades

While Mizuki is still alive (he’s 93) and continues to work, he got bored in the 1980s and decided to turn Kitaro into a teenage sex comedy (called After Gegege no Kitaro).  As it’s “a full-on porno,” Davisson said it probably won’t ever be released in the U.S.  Another manga that may not make it over here is Kitaro’s Vietnam War Diary, in which Kitaro leads a group of yōkai to Vietnam, where they destroy the invading Americans (Mizuki is a lifelong pacifist).  There’s also Kitaro’s Family Musical.

One reason why it’s taken so long to translate Gegege no Kitaro into English is that people only want to translate the best parts, not all of it.  When Davisson wanted to translate it, Mizuki asked him to list thirty things he’d want to translate, saying, “That way, I will know if you know me.”  Of the thirty he sent in, Mizuki crossed off one and said, “That’s garbage, but you can have the rest.”  Currently there’s one volume out (which I picked up from the library soon after Sakura-Con was over), but there will be more.

Q&A

Since you can guess the questions, here are the answers:

  • The last volume of Showa: A History of Japan is at the printers.
  • The first volume of Kitaro is mainly the 1960s transition from Hakuba Kitaro to Gegege no Kitaro, including some stories that appeared in both, and were selected by the publisher.  By the 1980s, Mizuki left the series to his assistants, who made it more kiddish, while these stories still have a bit of an edge.  The next volumes, however, will have stories selected by Davisson.  Normally, he would’ve had books to sell, but Emerald City Comic-Con “wiped me out.”
  • Mizuki is also known for a folklore dictionary.  For the 25th anniversary edition of Drawn & Quarterly, Davisson got to include seven entries out of the 12-volume set as a test, and encouraged us to write to Drawn & Quarterly if we want to see more, as they take fans’ comments seriously.
  • Davisson is currently translating a biography of Hitler that Mizuki wrote, showing how far-reaching Mizuki’s talents and interests are.
  • He then asked us a question, “What came first, the TV series or the theme song? (It was the theme song)  While he didn’t know how to play the song off the Internet, he did sing some of it for us.

 *Exhibition Hall Scramble, Part Two, and Lunch*

Final round!  While announcements of winners of booth prizes and final signings and cosplayers swirled around me like cherry blossom in the breeze, I decided that — large as it was — a wall scroll of Full Metal Alchemist:Brotherhood would suffice for signing purposes.  Plus, it was cheaper than a t-shirt, and way cooler.  With scroll in hand, I texted my friend at the manga library to see if she wanted to grab lunch, then finished my sub in an alcove on the 4th floor before I saw her reply.

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2-4, Vic Mignona Autograph 3 (Autographs, 4B)

While I could most likely have brought my food inside while waiting (unless “outside food” includes food purchased at the Convention Center), I gobbled it down before rushing in to wait for a Vic Mignona autograph.  I got there a few minutes before they were letting people line up (you couldn’t line up earlier than 30 minutes before).  It was a shorter line than yesterday, and I was standing in roughly the end of the first half of the line.  Knowing that I’d only be able to get one thing signed, I contented myself with a photo, as an announcement at 2 pm stated that he would try and stay for everyone and that if you wanted a photo with him to have your camera ready in order to move the line as quickly as possible.

Two lines over, people were lined up for Johnny Young Bosch, which is pretty amazing, considering that he started signing at 11 that morning and was scheduled to stop at noon.  My manga library friend got her autograph then, but since many people wanted his autograph, Bosch decided to stay the entire day.

Kanako Ito left and WIT Studio arrived before I got to the signing table, where Mignona was selling photos of himself with different characters he’s voiced for $10 (if I hadn’t found anything, I could’ve bought one of them).  A woman dressed as a Klingon told us he had a free CD on the table (and others for sale).  I grabbed one, because nothing beats free.  A double-CD called The Gospel of John, it does indeed appear to be The Gospel of John, as “narrated, composed, and performed by Vic Mignona.”

Learning from past blurry images of celebrities, I pre-focused my camera.  The staff member I passed it to took a photo of the signing, but then pressed the button too fast when taking a photo of me and Mignona.  Second time was the charm, though, and since the person in front of me asked him to write a whole bunch of series’ names on her memorabilia, along with a lengthy message, I merely said, “Thank you,” and left with my wall scroll for my friend’s sister, who I later heard was freaking out about it.  Then I noticed that, underneath his signature, he had written “Ed,” which will lead to more freak-outs on her part.

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4-5, Closing Ceremonies (Main Stage, 4A)

Yep, Johnny Young Bosch was still signing autographs as we went into the main stage area for closing ceremonies.  Here the winners of the various contests were projected on the screens, and we were treated to a martial arts show by Body Movement Arts.

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Then voice actor David Vincent came out and we saw a glitch-free version of the opening ceremonies video by Daniel Thompson.

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David Vincent

Next, Vincent announced the contest winners, which I’ve posted in the order they were announced.

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Winners — Jazzy and Dustin Kofoed

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Group — Pitch, Please; Chibi Idol — Emi, Haruhi, Bettie; Audience — Ted Tagami; Judges — John; Idol Winner — Jemma

After Vincent announced the karaoke winners, Idol Winner Jemma took the stage to sing her winning song, complete with dance moves.  Very cutesy, and she looked thrilled.  You can see her performance of the same song during the competition here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zX-KFlRrBk

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AMV contest winners were next.  While I didn’t get to see all of them, I correctly picked the best trailer:

Best Trailer: Attack on Badassdom (Maboroshi Studio) –“Knights of Badassdom” Theatrical Trailer – Attack on Titan

Best Concept (Trailer): Harlock Into Darkness (DriftRoot) — “Star Trek: Into Darkness” Theatrical Trailer – Space Pirate Captain Harlock

Best Tech/Artistic: Unbound (Ryuu-Dono) — “All Is Violent, All Is Bright” by God Is an Astronaut – Various (5)

Best Drama: Levity (PieAndBeer) — “All I Want” by Kodaline – The Wind Rises

Best Fun: Another Fanny Service Video (Ileia) — “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg – Kemeko Deluxe

Best Action: Ultra Fighting Bros (Irriadin & Daramue) — “No Scared” by One OK Rock – Various (11+)

Best Upbeat/Dance: Ho-Kago Teastep (MoonieAMV) — “Highscore” by Terminite and Panda Eyes – K-ON!, K-ON!!, K-ON! The Movie

Best Romance/Sentimental: The Confession (GuntherAMVs) — “I Wont Say (I’m in Love)” by Susan Egan – Katanagatari

Judge’s Choice (Comedy): Ship Happens (VivifxAMV) — “I Ship It” by Not Literally – Various (23)

And finally, the Best of Show went to…..

Anime 404 (BakaOppai) — Various Audio (16) – Various (36)

…which we got to watch.  I laughed so hard my sides hurt afterwards.

Then came time to reveal the Sakura-Con 2016 mascot.

Third place: Laura Jun

Second Place: Samantha Kays

First Place: Vania Chong

You can see the three winners (and their mascot drawings) here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=837338139654040

After Vincent thanked all the guests, we were treated to the traditional Korean dancing of Oolleemm.  A line of drummers followed their leader around the stage, sometimes running after her, as she played something similar to a gong with a stick (probably a kkwaenggwari).  She kept time with it, often speeding up and slowing down, as well as playing it louder and softer.  A final hit with the stick held against the instrument stopped the dance and the instruments, only for her to start them up again.  In this way, she led them around the stage in snake formations and suicide wheels.

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After applauding them, Vincent said that Sakura-Con holds a special meaning for him because Sakura-Con 2006 was the first convention he was invited to.  At that point, Chris Louck worked for Sakura-Con, but wasn’t the ANCEA president.

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Chris Louck

Louck then came out and told us that the silent auction raised over $40,000 for the Make-A-Wish foundation.  To end the festivities, he had everyone stand and say, “BANZAI!!” three times.

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And that was it.  Time for final photos of cosplayers (a pile of them posed with Oolleemm just outside the theater), and then the Con was over.  I almost stopped on one floor to get a picture of Groot, but decided to stay on the escalators.  Leaving the Convention Center, I saw attendees say goodbye to friends from other cities, other states, other countries.

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If only Viz hadn’t screwed up the release….

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Final Thoughts

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Why do I love anime and anime conventions?  For anime: its creativity, its characters, its worlds, its lessons, its animation, its fight sequences, its music. For conventions: its costumes, its panels, its camaraderie, its PEOPLE — some of whom pass as shades through other parts of society.  I witnessed blind people doing cosplay and a girl in a wheelchair reaching for manga in the library.  I saw female lovers comfortably holding hands and heard twenty-somethings expound upon a culture that remains only slightly less foreign to me now than when I lived among its citizens.  Even guide dogs roamed the halls, sometimes dressed up in ridiculous costumes (well okay, I didn’t see any dogs dressed up in ridiculous costumes, but I did see guide dogs).  No one is excluded, except for those who would exclude others.  Harassment isn’t tolerated.  Bigotry isn’t tolerated.  Sexism isn’t tolerated (despite fan service).  That’s not to say they’re nonexistent in anime culture, but it’s not sanctioned and runs counter to the ideas that sustain conventions.

And that’s what I love about them.  I feel self-conscious in the real world, but in the world of the Con, I don’t have to worry about being myself.

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Until next year…

If you want to see all the photos I took during Sakura-Con 2015, just click on the link.

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