Update on Sakura-Con 2017 Posts

Hello everyone!

Apologies to those of you who are looking for photos of your cosplay on this blog: I have over 1,000 photos to sift through, so please be patient. Here’s my plan with regard to Sakura-Con 2017 posts:

  1. Vic Mignogna interview (multiple parts)
  2. Aaron Dismuke interview (multiple parts)
  3. Cosplay (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 cosplay photos on flickr)
  4. Sakura-Con 2017 highlights (with a link to all my Sakura-Con 2017 photos on flickr)

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing out the transcripts from Vic’s and Aaron’s interviews. I have about 10 minutes of audio for the former, and about 20 minutes for the latter. Because SIFF begins next month, there may be a gap in what I post when, but I hope to have at least part one of my interview with Vic up by next month. If all goes well, most of the posts should go up in June, while my final post should be up by July.

Thanks for your patience!

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SIFF Interruptus

Normally, I would be covering the Seattle International Film Festival next month. Due to professional and personal reasons, however, I’ve decided not to cover it this year. I’ll still be attending its movies, and I’ll still be working at one of its venues, but I won’t be writing about it here, or (as happened last year) on Twitter. The professional reason is that I’ll be working more hours this year than in the past, and so will have less time to write about my festival experiences. The personal reason is private.

I will, however, be covering Sakura-Con this weekend, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I’ve got a couple of interviews lined up, and I’m excited about the panels and events being offered. I also have a new photographer helping me out with photo-taking this year (and, more importantly, being in charge of lugging my camera around). Hopefully I’ll post my entries before the end of April, and may even write a few posts during the Con itself!

Until next time!

P.S. While I’m not covering the festival, I do wish to draw your attention to SIFF’s new layout for its website. It’s pretty!

https://www.siff.net

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.

Sakura-Con 2015: The Tiring–Day Two (which includes more photos, fewer panels, and the manga library)

Are you ready for some cosplay?!

Are you ready for some cosplay?!

Saturday, April 4

On the second day of Sakura-Con, I replaced my shoulder-strap bag for a backpack and left my laptop at home, which made everything easier to carry.  I also attended fewer panels than the first day, in that I went to none.  Not that there weren’t good panels to be had (the Lady Librarian did one on Princess Mononoke), but while my mind was telling me “yes,” my body was telling me “no.”

11-12, Cosplay Skit Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

Zapp Brannigan and his cohorts from Zapp’s Spaceship of Love

I arrived at Sakura-Con early enough on Saturday to be in the first of three lines to see the Cosplay Skit Contest.  While walking into the venue, background music confirmed that, yes, there is a Japanese version of “Let It Go.”

Three guys from Zapp’s Spaceship of Love hosted the festivities, with humor and bad jokes filling the time in between contestants, often including Brannigan’s skirt tunic.  Also featured: some sexy unsexy dancing.

1. Luigi’s Ballad (Game Grotto) — Luigi serenades Princess Toadstool, only to have Mario come in and rap that she should choose him.  In the end, she chooses Toad.  As funny as it sounds, and proves that Mario’s a jerk. 😉

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2. Belly Dance (Fabumi Cosplay)–Two females dancers with more muscles in their stomachs than I have in my body.  Pretty freakin’ awesome.

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3. Problems with Being Haoru (Team Hiro) — Haoru wants to go swimming, but it’s snowing outside.  A parody of Frozen, complete with songs.

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4. Fancy Dancy Magic Prancy Fun Time (Subarashi and Ren-Ren) — Though boasting an impressive title, the dance moves weren’t as impressive as the ones by Fabumi Cosplay, but it included the female of the duo “accidentally” kneeing her partner in the balls.

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5. Road to Sakura-Con (Fruity Cosplay) — characters from Diablo, having already become gods there, decide to become gods of Sakura-Con.  Included a song from the movie Diablo, with altered lyrics.

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6. A Transy Masquerade (Onix Heart) — What it sounds like, complete with a fight scene.  Curious which anime this is taken from.

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7. Logging Out (The Jem Friends) — A she-robot (and I’m sure I’ll get corrected on this by fans) can’t find her boyfriend, so she kidnaps another boy and takes him to her world. His sister attempts to save him.  Complete with mechanical laughter!

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8. Seme and Uke: How To (Danion Biscuits) — This one confused our announcers, as one of them thought this skit was about ukuleles and was puzzled when it didn’t feature any. The audience and Brannigan knew what to expect, however, and while I didn’t, I could guess.  Nothing to really take pictures of, but the description’s in the title, and ended with a kiss between the two contestants: both female, both dressed as boys.  For the uninitiated…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

9. Full Metal Circe du Soleil (Crystal Nova Cosplay) — Brannigan had trouble pronouncing Circe du Soleil, until the host dressed as Bidoof told him, “It’s French.  Don’t pronounce the last letter of each word.”  Arguably the best performance of the morning, as Heather Lynch (dressed as Edward Elric) did crazy stuff with a scarf.

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Then it was time for the hosts to stall until the judges picked the winners, at which time, all the acts were brought out.

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Game Grotto won best comedy.  For their victory speech, the person dressed as Mario said (in character), “I’m the best!”  “That Mario is such a jerk,” the announcers agreed.  Best drama went to Crystal Nova Cosplay.  Heather’s response (in character) was, “Don’t ever call me short.”

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Then it was time for the audience favorite.  Brannigan manipulated the audience noise (and response) by raising and lowering his arm, then went to each of the acts and measured the applause.  He thought there were a couple that were close, but his fellow announcers decided there was a clear Audience Choice, and that was Fabumi Cosplay.

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 12-2, Cosplay Costume Contest (Main Stage, 4A)

The Cosplay Skit Contest led into the Cosplay Costume Contest.  I left during part of the contest to eat lunch, as I was starving, but here are the contestants I saw.

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*Lunch*

Another day, another tuna sandwich from Goldberg’s To Go.  This time, with TWO pickles.

1:30-3:30, Sumi Shimamoto Autograph 1 (Autographs, 4B)

On Friday, I’d asked one of my friends if she or her sister wanted Sumi Shimamoto’s or Vic Mignona’s autograph.  They wanted one of each.  Since that meant I’d have to stand in line four times (only one item can be signed per turn), I decided to split the difference: I’d go for Shimamoto’s autograph for my friend, and Mignona’s autograph for her sister.  Shimamoto-san had the better autograph time on Saturday, but searching the Exhibition Hall for something she could sign proved fruitless, unless I wanted to spend close to $500 on a drawing of Kyoko Otonashi.  Luckily, I had a Plan B.

I got in line around 1:30 and was surprised by how short it was.  Staff cut off the line at 1:55, but I was ahead of the cut-off.  The people around me noticed she was taking photos with fans, too.  One person there had bought tons of poster board for the guests to sign.  I found out from him where to purchase them and kept that in mind for next year.

Considering how big a voice actress Shimamoto-san is, I’m amazed I got to her signing table in less than 45 minutes.  She recognized me from our interview, and I gave her assistant my camera.  Her assistant had trouble with it at first, but the photo came out beautifully.

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 Cosplay in the Courtyard

Since I had free time before my next event, I went outside and took photos of people cosplaying.  While there, I ran into my friend Andy, who was also taking photos.  He didn’t have a pass for Sakura-Con, so he couldn’t enter the convention space.  I don’t know if you can get a press pass as a photographer, but I told him he should look into it, as his photos are the work of a professional, while mine are of a good amateur.

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 3:30-5:30, Vic Mignona Autograph 2 (Autographs, 4B)

Having once again found nothing for a guest to sign, I went in with my souvenir program…and was directed to the front of the third line.  And I hear his lines move slowly.  After sitting there for a few minutes, I left to do more productive things, since he had one more autograph session tomorrow, and at a better time.  Plus, I could use the extra time to find something for him to sign — like a t-shirt.

I mulled around the Exhibition Hall, skirting the first row of Artist’s Alley.  Since the creators of Spinnerette were at Anime Boston, there were no artists I recognized from last time (see Sakura-Con: Episode One) .  I did, however, check out the Artist’s Show — hidden in a corner of the fourth floor.

The Manga Library

I thought about going to an Ikebana Class, but decided against it at the last minute, and Lady Librarian’s panel would cut into dinner, Cosplay Chess, and my remaining energy.

Instead, I went to the Manga Library (204-205), where I chatted with one of my friends and read some Maison Ikkoku.  First was Maison Ikkoku: The Graphic Novel, which was such an old translation that it read left to right.  I then picked up Volume 4 (2 and 3 were missing), which followed the standard right to left manga translation model. I stayed there for about an hour.

Since Lost and Found was down the hall from the Manga Library, I popped in there to see if anyone had found my bag since yesterday, but no one had.

*Dinner*

Having finally discovered that Subway was on the fourth floor, I ordered a 12′ meatball sub. I could’ve eaten another one, too.  Since the weather was nice, I ate outside, but had the bad fortune of sitting near smokers.  So much for fresh air.

5:30-7:30, Cosplay Chess: Main Game (Sakuradome, 6E)

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Seong Mi-Na’s and Ash Crimson’s teams size each other up

When I received approval for my press pass, one of my friends told me, “You must see cosplay chess!”  Having seen it, I believe having an arena-style chessboard with stadium seating (so that people can look down on the board, instead of having their view obstructed by audience members sitting in front of them), would have increased my enjoyment of the event.  As would making it a half-hour shorter.

As seats were filled, we were entertained  by a break-dancing staff member.  Then the battle began between Ash Crimson, Seong Mi-Na, and their teams.

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The first battle

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Time for Monopoly!

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Sora from Kingdom Hearts used amazing acrobatics during his fight sequences.

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Yep, there were Power Rangers.

The worst thing about cosplay chess is that it’s chess.  The best thing about it is the battles.  Some are humorous, others breathtaking.  They included acrobatics, Monopoly games, guest appearances, fatalities, and humor.  Snake from the Metal Gear series participated (complete with a cardboard box he could hide in), as did Sub-Zero from the Mortal Kombat series.  Star-Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy couldn’t get Ash Crimson to remember his name until late in the game, while Kakashi Hatake from Naruto corrupted a youthful opponent with a dirty book.  And the cosplay characters weren’t confined to the chess board.  In the audience, I saw the best Lum costume I’ve ever seen, but as happens so often at conventions, I saw this one when I couldn’t conveniently ask for a photo.

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Big Hero 6’s Baymax helps Hiro in his match.

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The ending battle between Ash Crimson and Seong Mi-Na.

The two-hour match sucked all the remaining energy out of my body, so I left after it finished.  Looking ahead to Sunday, I saw a couple of panels I wanted to attend, including Zack Davisson on Gegege no Kitaro.  Oh, and Seong Mi-Na’s team won.

Next post: The final day of Sakura-Con 2015!  More panels!  More photos!  More standing in line!

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…

Sakura-Con 2015: An Interview with Sumi Shimamoto

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 Born December 8, 1954 in Kochi, Kochi Prefecture, this prolific Japanese voice actress’s debut was in 1979 as Mutsumi Hoshikawa in The Ultraman TV series.  Later that year, she was cast as Lady Clarissa in The Castle of Cagliostro.  Since then, she has appeared in numerous films and television series, including several Miyazaki films and as Kyoko Otonashi in one of my favorite animes, Maison Ikkoku.  Currently, she is starring as the voice of Dayan in Neko no Dayan.

After starting with pleasantries in English and Japanese, I began with my first question.  Unless noted below, all of my questions were in English, and all of her answers were in Japanese.  A translator acted as intermediary.

GS: This is your second time at Sakura-Con.  Since you rarely attend anime conventions in the U.S., what made you decide to return to this convention?

SS: (Laughing) Because they invited me! I hope I’ll be invited a third time, too.

GS: You worked with many different directors on Maison Ikkoku.  How does that experience compare with working on a movie with one director, such as Miyazaki?

SS: When I work on a TV series, it feels like I’m commuting to work.  With a movie, I feel there’s a deeper involvement, and that we’re creating something greater.

GS: Who are some voice actors that you admire?

SS: I admire many voice actors — for instance, the actor who played Maetel in the space train movie [voice actor Masako Ikeda in Galaxy Express 999] — but there are many other examples.  Sadly, they are departing one by one from this world.

GS: You’ve had a long career, as long as I’ve been alive.  What are some of your most treasured memories?

At this, she looked surprised and asked me in English, “You are 35?” to which I replied, “Yes, but I’ll be 36 in a few weeks.”

SS: The Castle of Cagliostro, in which I play Lady Clarisse.  It wasn’t my debut [as a voice actress], but it was the same year as my debut, so it has a big place in my heart.

This led naturally to the next question.

GS: What’s it like working with Miyazaki?

SS: (Laughs) I’m nervous every time [we work together]!  It’s not often that there’s an ‘okay’ take with him.

GS: Do you still remember how to do every character’s voice?

SS:  Not all of them.  For instance, I played the wife of the dead husband in The Sixth Sense on TV [the Japanese dub].  My kids were watching the movie and asked me if I played her, as it sounded like me, and I said, “No.”  That’s an example of my forgetting a role I’ve played.

GS: What is your favorite anime series?

SS: [Soreike!] Anpanman.  It was 27 years in the making, so I felt very involved with the show.

At this point, the translator asked me if I meant series she worked on or in general.  I said in general, so he rephrased the question.

SS: I really like Sazae-san.  Have you heard of it?

GS: No, I haven’t.

SS: There’s no one in Japan who doesn’t know it. It’s been around for [over] 40 years.

GS: Wait, is it the one about the Japanese housewife and her family?  I think I do know it.

At this point, there was a knock at the door.  The guest relations person poked her head in and told me I had about a minute left, so I should start wrapping up the interview. Since I had no more questions to ask, I asked for a photo, saying, “写真をとってもいいですか。She posed for a couple of them, then signed a card nearby with a cat drawing on it and gave it to me.

SS: This is a series I am working on right now [Neko no Dayan].  I hope you will tell people about this show.

With that, the interview was over.  After grabbing all of my bags and thanking Shimamoto-san in Japanese, I did some slight bows and left the room.  Her full voice-acting credits can be found on IMDB, though they don’t yet include Neko no Dayan.

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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.