Tag Archives: Conventions

Nerd Courting at Fanime 2013: The Power of an Insulated Imagination

It's kinda like that...
It’s kinda like that…

At FanimeCon this year, there was a panel that had just about every nerd’s attention in the convention. People packed into a large room to hear one man talk and then they couldn’t stop talking about what he’d shared with them during the panel the next day —and I was one of them.

It was on a hot topic that has perplexed and perturbed many a nerd: nerd courting, i.e. how to interact with people you find attractive.

Photo by Carolynn P. Sullivan
Photo by Carolynn P. Sullivan

That’s Adam Cullen, a guy who majored in dating and a nerd who knows what it’s like to try and date other nerds. His friend Eric Jacobus was also there with him, and he assisted in fielding questions from the audience during the panel. Nerd gals and guys definitely had a lot of questions on their mind concerning this topic, so many that not all of them were able to be answered during the panel. But two questions in particular stood out. They were asked back to back, yet both received almost the same answer.

Nerd Girl: “What if you’re trying to date someone from a different nerd class and they’re into different things than you’re into?”

Nerd Guy: “I’m a competitive gamer and I’m having a hard time finding a girl who is into games as much as I am. How can I find someone who’s as competitive?”

Paraphrasing here, but you understand what they’re asking: how do I relate to nerds who are a different kind of nerd than me?

Cullen explained that the nerd arena is huge now. If we apply the same analogy he used in the video, sports, it makes sense; there’s a lot of “sports” you can choose to be nerdy about today. You can’t know everything about all of it, but you can at least be open to learning a little about what you don’t know. He suggested you share things with each other. Introducing someone to something can be a great bonding experience. His example: he had never watched Doctor Who, until a girlfriend convinced him to give the show a try. Now, he’s getting a tattoo of Doctor Who next to his One Piece tattoo. And they’re still friends who can nerd out over Doctor Who together.

I managed to record the first 10 minutes of the panel’s introduction, so please enjoy the video before reading on. Sorry for the shaky hands.

Topics like the friend zone (“b.s.”), dating within your friend group (“why not?”), sex (“TALK”), and how to flirt (or how to tell if someone is flirting with you…) were discussed with many a hilarious and touching story from his own experiences. It was an honest panel room that asked their questions too, from “why do guys not give bigger girls a chance” to “I feel like my girlfriend wants to take things further, how do I tell her I’m not ready.” Open communication, Cullen stressed, is key to any kind of relationship.

And if you’re asking this question in your head: so should I not be fantasizing beforehand? Don’t worry, your imagination is not the problem. An audience member actually stood up and asked that same question. And Cullen told him no way, that’s the best part about being a nerd. So don’t try and suppress it. That was the best takeaway for this writer.

The greatness of this panel cannot be discussed in one go, but you can definitely send a message to the man himself if you wish to ask him about a problem or questions you have in this area. He made it very clear that anyone can friend him on Facebook and shoot him a message; he’s open to communicating.

If any of you are going to Anime Expo this year, definitely make it a priority to go listen to the Nerd Courting panel there.

Here’s all his media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adam.cullen.50
Forum: http://www.fictonia.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=courting
Twitter: http://twitter.com/Fictonia
Tumblr: http://fictonia.tumblr.com

Fanime 2013: Then and Now

thenandnow1

So the first time I attended Fanime was back in 2007. A lot of things have changed for this convention since then, one being how many people actually like anime enough to go to a convention like this, which makes it more fun and just a little more frustrating not to ragequit when you want to see certain panels or events.

California Republic of Bronies
California Republic of Bronies

Every year, FanimeCon, or simply Fanime if you please, is held in San Jose, California. It’s run by the Anime Resource Group (ARG) and it’s the largest anime convention in Northern California. They’ve got all the usual con goings-on. This year, Anime Diet interviewed some of their guests of honor; notably Takahiro Omori, director of Hell Girl, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Durarara!!, and others, along with Yumi Sato, his producer for those titles and more. We also talked to Hiroyuki Yamaga, who’s been attending Fanime before any of us had ever heard of it. He works for GAINAX, so he’s kind of a big deal and you probably like most of the anime he’s worked on. That interview will be relevant to your interests.

And do you like Power Rangers? Because we also talked to Tsuyoshi Nonaka about mecha and Iron Man’s suit design. Check out those interviews, which will be posted soon. Fanime receives some pretty impressive guests of honor every year—that much has not changed since I last attended.

Didn’t see them at the dance, which is unfortunate, they’d have given the raving furries a run for their money.
Didn’t see them at the dance, which is unfortunate, they’d have given the raving furries a run for their money.

What has changed is the number of panels and the topics their panel guests cover. Adam Cullen, whose panel “Nerd Courting” was hands down my favorite, is definitely a new panel guest that started around 3 years ago and has been a popular returning guest. I didn’t even notice it was 3 hours long; neither did the packed room. I’ll be talking about his wise words and my experience with speed dating at a convention in a separate article, so keep your eyes out for that if you’re curious.

One of the more interesting things about Fanime is that it seems to have incorporated more variation in their panel topics, not necessarily related to anime, yet still within the scope of an anime convention. There was a panel called “Diversity in Cosplay” that looked interesting; it covered convention sociology and diversity within the cosplay community. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to that one, but if any of you did, tell me how it was in the comments. The cosplayers who attend Fanime are the best I’ve ever seen IRL; it seemed like more than half the con was cosplaying. I also noticed the new phenomena of “crossover cosplay,” where two anime characters are combined in one costume. Example: Sailor Moon crossed with Pyramid Head (who we caught dancing in the game room).

Does this count? I think so. Photo credit: Michael Santa Maria, @robotmikephotos
Does this count? I think so. Photo credit: Michael Santa Maria, @robotmikephotos

Some of the things I remembered were still there, only they’d been upgraded: the 24 hour rooms showing anime were still there, but now there were categories from nostalgic titles, new ones, and “you have to see this one.” The karaoke rooms were still there, but now there was a maid cafe! And Yaoi Bingo now had one for the young bloods and one for 18+. The late night dance parties still happened, only now there was a line to get in. With bouncers. And Artist’s Alley was so big, it was now in a separate building. Everything was now bigger, and better. Which meant lines. Womp womp.

When artists are inspired by oldschool art, you get some awesome results. Artist: Jennifer Cox
When artists are inspired by oldschool art, you get some awesome results. Artist: Jennifer Cox

My only complaint: a separate network for press would have been nice. As I was trying to do my social media thing throughout the day, I was having problems uploading pictures and tweeting, to the point I just gave up. #pressproblems

Yet this convention is still my favorite I’ve ever been to, and I think it’s because the people in attendance are the best part. I talked to a lot of people who said they’d been coming for years. Even though it has grown massively in the past couple of years, they still love being there, even if there are now lines for everything. That’s a fan.

Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction Press Conference Transcript

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Here’s our translated transcript of the Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction press conference at Anime Expo 2012. Some questions were not translated precisely, and we have noted when this happens. It may also account for some of the vagueness of the answers.

Our questions, as always, are in bold.

Would you say your music style has changed since you started composing soundtracks?
Ever since I started composing soundtracks, the music I create has changed a lot.

When did your love affair for music begin?
When I was in elementary school, I was in the chorus club, and I belonged to the chorus club for a long time, and so the first song I composed was a chorus piece.

When you first started your musical projects, where did you look for your inspiration?
By “project” do you mean FictionJunction? Umm, it depends on the songs, I don’t have any pre-decided place to search.

What inspired you to form Kalafina?
For Kalafina, I wanted to make focused (lit. “narrow”) music. For FictionJunction, I have to try everything I come up with; for Kalafina, I only want to try what Kalafina is supposed to sound like.

You tweeted that you’re a big fan of the Beatles. Who are your favorite bands and composers through history?
There are too many to narrow it down, but I like Paul McCartney the most from the Beatles. I love Paul’s songs. ANd I also like Queen, ABBA, Mike Oldfield.

Any other composers who inspire you?
If you say composers, I think Paul McCartney and Mike Oldfield are composers as well, But I don’t have a certain composer that I feel “this one,” since there are a lot of composers. I think I’m influenced by a little bit of everything.

Are there any future projects that you can tell us about?
There’s nothing I can talk about.

Many of the shows you’ve scored have a strong Gothic overtone. (Petit Cosette, Kara no Kyoukai, Fate/Zero, Madoka, the costumes of Kalafina) Are you drawn to that genre of anime in particular and if so, how so?
Is it gothic? I wonder Madoka and Fate/Zero are categorized as gothic, but I am certain that those shows are written in a dark and deep world. Yet, I don’t get offers to compose for anime that are merry and happy.

Question for Wakana and Keiko who are both in Kalafina and FictionJunction. What would you say is the key differences between the two bands?
Keiko: Yes, as Kajiura just said, FictionJunction does whatever Kajiura wants to do for soundtracks and anime, and Kalafina’s group sense is not like FictionJunction’s, so they are very different in terms of musicality.

Kajiura-san, in 2003 you did a concert at AX. What is it like to come back in 2012?
When I did the concert in 2003, it wasn’t a full band. So, this time, I can bring all the members of the Yuki Kajiura live band, as we always do in Japan, so I think it will be very exciting.

Could you tell me more about your Latin style chant music? What inspired you to create that sound, which is such a striking and iconic sound for you? What was your inspiration and where did it come from?
I only wrote one real Latin song (“Salva Nos”). But I use a lot of artificial language. I have huge fun creating songs with an artificial language because artificial language can make the melody stand out.

You were involved a lot with studio BEE Train. How did you get involved with BEE Train, and do you want to write music for “girls with guns” show again?
When I first worked with BEE Train, director Koichi Mashimo was the one asked me to work for the project. This first anime soundtrack I had worked on [with him] was “Eatman” (1997). And since then, because of that, Mashimo has asked me often to work on his projects. Of course, I want to make music for a “girls with guns” show again if I have a chance.

What is the most important element in composing music for anime?
The BGM and the scene have to match. I think basically BGM should be put behind the scenery. It’s not the character, but if it matches the character’s worldview, I always think that will be the music will make the anime’s worldview colorful effectively.

For Kajiura: J-pop is popular around the world, and your anime music is known internationally. How do you feel about that?
As a musician myself, I think Japanese animation is a very interesting field that can experiment with a lot of things. So, I’m very proud as a Japanese person that people around the world are paying attention to anime and watching it. It’s an honor to be part of it if my music can help people around the world to enjoy anime. I receive a lot of emails from various types of people around the globe through my homepage and website. It warms my heart when I realize how many people around the world are watching anime.

How do you get to know all these talented people?
It’s really difficult to find the right singers. And a lot of people introduced these singers to me, then I had finally made it to meet them. Everyone is so different and unique as a singer, but all of them are my ideal singers.

Was there any soundtrack that you found difficult to compose?
I had gotten an offer to compose for Mai-HiME. When I received it at first, I was worried if I could make music for such a cute show. But by the end, when the story turned out to be very scary, I didn’t get confused when I started writing the music.

How is it working with each other as FictionJunction?
Wakana: Everyone has a wonderful voice, and everyday I’ve enjoyed having stimulation from the other singers.
Keiko: There are four people, so we are all different, unique individuals, so it’s very stimulating. Every time, there’s plenty of laughter, and I enjoy doing this music.
Kaori: I usually sing alone by myself, so it’s an honor to work with the wonderful singers and I love being able to sing with a chorus.
Kaida: I usually sing with a chorus, but I haven’t done much with a quartet, so it’s good to sing together with 4 of us solidly. I feel like I can get a young power and strive, so I’m enjoying doing this.

What kind of composer do you want to be remembered as?
First of all, I really love doing anime music, I love doing BGM and soundtracks. Composing music along with motion pictures is a very exciting thing, so if I can, I want to be remembered as a soundtrack composer.

Are you fan of anime, and do you have any favorite songs that you composed for anime?
I have several; I liked the Mushishi manga, and when it was animated, it perfectly matched the manga, so I bought the DVD collection for the first time. And a few years ago, Gurren Lagann was airing in the morning, and it was a good, very energetic anime that invigorated me every day, and I kept saying, “I liked it I liked it,” and so I got the DVD as a gift and I watched it all.

For FictionJunction: what music have you listened to that energizes you?*
Wakana: I like the songs I sing, but I love a lot of other music too. If I must choose, I like Spitz, and they always energize me.
Keiko: I love dance music, so currently, I love Lady Gaga. To feel upbeat, I just listened to her and came here.
Kaori: I don’t listen to music to get energized usually, but as a result of being energetic from listing to music, I will say that Makihara Noriyuki, a male Japanese singer, his songs inspire me to live courageously.
Yoriko Kaida: Lately I like Genki Rockets, and I listen to them often, and I get energy from them.

When you hear other soundtracks, do you ever think “I can do different”?
It’s rare for me to listen to other soundtracks negatively like “I would have done it differently.” But I study soundtracks by listening to various kinds of soundtracks.

How is writing music for Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero, Madoka)’s stories different from other works when you do soundtracks?
Urobuchi-san’s stories are very compelling, and they have the power to entrap me. Rather than saying his works are different, his works seem ready-made to write songs smoothly. There is a certain constant rhythm in his scenarios; I can clearly see that here is the climax, and here is the blablabla, and I just need to put music to that part: so it’s makes it easy to find musical inspiration for each scene.

*This question was actually a mistranslation of what I originally asked: “Which pieces of Kajiura’s has moved you so much, it made you cry?”

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Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 3 [FINAL]

Silver Tier—now that’s more like it.

Day 3 was, unfortunately, my last day, since I had to go back to work on Monday.

I did the same as the day before—arrive early in the morning to the press lounge, to pick up LiSA concert tickets. This time, they were available, but Masquerade tickets were not. I had no intention of going to the Masquerade, but apparently they too were the victim of printing problems. The conspiracy theory that a bunch of us press folks floated the night before—that our FictionJunction tickets were deliberately printed late to give us worse seats—was probably groundless if even Masquerade tickets were late. Shinmaru, newly minted Cart Driver writer, arrived later to the press lounge, along with zzeroparticle, Kylaran, and of course Benu.

I should mention that the press lounge was distinctly lacking in power strips, but I usually arrived early enough to claim one of the wall plugs near the window overlooking the exhibit hall. Free water was only available early in the morning. These are minor, minor complaints, especially since the all-important wifi and AC was still available, but it’s still a step back from the previous year. But I digress.

The first panel I attended with Shinmaru was the Madhouse/Chihayafuru panel. As we followed toastcrust and others on Twitter at Fate/Zero voice actor Rikiya Koyama’s panel, it was increasingly clear we went to the less funny and interesting one…nevertheless, there were many good questions asked at this panel for a change. We received some clarification about Chihayafuru S2—apparently it’s not certain if Madhouse will animate it. (We had been bizarrely asked not to talk about S2 during the press conference because it hadn’t been confirmed, though ANN had reported on the news earlier.) One Kana cosplayer caught the eye of the producer, who asked for a picture. A huge Keroro-chan sat in the back and waved. They all opined, diplomatically, that the moe trend didn’t necessarily pose a threat to quality anime. This was, despite the lack of Jack Bauer singing, a quality panel and we got some good tidbits out of it. And ATT 3G did not FAIL this time.

During the downtime between the Madhouse panel and the LiSA concert, I interviewed more press and industry folks about the troubles they had this year with registration, access, and other issues. It was around this time that I resolved to make a report about our frustrations this year. It felt like a duty as a press badge holder to make these things known in a truthful and accurate manner. You’ll be seeing that soon. I also had lunch with my friend Phoebe, who with her friend was cosplaying as Kurumi and Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke. I hadn’t seen Phoebe in a few years and it was good to catchup again.

When we took our seats for the LiSA concert, much to our relief, we learned that photography and video were both allowed at all times. And it was clear to me why, as LiSA began her cheerful, upbeat show. If Kajiura was reserved, powerful, and dignified in her music, LiSA was outgoing, inviting, and joyous. She interacted in solid English with the fans all the time, doing a great job getting everyone on their feet, to follow her motions, to sing along. This young, relatively new singer had a command of stagecraft that is enviable for her age and experience, and the open policy on shooting footage is a reflection of her relative openness. When she invited everyone to come up near her for a last photo at the end, I enthusiastically joined the stage rush. It’s been a while since I felt so happy after a concert.

Perhaps in an attempt to placate some of our dissatisfaction, there was a press-only reception at the 21+ open bar Lounge 21 not long after the concert. While the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres were appreciated, we heard nothing but similar complaints and stories from our fellow press colleagues. I managed to get several statements on video regarding our troubles. It was nice to hang out with our compatriots and see that we were not especially spoiled or alone, something I have no wish to be. There will be more than one press outlet that puts out a report about these issues, I now know. You don’t mess with press. :)

From the Red Carpet: Minami Kuribayashi, Kouki Yoshimune, and Ayami.

After dinner, there was just one more event I could attend, the Total Eclipse premiere with Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami singing their songs. Photo and video of any kind were not allowed, but given the low battery level of our equipment, we wouldn’t have been able to catch much anyway. In either case, I arrived just as Ayami was about to begin her song, and got into the spirit with Rome, Benu, and the rest of press in front row as we pumped our fists and cheered. The focus, of course, was on the anime itself, which was a surprisingly brutal war/militaristic mecha piece that featured only some fan-service in the first episode and no more. It’s basically the prologue/origin story of the main character, and so the main plot will begin with episode 3, but despite some clumsy directing it was actually fairly solid.

I had to rush out of the convention center and back to the hotel to pack up and leave for Union Station after that, saying a hasty goodbye to everyone, though I was able to get in a few wisecracks about Total Eclipse to the guys remaining in the hotel. I barely made it, with only 10 minutes to spare when I got on the train.


And that was my Anime Expo 2012. It was, on the whole, a successful convention, though not without its special frustrations for press this year. I had tremendous fun hanging out and being with my fellow aniblogging colleagues as well as of course the faithful and hardworking staff of Anime Diet. Thanks to @_eternal especially for providing a room for a bunch of us smelly scum of the earth, even if I went to bed and left earlier than all of y’all.

Let’s all meet again next year!

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 2

“Bronze Tier” should have been a tip off that something was amiss…

Day 2 was going to be Ground Zero for me: the day that I had anticipated the most as a fan. The day of the Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction concert.

I did what I did last year for the press Kalafina tickets: I got up earlier than all of my blogger roommates, headed to the convention center, and waited outside the closed press lounge for our two allotted tickets for the Kajiura concert. To my surprise, the staff opened the room early, and I was able to charge my equipment while waiting.

When 9 AM, the appointed time for ticket distribution, came—there were no tickets. They would be ready by noon, I was assured. Ticket printing problems had come up. I hung around the press room for another hour or so before deciding to head on out for the Vocaloid panel with Rome, Benu, and other press folks.

Now, I know little about Vocaloid and Hatsune Miku beyond the basics. I’m not familiar with the most well-known Vocaloid composers—Benu and Rome told me that the ones who appeared at the panel, like Kagome P, Deadball P, and Dixie Flatline, were actually some of the biggest on the scene. Despite my lack of background, the panel was thoroughly enjoyable. The songs were either hilarious or, in one case, a bit poignant. The composers were frequently funny and/or outspoke, with Kagome P giving a hearty “fuck you” to the Japanese government’s laws closing dance clubs early, and Deadball P being his best otaku self by declaring Miku his “waifu” and that he has had a baby with her. His song, “Japanese Ninja #1,” is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve heard or seen at this convention. Dixie Flatline told of how a Youtube video of last year’s Mikunopoils concert (I’m still smarting over having our videos taken down by Sega—but we still have them here!) inspired him to start his musical career over again.

I tried to buy Deadball P’s record after the panel, but it sold out quickly, and no wonder.

Smile for the fangirls.

Next up was the voice actor Nobuhiko Okamoto‘s panel (Seiji in Sakamichi no Apollon, Io in Acchi Kochi among others). Jeremy had suggested we try to cover the panel and then seek a private interview with him, since though he was grouped with the Fate/Zero team during the press conference the previous day, he wasn’t part of our private interview. Fortunately, press was allowed to take unlimited photography, so we sat in the front row taking pictures as he made his fangirls (and one crazy Index fanboy) swoon by doing voices and impressions. Okamoto is a very pretty man indeed, inspiring one shy fan to give him a gift and others to declare their love in Japanese. My attempts to live blog/tweet, however, were thwarted by the total inability of ATT’s 3G network to function on my phone. I got out a few tweets using Jeremy’s T-Mobile powered phone, though, in which the most interesting factoid to come out is that Okamoto would probably have been a shogi player if he didn’t become a voice actor.

Unfortunately, he left straight back to Japan right after the panel, so we couldn’t get our private interview. The Aniplex rep, however, was friendly and told us we can try to get in touch later, but we might have to be prepared to pay. Seiyuus, he said, typically require to be paid for interviews. I wonder whether this is one of the reasons why there was no junket this year—perhaps the indebted AX couldn’t afford to pay enough.

At this point, our staff writer ElectricV01 (Dan) came by. In the absence of a planned interview with infamous, PAX-expelled cosplayer Jessica Nigri, he suggested we interview another pro cosplayer, Yaya Han, instead. Having not heard of her until that point, I was surprised later by how famous she really was. We took a mere 15 minutes to come up with good questions and you can see the results over here:

This ended up being one of the few times I actually visited the Dealer Room this year. Having already broke my con buying budget by buying NIS America’s Kimi ni Todoke box sets at AM2 earlier, I couldn’t afford anything anyway. We did briefly note one big change, the return of Viz Media with a booth. For the past few years, they’ve eschewed AX in favor of San Diego Comic Con for their big booth. When I tried to get one of their famous canvas bags, it turned out there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get one. I’ll just wait until SDCC to get one.

Dan and I then decided to try to get into LiSA’s fan panel. We saw hordes of fans crowding around the hallways, with an entire room dedicated to line overflow. Press and industry were grouped together with Premier Fan ticket holders. The line filled up quickly, and we heard staff announce that the line was full and they weren’t able to seat anyone else. Fortunately, press was allowed to go in first, even before the Premier Fan holders, and we got a good seat near the front. Dan took pictures with the DSLR, and I borrowed his Verizon phone to tweet, as ATT was once again out. (I fully intend to switch providers now, especially since I’m off contract.)

LiSA was as winsome as ever, making cute faces constantly as we saw examples of her work. The questions the moderator asked tended to be super basic, like “do you like anime?” (to which the obvious answer, of course, is “yes!” and she repeated her bit about Nyaruko-san). If the Okamoto panel was filled with fangirls, this one was filled with fanboys. None of the questions were terribly engaging, as is the norm in fan panels, but the energy in the room was palpable.

After the panel, there was only one more event left to cover: the FictionJunction/Yuki Kajiura concert. We headed back to the press room, having already gotten our tickets around 2:45 PM earlier. We had been assured by the press staff that these weren’t, in KylaranAeldin of Nihon Review’s words, “bitch seats,” but the double row letters and the “Bronze Tier” designation was not encouraging. On leaving, the press staff told us no video, but we could take non-flash photography, which was a typical stipulation for most concerts we’ve attended as press. I could live with that.

The first sign that something was wrong was the seat locations themselves. They were all the way on the left edge of the hall, and near the back to boot. It was a poor location to shoot photographs, though I felt fine that my zoom lens could handle it. Then we were told, by fellow press members already seated: the rule was no photography of any kind, even for press. “Oh, they must still be negotiating,” I reasoned, and replied that the staff had told us otherwise. No, I heard; it’s an absolute blanket prohibition. This was later confirmed by a slide put up on the Jumbotrons.

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign

I admit: I was angry enough to issue several complaining tweets, which is not the norm for me. (Believe me, I’d much rather talk about Sato or someone else, but this needed airing, because others shared my frustrations, something which will be documented in a forthcoming report about press problems this year.) Apparently we were supposed to get better seats, but ticket printing issues prevented it, and we were supposed to be able to shoot pictures, but artist management overrode it at the last minute. This kind of treatment of press is poor, and hindered our ability to cover the concert, which for many like myself was supposed to be the highlight of the entire convention. The more paranoid Japanese management organizations, like that of Miyuki Sawashiro from last year, need to understand that the game has changed and that total control of artist image is less and less relevant in the Internet age.

Reluctantly, I put my press hat aside, and my phone. I decided to enjoy the show, and…you know, I really did. The vocal and instrumental performances, all of them live, were superb. The majesty and deeply emotional wells of Kajiura’s music came through, especially on the Madoka and Mai-Hime pieces. The numerous pieces from .hack did not move me as much, and there were points in the first half of the show that the songs seem to run together—adding some weight to the frequent charge that Kajiura’s music tends to sound the same. The camera director behind the Jumbotron, which was the only way to really see the artists from where we sat, was also a bit slow on the uptake; there were frequent pans to the curtains and non-playing musicians. But overall, as our reviewer as already said, the concert was an impressive musical performance. Despite my feelings about the management, the Kajiura and her singers and musicians did a fine job. I’m not going to let that ruin my admiration for the music.

Corn chowder at the Farm.

That was it for me. Instead of returning to my hotel room right away, I decided to eat a late dinner at a restaurant across the street to decompress a bit (the Farm of Beverly Hills), and then collapsed into bed shortly after. I missed 2DTeleidoscope and his Tanto Cuore playing anti-FictionJunction con apparently. :) Oh well…

Next: Day 3, my last day

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 1

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The problem when you are both press and fan—as I wrote about last year—is that you’re caught between two sets of commitments. As press, it’s your job to take advantage of all the unique opportunities you’re given, such as attending press conferences and conducting private interviews. As a fan, you want to be on the convention floor, hanging out with your other fan friends, shopping for goods in the Dealer Hall, and going to fan panels where guests often yuk it up and let loose.

Anime Expo forced us to choose one or the other this year, because most of the press conferences were held on Day 1. In the end, Rome and I chose to be at the Westin Bonaventure hotel, with the press conferences, away from the fans 8 blocks away at the LA Convention Center.

I arrived early, thinking that the first two press conferences—LiSA and Yuki Kajiura—would be packed. But Rome and I discovered that the press room was, in fact, locked. It remained locked for most of the morning, in fact, because the previous tenant of the room had forgotten to turn in the only key that could open the door. Our press liaison was forced to arrange for semi-private, junket-style interviews with LiSA instead—which turned out to be a boon for us. We got some nearly exclusive time with this lovely rock singer who was cheerful and gracious despite the circumstances.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing we learned about her was that she’s new to anime; she only started watching after she got the singing part for Yui in Angel Beats. However she’s already gotten advanced enough to be a fan of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, even doing the “Uhn! Nyaa!” bit from the OP right on camera. For that, all is forgiven. :) She also mentioned more than once having been inspired by Avril Lavigne, and while that may erase some cool points in some people’s eyes (people sniggered during the fan panel, rather disrespectfully), the influence was actually quite clear in the concert—but without Lavigne’s fake dramatics.

We rushed from LiSA back to the now-open press conference room to cover the Kajiura/FictionJunction folks. I expected the room to be packed by this time, but much to my surprise, the room was only 1/3 full at best. It was still more than the nearly empty conferences from Day 0, but it could hardly be considered crowded. They’ve made a huge mistake in not doing junkets was the thought that kept running in my mind. If even Kajiura couldn’t draw more press, then something was amiss.

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With all of FictionJunction along with Yuki Kajiura in the center, there were many people who had to answer questions. Most of our prepared questions were asked, either in advance or on the microphone. Kajiura, in response to my question about the Gothic affinities of a lot of her soundtracks and shows, didn’t see a Gothic connection in her music at all—partly because, I think, the translator left out my key example of such a show, Kara no Kyoukai. She noted though that it seemed that no one had ever asked her to write really happy music, which drew a laugh from the crowd. I also tried to get the FictionJunction girls to laugh when I asked them which piece of Kajiura music had made them cry, but somehow the question got turned into what piece of music in general moved them the most. That question might have been, as they say, a bit dodgy.

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The best pictures we have of Kajiura and FictionJunction were in a photo shoot that followed the end of the conference. We thought we’d get more during the concert, but alas, that was not to be. (More on that later.) Our attempt to secure a private interview with them also ended in failure.

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After a few hours, it was time for the afternoon conferences, with director Tatsuo Sato (Moretsu Pirates, Rinne no Lagrange, Nadesico). Tatsuo Sato was, on balance, my favorite person to talk to this whole convention. It helps that I’ve seen most of his output, and I made the translator’s life especially hard as I asked super anime nerd questions about his views of the industry post-Evangelion, whether Lagrange ahd Evangelion were deliberately similar, and whether he thinks meta-humor has been overdone since he did it in Nadesico. He was patient and he responded to them all in great detail, and given that it was basically just Anime Diet, the Nihon Review, and Anime Genesis at his conference, our questions became more like a back and forth conversation between press and guest—which continued in our private interview with him afterwards.

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In the process we discovered many previously unknown tidbits about Sato’s deep involvement in Lagrange: Madoka’s jersey and hairstyle was his idea. Her personality was being deliberately contrasted with Evangelion’s Shinji. Rasmus Faber won a competition for the OP—and asked for Megumi Nakajima by name first to sing it. I also probed his thoughts behind Moretsu Space Pirates; he simply wanted to distill just one part of the novel about how a person decides to become a leader. These are my favorite kind of interviews, where directors speak in depth about their intentions and worldviews. It reminds me of the deep discussion we had with Kenji Kamiyama two years ago about Eden of the East.

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The Fate/Zero conference and private interview afterwards was equally detailed, though given my relatively lack of expertise with all things Nasu and Fate/Zero it wasn’t as in-depth. Director Ei and the head honcho of ufotable did most of the talking, with voice actors Rikiya Koyama and bishie Nobuhiro Okamoto doing less. We found out that Kara no Kyoukai was the harder story to adapt, and that ufotable’s cafe was now 90% female in its customer base—thought they only gave vague answers as to why Fate/Zero would change the demographic so much. (I suspect it might be Okamoto’s involvement—he definitely got the fangirls wild in his panel.) As befitting an emotionally intense show like Fate/Zero it was a more or less serious, dignified affair. The only levity came when me, Rome, and the entire production team were all stuck in an elevator for several minutes. “This is how I’m going to die, with the Fate/Zero production team,” I joked. Fortunately, the door opened after a while, and the ufotable head later compared that elevator to the Holy Grail. Good times.

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After that, it was time to relax, since I had no intention of covering anything else. I went to the Animetal USA concert for a few minutes just to check it out; it was professionally played metal renditions of old school anime songs I didn’t recognized. I left after half an hour, and decided to ditch the AMV contest; instead, I bummed around until Omo and cowboybibimbop invited me to join them at the Bushiroad panel, which was about Cardfight! Vanguard.

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Expecting to see the Cardfight anime seiyuu they invited as guests, they didn’t show up, but we met up with a lot of other bloggers there. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to K-Town for some Korean BBQ, and talked shop and otherwise until nearly midnight.

I returned to a hotel room full of anibloggers playing Tanto Cuore on the bed I was going to sleep on. I patiently waited for them to clear out after 2 AM and went to bed. Sorry guys. I’m getting old, you see. :)

Next: Day 2, or, The Drama That Is Press

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 0

The luxurious express bus seat on the way to downtown LA.

See the tweet digest for Day 0.

It’s strange that no matter how many years I’ve spent doing conventions as press, I never quite feel ready the night before Day 0, or even on Day 0 itself. Part of it is because there have always been last minute changes, complications, and obstacles in the way.

So I was worried as I boarded the bus from my home in Orange County to downtown Los Angeles: what if the bus ran into traffic? What if I missed my stop? What if the press conference schedule changed again, as it had three times in the last 48 hours? I had given up a once-in-many-years opportunity to see one of my favorite bands, Marillion, play in LA on Wednesday night, because I was too busy prepping for this day. Would I regret it?

Much to my surprise, I arrived at the time I told the staff I would. The press conference room was, in fact, strikingly empty. Only our crew, our old friend Benu from Anime Genesis, and Ben Gill, who we ran into last year, were there. Not many more press outlets, save for Omo and Kylaran from the Nihon Review, showed up for any of the press conferences we attended: Vegeta seiyuu Ryo Horikawa, Madhouse’s Team Chihayafuru (which included director Morio Asaka, who also did Card Captor Sakura), and the Muv Luv: Total Eclipse producer Kouki Yoshimune along with singers Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami. The sparse attendance, according to one of our friends, upset the Total Eclipse team, who were expecting more press and complained to the manager about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other guests probably felt the same way.

The grimace on Minami Kuribayashi’s face seems to tell the story.

We had been asked to submit our questions to the guests in advance. Fortunately, our fears that they were being used to give the guests time to concoct canned answers were put to rest; they simply wanted to collect the most common questions so there wouldn’t be duplicates. To my surprise, most of the questions we submitted for the panels were asked, leaving only a few that we held in reserve intentionally. Our goal was to get the guests to be candid and, if possible, to smile or laugh. That, I think, we did, especially when Rome—our Japanese translator and staff writer—asked Team Chihayafuru who they preferred, Chihaya or Kana. Kana won by a vote of 2-1, with the animation director specifically referring to her “assets.” That, my friends, is WIN.

Director Morio Asaka is a serious man who makes cute shows.

I also got director Morio to speak candidly about Card Captor Sakura being the first SaiMoe winner. In a word, he was shocked that a show for “little girls and their mothers” had picked up such a male fanbase. I dare say, in fact, he was probably slightly creeped out. That, my friends, is what one creator thinks about your moe culture. :) (Later, at the fan panel, he gave a more balanced answer in which he demurred that moe and quality are not mutually exclusive.)

Orange hair suits Vegeta voice actor Ryo Horikawa.

Ryo Horikawa, Vegeta’s voice actor, was equally baffled by how his “OVER 8000” (9000 in the mistranslated American dub) line had become so iconic. It was fun to hear about how playing manly violent characters helps him tap into his aggressive side, though, of course, he says he’s not like that at all most of the time. He reminds me of another veteran voice actor, Toshio Furukawa (Ataru in Urusei Yatsura, Piccolo in DBZ), who has fun playing roles that don’t resemble his real personality at all.

In a way, the question I posed to him and other seiyuu about which role resembles him the most isn’t really apt when you think about it. The job of an actor is to act, to be someone else in a convincing way. They don’t have to relate to a character to do a good job in a role, though sometimes it helps, especially with deeply emotional scenes.

Ayami, Minami Kuribayashi, and producer Kouki Yoshimune

The Total Eclipse conference with Yoshimune, Kuribayashi, and Ayami was strange. Yoshimune, the producer of the Muv Luv visual novels as well as soap operatic tear-jerker Kimi ga Nozumo Eien (KimiNozo/Rumbling Hearts), did 90% of the speaking. The singers, even with questions posed to them directly, gave very pre-scripted, short answers. When you think about it, given how upset they were with the lack of press attendance, and how uninvolved they actually were in the production of the anime (Ayami and Kuribayashi only sing insert and ED songs), it makes some sense.

I remember struggling to word a question to Yoshimune about whether he likes telling emotionally intense stories like KimiNozo and whether Total Eclipse would tread similar emotional territory. The translator had trouble with it, but eventually he gave me an answer of “yes,” which was confirmed after we saw Total Eclipse’s first two episodes several days later. I also embarrassed myself by calling Ayami “Ayumi”—she corrected me directly. *blushes* In my defense, Ayami was not listed in the program, so she was an unexpected guest. Unfortunately, I called her Ayumi in my tweet and it was retweeted several times…so anyone who’s reading this, I’m sorry, Ayumi Hamasaki did not appear at this press conference. My apologies!

We had several hours to kill after the press conferences ended and before the Red Carpet and Opening Ceremony started. There isn’t much to report on them; it’s guests walking down a carpet, stopping for pictures, and the Opening Ceremony was just an introduction to them on stage. We saw FictionJunction/Yuki Kajiura for the first time, and snapped plenty of pics, as well as the pose-a-riffic LiSA, who from the get-go had a natural stage presence that she would repeat in her concert later.

The evening of Day 0 was capped off by an enormous aniblogosphere dinner at Honda-ya in Little Tokyo, in which over 30 bloggers and Twitter friends got together for an evening of izakaya, polls about who’d we rather from Haganai, and much naming and shaming by picture and tweet. I was going to be staying in the Luxe Hotel with a number of them starting that evening, and it was a fine way to meet some old friends and many new ones. It was a demonstration that there are an awful lot of us out there who are into this thing called anime, and that all our electronic shenanigans didn’t preclude being friends in 3D as well.

Day 0 was in some ways the most fun and relaxed Day 0 I’ve had in years. Typically Day 0 was an exhausting day full of running around from one junket interview to another, and sometimes an occasion for drama. This year, though the lack of a junket would turn out to be a minus in many ways, it was a fun way to begin what would be, for me at least, one of the more intense conventions I’ve had in the past several years.

Tomorrow: Day 1, or, a Press Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

AM2 2012: Toshihiro Kawamoto Panel Livetweets

Toshihiro Kawamoto, a prominent animation director and designer for Studio Bones (and staff on Cowboy Bebop for Sunrise before that), came to AM2 this year. He talked at the panel about Bones’ more recent projects and answered questions from the audience. (We interviewed him two years ago at Anime Expo.) Here’s a record of the tweets I made during the panel!

Anime USA 2011: Maid Cafe and Host Club (Part 2 of 3)

The second of three guest articles about Anime USA 2011 by Sh1zuka. This one focuses on the maid cafe and host club! Photos by scout and Shizuka.

One of the advantages that AnimeUSA has is being held at a hotel with its own restaurants. During AnimeUSA, the Hyatt Crystal City’s two restaurants are converted into a wonderful Maid Cafe and classy Host Club, open on Friday and Saturday.

Since the introduction of the Maid Cafe and Host Club at AnimeUSA 2009, AnimeUSA has improved it every year. While the basic formula has remained the same, the logistics of meal tickets and accessibility have improved each year, making going to the Maid Cafe and Host Club less of a time and energy commitment. This is essential for an Anime convention with a very packed programming schedule.

Entry to the Maid Cafe and Host Club is done on the second floor, where a party can queue for entry to the perpetually busy Maid Cafe and Host Club. Food can be purchased using “tickets” bought for two dollars each at the respective location, and games can be played with the maids or hosts by paying cash. I’m not sure why food is required to be purchased with tickets, but I believe it is a regulatory issue.

 

The “My Cup of Tea” Maid Cafe

The AnimeUSA Maid Cafe, open during the breakfast and lunch hours of the convention, serves a variety of sandwiches, desserts, and Japanese snack food. All dishes are served by maids, who bless your food with “Moe~ Moe~ Kyun! ❤” before you’re allowed to eat!

All dishes served with love too.

The Maid Cafe also offers games that a customer can play with the maids, like Jenga or UNO. If a customer plays enough games, he or she can also get a picture with a maid of his or her choice. Well, it was mostly guys who wanted pictures with the maids!

It was mostly guys who couldn’t get out of this cycle…

If you’re not in the mood for games, that’s fine too; sometimes, a group of maids will suddenly burst out into dance! This made me wonder how much preparation AnimeUSA’s maids needed to work at the Maid Cafe. An application form is available on the website, but it does not go into detail about what kind of training is required or if talents are necessary.

So I asked one of the maids at the Maid Cafe. It turns out there isn’t much training at the convention. The training they do at the convention is about serving the customers’ food, as there is not enough time to train all of the maids to dance/sing at the convention. Thus, talents such as dancing, singing, or playing a musical instrument are considered big pluses for applying. So the “sudden outburst of dance” was only possible due to the dedication of the maids, who must have practiced popular Anime dances well before AnimeUSA.

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your maid.

 

The “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club

For dinner, AnimeUSA offers the “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club, located at the top floor of the Hyatt. This host club requires customers to be 18 years old or older to be admitted to the club, which is unfortunate since the average age of an anime convention attendee is less than 18 years old. As the Host Club serves alcohol to those of age, it may be a restriction due to Virginia law.

A queue to get into the Host Club, conveniently located on the second floor, allows potential customers to see how long the queue is before wasting an elevator trip. At the end of the queue, customers are allowed to ride the “Host Club Express” Elevator, which only goes between the second and the top floor. This is a major improvement for this year’s Host Club, efficiently using the few available elevators.

Unlike the Maid Cafe, you can pick your host at the Host Club.

Upon arriving at the Host Club, you or your party is allowed to choose your host for your table, who will entertain you while you wait for your food. Although the food portions are small and rather expensive, the food is good and the Host Club’s service is excellent. Alcohol is even offered at the Host Club, although prices are extremely steep.

Activities at the Host Club are similar to the Maid Cafe, with games and photos available in exchange for cash. Unlike the hyperactive excitement of the Maid Cafe, the atmosphere of the Host Club is more tranquil and laid back, possibly because the Host Club caters to an older audience. While the food at the Host Club takes much more time to prepare than at the Maid Cafe, the skyline at the top floor is beautiful and the hosts seem to enjoy spending time at their tables entertaining customers.

That skyline…so pretty!

At my table, my host played music, joked with my friends, and folded origami while our food was on the way. During my wait, I wandered around the Host Club taking pictures and noticed that almost everyone at the place was having fun: many customers played games with their host while waiting for food, and hosts would sit with their customers entertaining them if they looked bored. As with the maids, many of the hosts were very talented, knowing how to play music and engaging in fun banter with their customers.

Hosts showing off their talents and entertaining guests.

Overall, I would say that AnimeUSA runs the best Maid Cafe and Host Club of the East Coast Anime Conventions. Although AnimeUSA is moving to the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in 2012, AnimeUSA intends to keep the Maid Cafe and Host Club running at the new hotel. If you skip these and you’re going to AnimeUSA this year, you’ll miss out!

You might wonder why AnimeUSA is changing its convention venue. Find out more on my next post, AnimeUSA 2011: Outgrowing the Hyatt—coming on Wednesday!

AnimeUSA 2011: A Small Anime Wonderland (Part 1 of 3)

Report by guest correspondent Sh1zuka. First of three articles.

AnimeUSA 2011, held from November 17 – 20, 2011, is a cozy and moderately small anime convention held at the Hyatt Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. This year’s registration rate was $58 at the door, and cheaper if pre-registered over a month in advance. If you know you will arrive on Friday, you can skip the long pre-registration line by registering at the convention, saving you lots of time.

Even though AnimeUSA is a small convention, it is still a full featured convention, with usual Artist Alley/Art Show, Dealer’s Room, Video Game Room, Video Rooms, Masquerade / Skit Cosplay Contest, Concerts, and Hall Costume Contest. The convention’s small size will have you constantly running into people you just met hours ago, perfect for making new friends!

Unique to AnimeUSA is the Themed Ballroom Dance. This year’s “Military Cosplay Ball” required dancers to follow a dress code of Western formalwear or Military-themed Cosplay in order to get in. AnimeUSA introduced “dance cards” for the ladies at the ball, letting gentlemen leave their names on a lady’s dance card for a guarantee that the two would dance together on the dance floor. I really wanted to go to this dance, but I was stopped at the door: I didn’t meet dress code.

AnimeUSA also has the best convention Maid Cafe and Host Club on the East Coast, and compared to last year, it has gotten much better. Be sure to check out the forthcoming AnimeUSA 2011: Maid Cafe & Host Club post for more details!

Layout

The convention can be best described as vertical, spanning five floors. The bottom two, B2 and B1, are dedicated to Main Events, the Artist Alley/Art Show, Video Rooms, and Dealer’s Room. If you are looking to lighten your wallet, you need only head down the escalator from the lobby and descend into the madness of beautiful fanart, handmade plushies, poseable Vocaloid figurines, and more!

Can you name the Vocaloids?

The lobby, used only by AnimeUSA for registration, is usually filled with cosplayers during the day and offers a convenient shelter from the cold November weather. For attendees of age, the lobby also contains the bar (called the “Lobbibar” by the Hyatt), making it a popular destination at night when not attending raunchy 18+ panels. With a bar on the first floor and lots of 18+ programming, AnimeUSA accommodates older convention attendees rather well.

The Iconic AnimeUSA Torii (鳥居) (red archway). Photo by plumvs.

The floors above the lobby contain the bulk of the fan programming. Three panel tracks, two workshop tracks, and the Video Game Room are on the 3rd floor; an Events track, Manga Library, and the “My Cup of Tea” Maid Cafe are on the 2nd floor, while the “Club Ikemen Paradise” Host Club, located on the 20th floor, is only accessible via elevator from the 2nd floor.

“I choose YOU!”

All of the floors except for the 3rd floor are connected together via escalators. The 3rd floor is only connected to the 2nd floor via hard-to-access stairs, making getting to the workshops, panels, and the game room difficult.

Nearly-free Medicine

Something AnimeUSA does that’s awesome and unique is nearly giving away medicine to attendees, for a nominal fee of 25 cents per packet. Apparently there’s a law in Virginia that prohibits them from giving away medicine for free, so they charge a quarter.

I can say from personal experience based on the instructions I was given at the con that the entire leadership of the con has one goal. That goal is [to] put on [a] great convention where every attendee goes home saying they had a great time.” –forum post from one of AnimeUSA’s Medical Staff

I’m not aware of any other convention that does something like this, and it’s a great idea to help attendees stay healthy and comfortable during the convention. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to get sick during a convention, having medicine is essential to being able to enjoy the precious little time you can spend at the convention.

Elevator Hell… No More!

I always made a point of never wanting to stay at the Hyatt for AnimeUSA because in previous years, attendees staying in the hotel rooms above the convention space fought with convention attendees who wanted to use the elevators to get from floor to floor.

This year, AnimeUSA disabled access to the lower floors (Lobby, B1, B2) from the elevators, an excellent decision that made elevators much faster and more efficient by reducing elevator demand. It’s really a blessing in disguise: you might make a few friends on the way up the escalators! The only downside is that getting to panel rooms requires more exercise.

Another welcome improvement is that access to the Host Club is only via one elevator on the 2nd floor, which only goes between the 2nd and 20th floor and is controlled by staff to prevent the host club from being full when you get there.

How many people are in the elevator?

Overall, AnimeUSA 2011 was tons of fun, even though I wasn’t allowed to go to the Military Cosplay Ball. Check out the next post on AnimeUSA’s Maid Cafe and Host Club, the attraction that I consider the best part of AnimeUSA.


Photos by scout, Shizuka, and plumvs.