Despite taking place within con-unfriendly temperatures, post-holidays, and amidst a remarkably harsh flu season, fellow podcaster, Jenny Park & I braved on to the Marriott near Los Angeles International Airport for what would become an anime convention experience now a world apart. Our day at the 8th annual Anime LA began around roughly 9:30am, hours before central events would take place. And even so, the halls were ringing with activity where most current cons often find themselves quiet until at least 11. As mentioned before, the world outside is more demanding on human health, which results in what should be lighter numbers. Not so here. Anime LA is what divides casual admirers from the fanatics, and as such, is perhaps a far more exciting and immersive event than many of California’s most industry-centric shindigs. Creatures, heroes, robots, and all manner of fantastical entities were in attendance, and even so there was still room for what I crave most from a convention–great people of passion.
So how much Anime LA could we marathon experience on a one-day pass?
Over the years, I have found anime conventions to mostly be more like a customary gathering of friends and family. Anime LA is definitely no exception. However, this particular role takes on even greater significance here. Beginning the day by way of wandering over to visit old buddy, Polo & pals as they make a heck of a morning impression with Eyeshine. Imperial E was bursting with sound as we walked in, taking in what was easily the most active early show audience I have seen this side of a music fest. Not normally a sound I gravitate toward, but potent enough to get one feeling it with aplomb. Things became so energetic, that once time came for the show’s finale, Johnny Yong Bosch’s call for all to join in resulted in an impressive crowd on stage, more than up to the task of leaving a mark. Earnest edge rock, by a most earnest group.
Outcasts Among Outcasts
And then minutes later, came what would become perhaps the day’s standout as we attended the Anime Fandom Before The Internet panel in LP3. Moderated/Hosted by ANNCast’s Justin Sevakis and Otaku USA/Colony Drop’s Matt Schley, and featuring such American anime pioneers, David Keith Riddick (US Renditions), Meri Davis (Founder and chair of A-kon), not to mention several more of the original CFO guard in attendance, this was a truly unique and packed to the gills event featuring stories of the early days of American anime fandom. Davis shared some heartening tales of the days before cons such as these were ever a thing. A nasty truth revealed when she stated ” We would attempt to always have an anime screening room at sci-fi conventions, horror movie conventions, Star Trek conventions. But even then we were given “the look”. It never ended. We were the outcasts among the outcasts!” Riddick’s recollections regarding their early attempts at fansubbing, which led to the creation of the first subbed anime VHS company, US Renditions were detailed and inspiring reminders of an era where everything was “hands-on” and filled with firsts. (One of the more popular activities being knocking on the doors of their Japanese neighbors in hope of some translation scraps here or there. Having no internet in those pre-Compuserve days meant going out and making an effort to gain understanding of these titles that never saw major release here.) Tinkering with crude analog methods to create well-timed subbed tapes, ready for mass production was also a journey. Stories of early anime clubs, strife, and a screening of Royal Space Force under the name Star Quest at Mann’s Chinese in the 1980s were also on the roster.
But the most important piece of wisdom heard throughout the hour came via Riddick, which was something that I feel many a younger fan would do well to consider: “This all started by a multitude of tastes and backgrounds. If we let all of that get in the way, none of this would have happened. There were trials, sure. But we felt that there was a higher cause at stake.”
At any major anime convention, such words would feel missed as panels such as these rarely get major attendance. This one however, was packed the entire time. Felt like a summit meeting in a Toho kaiju eiga, or even a bunker conference before a grand battle. Filled with openness and excitement, this was easily the day’s centerpiece for me.
“What does it take to be Ultimate?”
Mere minutes later, and in the same room, it came time for local animator and Star Blazers/Votoms luminary, Tim Eldred’s Animation Workshop to begin. Much like an introductory class in animation production, Eldred touched point with visiting students, and offered a compelling visual journey into the art of making life from drawings. A majority of the panel was a study of previsualization via footage he brought for Ultimate Spider-Man, a series he had a decent hand in. We were able to catch a shot-for-shot comparison between the original storyboards in montage with partial audio (an Animatic), and the final for-air footage for the show’s initial episode. In the rough footage, it was easy to see where shots were leading into others, character dynamics would add nuance, and how vital planning is to visualized action. The pre-viz also featured many different styles due to the number of unique artists tasked with making each scene come to fruition. While some of this does remain intact in the finished film, the objective is primarily about creating a cohesive whole that won’t distract the viewer. Hearing input and questions from the students was also fascinating. In all, it was a fun primer for what is still a competitive and challenging artform that remains refreshingly hand-drawn.
Bring The Pain
After a short break, it came time to dive headfirst into the animation abyss with the popular Buried Garbage panel, hosted by original columnist, Sevakis. An hour dedicated to some of the most painful moving images this side of a malignant tumor. (make of that what you will) Starting things off on an infamous note, Sevakis shared choice moments from one of the most hilarious misfires on both sides of the Pacific, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s interminable Garzey’s Wing. For those unfamiliar, it is a late-1990s OVA from the world of Aura Battler Dunbine that must be seen to be fully comprehended. Scratch that, there is no way to make sense of the unrelenting bizarre that is Garzey’s Wing. Attempting such a thing is akin to looking into a Lovecraftian inscrutability that could only result in sheer madness. Add to it, one of the most painfully constructed dub jobs ever executed, and you have something that could only induce laughter. And this was mere prelude to clips from an obscure piece of anti-North Korean anime propaganda, Megumi which loses credibility points by way of melodramatic direction, and some truly hideous dubbing made by the original Japanese producers. And while these anime productions read as possibly the worst things ever animated, they are nothing compared to the collective horror that was bestowed upon a near-capacity audience. Indonesia’s Ali Baba, and India’s Naughty Monkey (Not a joke) burn a mark on the soul that is nigh-impossible to remove. This is no drunken tramp stamp, these suckers are going to haunt many con-goers nightmares for years to come. The bloodlust in that monkey’s eyes alone..
A Perfect Day For A Jungle Cruise
Fresh out of that ball of unforgettable, it was off to the spacy LP5 for the much-anticipated Ghost In The Shell: SAC 10 Years And Counting panel featuring Schley, and special voice actor guests, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Major Motoko Kusanagi), and Richard Epcar (Batou) celebrating a decade of the prophetic science fiction masterpiece. Looking back at Kenji Kamiyama’s tv version of Masamune Shirow’s classic manga, and the films it inspired led to some interesting revelations about the property’s legacy. Epcar and McGlynn spent a great time sharing memories of working on the series, as well as candid revelations regarding their relationship to the Koukaku Kidotai franchise. From Epcar’s longer history as Section 9’s rugged cop, to McGlynn’s favorite SAC episode, the Q & A session that followed did something that so many modern conventions simply do not — inspire very real technological and ethical discussion. From character dynamics, to the very core of living with organics and tech rendered virtually inseparable, the questions that GiTS poses came though both the guests, and the audience quite clearly and earnestly. From privacy concerns, to transhumanism these were topics that remain every bit as relevant now as they did in the wake of the initial series’ run. Another panel unlike most. And a mythology far more resembling our world that many may be willing to admit.
Delight In Dysfunction
Lastly, what has become something of a convention ritual returns, as Zac Bertschy & Sevakis bring ANNCast Live to Anime LA. Having done this a few times in the past, we knew what to expect for the most part; off-the-cuff anime Q & A with an acerbic edge. For a few moments, it seemed like attendance was well below normal numbers. But soon into the show, the line of audience members with questions for our hosts eventually increased long enough to cover an entire hour’s worth of recording. Questions ranged from the state of streaming anime, to favorite films of the year, and were given the kind of unpredictable fun listeners have come to expect. While it also invited some of the usual strange questions one would almost come to expect from an event like this, there was enough knowledge and humor on display to make the now-infamous giveaways more than worthwhile. Topping it all off was a sudden bolt of interest in my partner who suddenly decided to step up with a question regarding TV anime’s history that will make for her first non-Double Chop appearance.
So to sum up, one day at Anime LA was akin to what is often a weekend for me elsewhere. With more familiar faces per square yard than I have been privy to an event in years, there was almost too much to do. Sadly, I missed the 20th Anniversary of Giant Robo gathering. Was also unable to attend other musical performances that I had hoped to catch. (including Momotama which took place every day but Saturday) But this only serves to support my enthusiasm. As a celebration of anime, it was a little strange to see an increasing meme, as well as Doctor Who fan presence. Despite this, there was also a healthy crowd of fans far more ready to salute an artform that while in recent years has suffered some significant falloff, also has engendered a unique collection of generations. All unique, and yet collectively excited about colorful moving drawings. There is a higher purpose capable of being sought out in this crazy anime world. So fittingly dramatic that it should be found in the dead of winter.
Tim Eldred is hard at work on the upcoming Marvel animated follow-up to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which is to premiere everywhere in May. On the anime front, he can also be found hard at work at his new Yamato fan realm
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