Otakon 2010: a con in review

From July 30 to August 1, thousands upons thousands of anime, manga and media fans converge around the Batimore Convention Center. Any decrease in the still recovering economy is disregarded as the attendence numbers continue to rise totalling 29,274 in unofficial numbers that includes dealers, staff and attendees.

This year’s guest list was as usual a varied one. The plethora of voice actors from the American industries includes Todd Haberkorn, Scott Freeman and Maile Flanagan among many others. Besides the beloved and honored Masao Maryuama as a guest, Madhouse also invited Hiroshi Koujina. Concerts were held throughout the weekend by the Yoshida Brothers and Home Made Kazoku as well as a special appearance by Yoshiki and Sugizo from X Japan. h.Naoto also graces the stage with his designs. This is only small part of the guestlist that were present that weekend, granting attendees the opportunities to speak with those that influence and create the Japanime culture we all love.

Friday: July 30

The morning started with me heading to the autograph area for Maruyama Masao and Koujina Hiroshi. Since Maruyama-san had appearaed at Otakon several times, the only thing I wanted him to sign was an autograph board.

Koujina was the key animator for the movie, Initial D: The Third Stage. The animation for the actions scenes has always been very good. It was an honor to tell him that I enjoyed the movie immensely.

First view: Dealer’s Room

Officially, the Dealer’s Room opens at 12pm. However, we were given special permission to explore the great hall before the crowds of people fill up the aisles.

Madhouse and more autographs

I left before the official opening since I headed to the Madhouse Industry panel with Maruyama-san. I left the panel a bit early so I could get to the autographs for Welcome to the Space Show creators.

From the left to the right in the above pic, we have character designer Ishihama Masashi, director Masunari Koji and producer Ochikoshi Tomonori. After meeting them, I returned to the Dealer’s Room in hopes to meet Peter S. Beagle who was signing as his booth.

Behind ‘The Last Unicorn’

Besides books and the animated film, the booth also sold prints of illustrations based off of the book. The gentleman that was with Mr. Beagle throughout the weekend (apparently a close friend and staff) spoke to me about the illustrations by Rebekah Naomi Cox. Ms. Cox (who is the illustrator for the recent 40th Anniversary edition covers) was inspired when she read the books at 13. Filled with images in her mind, she wanted to put them to paper. Having never drawn before, she began using a ‘$25 paint program in her family’s computer and drawing with a mouse.’ And by the time she was 17, she had created illustrations that amazed Mr. Beagle.

    “And we found her quite by accident, loved her work. And Peter said actually, of all the people that did artwork based on ‘The Last Unicorn’ (and he loves a great deal of them,) her work is the stuff that he always imagines them in his head.”

What amazes me is that even now, she uses the same tools as before. That is truly an inspiration to aspiring artists who feels that the tools of the trade is merely too expensive: photoshop programs, copic markers, etc. If she can create using something so simple, it truly shows that creativity will overflow regardless of what is used.

I purchased a print. Aptly named, ‘Moon Unicorn’, the print had the unicorn standing under a full moon. A beautiful picture of deep blues and light grays that I found to be stunning. As I was getting the autograph for the book, Mr. Beagle described a bit of the background to the creation of the story. It seems that when he was writing this novel, he wanted to show his artist friend that he could succeed. At the same time, his friend was finishing a painting in hopes to show off to Mr. Beagle. Though the friend’s name was unspoken, I wonder if it was artist Phil Sigunick who was noted for being part of the inspiration to the Butterfly character. They had a laugh over their friendly competition and unknowingly being the other’s inspiration.

After the signing, I inquired about the legal issues concerning the animated movie, The Last Unicorn. Mr. Beagle had a contract with ITC Entertainment which entitled him to a certain perentage of the profits from the film. When ownership of the film changed to Granada Media, issues of nonpayment came up. Presently, the only payment that Mr. Beagle receives from the animated film itself comes from dvds sold by Conlan Press.

All in panel room 3…

Although I enjoyed Vic Mignogna’s singing and the songs he composed, I never had a chance to attend one of his concerts until that weekend. The concert proved to be a relaxing break from the morning’s activities, re-energizing me in time for the Funimation panel that followed.

The evening closed with ‘Voice Actors After Dark’ which is the opportunity for VAs to say anything, for us to ask anything in a free no-recording environment. Of course, there was crude humor, innuendos of all kinds…everything that makes it fun and over 18. To make things interesting, instead of a straight Q&A, the panelists flipped a coin which the audience member (who stepped up to the mic,) will call. If the audience member won, they got to ask the question. Obviously, if the VA won, then they will ask the question of the audience member. No details, but it was certainly a hilarious end to the first day.

Saturday, July 31: A Mitsuya Yuji Morning

The autograph session for seiyuu, Mitsuya Yuji was combined with Maruyama-san and Koujina-san. I was able to grab a better shot of Koujina-san since I missed him the day before.

Mitsuya-san came around the table to take pics with his fans. I told him that I was a fan of Anpanman, having watched it while growing up and that I enjoyed his character, Katsudonman. He started singing one of his songs which was hilarious…being that his character is a bowl of fried pork.

After the autograph session, I went to the press conference for Mitsuya-san. It was very informative (even though he only answered a few questions) since it was wrought with stories of his experiences as a veteran seiyuu and thoughts on the recording industry today.

Maruyama Masao and Koujina Hiroshi Press Conference

The press conference for Maruyama-san and Koujina-san was held after Mitsuya-san. The questions were quite varied ranging from the current projects that Madhouse are working with to the current trend of ‘moe’.

And then we had a false alarm.

Everyone probably knows by now that a bit before 2pm, the fire alarm was pulled. Everyone in BCC was evacuated to the terrace and out of the building into the streets of Baltimore. I encountered the scene when I was heading across the skyway towards BCC.

I overheard talks of the a fire and witnessed the crowds for myself somewhat grateful not having to escape outside into the heat. Interestingly enough, I found out later on that Mitsuya-san (the panel that I was attempting to head to,) went to the nearby Shertaon and continued the panel in the lobby. In either case, I wouldn’t have been able to get there even if I wanted since that is even farther than going inside the BCC. I thought that was very commendable of him and would definitely make an interesting story upon his return to Japan.

I thought that Otakon staff handled the situation well. The evacuation did not seem very panicky. If people were angry, they didn’t express their anger onroute to the Hilton. (I shall assume Japanime fans are quite mellow at times like these.) Majority assumed it was a false alarm since there were no smoke to be seen or any hint of the possibility of fire. And in an hour, people were allowed to return. To compensate for the hour loss, both the hours of the Dealer’s room and Artist alley was extended that evening and even panels were rescheduled. Getting the information out to guests was albiet difficult (without a building-wide announcement,) but the rescheduling were placed online and those who wanted to check for more information found it readily.

Eminence Panel

Since I was unable to head to the Mitsuya-san panel, I ducked into the second panel I wanted to see the most…which was for Eminence: Yura Hiroaki (director and founder,) Kikuta Hiroki (composer,) and Shihori (singer.) Yura was a guest at Otakon previously along with other members of the orchestra. He spoke the most…since he spoke English fluently without aide of an interpreter. I arrived in the midst of a Q&A session.

Masquerade X JAPAN!

The highlight of Saturday night would always be the masquerade. But really, Yoshiki and Sugizo stole the show. The link leads to the transcript for the Q&A session during the masquerade as well as the press conference that follows.

But I have to admit, I enjoyed the masquerade as well. The group that appears every other year to do ‘Street Fighter Revival’ came on again for ‘Street Fighter Revival Part Trois’ was fantastic as always. Being actual martial artists, their renditions of SF characters are always on the mark and their skit is hilarious, action packed and filled with feelings of ‘Do not try this as home…we’re professionals’. ^.^ Dance skits is a general norm in masquerades now, but I’m happy to say that there was only one Naruto dance skit…as opposed to half of the skits in another convention masquerade. (And the single one was actually well done.) My favorite of the dance skits was a Revolutionary Girl Utena one that had alot of drama wrapped up in the words and movements.

The masquerade and meeting X Japan was a wonderful way to close the evening.

Sunday, August 1: ‘The Last Unicorn’ Panel

The last day of the convention started with the ‘The Last Unicorn’ panel. When I entered, they were showing a stage performance of the story on the big screen. The performance of the small theater company caught Mr. Beagle’s eye. The actress’ depiction of the characters and story was one he liked. Mr. Beagle commented that rather than an actual horn on the actress, she wore a flower on her chest. When she was caught to be a ‘unicorn’ in a circus, than she wore a ridiculous headdress with the horn on top. When she became human, the flower laid in her hands. The stage was simple, the actors’ movements fluid like a dance…it truly was a good performance though it seemed awfully dated for a dvd.

Than they changed to the animated version. It was like watching a dvd with the commentary switched on: Mr. Beagle and the other panelist (the staff whom I spoke with on friday,) commented on the various moments and scenes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch the entire thing as I left to head to the next and last press conference.

Welcome to the Space Show Press Conference

The last press conference was for the creative staff of ‘Welcome to the Space Show‘. The premiere of the movie was held on Saturday, however, I wasn’t able to attend. (The premiere was from 11:30 to 2pm. Thankfully, people noted that the fire alarm was pulled when the movie ended so no one missed any part of the movie.) I (being at a press conference at that time) didn’t see the movie, but am looking forward to it.

After the press conference, I headed to the press room and noticed the set list for the Yoshida Brothers concert. I didn’t attend the concert, but at least I have a setlist.

Last autograph session: Autograph Calvacade

The signing started at 12:30pm, but of course, it was almost 1.5 hours later when I got to get my photos signed. Sadly, not all the guys were there. Todd Haberkorn (Watanuki, TRC) left early, Jerry Jewell (Barry the Chopper, FMA), and Michael Sinterniklass (Satsohi Osugi, Higashi no Eden) were absent from this last signing.

Christopher Bevins signed my Hetalia pic as the English voice for Japan.

Scott Freeman signed the pic as Engliand.

Patrick Seitz was Germany.

J. Michael Tatum was France and he also signed my Xxxholic pic as Doumeki.

Last round of the Dealer’s Room

I stopped by the Duex Press booth and ended up speaking with one of the workers there. We spoke about the merits of various works by Yamato Nase-sensei. She show me an oversized picture signed by Yamato-sensei. It was print, but they are used internally in the comapny and are not sold makng them very rare. She said that she was going to sell it (at Otakon? I believe she was referring to another convention,) but no one bought it. I asked if could take a picture which she obliged.

The closing of the Dealer’s Room was the end for Otakon. Otakon 2011 has already been scheduled for July 29-31. Needless to say, I’ll be in attendence.

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