Anime Expo 2008: Panels and Games
There's more to Anime Expo than just anime. APA keeps busy with the academics, the journalists, and of course the hentai gamers.
Published: Friday, July 25, 2008
When I talk to my friends about Anime Expo, they often ask me, "What is there to do there for four days?" Aside from shopping in the dealer room, going to the various main events, cosplaying, and of course, watching anime, there's always a pocketful of panels and workshops that are informative and entertaining. I devoted one day to panels and another day to video game panels.
Yes, it's possible to get a degree studying anime and manga.
For this more serious panel at Anime Expo this year, the room was surprisingly filled with curious onlookers and would-be anime academics. The panel was hosted by library science graduate student Mikhail Koulikov, an editor at the Anime News Network and the Online Bibliography of Anime and Manga Research, and Lawrence Eng, a PhD candidate and anime essayist with the Anime and Manga Research Circle. For an average fan, the discussion and Q&A session was a little dry, but it was interesting to learn how people can actually devote their lives to studying anime and manga on an academic level.
To give a taste of possible academic approaches, the panelists tossed out some issues they have tackled. What drives people to share information when they will not profit off it? Obvious examples would be the anime music video and fan subber community. Eng noted that anime fans tend to be proactive with technology. Another interesting topic was the use of manga in the classroom. The crowd reacted most strongly to Koulikov when he described an essay he wrote about the possibilities of anime companies learning to combat fan subbers by analyzing strategies from the government's war on terror.
The burning questions were mostly answered. Are there universities that will grant a degree for studying anime and manga? Yes. While there isn't a specific degree for study of anime and manga, it's possible to do so under other fields such as information studies, Asian studies, media studies, and anthropology. Certain universities, like the University of Florida, are open to the idea as long as there's a convincing argument behind the pitch. It's possible to devote large parts of your undergraduate life studying anime, but as far as getting a good paying job in the field of anime academia...good luck with that. And good luck explaining to your parents. That's the one quandary the panelists couldn't answer.
If you would rather make a living writing about anime rather than studying it on a deeper level, there's anime journalism. Hosted by editors from the Anime News Network and the Anime Insider, the "Getting into Anime Journalism" panel detailed exactly what it takes to make it as a freelance anime journalist. This was also a very popular panel, with many prospective writers eager to learn the tricks of the trade.
The panel started off on a sour note. They noted that the US anime industry is currently in a downturn as DVD sales continue to sag and companies like Geneon cease operations. As a result, anime journalism has suffered, too. The most high-profile American anime magazine, Newtype USA, folded this February after nearly six years of publication. Its immediate successor, PiQ, didn't even make it past their fourth issue. The main publications for anime news are Anime News Network, Anime Insider, Otaku USA, and IGN.
The sobering reality is that it's almost impossible to review anime as a full time profession in today's market. Despite the pessimism, the editors provided advice on improving writing and as well as skills that for would-be anime journalists. They also discussed important issue in media ethics. As reflected by the youthfulness of the editorial team, anime journalism is a relatively young field, filled with enthusiasts that lack professional journalism training. The panelists noted how several writers would take advantage of the free screeners they received by selling them.
Overall, the panel provided a good glimpse of not only the struggles of the anime industry, but also how difficult it is to make a living as a journalist. The best advice they gave was encouraging would-be writers to do internships and get real world experience.
Anime in China: Commie-con
Probably due to it being late and conflicting with the popular AMV contest, the "Anime in China" panel was the least populated of all the panels I attended, with about 10 people in the room. Hosted by a representative from Harmony Gold, owners of the Robotech license, the panel was made up of a slideshow detailing the Robotech Convention Tour at the 3rd China International Cartoon Animation Festival (CICAF) in Hangzhou.
It was easy to discern the differences between the CICAF and AX. As pointed out, the scale of CICAF is much larger, drawing in over 439,000 attendees over the span of 10 days, compared to AX's 43,000 attendees over 4 days. One of the key differences is that CICAF is only open eight hours each day. AX is always open till the very end, with late night programming that runs all night.
Another interesting difference is the way each con treats the masquerade event. AX has one huge masquerade that showcases the best costumes and skits. CICAF has a masquerade with an MC each of the ten days, albeit on a much smaller scale. While there are many cosplayers, most of them avoid walking in the halls to avoid the large crowds. Another big difference is how long it takes to register for the event. American anime conventions usually have a wait time of 4 hours for registration. CICAF only requires a five minute wait.
Also, the demographics are different. Despite the influx of new anime fans, AX is primarily a convention for the hardcore fan. Unlike CICAF, AX is not the kind of event where you'd bring your entire family to enjoy the experience. Not only is CICAF a family-friendly affair, but it's also an event the entire city of Hangzhou supports. Security is handled by the local police, the regional army, and the national army. Now try to imagine the LAPD, the National Guard, and the US Army at Anime Expo. Even communist party officials attended the event. The event is an excuse for a huge celebration, complete with parades and extensive media coverage from television and radio stations. In contrast, AX receives most of its media coverage from dedicated anime magazines and websites, many of which are personal blogs and fan sites.
Aside from Hangzhou being the animation capital of China, one of the big reasons why CICAF draws so much attention is because it's a one-of-a-kind event there. In America, there's practically a different anime convention every week. American anime fans don't realize how good they have it.
Overall, it was interesting to see how the Chinese run their conventions and which shows are popular there. Just like everywhere else, Robotech and Transformers were huge draws. The most disappointing part of panel was that it didn't really cover the fan community -- the heart and soul of every convention.
Anime & Gaming
Gaming has always been a key part of the AX experience. Every convention worth its salt has at least one room dedicated to console gaming. AX usually has one room devoted to platforms like the Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, and another roomed dedicated to arcade games such as Dance Dance Revolution. Video game cosplays are always popular, particularly from series like Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and Kingdom Hearts.
AX this year was especially good to gamers. David Hayter's unexpected appearance at AX drew in legions of Metal Gear fans. Aksys Games gave AX attendees an opportunity to be the very first gamers to ever play Arc System's much anticipated Blaz Blu fighting game in the console gaming room. Long-time AX regulars Atlus USA and NiS America were also on hand. Sadly this year, Atlus did not have their own booth in the exhibit hall. NIS had a busy booth, with playable demos of their upcoming games and autograph sessions with Disgaea character artist Takehito Harada. New to AX this year is D3 Publisher, which demoed their upcoming Puzzle Quest sequels. Namco-Bandai was the busiest of all the game-related booths, with hordes of gamers queued up to play demos of upcoming games like Soulcalibur IV and Tales of Vesperia. The popular Gaia Online had a booth as well.
Saturday was a particularly good day for gamers, with five panels dedicated to video games.
I attended the NIS America panel first. Known for localizing the cult strategy RPG series, Disgaea, the NIS panel was filled to max capacity. After they showed trailers for their fall line-up, there was a Q&A session with the localization managers and writers. It's not often a fan gets to speak face to face with the behind-the-scenes people outside a professional gaming industry event, so the Q&A lines became long real fast.
Atlus USA held a similar panel, except they did a presentation on the history of their flagship series, Shin Megami Tensei, providing some interesting insights on the localization aspects. Atlus games tend to cater to the niche and hardcore audience. That makes AX the perfect forum for Atlus to gauge interest. Persona 3 is particularly popular with anime fans, given its strong ties to Japanese culture and its contemporary themes. Knowing this, Atlus chose to officially announce the US release date for Persona 4 at the end of the panel, drawing massive applause from fans.
The last panel I attended that day was JAST USA's PC Dating Sim Game Industry Panel (+18). In this case, the term PC Dating Sim is a euphemism for the Japanese porn game genre, better known to anime fans as the hentai game. In Japan, one of the most popular marriage of anime and gaming are hentai games...and to a less extreme extent, the visual novel. The term novel is apt, because these games mostly involve reading and the occasional decision on how to progress the plot. Aside from the obvious draw, these games also appeal to gamers due to their emphasis on plot and character development. Several popular hentai and visual novel games have even been adapted into popular anime shows, sans the sex, such as Fate/Stay Night, Air, and Shuffle. Fans are often surprised to find that some of their favorite shows originated from this genre.
So what exactly goes on at a hentai game panel?
Before I could get in, they checked my driver's license to verify that I was over 18. In exchanged for being carded, I was given a JAST USA 10th anniversary trading card. I got a "Do You Like Horny Bunnies?" card. Sure, why not.
Unsurprisingly, the roomed was filled. The JAST USA representative started the presentation with a slideshow detailing the company's game releases this past fiscal year. Then he showed the companies the upcoming line-up of games they picked up from Japan, with several titles drawing raucous laughter and applause. I marveled at how the company representative was able to keep a straight face when he announced the title of an upcoming release, aptly titled Cleavage. Then came the trailers. Many drew cheers. Some drew laughter. Others were just completely ludicrous. Oh, the things I wish I could un-see...
Despite the panels obviously catering towards guys, there was a surprising number of females in attendance, showing that ridiculous sex-themed games are something anyone with a subversive sense of humor can laugh at. I know there are people out there that dislike these games for their obvious distastefulness, but I'm glad open-minded anime fans can find the concept of a horny nun driving a rice rocket in a racing-themed hentai game so absurd that it's funny.
For another perspective, see Kanara Ty's report here.
For more of APA's coverage of Anime Expo 2008, click here.