November 13, 2008
The founding editor of fps passed away peacefully in the presence of his family on November 11, shortly before 10 p.m.
You may have noticed this year, we tried to keep up with news in the animation industry but Emru wasn't posting as often. He was having difficulty wrapping up our annual animation charity auction at the end of last year because of a mystery ailment, which turned out to be an aggressive form of leukemia. Ironically, last year's auction proceeds went to the Cancer Research Society.
Emru is also my big brother.
On January 30, he found out that I was not a compatible match for him as a bone marrow donor, something neither he nor I knew anything about until I began to research it. We talked and messaged about it that day. The next morning, he asked me remember to post about the early Japanese animation retrospective at the Cinematheque Quebecoise because he had another checkup, since he found out he was also not in remission. Even though we were trying to save his life and help other people, animation was still an important part of our lives. When we would talk on the phone we would discuss the day's accomplishments in terms of donor recruitment and awareness, and what news was interesting in the animation world.
Truthfully, Emru treated his relationship to animation and stem cell awareness in a similar fashion: People over things. When he was passionate about an idea or a movement, he would reach out to people and try to bring people together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. He encouraged others to believe in their abilities and aim high.
Vicky Tamaru of Plexipixel encouraged people to attend bone marrow drives around the US to help Emru, and provided an exhaustive list to make it easier for people to get involved. This was crucial, as Canadians cannot run bone marrow drives and Emru and I had to rely on other ways to educate people in our country.
When the Cinematheque's retrospective began in February, I was incredibly touched by the outpouring of support from the local animation community, and animation curator Marco de Blois mentioning Emru's need for a donor during such an important occasion.
The day after the retrospective began, Toon Boom Animation added a new page to save the Toon Boom Voice: Emru had provided the voice for the company's tutorials. After Emru found a match in early June, they understood many other people needed to find donors, and decided to keep the page running so the information would be available.
We created flyers and other promotional materials, and it was no surprise that one of the biggest attention grabbers was a portrait of the anime version of Emru, designed by local artist Veronique Thibault. Young people especially were drawn to the image, then paid attention to the important information that was included. At Anime North this year, I ran into old friends of Emru who remembered how he was present when anime was an inchoate "trend" and how he championed the works that he felt deserved more attention. At Otakuthon, it was similar.
Emru was notified in June of a potential match the day before he was set to travel to a planning meeting for the annual ACM SIGGRAPH conference. He was co-chair of the Computer Animation Festival until he fell ill, but the SIGGRAPH organizers refused to let him resign and insisted he stay on as a consultant even if he was only able to help in a limited capacity. He was thrilled at the idea of being cleared to travel, seeing fellow volunteers again, and being able to help out.
Just as I was gearing up for the Fantasia film festival, I was also preparing an ad for the Rock The Bells concert tour with the help of two friends. One was Ward Jenkins, who provided this beautiful illustration of Emru. Two of the films Emru especially enjoyed this year before he really had to stay away from crowds were Genius Party and Fear(s) of the Dark at the Fantasia Film Festival and he registered his enjoyment of them days before his death. Fantasia organizers donated the proceeds from one of their films to Emru, and this helped his family enormously, as neither he nor his wife could work much in 2008.
In September, I gave him the run-down of all the happenings at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which began the day after Emru's received his bone marrow transplant. He received it at the Ottawa Hospital, and he joked about the timing of the transplant being perfect, because he was planning since the previous year's festival to be in Ottawa anyway. I hardly reported on the festival this year, as I was busy campaigning for stem cell donor registration with Emru leading up to it, and I was more exhausted than I thought I would be when I got to the festival. Once there, I received an astonishing outpouring of support for Emru, a festival regular for 19 years - this would have been his 20th year, and I think his presence was still felt despite his physical abscence. It was actually an extension of the support he had received in the form of calls, emails, blog postings, articles, letters, and events that had been occurring to help him. He cherished the sketchbooks he received full of sketches from festivalgoers.
He was happy to hear about the great films at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, a small festival with a big lineup. He and I always looked forward to it, whether we could attend or not. In the last few years we made a point of it and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. It starts today and I wish I could be blogging about that and heading there tomorrow as I had originally planned, instead of writing about this. Joseph Chen, the WFAC curator, just sent me an email saying he wished he could be in Montreal for Emru's visitation.
No matter where you are, if you love Emru or love animation, he loves you too.
Learn more about becoming a stem cell or bone marrow donor.
It starts with a cheek swab (Canada, US) or blood sample (Quebec, UK).
If you match, you do not put your own life at risk to potentially save another.
UK - Anthony Nolan Trust, African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust
US - National Marrow Donor Program, DKMS Americas
Canada - Hema Quebec Stem Cell Registry, OneMatch Stem Cell Network
July 19, 2008
A little while ago, I got a copy of Animania in the mail. It was a copy-for-blogging exchange, and I was glad I got a chance to see it. I had caught it on local cable a couple of weeks ago, and was curious to see the rest.
Turns out, I had only missed about the first ten or fifteen minutes. The documentary itself is only about an hour long, with a half-hour special features section called "Anime Uncovered." Despite my interest in fan studies, I thought that this was the more interesting part of the package -- and not just because it featured our friend Emru. I liked hearing from experts, specifically Canadian experts, and I also enjoyed hearing about the mechanics of modern animation.
The documentary itself revolves around a group of cosplayers (not a cosplay group, just different cosplayers) who attend Anime North, Toronto's major anime convention. The filmmaker, Felice Gorica, asks them the same questions, most of which are about why they like anime, how long they've been watching it, why they cosplay, and what they think life is like for teenagers in the twenty-first century. Also included are interviews with the parents of each cosplayer. Whether this was intentional or not, there seems to be a clear cultural divide between the minority parents and the white ones -- the Chinese, Japanese, and Caribbean parents all profess to love the way cosplay gives their kids projects to do, teaches them discipline and stick-to-it-iveness, and keeps them out of "normal" trouble. The white parents, however, seem intensely worried about how their son uses anime to help create his identity, how much money he spends on his anime habit, and whether he should be "living his life by the rules set out by a world of fantasy." (My husband then pointed out that the American Dream is more of a fantasy than anything anyone could animate, and that living one's life by its rules is probably twice as unhealthy as any fannish obsession.)
If I had one criticism of this documentary, it would be that the editing needs work. Technically it's fine -- it's not like the audio and visual tracks leap apart, or anything -- but there's a lot of extraneous footage used to split up the segments that make no immediately-apparent sense. We get unexplained cuts of anime like Slayers, but no commentary on why Slayers fits with what the interviewees have just said. Then there's the wrestling footage. To be fair, Anime North has wrestling exhibitions in full view of the registration line (it gives people something to watch while standing for hours), so it does make sense to at least acknowledge that. However, the frequent intercuts to the footage make it seem as though the wrestling should have some narrative or thematic significance to the points being made in the interviews. And it doesn't, unless the point was to highlight the fact that both wrestlers and cosplayers wear costumes.
Aside from that, though, I recommend it. It's nice to see something that's exclusively about Canadian fandom, and cosplay specifically. I also liked the inclusion of the parents' commentary. These parents seem to have great relationships with their kids, and they clearly savour the opportunity to spend time with their children at a time when most children can't wait to get out of the house or otherwise spurn parental attention. Their contribution is perhaps the most unique to the documentary, and this low-key approach was just right for talking to both halves of the relationship.
May 29, 2007
This weekend was Anime North 2007, and convention goers made the most of it with plenty of cosplay, hours of video, and panels that stretched long into the night.
As a four-time panelist, I introduced myself as a blogger for fps. My panels included musings on Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan, and cyborgs in anime. I was a panelist alongside Dr. David Stephenson and Derwin Mak, among others. Being a panelist is very rewarding, and lends structure to what otherwise might be an incomprehensible whirlwind of photo-taking, squeeing fangirls, and scrambling to find that last-minute steal in the dealers' room.
As an anime convention, Anime North is the laid-back, easy-going Canadian cousin of Anime Expo or the Big Apple Anime Festival. It's not American, so distributors are sceptical of debuting new titles there. On the other hand, last year's convention boasted ten thousand attendees. There seemed to be a little something for everyone -- one hotel was designated "Yaoi North," featuring both yaoi-themed panels as well as viewing rooms for teens 18 and older -- with all-night anime, gaming rooms for all platforms, and pencil-and-paper RPGs, and multi-franchise masquerade competitions, fashion shows, tea parties, midnight ballroom dancing, J-rock and J-pop performances, multi-hour AMV competitions, autographs from the likes of Wendee Lee and Johnny Yong Bosch, and chocolate fountains. There was even a pool party.
All of this is very fun, especially if one is staying in one of the three or four hotels involved in the convention. But the trade-off is that with programming and attendees spread over multiple locations, volunteers and programmers have no central authority. Several times during the convention, I would ask volunteers for assistance, and was given misinformed or conflicting advice. Case in point: when joining a long autograph queue, I asked a volunteer where exactly the end of the line was. "I have no idea," he said. He pointed, and said: "It's there, I think." Naturally, the line changed direction after an hour, proving both the volunteer -- and my good sense -- completely wrong. When I asked another volunteer why the person I had spoken with earlier was so misinformed, she said: "He just didn't know we were going to change things around." This kind of misunderstanding ruled at the convention, with volunteers posted at doors proclaiming them to be "exit only," (instead of, say, clearly-posted exit signs) and volunteers loudly complaining "I don't know what my job is!" to their alleged supervisors while waiting anxiously in panel-designated areas.
This is not to say that I do not endorse Anime North wholeheartedly. Anime conventions in general are like a kinder, gentler three-day Mardi Gras, and there's something good for the soul about basking in the presence of other fans. Watching first-time visitors, talented cosplayers, and wide-eyed parents with their much-savvier children is always a treat, and part of the convention experience. "I've had such an awesome time," said a first-time attendee to me on the final day. "I don't ever want it to end." And it's that sense of comfortable wonder and community that fans and friends-of-fans should attempt to facilitate at these gatherings. I fully intend to visit next year. You should come, too.