November 12, 2008
One of the good things about anime conventions is that they provide opportunities for fans to hear from industry professionals about what's new, and what directions various influential companies might take. For example, Erin Finnegan's excellent coverage of a NYAF panel with representatives from Bandai and FUNimation. The talk was candid:

Funimation rep Adam Sheehan says, “Our sales have gone up in the last couple of years. We’ve been lucky to get quality shows.” Funimation has been doing 13-episode sets of One Piece for hardcore fans. “One Piece is the most illegally downloaded series in the world” Sheehan says. “If just 1% of those people bought a DVD it would increase our sales tenfold.”

This news is disappointing for two reasons.

  1. It means that, as Chris MacDonald from the Anime News Network says, “It’s not exclusively a DVD industry… DVD sales of Naruto are inconsequential. Viz doesn’t give a damn... They only care about licensing. Boxed Home media is never going to be as big as it was in the ’90’s again.”
  2. One Piece? Seriously?

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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.

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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.

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