The weekend in which I met Abe, Uematsu, Freeman, and MacCarthy: otherwise known as Anime Central 2014

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Well, this was an interesting weekend. Throughout it I attended three rather fabulous panels and two really bad pits of convention despair. Apterous and I have been attending Anime Central on and off for over a decade (don’t do the math!) After this weekend, during the 6 hour drive home, we talked about this year’s convention compared to previous years. Both of us concluded that there may have been a bit too much fear of a liability from the convention’s stand point that was getting in the way of genuine spontaneous fun and innovation.

We arrived in Chicago on Thursday and immediately visited the Mitsuwa Supermarket and Department store. For those who aren’t familiar, Mitsuwa is a Japanese supermarket with Hippo Bakery (at least in Chicago) and a Kinokuya Bookstore along with a Japanese/Korean/ American food court in the middle. I love the place, and have been going to it for over a decade. Up until discovering CAM in Cincinnati, it was the only place I got any true Japanese ingredients for home cooking.

My goodies from Mitsuwa: ViVi fashion magazine, the new One Piece art book, Hello Kitty sketch book, and some pencils.
My goodies from Mitsuwa: ViVi fashion magazine, the new One Piece art book, Hello Kitty sketch book, and some pencils.

Our trip got off to a great start on Thursday at Mitsuwa. I bought a number of fun things like the ViVi fashion magazine (which features Hamasaki Ayumi, one of my favorite Japanese singers) a cute Hello Kitty sketch pad, the new One Piece art book, and some mechanical pencils. Because I am a pencil maniac. Afterwards we got some breakfast items from the grocery store (mostly パン, or Japanese breakfast pastries). We then had dinner at the food court where we had some great Korean dishes. I had spicy Bi Bim Bap while Apterous had grilled spicy octopus!

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Spicy octopus! 낙지볶음
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Bi Bim Bap 돌솥 비빔밥

 

Both of our dinners!
Both of our dinners!

Oh, we also got some desserts from Hippo Bakery! They had Mont Blanc, my {most} favorite dessert in the ENTIRE world and I’ve only had in Japanese bakeries. I’m sure it exists outside those bakeries, but I have yet to find it, even when I was in Paris! Yikes!

My beloved Mont Blanc!
My beloved Mont Blanc!
Also, strawberry shortcake and a chocolate cake for GarDan and Lulu.
Also, strawberry shortcake and a chocolate cake for GarDan and Lulu.

Friday: 

The first panel we went to on Friday was an outright disaster. It was like watching a train accident; first it ran off the rails and then the audience just watched as the cars exploded one-by-one. If I had the ability to actually grade the presenter (who never gave her name by the way) I would have given her a D. First were the technical problems, which really she had no control over. The computer she was using suddenly shut down and it took her about 10 minutes to get it up and running again. Now usually during a time like this (and they have happened to me presenting multiple times before I do this:

1.) Call a convention tech in to fix the problem.

2.) Still entertain the audience by continuing the program, even if adlibbing things. Surely one would know enough about the subject matter to continue on without the need of the presentation?

Alas, no. This is not at all what she did. The audience sat, watching her try to get the computer up and running without a con tech in sight (there wasn’t anyone monitoring her presentation either, which I thought was a problem). Once that was up and running, she got back to her presentation which turned out to be just a mashing for facts off Live Journal threads and tended to be off mark by quite a bit. The subject she was talking about was something I know quite a bit about and has been studied extensively in both Japanese and American academics. Had she done any study on the subject herself outside of just browsing the internet, she would have been able to answer some of the harder questions asked by curious audience members. But no, no such luck. She wasn’t qualified to lead this panel, and I’m sure everyone has been in a panel like this before. I just hadn’t experienced such a  horribly run panel in years, and I though ACen would have higher standards when picking panelists. Ohayocon sure does.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we were dismissed 15 minutes early and her entire run time for the panel was a half hour. So, in all, her presentation including the Q and A session, was 5 minutes.

Crispin Freeman
Crispin Freeman
Helen McCarthy
Helen McCarthy

On a great note; The History of Mythology in Anime and Manga with Crispin Freeman and Helen McCarthy is never to be missed. This was, without a doubt, one of the best panels I have ever been to. It was so well balanced between humor and educational material and the interplay between Freeman and McCarthy was wonderful. If you had a question, they had answers. They saved my Friday night. Obviously I’m a huge fan of mythology with Miss Grey, but I was curious to see what Freeman, who is a voice actor and McCarthy who is an author about anime and manga culture, would have to say.

The answer was- a lot! A ton! And all of it was interesting and well researched. Hell, Freeman even discussed Joseph Campbell’s research into mythology and related that information into the study of myth use in anime and manga. From Western Princesses to the Asian idea of Magical Girls, East vs. West in the concept of dragons, even the comparative use of females as powerful heroines in media, all of it was great!

I think I have an academic mythology crush with Cripin Freeman now.

The rest of the day Apterous and I spent wondering the vendor room and gathering street passes. We met up with our friends Lulu and GarDan, who are two big cosplayers. We only get to see each other during anime conventions, mostly Ohayocon and ACen.

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No we’re not totally trying to play a super confusing card game while eating delicious desserts….STOP GLARING AT ME APTEROUS!

Saturday

From what I hear, what Apterous and I experienced was far better than those on Friday had experienced before us. What I’m talking about was waiting in line for tickets for the A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy which played Friday and Saturday at the convention.

In our case, Apterous and I woke up at 6AM to be in line for the tickets by 7AM (with the tickets available at the box office at 8AM). We didn’t stay at the nearby hotels, so we had had to make sure we were early for it. What we didn’t expect was to have to wait outside at 6-9:30 AM when it was just below 40F, especially since the convention was “closed” at that time and thus plenty of room for lines inside. There was about 100 people in front of us, it ended up taking an hour and a half for us to pick up our tickets. Turns out, at 8 when they opened, they only let 25 people enter the convention hall at a time, even though all of the easily 300+ person registration line was allowed in at once. Apterous lost his cool, if anything he hates more is poor management of operations.

Our friends, Lulu and GarDan, who got in line around 7:30 finally got their tickets around 10:30AM, but unlike us had to go get their cosplay outfits on which took about 3-4 hours to do. They weren’t happy with the hold up either.

Apparently, when they went to the convention response panel on Sunday, they heard that Friday’s line was much, much, worse. Unlike our line which had been separated from registration (although, not labeled) both lines were mixed together on Friday! Oh the chaos that must have been. According one of the people in the response panel, there were a set of teens who managed to get registered and then get their tickets to Friday’s concert before he did! Yikes! Line con ’07 anyone?

Anyway, after we finally thawed from waiting in line and grabbed some breakfast, it was time to wait in line  again *yay* to get into the Final Fantasy concert. We got there early enough (about an hour early) and waiting in line. This time at least the convention staff Incident Response Team (I.R.T.) were there to organize all 750 of us audience members in an orderly fashion. Somehow, out of sheer luck, Apterous and I managed to be placed in the middle third row from stage. Not only did we get to see the performers and conductor Arnie Roth up close (like, could see the fingerings for the cello, the 1st and second chairs glances at one another,  etc…) but that also meant that we were only 15 feet away from Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of all the Final Fantasy music and someone who I consider to be one of the creators of the franchise. HO-LY CRAP. Uematsu played with the small chamber orchestra for only one song,  but we got to be next to him when he played it.

Riding from that emotional high, Apterous went off to play in a Pokemon X/Y tournement (which turned out didn’t exist, even though it was on the schedule) while I took photos at the Final Fantasy cosplay photo shoot since Lulu was dressed as Lulu and GarDan was a FF1 Black Mage. This was the first time I’ve ever attended a photo shoot because I do not cosplay. Personally I have nothing against it, some people create such beautiful works of art with their outfits, but I just don’t see the appeal to cosplay myself.

Getting back to the first Pokemon tournament: although it was on the schedule to take place, no convention worker or organizer actually know of its existence! This apparently the third time Apterous has run into this situation, the second time at ACen. So, he organized one on the spot.

We finished the day going to the guest panel Making time for Making Comics by Writing With Pictures contributor and comic book writer Trevor Mueller. It was a pretty late panel, but I did manage to give Trevor a copy of Miss Grey!

Sunday:

We slept in. After the cold line of Saturday morning, we felt no hurry to get to panels on Sunday. My convention day started at the Yoshitoshi Abe: Manga in the Digital Era panel, at which I got to briefly speak to Abe. He came up to me in line and asked which room was room #2, and I pointed to the doors and replied “It is those doors over there.” He said thank you, and walked to the doors. Afterwards I turned to the person next to me in line, who was reading the schedule and said “hey did you see that?” He replied “what?” and I said “That was who we came to see, Yoshitoshi Abe.” Everyone in line had missed him because they were either looking down at their Nintendo DS’s or reading or just didn’t know what he looked like.

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On the left, Yoshitoshi Abe. On the right, his un-named translator.
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Abe edited a color page for the audience, this is a photo of that page.

Abe’s panel was great, I gathered a lot of helpful tips with digital illustration that I hadn’t come across before.

Unfortunately we had to leave early because I fell ill with a fever, otherwise known as “con plague.”

Overall it was a good convention, it wasn’t perfect but it was better than last year’s in my opinion. The panel schedule was overwhelming with panel choices, and thankfully a lot more artist geared panels unlike last year. That is something that I do miss, there just aren’t as many artist panels in anime conventions anymore. Yes, I’m about to say this, but “back in the day” there used to be huge panels devoted to manga and manga making. I remember back in 2003 the “Nani Naze Megatokyo” guest panel where Fred Gallagher showed up dressed like a cute cat had close to 800-1000 attendees for his webcomic Megatokyo. I haven’t seen anything like that in years. 

Another thing I have noticed is the lack of comradery between different anime enthusiasts in recent years. People just share in the joy of loving a particular thing anymore, instead they constantly try to be elitist. Be it between cosplayers, gamers, or manga lovers, instead of just focusing on their passion for the subject and for constant improvement of skills people just seem to constantly compete. For example, when there was the problem in the disastrous panel written about above many people (including myself) tried to assist the girl leading the panel. Instead of accepting the help and getting things to move along, she shot us all down and refused.

I’ll see you next year ACen!

-Vega

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Lulu as Lulu and GarDan as a Black Mage from FF1.

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HOLY CRAP it's a Brave Little Toaster cosplayer!
HOLY CRAP it’s a Brave Little Toaster cosplayer!