Sunday, June 23, 2013

AnimeNEXT 2013: The Wrath of CON

The Critic interviewing J-Pop band Moon Stream!

 I've had about two weeks to catch up on sleep and clear my head from the blitz that is AnimeNEXT to gain a little perspective, and overall the experience was very positive!

AnimeNEXT 2013, the annual convention celebrating Japanese pop culture and animation held in Somerset, NJ, did not start out auspiciously for me. My fearless companion Casey and I got on the road later than we meant to, charging through the pouring rain, and halfway there I realized I forgot two major components to a costume I was planning to wear. I got there slightly less exhausted than in years past, but still feeling the effects of a too-busy week and a too-busy weekend ahead. Thankfully, that appeared to be the worst of it - upon arrival things moved along swimmingly, albeit hectically, but that's pretty much the nature of the beast that is a convention.

First off, what you're all actually here for:  the obligatory photo reel! A lot of cosplay and a little of esteemed associates of mine.  Let me know if anyone recognizes themselves; I will be more than happy to email a high-res picture to you if you like what you see.

The panels that my team of colleagues and myself presented ended up being well-attended by thoughtful and interesting people, with Collecting Original Japanese Animation Art drawing a small but interested crowd on Sunday morning. I also had fun showing off my prized Anthy cel from Revolutionary Girl Utena, and talking a little bit about the remastered series.  For those of you who were there, here's the link to presenter Dr. Bill Ellis's online anime art gallery.  

Anime Under the Radar was a particular success. (It even got a very nice review here.)  Because I learned my lesson last year with the unreliability of the Doubletree Hotel’s Wi-fi, I had downloaded and embedded the video opening of Attack on Titan, which played in its full-throttle glory with no hitches whatsoever. Dr. Ellis successfully showed a few entertaining and touching sequences from the ridiculously obscure Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird and Ai to Yuki no Pig Gril Tonde Buurin and Dylan Ferrara discussed the virtues of Chuka Ichiban! Cooking Master Boy with enough time at the end to ask the audience to share their favorite obscure anime series.  I’ve made a list of them here in case anyone wants to check out some of these titles: 

Our Home's Fox Deity 

Legend of the Galactic Heroes

Saikano: She the Ultimate Weapon

Angel Beats

Detroit Metal City




Great Teach Onizuka (GTO) 

Girls und Panzer 


I also attended Disabilities in Anime and Manga panel, presented by Ro Pirog, which was an interesting overview of Japan's fascination with characters with disabilities and what the reality of how disabilities are viewed and treated in Japanese culture. I included a short video clip of it here for your enjoyment:

The Bronies Uncensored panel drew a large crowd despite being held at 11:30 at night, who were well-behaved and asked fun and insightful questions. It was interesting to see the new My Little Pony series and the cultural phenomenon of Bronies put into an academic light, relating both topics to contemporary myth and queer studies. Here's a short clip that gives the flavor of insight balanced with some good, geeky humor this panel had in spades:

The best part of the con for me this year ended up being part of my staff duties – video interviews with guests! Hopefully the AN crew will be getting those on YouTube soon; but I had the fun task of interviewing the J-Pop band Moon Stream, who rocked the con on Friday evening, voice actor/DJ Greg Ayres, and voice actress Michele Knotz. It was fun hear what it is about AN that attract the guests, and why some such as Ms. Knotz and Mr. Ayres (who comes all the way from Texas!) keep coming back. Also, it was interesting to discover how both Ms. Knotz and Mr. Ayres continue to evolve their craft over the years to keep their talents relevant and fresh in the rather fickle market of anime, which has experienced its share of highs and lows in terms of audience interest and engagement over the last decade or so.

Greg Ayres and I putting on our con faces
 I also found myself wondering in the post-con comedown - after seven years of attending, what keeps ME coming back to AnimeNEXT? As I face the reality of turning 30 next month, I wonder if I’m growing “too old” to be a part of these cons. They are so much work to prepare for and they take so much energy.  But then I get there and I see the awesome responsibility that so many people take on, all volunteers, mind you, to keep putting on this show year after year, and the interesting guests and panelists that are drawn in, and I realize the passion and efforts behind all of this is awe-inspiring. I did see improvement this year over last year - despite the uptick in attendance from 9,800 to probably over 10,000, I found it was much easier to get from point A to point B than in years before, due to dutiful con staff making a noted effort to keep crowds moving along and not allowing a giant cosplay photo shoot to commence in the middle of a narrow hallway. There was a better overall gauge of what panels would draw bigger vs. smaller crowds and assigning them accordingly, and the staff was better at holding panelists accountable to time in order to allow the next round-up to get set up and ready to roll.

My only regret is not having more time to wander the hallways, the Artist Alley, and the Dealers Room to soak up the experience from more of an outsider's perspective, but between the interesting panels, awesome guests, and fun events, AnimeNEXT continues to remain one of my favorite experiences year in and year out.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Gatsby: All that glitters isn't gold

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

 "Do you think its too much?"

"I think it's what you want."

"...I think so too."

This exchange between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby really says it all about Gatsby, Australian director Baz Luhrmann's overpuffed pastry of a reboot of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic work capturing the glitz and depravity of the roaring 20s. It is not so much the film the audience wants to see, but the film that Luhrmann wants to see.

The first 45 minutes of the film are basically Moulin Rouge: Gatsby Edition, (referring to Baz Luhrmann's 2001 feature) with jittery camera work and way, WAY too much going on, all gauze and diamonds and confetti cluttering up the scenery. It is not until Gatsby comes onto the scene, with Leonardo DiCaprio "old sporting" it up every chance he gets, that the glittery scrim that obscures much of the first part of the film gets pulled aside and the audience gets a chance to see into the heart of the story. There's no denying it is a rich visual spectacle, but one that I enjoyed more when the cameramen decided to cut back on the caffeine.

 One thing is clear - Luhrmann is obsessed with writers, and that's a good thing because it is the writing that gives Gatsby his greatness. I recently started rereading it, and I realized its not Luhrmann's fault - it is virtually impossible to make a movie worthy of the book because it is the way the written words weave the incredible, sorrowful beauty of the plot - how the quest for a dream can go so wrong - are so much a part of the soul of the book itself that when you take the story out of the book context, something gets lost in translation, more so than usual. Its like reading a book in English when it was originally written in Spanish - you get the flavor, but not the full body. (I'm not a huge fan of the 1974 film featuring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, either.)

But there are lovely moments, such as when my favorite quote from the book “In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars" appears across the screen as we see Nick, played by the eternally fresh-faced Tobey Maguire, typing the words diligently into his typewriter (a la Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge). The words flit across the screen in a pale blue color to flit away and disappear.

It's those tiny, singular inspired moments that makes the film worth seeing, but not enough to make it truly shine. In the words of Gatsby: "Nice try, old sport."