Sakuracon Day 2 – A Day of Martial Law

OK who called the cops? seriously. For a considerable period of time the top floor of the convention center was under a sort of lock down as due to an enormous long line-up for the Ali Project concert and a Gaia Online Panel, police were suddenly called in order to prevent anyone from going up and down stairs effectively sealing off the upstairs portion. Some people I spoke with heavily blamed the Gaia Online panel that overfilled its room. Once con staff tried to reduce the crowding in the room, the people in the panel joined the huge throng of people outside and started blocking escalators and causing a general ruckus leading to the police to intervene. Due to the larger numbers as well, the line ups for the Ali Project concert stretching in huge spirals around the hallways. This same problem resulted in the cosplay show being delayed by one hour as they had difficulties dealing with the numbers of people.

The numbers in general yesterday were indeed huge. In certain places where I had no difficulty moving around on Friday as well as in the last two years at the convention center were made difficult to move around in. It made me wonder at one point if Sakuracon had even outgrown the convention center they just moved to 3 short years ago. It truly is remarkable seeing this convention triple in size in terms of attendance over the past few years. Although I am beginning to wonder if it has grown too big too fast.

The actual convention though yesterday did deliver the highlight of the weekend as Ali Project performed a knockout show complete with dancing drag queens and a twin violin attack, launched on stage along with the wonderful Arika Takarano, who resembles a flowing Asian vampire. All the while Mikiya Katakura stodd at the back like a sleak and cool maestro keeping the backbeat moving on a mac and keyboards, gracefully tapping his white sneakers behind the dimmed sinister lights. The music itself though lives up to the pagentry. Ali Proiect is probably best known for their brilliant Anime theme tunes, but also their dark gothic lyrics that would not be out of place sung by a black metal outfit. Instead they have channeled a unique blend of techno, orchestra touches, soaring violins, and operatic vocals that is all together simply epic. They performed most of the theme songs I was hoping for along with a few I forgot like all the Rozen Maiden themes, the slamming Noir theme, and Avenger’s opening and closing themes, and also the brand new Shigofumi theme, which was accompanied by a looped animation sequence of the opening animation on the large screen behind them. I will provide pictures of this hopefully soon, because seriously missing this was not an option.

I later attended another great panel with Roland Kelts and Marty LeGrow, the authors of Japanamerica and Bizenghast respectfully, who expanded on the what Roland discussed yesterday in terms of Japanese cool, but also he talked in length with Marty about her experiences as a female comic artist. She discussed how Sailor Moon and its fashions, but also its all girl cast that appealed to her as a teenage girl not used to anything but Jem and She-ra as offerings from North American comics and cartoons that was directed and also about females. She admitted that as she got into anime and manga, she did discover the same overt discrimination as in North American cartoons and comics, but there was still a large amount of shows and series that captured a lot of the fashion, the kawaii (cute), and complexities that she found lacking in things outside of manga and anime in other graphic mediums. I am guessing this meant science fiction and printed reading was not an option, but then again, she did graduate with a degree in sequential art. They also further discussed how the manga style gave her a voice in terms of creating Bizenghast, which she tried to get into American Independent comics, but ended up with Tokyopop that was beginning to publish original works along with its translations of Japanese and Korean comics.

Later I attended the Japanese Mangaka panel which featured the authors of Chibi Vampire, Yuna Kagesaki, and Battle Vixens, Yuji Shiozaki, which are both published by Tokyopop. Both of these comics have also been made into anime, which is a huge accomplishment for relatively new mangakas. They both discussed their influence and film was hardly a surprise as inspiring them both, but especially Shiozaki. I asked him how he adapted the moving image of the film to the still image of the comic, but still able to convey the frenetic movement that occurs especially in his battle sequences. He revealed that it was body positions that he studied in terms of the movement, but also he used himself as a sort of living model. He revealed that he posed often in front of the mirror while he was working, often taking off his clothes, and then took photos of himself in order to get that still image from the movements he would do, but also from what he was thinking about in movies. He also said this had unfortunately lead to him being caught in the act by his wife, who has voiced her displeasure of his weirdness. It was also interesting to hear both of them discuss female characters in terms of their ideals. Battle Vixens although being drawn for a young male audience and containing much of the male gaze nevertheless has strong female characters who kick ass, but nevertheless remain aware of the male gaze in their disrobing. Shiozaki responded that he likes quieter women, and finds it far more attractive, but finds himself drawing much more ribald female characters in his manga. Kagesaki on the other hand liked drawing much more troubled more faulted females in her work, and if you have read Chibi Vampire, or seen the anime adaption, this is the case as her female lead, Karin, struggles with in a family of vampires. She herself is an “unvampire” she injects blood into her victims instead of sucking it out. It was also interesting to hear that neither read much manga, but were still inspired to create in the form and are enjoying it as a creative as well as financial opportunity.

Next I was off to the Bandai Entertainment panel, which again was very drab. So far the Tokyopop panel has been the only panel of note for its interesting subject matter as opposed to the dry delivery of trailers and release dates. The only exciting thing about the Bandai Entertainment panel was perhaps the news and excitement around “The Girl Who Leaped Through Time,” which looks like quite an exciting movie. Bandai Entertainment is going to be releasing it theaters, but they could not announce which ones at the moment except that it will be debuting at the New York Anime Fest in a month or two. I seriously hope it is going to be coming to a place where I can see it in all its big screen glory. The character designs are done by the one and only Sadamoto, who did the designs and the brilliant manga adaption of Evangelion.

One thing that I have noticed though is that there is more press in the industry panels than in any of the creator panels. It seems people who do reporting are far more interested in covering the movements and actions of North American companies than talking with and discussing techniques and artistry. It kind of saddens me a bit because the creator panels are far more interesting in terms of discussing the artform that we enjoy rather than the crunching of economics and consumerism.

Speaking of the business side of things though there has been some shocking no-shows to planned panels by industry heads, one of which is clearly ducking away from fans. Friday saw Viz pull a no show to what was going to be a rare appearance for them at a convention. Saturday saw Ocean Studios, a well known dubbing studio were MIA as well. Sunday however, we were informed that the Bandai Visual Panel was canceled. This is hardly a surprise as last year Bandai Visual and their ridiculously overpriced DVDs were he subject of many an attack from the audience at their panel. They do have considerable money invested in the convention, and they do have a presence in terms of a booth, but in ducking the questions of fans and media alike is hardly something I was hoping to see. They are also continuing to be blind to the fact that the Japanese market and the American market are greatly different in terms of pricing and expectations. It is unfortunate too because they have some really exceptional titles like Gunbuster and Gunbuster 2, Wings of Honneamise, and others, but their pricing and distribution is just not what is going to bring them success in the North American market that is requiring forward thinking and new approaches as it is. At least they are trying to convey their products as collectors items and luxuries, but with brilliant packaging and extras that are being done by other North American companies it really seems hardly worth the money they are charging.

After the panels, it was back to hotel room to a defeat at Star Munchkins, which a group of friends had managed to lug along and it good times. Also caught the latest episode of South Park before it was bed time, and enjoyed every minute of it. Tomorrow it is the final day, and I am actually writing this waiting for the arrical of Hiroshi Nagahama, who is unfortunately half and hour late! So hopefully he does not pull a Viz/Bandai Visual/Ocean Studios and arrives shortly so I can do an interview and present it in all its glories for those of you who have been following me in my journeys. So until later, See you all!