< Piro >
Sunday - February 1, 2004
One of the things that i've learned over time is that for some reason, It's really hard to write rants about trips. I've done a lot of traveling related to Megatokyo in the past few years, but in many cases I never do a big write-up about the trip I just arrived home from.
Not really sure why this is. I suppose it's a combination of things. For starters, the last thing you end up doing while actually on a trip is sit around for a few hours to write a rant. Then, when you arrive home, all the stuff you should have been doing attacks you and the trip itself gets pushed to the back of your mind. Finally, a week or so later, you've moved on, and the trip was something that happened, well, weeks ago, and you have other things to talk about.
So, here i sit, a week and a half after returning home from my trip, trying to figure out where to start. So much happens on trips like these that it's hard to hit just the high points, when in truth its usually the little things that are the most interesting. Anyways, I might as well take a stab at it, and i'll try to include some pictures to add some vague interest to the thing.
As you know, Anime Expo Tokyo did me the honor of inviting me to come to this first attempt to have an American-style Anime convention in Japan. It's a difficult goal, really. For starters, Anime and Manga are an easily accessible commodity in Japan, unlike here in the states. For example, a 'dealers room' in a Japanese show just isn't going to have the focus and draw one in an American con has -- especially with an Animate store across the street with 7 floors of stuff and an event floor, never mind the multi-story Gamers store and Toranoana around the corner. More on that later.
Fan culture is also, i think, a little different there. Here in the states, fans share a real sense of commonality by being an 'anime/manga fan'. In Japan, fangroupings are more aligned with specific genres and sub-genres. Just being an anime fan isn't that big a deal - it's like saying you like sports. ^^;;
I have some thoughts about what worked, and what didn't about AX Tokyo, and why i think that this idea could really be something. If you manage to get a really savvy mix of what makes successful Japanese events work and what makes American cons work so well, I think it can make for a very interesting event. I think that American fans (well, what i should say is 'english speaking fans' - Anime Fandom outside of Japan is more than just the states) are a large, growing, active and eager community, and we want to make our contributions to the Anime/Manga world. The idea of cultures connecting thru some sort of commonalty is corny as hell, but there is some real validity to this. It's bound to happen, i think. Did AX Tokyo succeed at this?
I suppose that i should lead into this by talking about my trip. To sum up, it was a fantastic trip, and it fell into three distinct parts - AX Tokyo, Megatokyo research in Tokyo, and Warmth research in Sendai. Less important things, like seeing friends, sleeping, eating, happened in the cracks. I think that this will take three rants to cover properly, so i'll start with the AX Tokyo part of the trip.
I won't dwell on the flight over. I don't really like flying. I can't sleep sitting up, and no matter how hard i try or how tired I am it just doesn't happen. I figured that if i stayed up all night so that i was exhausted for the 14 hr flight i'd sleep, but it didn't happen ^^;; When i finally arrived in Tokyo, i was pretty beat. I flew over with Eileen and Phil Moy (the artist who does the PowerPuff Girl comics for DC), and we boarded a bus with a group of others who had also arrived to go to AX Tokyo. It was a surreal ride down from Narita airport to Ikebukuro. Of course it took well over an hour, and i was getting punchy tired by then, but wonder of wonders, we were able to see Mt. Fuji - something i had not been able to see at all on my previous trip to Japan. I was even more surprised to see it the next morning from my hotel room. :) After that, the normal haze returned and i was unable to see it for the rest of the trip.
That night i was able to finally meet my friend Tsubasa for the first time in real life. :) Tsubasa and I have known each other for a very long time - nine years at least and it was nice to finally meet him. Funny, really - and the more i think about it the more is makes me wonder - there are so many people that i've known and worked with over years through the net, some of whom i've still not had a chance to meet.
The next day, I found myself a lot more busy at the show than i thought i would be. Thankfully i was able to start it with a Starbucks coffee... these friggin things are everywhere now. I figured that since there really wouldn't be that many people there who even know what Megatokyo was that i'd not really have a lot to do. I was quite wrong, it seems - i was quite surprised not only by the number of english speaking fans who had come to the show from the states, but the number of english speaking fans who were living and working or going to school or stationed in Japan that had come. I was also surprised by how many Japanese attendees who had come to the signing having no idea who Phill, Crispin and I were. Luckily, I had brought several binders full of MT comics and Warmth, some of it even translated (thanks Asmodeus!) who were very nice in asking for drawings. Usually they requested 'kawaii onnanoko' (cute girl) and even one 'megane-ko' (girl with glasses - i drew seraphim) - i was only happy to oblige.
I also was surprised to see someone walking around with a t-shirt that looked really familiar - in fact, it was a tshirt that *I* had done years before - the KOR Twins t-shirt!. Ah, the days of Mailing Lists... Itono-san, who i had conversed with on many occasions on the KOR ML had come bearing gifts - a bad full of manga, actually. It was REALLY good to see you, Itono-san - too bad you weren't able to stay!
Once again, its weird how things you do years ago sometimes pop up now and again. Really is.
After the signing, there was a press panel, where i sat next to Ishiguro Noboru, the guy who directed Space Cruiser Yamato and Macross... yknow, i remember feverently watching Space Cruiser Yamato on TV when i was a kid -- it was kinda mind boggling, answering questions about american fans and american cons to the Japanese press, sitting next to the guy who directed Macross and the chairperson of Anime Expo, as well as several other guests... I told them that i think that American fans really want to contribute to anime culture, and that i felt honored to be there, and that i felt much humbled to be here where manga artist types actually had talent, unlike myself.
The megatokyo panel was actually for the most part all english speaking, except for one Japanese lady who sat in to listen to what we were talking about (poor Seizo had to translate all of my blathering - sorry Seizo!). I was later quite amazed to get an email from her ^^;; The panel was fun, and it felt nice and relaxed - not the super overcrowded panels we've been having in the states, and i think it went ok.
Honestly, i think i've got the order of things a little messed up - i can't remember if i went to lunch before or after this panel - i think it was after (my poor head). Anyways, after hooking up again with Tsubasa, who was working as volunteer staff for the con, we headed off to lunch with some friends and Hashimoto-san and REM-san from Device High, a doujin music group that you may remember me pointing out a few years ago. They have actually done several Megatokyo inspired songs. It was very nice to meet them - I love Device High's work, and when REM-san wanted me to draw her likeness in the CD booklet for her, i felt like i did a horrible job. It was times like this that i really wish i could speak japanese conversationally - its hard to talk via interpreters. :) They gave me a copy of their latest EP, and i'm looking forward to what they put out next.
Device High has a number of fans, one of whom has already helped me quite a bit with my 'warmth' project. Suguri-san had first heard of Megatokyo from the MT inspired tracks on a Device High CD. He also happens to live in Sendai, and was very gracious in not only traveling down to Tokyo to meet me, but getting together with me in Sendai days later to help me get familiar with the area. :) More on that in Japan rant #3
Doh, that's right. we went to lunch BEFORE the panel. >_< ok, now i got it straight. In fact, i think we had lunch before the press conference. As you can see, my brain was working really well at the time :P.
Anyways, later that evening as things settled down, we all went out to dinner. I need to mention here two people who were instrumental in helping and hanging out with me at the con. First, of course, is Cortana (you know, he helps keep the servers alive and my email as spam free as possible) and Glenn from Anime Tourist. Nothing like wandering around Tokyo with friends who not only keep you out of trouble, but know their way around. I have this really bad habit of wandering aimlessly, and the challenge for me is not missing where i'm going. Cortana is about as easy-going as a person can get, and Glenn knows Tokyo pretty well. In fact, his knowledge of the Toranoana and what was where was kinda frightening... These guys tried to get me into trouble, but i was good... well... mostly good.
Anyways, we got together with Tsubasa and some of his friends - Yamamoto-san, Shibahara-san, and Suguri-san. I had to run upstairs and leave in the middle of cooking up korean food on the grill to give Akamatsu Ken-san a copy of book 2 - I wanted to do at least that. Akamatsu-san remembered me from Anime Central the previous year, and he gave me a signed copy of his most recent doujin. :) Upon heading back to dinner, another friend living and working in Japan, Scott, who was my official interpreter for the show (and who i ran ragged sometimes :P) joined us as well as Jake Tarbox from Raijin Comics - anyways, we had a lot of fun. As usual for me, i was pretty out of it by then, but it was really something to think about how i can travel halfway round the world and be able to meet with so many people and run up a food bill that high... Sure different than my last trip to Japan. :P
The next day, i was surprised to find that there were STILL lots of people who wanted drawings and signatures. O_o I did my best to take care of everyone. I also wanted to get out into the city - I had hardly been out of the hotel and convention center at all since arriving. I wanted desperately to go out and visit the parts of the city where Megatokyo took place, and i had not yet had a chance to do that. Glenn and Cortana and I went out on a little excursion that i'll discuss in my next rant. :)
The next day there was kind of interesting. Saturday night, Scott told me that there was a chance to get Koge Donbo's signature the next day, and that she would be there at 9am the next morning. Koge Donbo is the artist behind the DigiCharat and PitaTen stuff. This was not part of AX Tokyo - Broccoli was holding a big event in the same convention center, so Scott and I purchased entrance passes and we went down on Sunday morning to see if we could get in. My guest badge has absolutely no meaning at the broccoli show :)
We should have known better. People had started lining up for this event the night before - we were able to get in, but the line to get Donbo-sensei's signature was already closed off - and probably had been since the night before. Even tho it was disappointing to not be able to get her signature, it was fascinating to go to an actual anime event - it was crazy. People were standing in huge lines just to get into booth areas just to *shop*. Imagine going to a convention, and having to wait in line for 30 minutes just to get into the Wizzywig booth. :P
After this, Scott and I went upstairs to the dealer area for AX Tokyo and sat down to have an ice coffee at the Creamy Cafe - a cosplay cafe (basically, you sit down, and girls cosplaying as various anime characters bring your drinks). You can even have pictures taken with them. ^_^ One was dressed in a Clannad outfit, so it was kinda necessary to have my picture taken with her. Kinda scary tho, i look like some big freaky goon next to the girl -_- Research, research :P
I picked up a fun little book at the cafe called the Moetan Wordbook. It's a study guide for learning english, and has all sorts of words, with japanese equivalents, all used in sentences that have some sort of anime or game reference. Ink-chan, "the moest of lovely teacher on the planet!!" (I think that "moest" is spelled that way on purpose - it is moe-est (if you understand the concept of "moe")) is cute as hell, its an adorable little book, and the quotes are completely *wack*. Any book that illustrates the use of the word "weapon" with the phrase "My Ultimate weapon is the China Canon attached to my groin" is alright in my book. ^^;;
One thing i wish was that I had had a chance to show more people my work. The only japanese attendees i really saw were the ones who checked out my signings out of curiosity. I think a future addition to this type of show would be a venue where non japanese guests, like myself, and Phil and Crispin Freeman (who was also at the show) could show examples or describe what we do. I would have really loved to have seen what the reaction from a more japanese readers. Maybe the next show of this nature can take that sort of thing into account, who knows. It's almost like there needs to be the kinds of things that facilitate american fans to show japanese fans what we are doing.
So i guess this rather long winded rant comes around full circle to the question - did AX Tokyo succeed in its goal: To present a american style convention in the heart of a the older and more established fan culture in japan? Yes and No, i think. I don't think something like this will be perfect the first time out - because it IS different, it IS a different kind of idea. What it takes is to try it, and see what works and what doesn't, and take from it ideas about what would make the idea work better. I know that I certainly have a clearer idea in my own head about what can really work about this kind of convention, and i am sure that the people running the show have also learned a lot. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
I enjoyed AX Tokyo, and i am very glad to have been invited. I was unable to make it back to closing ceremonies - the only thing i missed out on, but i think i did ok while i was there. I want to say thank you to everyone who helped or assisted me at the convention, even all the staff who tried desperately to understand what i was trying to say in my horrendous japanese, and to the friends and people who some of which i only saw momentarily.
There was another side to the trip, and that was the Megatokyo research side. Thats for the next rant. :)