Manga in Minutes: Anime Boston 2014 Con Report

by  in Comic News Comment
Manga in Minutes: Anime Boston 2014 Con Report

Another year, another Anime Boston! Held every year at the Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston, it took place between March 21st to 23rd. Now in it’s 12th year, Anime Boston is the premier anime convention in the New England area, and is among the top ten anime conventions of North America in general! Every year the con selects and celebrates a different theme, which serves as a backdrop for their t-shirts, promotional skits and decorations. It doesn’t stop there though, as the con also highlights fan panels that stick with the year’s themes. This year the theme was Magic, so there was a wide variety of panels focusing on things ranging from the supernatural in anime, to the Magical Girls genre. As a single individual I chose to try and give a fans eye perspective to the convention, highlighting some of the fan panels and a several industry ones as well!

DAY 1:

One of the big draws of this years convention was performances by the band JAM Project. They’re a large musical group known for their various anime theme songs, including openings for One Piece, The Soul Taker, and many many more. I arrived early hoping to get tickets for their Friday night show, but due to a little confusion that almost didn’t happen. When I went to the room listed in the program for the tickets I found no line and the door’s closed. Assuming I missed out I made my way to a panel instead.

I arrived a little late and ended up leaving early, but from what I saw, “The 36th Chamber: An Intro to Kung Fu Cinema” was a pretty well done panel. I’m pretty sure it was its first year at the con and it seemed pretty well attended. The host, Jordan Olsen, seemed to know the material very well and his passion for it came through. He touched upon several actors and characters, including Gordon Liu and Pei Mei. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay for the entire panel and left during a Tony Jaa clip that had the crowd oohing and aahing. The reason I couldn’t stay is because the ticket situation had been cleared up for me. It wasn’t in the room I thought it was, but at a table across the hall from it. Much to my surprise there was no line and I was able to walk right up to the volunteer manning it and had my pick of tickets with no waiting!

Not long after I took some time to hit the dealers room. I have to say I was pretty impressed by the number of stalls that were selling manga and there were plenty of good bargains to be had. Local comic shops Comicopia and New England Comics both had a good stock of bargain priced manga, and they were probably the two biggest stalls on the floor.

Managed to take in the “Anime After Toonami” panel shortly after. Thanks to a new policy of inserting 30 minutes between panels in the same room, I was able to arrive early and was treated to some impromptu anime clips before the panel officially started. When I arrived the now famous Daicon IV video was playing, and the panelist went on to show the infamous CGI helicopter scene from the Golgo 13 movie, much the audiences delight.

The panel itself was hosted by Vinnie from All Geeks Considered and highlighted some excellent series and movies that came out after Toonami had gone off the air, or near the tail end of it’s first run. There were some top notch selections, and I came away from it with several shows added to an already lengthy “Must Watch” list. Among the highlighted shows were Little Witch Academia, a fantastic short film that’s legally available for free on Youtube and is about a young girl training to become a magic using witch; the absolutely hilarious Inferno Cop, which is really something that just has to be seen to be believed, it’s a wonderfully over the top, low budget looking series that should appeal to fans of Toonami’s own original comedy pieces, and coincidentally it’s also legally available on Youtube; several of the more recent Gundam series were included, such as Gundam Unicorn and Gundam Build Fighters; the superhero comedy Astro Fighter Sunred and many others. It was really an engaging panel with good clips and some nice recommendations. Something he did that really struck me as well, was that he plugged which shows were available at the con in the dealer’s room. It’s a small thing, but it’s nice to see a panelist running and pushing a show then pointing out that it’s available on site and encouraging people to buy it.

I arrived a little late to “Funimation’s 20th Anniversary panel, but I’m glad I was able to check it out. It was a nice look back at the company’s history and some of their bigger licenses. Scattered throughout were some interesting tidbits about special promotions they’ve run in the past. I really liked the idea of sending paper cranes to the Japanese company that produced Fruits Baskets in an attempt to convince them to make a second season of the show. Likewise the Hetalia postcard promotion they ran resulted in a terrifyingly large amount of postcards being sent in to them. They even spent some time talking about the crazy packaging and box sets they used to release, touching upon the wooden slide box they made for Basilisk back in the day. It was definitely fascinating and some of the old promo videos, Toonami bumps and trailers had me missing the old days of being able find lots of anime in physical stores, or being able to watch it on TV after school. it was a very nostalgic and enjoyable panel.

After it ended there was a half hour wait between that and the next panel in the room, which was going to another Funimation panel focusing on their online ventures. I originally intended to stick around for it, but wandered out into the hall in search of a plug to charge my table at while waiting. Things didn’t quite go as planned though as the familiar sounds of Cowboy Bebop’s opening song “Tank” caught my attention from across the hallway. I wandered into to see what was happening, not thinking to check out the schedule and found myself in Dai Sato’s panel!

His name may not mean anything to you, but if you’ve ever watched Adult Swim’s anime line up in the last 14 years then you’ve seen his work. One of the featured Japanese guests, Dai Sato has been a writer on some of the most popular anime series in America. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Eureka 7, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig and the current Toonami darling, Space Dandy are just a few of the shows he’s worked on over the years. After a brief discussion of his career, including a mention of how it was working on Cowboy Bebop that made him realize that he wanted to be a writer, it was onto a Q&A!

The Q&A session opened up with a question about a possible follow up to Ergo Proxy? Apparently the series didn’t really do well in Japan, despite being well received by American audiences. He has thought about a follow up and has a rough idea of what he’d like to do with it, but nothing beyond that. Someone asked a question about whether Dai Sato went into Space Dandy with the idea of aiming it to the US or Japanese audiences? Apparently it was always intended to be an international release, and was always intended to air in the US on Toonami. Another fan asked about the inspiration for the second episode of Space Dandy, with the ramen shop at the end of the universe? Dai Sato mentions that it was inspired by a real ramen shop in his area that has some insane rules about how customers must eat their ramen. There were also a few questions about whether or not Dai Sato had any Western influences, which lead to some interesting responses from Sato. He talked about how he loved the original Twilight Zone as a child and was impressed at how it was able to generate some many different emotional reactions over the course of 30 minutes, and also touched upon how he was a George RR Martin fan and was currently loving the Game of Thrones series on HBO. What was really surprising and unexpected, was Dai Sato admitting that he’s a big fan of Neil Gaiman! He even talked a little bit about Gaiman’s Kickstarter endeavors.

Another interesting question came when an attendee asked about Oshii’s influence and his contributions in the making of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig. This lead to an interesting bit of discussion where Dai Sato talked about how Oshii was a bit more involved with the second season than he was with the first. While he never really dictated things he was more active in suggestion ideas and themes. The terrorist attacks of September 11th also played a part in the change in tone between the first and second season. Dai Sao noted how the first was a bit more introspective, while the second was a more taut spy thriller. In keeping with the terrorists theme, he was also asked about influences in his writing of the Cowboy Bebop episode, “Brain Scratch,” and touched upon the AUM sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo Subway. It was a really fascinating panel and the attendees asked some very good questions. I wish the Q&A could have gone on longer, but all good things must come to an end.

By this point it was evening and I spent a little time roaming the halls and catching The Dubs That Time Forgot panel. It’s something a perennial favorite among Anime Boston attendees and the room was packed. Sadly, for some reason, Evernote didn’t save my notes for the panel. It was hosted by Mike Toole, of ANN’s The Mike Toole Show and was full of bizarre and obscure dubs as the name implies. It’s actually kind of amazing what he’s able to dig up through various sources, things like an old and obscure anime adaption of Alladin, and an oddly misnamed White Fang movie, which was actually an entirely different movie about a wolf.

Following a quick dinner it was time for one of the highlights of the weekend! While I’ve been attending Anime Boston for several years now, one of the few things I had never really done was take in one of their concerts. This is usually due to scheduling and travel considerations, but this year I was able to catch the first show of the weekend.

This year Anime Boston had brought over JAM Project, a group known for their work on anime series opening themes. The first night was a group performance, while Saturday night was going to highlight each member’s solo work. I would have liked to have seen both, but scheduling and travel issues kept me from doing so. I arrived a little late and came in after the first few songs, but was still able to catch most of the show, including the one song that I had been hoping they’d play since I heard they were coming over, “Savior in the Dark,” the theme from the live action series, Garo! They were pretty incredible to see live and were full of energy, probably more than I had at the time. Their two hour set included themes from shows and series such as Soultaker, Super Robot Wars, Shin-Mazinger Z and Transformers. In between the songs they’d banter with the crowd, thanking everyone for coming and engaged in some Mick Foley level cheap pops by expressing their fondness of the Red Sox, Aerosmith and Boston in general. At one point they even made a special point of thanking the US for all the support and sympathy in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I haven’t been to a concert in years and I had totally forgotten just how much fun it could be. The size of the convention center’s auditorium just helped give the entire thing a more intimate feel then the few concerts I have attended in the past. It was easily one of the highlights of the weekend and afterwards I found myself regretting the fact that I wouldn’t be able to attend the second show on Saturday.

DAY 2:

Saturday started by attending “Cybertron Banzai”, a panel focused on the Japanese branches of the Transformers franchise. It was a really fun and enjoyable hour, spent going over the various Japanese incarnations of the Trasnformers franchise. The three major series, Headmasters, Super God Force and Victory were discussed and clips were aired from all three. The host even touched upon things like the HK dubs, which saw some bizarre name changes (Blasster became Billy) and the dirty secret of the Transformers franchise… Kiss Players. Kiss Players is a weird, lolicon/transformers hybrid where the Transformers got power ups by making out with underage girls. Ick!

The next few hours were primarily spent roaming the dealers room floor and grabbing lunch before the one manga panel of the convention. During this time I attempted to find some nice cosplay for some photos, but this year nothing was really grabbing my attention sadly. I know there were some absolutely fantastic outfits out there, I’ve seen them in others photos, but it always seemed to be a case of me not being in the right place at the right time sadly.

Eventually it was time for one of my most anticipated events of the weekend, the “Kodansha Comics Panel”! Anime Boston, despite being among the top ten conventions in the country, doesn’t get a whole lot of manga publishers so it’s always wonderful to have one swing by. I arrived about 30 minutes ahead of time and found people already lined up and waiting to get in, by the time the panel started the room was pretty close to full and people continued to slowly drift in throughout the hour. Hosted by Kodansha Comics editor Ben Applegate, the panel kicked off with a Japanese Attack on Titan promo video which got a great reaction from the crowd. This was quickly followed by the announcement that there was roughly 1,375,000 copies of Attack on Titan in print in the US! Apparently that’s nearly double what it was 5 months ago! Clearly the American manga reading public has Titan fever! Mr. Applegate then went on to plug the upcoming Attack on Titan spin off series, including the recently released Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, which will be a digital first release with volume 2 being available digitally in July with a print version following in August; Attack on Titan: Junior High, a 2-in-1 release with each volume containing 2 of the Japanese volumes, the second volume is due out in November; Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition is set to land at the end of May, and it’s pretty huge and will gather the first 5 volumes of Attack on Titan under a single cover! They apparently used the Walking Dead Compendiums as a model for what they wanted this to be like in terms of size, paper stock, and the like. If that wasn’t enough, the big reveal of the convention is that Attack on Titan: Colossal Edition will also contain, for the first time in any collection, 15 full color pages that weren’t included in the Japanese or English language volumes! The Titan news doesn’t stop there though, as later on this year we’ll be getting Attack on Titan: No Regrets, another spin off focusing on the history of Levi, one of the commanders of the Survey Corps. Like much of the other Attack on Titan announcements, it’ll be a digital first release in the May, with a physical release in June. Still even further off is Kodansha Comics release of the Attack on Titan Guidebook: Inside and Outside. It’ll be a collection of the two guidebooks released in Japan and will include background information, concept art, paper craft material and more! The entire volume will be clocking in at over 400 pages and is being released in a larger format than the Japanese edition, which means that the Titan paper craft portion will truly be.. titanic. Sadly though, this release has been pushed back to Sept.

Following the Attack on Titan portion, there was a run down of the some of their other titles, including the recently announced news of Hirmou Arakawa’s adaption of Arslan. They also slipped in the news that they’ve picked up Mushishi and are planning to give it a digital only re-release. From there it was onto some other recent releases such as My Little Monster, Say I Love You and, from Fairy Tail creator Hiro Mashima, the two volume Monster Soul. Ben Applegate didn’t stop there and had some small Clamp news, including plans to re-release both xxxHolic and Tsubasa in omnibus collections, and the release of xxxHolic Rei, due in April. Other titles slated for release this year included Seven Deadly Sins, and Ken Akamatsu’s UQ Holder, a Negima spin off series with volume. 2 due in July. Kodansha will also be speeding up the digital release of Fairy Tail which is already about 5 vols. ahead of the print release. Meanwhile we can also look forward to more Vinland Saga, their first hardcover release.

With the announcements and title list out of the way, it was onto the Q&A portion of the panel! Unsurprisingly there were many questions about Attack on Titan. One of the chief among them was whether or not Kodansha Comics was afraid they might be over saturating the market with all the Attack on Titan spin off’s? They’re not worried at the moment, and feel that they can use the off months between releases of the main series for the spin off titles. Applegate also mentioned that he doesn’t think that Attack on Titan has peaked in the US yet, something that’s kind of amazing to think about given the numbers he cited earlier. I can only assume that if Funimation gets the series on Toonami that Attack on Titan will explode. One audience member asked about how involved the original Japanese creators where with the US release process? It apparently varies from creator to creator. Naoki Takeuchi was very, very hands on in the Sailor Moon release process, while other creators aren’t at all. There’s also mention of how certain creators will have specific requests, such as Attack on Titan’s Isayama’s request regarding Hange and the gender pronouns attached to the character.

Another very interesting question came when someone from the audience asked about their target demographics and if there was one they’d like to reach out to more. This lead to the revelation Kodansha Comics is hoping to try and break into the adult reader market and how Vinland Saga is their first real experiment to crack into that demographic. If it does well, they have more plans to release similar material and have hopes that it’ll reach US comic readers. Continuing on this vein, another attendee later asked why seinen is such a tough sell? Applegate cited that the adult manga market isn’t really expanding, and the adults who read comics aren’t really interested in manga. It seems to be a case of hooking ‘em while they’re young then keeping when they’re old.

Clearly Saturday was Attack on Titan day, not only was the Kodansha Comics panel incredibly Titan heavy, but just a few hours later one of the biggest events of the con was held, namely the unveiling of the Attack on Titan English dub, and the unveiling of the Eren’s English voice actor! Justin Rojas of Funimation took to the stage and quickly introduced Bryce Papenbrook as Eren and then quickly dived into the dub. I stayed for the first two episodes and thought Funimation and company did a pretty good job with the series. It was actually my first time seeing the anime, though I’ve been reading the manga for a while now. Watching this with a crowd was a pretty fantastic experience. The audience was incredibly into the show, cheering and laughing throughout.

The surprise of the weekend came a little after the Attack on Titan premier via the “Japanese Pro Wrestling” panel. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this, but what I most certainly didn’t expect was a nearly full room! The place was absolutely packed and the co-hosts did a fantastic job at introducing us to some of the current stars of the companies, explaining the differences between US pro-wrestling and Japanese pro-wrestling, and at explaining the sometimes tangled web of Japanese pro-wrestling history. It also hammered home something I had been experiencing a bit on and off all weekend, namely that watching thing in groups is so much more fun than watching things alone. The crowd was reacting and cheering and applauding throughout the clips and match highlights that were shown! The build up in one clips to a massive 8 man suplex spot got laughter, shouts of “no way!” and applause. It was really a fun experience and I hope they’re able to come back again!

DAY 3:

Despite being the final day of the convention, Anime Boston still programs some interesting panels, and there’s also the closing ceremonies to look forward to as well!

One of the two highlights came courtesy of “Anime Assemble! Marvel Comics Anime!” Hosted by ANN’s Mike Toole this was an interesting over view of Marvel’s various co-productions with Japan over the decades, starting with things like the Tomb of Dracula series and the live action Spider-Man show and up until the present round of anime series from Madhouse and the upcoming Disk Wars series and game from Toei. Along the way he showed clips and juxtaposed the character designs from the Marvel anime series against those of the older, American series, and also spent some talking about the build up and disappointment behind the Madhouse series. When the project was first announced they rolled out trailers featuring some of their top tier directors, but when it came time to produce the TV series they went with lesser known talent and first time directors, giving us mixed results to say the least. It was a very interesting and fun panel, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from Mike Toole. He does panels at a few other cons as well, so if you’re ever at an anime con and hear that he’s present, track down his panels, you won’t be disappointed.

From there I had a few hours to burn and made my last swing by the dealers room. Despite it being the last day there were plenty of people out and about, hunting for last minute bargains and trying to get in the final bit of shopping before everything closed up.

Once more I co-hosted a panel with Mike Ferreria of Anime Herald talking about the history of superheroes in Japan and America. I won’t go into too much, beyond thanking those that attended and sending out a massive thank you to the Anime Boston tech team that helped us hammer out our problems and getting them taken care of before the panel began.

As soon as the panel was over it was off to the Closing Ceremonies which had already begun. Thankfully I was able to get in and caught the festivities. They announced that for the first time Anime Boston had broken 25,000 attendees, though it seems that number has since been changed and I believe it’s currently closer to 24,000. They also announced that they helped raise around $18,000 for the National MS Society as well. From there it was time to say goodbye to various guests before announcing the theme for Anime Boston 2015… Kaiju vs. Mecha! Oddly enough, that almost felt like the unofficial theme of this years con, as there were no less than 4 different Kaiju panels on the schedule. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend them due to scheduling conflicts, but it does make me wonder how many we can expect next year when it’s the official theme! After that it launched into the rather fantastic AMV winners. This is one of the highlights of the Closing Ceremonies and it’s always fun to watch these on a large screen with a crowd. Here’s a list of the winners:

Best Drama and Judges Choice AMV – “Time Falls Away” by AdventLostKaichou
Best of Show AMV – “Anime 101” by VivifxAMV
Best Concept and Best Fun/Upbeat AMV – “Snowball Genocide” by Kisanzi
Best Other AMV “This AMV Will Win an Oscar” by Kireblue
Best Comedy AMV – “YTMND AMV: FAD Entertainment System” by drewaconclusion
Best Action AMV – “Valor” by MycathatesyourAMV
Best Romance AMV – “Strangers Like Us” by The Toddfather
Best Editing and Editors Choice AMV – “Fionn’s Curse” by irriadan

Once again Anime Boston managed to deliver an incredibly enjoyable con going experience. While there were a few bumps and hiccups along the way, primarily due to the bag check policy creating a nasty choke point at the Hynes/Prudential entrance, for the most part my con going experience went off without much a hitch! They had a good variety of fan panels with some unexpected gems coming in the form of the “Japanese Pro Wrestling” panel, “Anime After Toonami” and “Cybertron Banzai”. There was very little that I was turned away from this year, though the “Manga for Grownups” panel had filled up fast enough that they were turning folks away when I arrived. It was one of the few manga centric panels of the con too, so not being able to get in was a bit disappointing, but overall it was most definitely a good con going experience with plenty to see and do the entire weekend. Here’s to 2015 being even bigger and better!