“Is this is your first Anime Expo?”
“Aww, you’re in for a ride then. First one’s always the best.”
“How many times have you been here?”
Like Sergio, who sat next to me at the Production IG panel, I too think I’m done with anime conventions. I just got home from Anime Expo 2016, at the Los Angeles Convention Center, biggest anime con in the US.
I wandered around aimlessly, I waited in line for the urinal, and I paid $40 for parking, all that stuff. But upon my exit, I was beginning to sense why someone who was actually into anime would have a great time there.
So, the convention was probably great. I only really interacted with one staffer, a charming security guard who directed me to Petree Hall. I indeed waited in an extremely long, initially confusing line, but they provided shade and a No Smoking sign. There were about a million people there, with all kinds of colorful and wild cosplay – I saw a zombie Space Dandy, the cast of Game of Thrones, the T-Rex from American Ninja Warrior, and a whole lot of color-coded sprite-vixens with bright hair and elaborate swords.
I myself was adorned by this bad boy, legendary Hanabi of the Battle for Six Square Miles of Land.
That’s right, ladies, this one’s on the market
But as I wandered the halls, dodging the sea of humanity like an interpretive dance, I’d come upon room after room of booths with many fine wares and screens and posters, each contributing to a kind of LARP of the Crunchyroll catalogue. The one I scroll through, impatient, in search of Lily CAT.
I like anime the way I like video-games, television, and even movies: when it’s the chosen medium of a beloved work. Moribito, Cowboy Bebop, Azumanga Daioh. Sure, I’d love to visit Japan, but the Naruto headband might as well be a shirt with the Friends logo on it. And don’t rejoice old school fans — Lupin III occupies that same space.
So, the biggest news I got from the event? Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, one of my favorites, is being licensed by Funimation. As some have already said, I’ll probably double dip on principle. What a masterpiece. Similarly, Production IG Vice President Maki Terashima-Furuta’s favorite Ghost in the Shell is Innocence, and her favorite character is Gabriel. (I clapped).
She also brought on Ari Arad, a producer on the live-action Ghost in the Shell. His answer to the “what’s your favorite Ghost in the Shell” question was too fast for most to register: “Affection.”
When it had come time for that Q&A, which I was desperately hoping wouldn’t happen, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I knew what was coming. First question. Some white guy. “I’ll try to be diplomatic…” the boos were beginning to rise, “Scarlet Johannsen…” he got dogpiled.
Somewhat. People did cheer when he got to: “giving more opportunities to Asian American actors…” Arad’s response was measured, and perhaps, the best we can ask for. Of course, the best response is: it was a mistake, and if you’re going to address anyone, address the faceless bureaucracy of the industry that produced it, but he talked about how Johannsen did indeed have the roles others are not granted, but that when word got around she wanted to talk, they were going to talk.
Still though, you don’t ask that question in that fucking room. It was my first anime convention, and even I know that shit. And yet, Ms. Terashima-Furuta seemed to have a ready response, jumping in with: “Also, Mamoru Oshii loves Scarlett Johannsen.”
“Mamoru Oshii didn’t create Ghost in the Shell.”
I cleared out my camera and everything, but still took only three pictures, including this one
When my man Sergio got up, his question was already taken, so he asked instead: “Was Stand Alone Complex a mistake?” Even more boos. I wonder what my face looked like at that moment, because I instantly transported back to my school days. The class is unruly, someone’s in trouble, others are shushing, and the teachers are flustered.
Apparently, Sergio’s friend had recommended the movies over the series, thinking the series was bad. However, Sergio ended up liking both. This is just what happens when you take your very personal experience and don’t check it against the status quo. It’s like when I asked for a recommendation on Wonder Woman in a forum, not really understanding how the comics industry worked. Granted, nobody shouted at me: “You were a mistake!” but still.
The panelists discussed how the team worked closely with a few key IG personnel, to the point where Ms. Terashima-Furuta was going around correcting the different departments’ pronunciation of ‘Batou’ (they said ‘Batoo’), recommending the best places to eat in New Zealand (“I love food more than anime!”), and rigging up some silent cue cards for none other than Beat Takeshi. Who, she somewhat curiously described as ‘the #1 comedian in Japan.’ If I didn’t know that Beat Takeshi was also one of Japan’s most beloved actors, I’d be super incredulous. Also, Battle Royale.
Maybe it’s fitting then, for my duty as a blogger to hammer narratives out of the anti-narrative of life, that this non-anime fan’s most exciting time at the anime convention was over production details of an Americanized, controversially whitewashed adaptation.
So. Here’s the why of anime conventions – unsolicited communication. I was silent throughout, roving the halls in search of something to do before the panel, agonizing over ‘well, I shouldn’t be sitting around that hall too early, but then if I miss it, I’ll be super stupid…’ and so Sergio was my sole point of contact. But he was a real talker, not once letting the fact that I was wearing a rather aggressive, offensive shirt sway his opinion of me. Why? Because he didn’t have an opinion of me. And isn’t that a beautiful thing?
I’d just stood in line for over an hour, with two guys behind me talking about whether or not they’d get in. Well, in ten minutes we’ll know for sure. Oh, people are leaving the line because the Blue Exorcist thing is at capacity. Do you think we’ll get in?
I finally sit down, and then Sergio does. “What panel is this?” he says.
He means to tell me he too waited in line… for no reason? “Production IG,” I say, feeling my inner nerd bubbling out. Pretty much the best anime studio ever, you better get a life.
“Oh, yeah. What did they do recently?”
Shit. “Uh… Oh, Psycho-Pass.”
He scoffed. “Psycho-Pass is old.”
“I don’t know, man. I’m really only here for Ghost in the Shell.”
In fact, I had no idea why I was there. I wanted to see Maki Terashima-Furuta in person, because she’s a top celebrity in my mind, and there was some mention of a Ghost in the Shell: Virtual Diver announcement.*
So, if you’re thinking about going to an anime convention and haven’t gone before, you’ll probably get so much more out of the human experience than the merch and the announcements.
I’d suggest treating it as a cool place to hang out with a group of your friends. That would obviously be the ideal. My high school buddies and I would occasionally group up and go to Six Flags (pretty cool), and those are some of my fondest memories. I imagine Anime Expo in particular could be that for you, if participating in Smash tournaments or yelling at Goku to deliver an infamous line about power levels is as much of a thrill ride as Stephen next to me on the Batman rollercoaster screaming: “I AM BATMAN!!” with his arms and legs outstretched.
Classic, classic Stephen.
I feel a little bad giving sage advice in the form of an unsolicited, uninformed opinion. Worse too for writing a report about an experience instead of simply allowing the experience to be the whole of itself. But that’s… for another discussion. In the end, I learned that Maki Terashima-Furuta is really funny, even when she’s not 100% trying to be (“Anyone here from Europe? You-wait, really?”), and I’ll see the Ghost in the Shell movie out of support for her company.
*Seriously, she is so funny. I think there’s something to be said for an executive at a company who operates her own branch in a foreign country, and speaks a language not understood by her boss — when she said that Innocence was her favorite Ghost in the Shell, she picked up the VR helmet she had on hand and said that this, the Virtual Diver, was definitely her least favorite. Why? Because it made her sick when it was four minutes long, and then they made it fourteen minutes long.
And although Ari Arad didn’t have any materials from the live-action film to show (it wrapped filming two weeks ago), she kept laboring the point. “I wish there was something we could show… In fact, I have those photos from the set on my phone! I could just hook this up to the projector… Should I?”