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Fanime Con 2001 Report

(I posted an earlier version of this article to the Anime Grapevine on 4/6/2001.)

Fanime Con 2001 was my sixth anime-related convention overall, and having attended last year's Fanime Con, it was also my first return trip to any convention. I had fun both times, but in different ways. Last year's Fanime was more of an adventure for me, being by myself in a new environment, whereas this year was more business-like. This time, I was with friends who I coordinated my time with, I had a better idea of what to expect, and I knew what I wanted to accomplish in order to have a fun weekend.

Friday, March 30th

My journey began with a long bus trip from Southern to Northern California, and then a short and pleasant train ride to meet James in Santa Clara, where the con was being held. I arrived at around 11AM on the first day of the con, quickly paid my registration fees and my 3-day con badge, and made my way to the opening ceremonies which had already started. Luckily, I made it in time for the Guest of Honor introductions which are always fun.

Immediately after the opening ceremonies, there weren't a lot of events going on, so I decided to wait in the long dealer's room line (which was long all 3 days of the convention, to my surprise). When I finally got in, I immediately found my favorite convention dealer, Nikaku Animart, and scored two rare import posters I'd wanted for a long time, one of Otaku no Video, and one of Gunbuster. I didn't have enough cash on me, but luckily that dealer (and several others) accepted credit card. I browsed around some more, bought the anime program guide from Anime Con '91 (the first anime convention in America), and left the dealer's room to check out the anime trivia Game Show.

I didn't enjoy the Game Show. In my opinion, the hosts were rude to the contestants and did not have adequate control over the audience who were rowdy and disturbing the gameplay. I found the atmosphere to be obnoxious and immature.

Having left that, I attended the Anime Fireside Chat. This was supposed to be a moderated discussion of anime and anime-fandom related issues. However, the moderator had left the con earlier due to severe illness (he had to go to the hospital), so it was just a completely open discussion. Since I get plenty of open discussion on AGV, and the topics being discussed weren't new to me, I decided to hang around until the next panel, which was hosted by Fred Patten and Gilles Poitras.

Fred Patten and Gilles Poitras are both older gentlemen who write professionally about anime. Fred Patten is also famous for having played a major role in the birth of anime fandom in America, having helped to start the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization in 1977, the first anime-related fan club in the United States. At the opening cereonies, Mr. Patten explained how American fans in the 70s used to trade Star Trek videos to Japanese fans in exchange for anime videos (not on VHS, or betamax, but an even older format called V-Cord). Gilles Poitras is most well-known for his books on anime, including The Anime Companion and Anime Essentials. At the panel, Mr. Poitras and Mr. Patten spoke about what it's like to write about anime professionally, and the difficulty of finding useful information about anime (especially the more obscure titles that have interesting historical significance). They mentioned that even with the power of the internet to disseminate information, most webpages about anime tend to be similar in their scope and do not offer the information that anime historians are looking for, such as who worked on what series, when it was first broadcast in Japan, etc. With their astounding knowledge of anime and American anime fandom, these two gentlemen were a pleasure to listen to.

The next event was probably the highlight of the convention for me. The Meet the Guests Reception was limited to 100 ticketholders (I bought a ticket for $10 earlier in the day). In one of the convention meeting rooms, each Guest of Honor (or a pair of Guests) was seated at a dining table. Each ticketholder was allowed to sit at any Guest's table for 10 minutes, and after 10 minutes he or she would have to move to a different Guest's table, thereby ensuring that every ticketholder got a chance to talk with every Guest of Honor. There were even hotel-prepared finger foods at the back of the room for the enjoyment of all present. Having just come from their panel, I decided to sit down to talk with Fred Patten and Gilles Poitras which was very informative and a lot of fun.

On the next turn, I sat down to talk with Hiroyuki Yamaga, the president of Gainax and co-producer of Evangelion and FLCL. I was excited by the prospect of being able to (with the help of a translator) have a one-on-one chat with one of my favorite anime creators, and I was shooting off questions rapid-fire. I asked him what he thought was the main difference between Japanese and American fans, and he said that Japanese fandom has become quite diverse, so it's hard to make that comparison. I then asked him how that diversity affects his work as an artist, and whether he now has to target his work towards a broader audience. He responded by saying that he indeed has to consider creating anime for a broader audience because there are fewer highly-focused otaku out there who are single-handedly supporting the industry by buying everything Gainax has to offer, so he can't create anime for such a limited audience anymore. I asked him if he wished fans were as focused as they used to be, and he responded by saying that as an artist, he's interested in tackling a variety of subjects, so he actually prefers trying to appeal to a broader audience. The only downside is that it's harder to make money these days through anime.

Straying away from serious questions for awhile, I also asked Mr. Yamaga if he made it a point to buy certain things in the dealers' room when he came to the US, noting that Kia Asamiya (Silent Mobius, Nadesico) liked to buy science fiction and fantasy figures at the San Diego Comic-Con. His answer was so unexpected, I found it very humourous. Mr. Yamaga said there wasn't anything he bought from the dealers' room, but he used to buy lots and lots of potpourri to bring back to his now ex-girlfriend. He proceeded to explain how there are so many varieties of potpourri in such large packages that can't be found in Japan. ^_^;;;

At the reception, I also spoke with Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo creator), Mari Iijima (the voice of Lynn Minmay), Allen Hastings (the author of the LightWave 3D software), and Jonathon Osbourne (American voice actor, AGV member). Kunihiko Ikuhara was also there, but I decided not to talk with him. His table was always crowded, too, much to the amusement (and surprise?) of Hiroyuki Yamaga who may not have realized how popular Ikuhara is in the United States. For the rest of the time remaining, I chatted with Fred Patten and Gilles Poitras.

Next up was the 5XL concert. 5XL is an anime/j-pop/j-rock cover band. I attended part of their concert last year, and part of it this year. They were okay. They've grown in popularity, so this year's crowd was bigger and more enthusiastic than last year, but I thought last year's production and performances were better.

I sat around for an hour or so and chatted with Carol on the phone until James arrived to pick me up. I was glad to go back to his place so I could finally get some sleep in preparation for day two of the con, the busiest and most action-packed day.

Saturday, March 31st

Saturday began at around 9 or so with a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up some rations (crackers, cheese, beef jerky, and fruit) for the rest of the convention. Bringing your own food is always advisable, since hotel food is always overpriced, and that extra money is always better spent in the dealers' room. I put up some signs at the various bulletin boards letting people know that we'd be having a mini AGV NorCal Chapter meeting at noon.

After that, James and I proceeded to the Anime Journalism panel which was hosted by Gilles Poitras, Fred Patten, Kevin Lillard (from http://www.fansview.com), Fred Schodt (author of Manga! Manga! and Dreamland Japan), the editor of http://www.akadot.com, and another webmaster who I didn't catch the name of. They spoke about the changing face of anime news coverage by the mainstream press, and strategies to improve such coverage. One interesting point that was brought up was that anime reviewers in this day an age of anime fandom can no longer praise every anime released if they (the reviewers) are to be taken seriously. Before, when anime was just barely on the cultural radar, fans tended to praise most titles in order to help the medium prosper. Now that anime has become more commonplace, fans need to be more critical in their reviews to improve their credibility and the credibility of fandom as a whole.

Afterwards, we found a nice table on the second floor above the lobby and proceeded to have lunch and wait for AGVers to show up. In time, Shoten and calpaladin and arrived, as did precia (in her neat Lunar costume) and her friend dressed as Trowa (big hair and everything!). I had never met Shoten, calpaladin, or precia before, so after a quick introduction, we just relaxed and chatted for awhile, a nice change of pace from running around all over the hotel and convention center. We took a group picture or two, and split up again, seeing each other once or twice again at discussion panels or in line. Anyway, it was nice meeting you all, and I hope we can chat again in person! ^_^

Next, we split up and I went to the Intro to Anime for Parents panel which was mildly interesting, and after it was about half done, I joined James at the Viz: For Mature Audiences panel which featured Carl Horn and Jason Thompson discussing the future of Pulp magazine and other Viz books geared towards older readers.

Next up, we went to Allen Hastings' panel. His LightWave 3D software is one of the most advanced and widely used 3D graphics programs used in Hollywood productions, and also in some anime features (End of Evangelion and Blue Submarine No. 6). He had about ten video tapes with him, and he showed off some of the (amazing) things that had been made using his software, including one of his own early pieces made on a Commodore PET in the 80s.

All day, I'd been waiting for Hiroyuki Yamaga's panel, which was a continuation of last year's discussion on the process of directing anime. This year's presentation was not as snazzy as last year's (which had a video presentation), but Mr. Yamaga discussed many interesting things. He explained that he hadn't personally directed an anime feature since his (and Gainax's) 1987 debut, Wings of Honneamise. He was getting tired of only talking about his old works and the works of his Gainax colleagues year after year. So this year, he's taken it upon himself to tackle several new anime projects. He told us that he's heaviliy involved with 4 new TV series, one OAV series, and one feature film. The film is Aoki Uru, which has been in the works for a long time now. He only described one of the TV series he is working on (that will show in the Fall of this year?)--it is apparently related to Abe no Seimei, a famous Japanese folk hero/magician. For the majority of the panel, Mr. Yamaga discussed the process by which he comes up with new ideas, and how that idea is sold to producers for final approval. When he decided he wanted to come up with anime ideas, he and his colleagues went to an onsen (natural steam bath) where the hosts require you to wake up and eat breakfast at a prescribed time every morning. Mr. Yamaga said the enforced discipline helped to ensure he didn't sleep too much like he was prone to do at home. Every night, he and his colleagues would just talk about anime and try to say interesting things to each other. The most interesting ideas were compiled. Slowly, a series concept would be born.

Immediately after Mr. Yamaga's panel, we got in line for Mari Iijima's concert and the cosplay (masquerade). I think that in order to get good seating (or any seating?) at the cosplay, one had to attend the Mari Iijima concert, which may have explained the huge line to get in. While Mari Iijima is legendary in her own right, I'd be surprised if so many people lined up just to hear her sing, considering that most fans these days haven't seen the original Macross or Macross: Do You Remember Love? With this in mind, Ms. Iijima managed to control her audience and keep them happy with her charming personality, professional demeanor, and enjoyable performance.

The cosplay took quite awhile to complete, but it was well-worth it, as a few acts were truly impressive. I could describe in detail my favorite costumes, but I'll let readers check out the pictures for themselves on http://www.fansview.com/2001/fanimecon/facosp.htm . I personally thought the Sailor Chibi Moon was adorable, and from the response she got, I think the crowd agreed with me. ^_^ That little girl, a 6-year veteran of Fanime Con had 4 different costumes over the course of the weekend. There's a die-hard cosplayer in the making!

After the cosplay, there was a reception with chips, pretzels, vegetables, and dip for the cosplayers and the cosplay attendees. I thought this was a really nice touch, and it soothed my stomach pains of having eaten just cheese, crackers, fruit, and beef jerky all day.

We watched some of the music video finalists and some parody videos before heading back home to sleep. One more day ahead, and this time, I'm getting back into the dealer's room!

Sunday, April 1st

Sunday was a day for me to get my stuff signed. The first thing I did on Sunday morning was to get in line for Hiroyuki Yamaga's 10AM signing. Ikuhara was also signing at the same time, but he was late, and his translator said he'd only do 20 signings first-come-first-serve (and maybe more depending on his mood). Yamaga said he'd sign as much as possible within an hour. He was really nice and signed multiple items for individuals. (I thought the people who were asking for more than 3 things to be signed were being a bit inconsiderate.) I had Mr. Yamaga sign my aforementioned Gunbuster (he was the uncredited co-writer) and Otaku no Video (he was the uncredited writer) posters. I was especially thrilled that he signed the latter because Kubo from Otaku no Video is based on Hiroyuki Yamaga himself!

James and I went to watch the tail end of the Cultural History of Japan panel and then ate lunch. On our way to the Viz: For General Audiences panel, we finally ran into famine who seems to have had a very interesting trip himself (but I'll let him recount his story if he feels like it).

I went to the first few minutes of the Viz panel before taking off for the dealer's room for the first time since Friday. It took a considerable bit of digging around in various unlabeled bins, but I managed to score a difficult-to-find Gainax book (Shinji and Friends: Stripping Instrumentality Project Complete Art Book) and two doujinshi (one of Sentimental Graffiti and one by Tomoko Saito of her Animal Magnetism game produced by Gainax). I promptly made it to Adam Warren's table to get the latter doujinshi signed since he contributed some art to that. (Adam Warren is best known to anime fandom for his American Dirty Pair and Bubblegum Crisis comic books.)

The convention was coming to a close as we attended the World of Anime panel. World of Anime is a fan produced public-access cable show featuring anime reviews and parodies of fandom. The point that struck me the most about their presentation was their emphasis on building up a coherent anime fan community. Sounds a litte like what we're trying to do on AGV, even if the methods are a bit different.

Finally, we attended the closing ceremonies and left the convention, exhausted but satisfied.

Final notes

Overall, Fanime Con 2001 was highly enjoyable. There was always something to do and see, and the atmosphere of being amongst fellow fans was great, though I have to admit I'm starting to feel more out of place and older than I used to be in comparison to the majority of fans. It's comes with the territory, I suppose.

Some things I'll mention only in passing: lots of costumers, a nice hotel with decent but pricey food service, plenty of chilled water readily available, 24 hour video programming which I barely took advantage of, relatively recent Hong Kong film releases, less fansub showings than last year, the rights to Tenshi ni Narumon and FLCL have been acquired by Digital Manga for domestic release (Tenshi ni Narumon during the summer, and FLCL later in the year).

Not dissimilar to my experience after Anime Expo '96, I got sick a few days after the convention. I don't know where I caught the bug, but I guess I must've been worn out. Conventions are hard work and taxing on the body, especially when you have to travel far. I should also note that before making my way back to Southern California, I watched 4 Legend of Galactic Heroes OAVs and 16 episodes of Initial D all in the same day at James' place. Burnt out? Nah, give me more!!!

Last updated on April 14th, 2001
Lawrence Eng