Anime USA 15

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Anime USA 15 2013

13 - 15 September 2013 | Written by Maxxum

Whether through bad timing or responsibilities else where, I'd missed attending Anime USA several years in a row... however with nothing to distract me this year, I was able to attend. Being new to the event, I requested time to speak with the organizers, and met with Mark Pope, AUSA's 2013 president, and Larry Furry the Assistant Director. Below follows my discussion:

Maxxum: Tell me about the motivation behind Anime USA.

Mark Pope: We're a non-profit organization ... our focus is to educate people about anime, about Japanese culture in general; that's why we have educational panels as well as fan panels, anime panels - and to really bring fans together and to appreciate the culture, and the art, manga, anime, the Edo period, and so on and so forth.

A couple of the panels I've attended have talked about how in this country, there isn't as much cultural acceptance of anime culture, otaku, what have you... what would you say to people who don't understand, but maybe want to learn something more about anime?

Well, we tell them to check out our educational panels, our Edo panels, they're all educational, to give a look into how anime, how manga started really. And, when you look back at the roots of Japanese art, and you can see how things grew to where anime and manga is an extension of that history - y'know, hopefully they'll understand.

We're also trying to get more guests who are more... well, we're trying to get mangaka possibly for the future - we haven't done that yet, being a smaller con, y'know we've talked about getting mangaka who can talk about the manga industry for fans who are interested. We do have our web-comics, but we want to get actual Japanese mangaka. And, we're starting to get professors who speak about the history of manga/anime. One of my dreams is to get Frederik Schodt, who wrote, to me, the bible of manga.

How do you determine what the panels will be? I've seen a pretty wide diversity of panels.

Larry Furry: I will disclaimer, that's not my department... but, I will say that it's important to realize that the average anime fan is not average. And, what I mean by that is you've got the whole level of fandom, everything from Pokemon, and animes and mangas that are geared to younger folks, to more in-depth panels, with regards to panels, what is Japanese in anime... there's a panel one of our guests does, our educational guests, that talks about Japanese fairy-tales, and myths as they relate to anime. So, it's a huge across the board, it's almost like a smorgasbord of panels, of you might be into this, but not that.

And, what I usually try, whenever I meet a friend or a co-worker that has gotten into anime and has asked me the question, "what should I watch". I look at them and I say, well, what are your favorite American shows, what do you like American? And, then I can say, well if you like that, you will probably like that, y'know. So, individual tastes vary, and we try and accommodate as much to the attendees and the fans as we can, while realizing that you can't please all the people all the time, we try and cover as many we can.

Between the both of you, it sounds like you have a long, personal history with anime/Japanese culture, which were the first ones that hooked you into anime.

Larry: Well, I'd been a fan of anime since I was a youngster, back in the 80's of a fan called "Robotech". And, I watched it without realizing, I just thought it was an American show, and it wasn't until I got older that I understood it was an American adaptation of three different anime series, and from that I got into... I remember in college watching "Akira", which for the 80's Akira just blew away everything - I mean, wow, it opened my mind, and was just, even at that point in time, I didn't understand it, I didn't get it, and whenever I go back and watch it, and I still get new stuff.

But, then it was in the early 2000's that I went to my first anime convention - met some friends; one of my friends who became my best friend for many years said, "you've gotta come over to my apartment, there's this anime I gotta show you, it's called 'Cowboy Bebop'". And, he popped in the episode "Mushroom Samba", and from that it was just a downward hill.

Mark: Well, I'm a little bit older (laughs)... 'Star Blazers', basically. When I was a kid, I watched 'Star Blazers' in the 70's, and when I got into college, in the early 90's, I was told that there were videotapes in existence. This is actually before the companies, the industry really existed. There was a fandom, I didn't know it existed yet, but there was a fandom, some of the comics shops had, like bootleg videotapes back then, and I just wanted to watch 'Star Blazers', but they had hundreds of titles right next store, and I was like "what are these things?"

So, I said I'd give it a shot, and I happened to pick-up something called 'Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind', and it was my first Miyazaki. Totally unsubtitled, nothing... I was just watching it, tried to get the gist of the plot just from watching it, and I watched it about three times in a row because I was just so fascinated by it, and I kind forgot about 'Star Blazers', because I started hunting down other stuff... so, for me, Miyazaki started the tumble for me.

How do you feel about the anime of today, versus that of when you first got into anime?

Mar: It's a harder edge style now, I think... the style of animation is sometimes. I think some of the earlier, like 80's style had a softer look. I'm not sure if it's just because when they were switched from cell work to digital, that effected how character designers crafted things, but I do notice that. It's just that styles of changed, there's definitely a difference. I look at 80's stuff and it looks nothing... y'know everybody says that looks so dated, and I was like, y'know but it's still animation - it's just a different style back then; the faces and everything, to me, have a softer feel.

And, I'm not saying one is better than the other, they both have their... I don't want to say advantages, or disadvantages - but, they have their own look, their own style, their own feel to it, and I think they're both good. I appreciate good animation, period. But, I can't really say why it kind of shifted so much, because there is definitely a difference, it's like night and day. In terms of story telling, story telling has changed, I think it's gotten more, at least with good animes, it's gotten more sophisticated.

Some of the earlier stuff were a little more tropes, and they weren't trying to really break the wall - it was still very, it was well written back then, but there were more tropes, there were more iconic stuff, more stereotypes, more archetypes, and I guess as anime matured, they tried to breakthrough those tropes ... and, all of a sudden you things like 'Escaflowne' and 'Evangelion', you had 'Serial Experiments Lane' which blew my mind at the time.

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Though anime content features heavily at Anime USA, as Larry Furry mentioned, AUSA features a broad range of Japanese topics that are also explored through music, and dance. Several musical acts were featured this year, with 'Back-On', a "J-Rock" band started in Tokyo, Japan, as headliner:

I try to attribute something specific to each con I attend, and in the case of AUSA, I was struck by the quality of the cosplayer costumes. Otakon, through sheer volume, has the most cosplayers, but for every well-made costume, there are many that show little to no effort. Cosplayers at AUSA showed a significantly higher proportion of costumes demonstrating attention to detail. I have nothing to explain this, but I suspect that because it is near several universities, the typical cosplayer at the event was older, and perhaps more experienced than those one might find at other events, where a larger number of attendees are younger than 18.

I wrapped up my attendance at AUSA feeling that I'd have liked to visit more panels, but as is the case with many cons, three days is not enough time. AUSA is a good convention to attend. From my conversation with Mark Pope, and Larry Furry, I can see there is a passion for anime, and it shows through their dedication over several decades of experience. If you're interested in attending next year's event, you can read more on AUSA's website.

Photos by Maxxum