Fanstuff Friday: Memories from a Con Badge

Attending an anime convention isn’t a necessary part of being an anime fan. I think that you can call yourself a “real” anime fan as long as you watch anime. Period. Full stop.

There is something fun, though, about belonging to the anime fan community. Anime-watching is a mostly solitary activity and since humans are social beings, we find ways to get around this by connecting with other people who watch and share our enthusiasm for the same shows.  The world wide web facilitates this need to connect through various fora: message boards, anime blogs, Twitter, deviantART or pixiv, etc. But for those willing (and able) to take the need for community to the next level, anime and other fan conventions are the logical progression.

I moved apartments earlier this summer, and in the interest of paring down my possessions, I decided to throw away things that did not have an immediate use. These con badges were part of the chopping block. I did decide to photograph them and now, I’m even writing about them. Just because I don’t have the physical item anymore doesn’t mean I don’t have the memories, which I’m sharing with you right now…

Otakon 2002 – My first anime convention and my first fan convention. My best friend Karol called me up one evening (she was living in Boston at the time) and she asked me if I wanted to join her and her boyfriend (now husband) to this “anime thing” in Baltimore. He and his co-workers were going together as a small group and she didn’t want to be the only female. I think she remembered that I was obsessed with Sailor Moon during freshman year of college (I KNOW, SO SAD) and that’s why I got dragged along.

Even back then, I remember long lines, sweating profusely in the humidity of a Baltimore summer, and the long walks back and forth, up and down the BCC. I was so impressed by the cosplayers, by all the merchandise in the dealer’s room, by all the people who were here and loved anime as much as I did. I was such a newb.

Shoujocon 2003 – I remember not enjoying this con so much since it was all the way up in Rye, NY that year and getting up there from Queens was a major production. It was possibly the first time that I found about yaoi fangirls and how scary they could be when collected in a small viewing room. It was surreal walking into a viewing of Gravitation where every single person in there knew the dialogue and songs already…and most of them looked fourteen! I also remember the panels sucking A LOT.

Otakon 2004 – At this point, I was becoming an expert at this anime convention business. I booked a room with friends and we spent a lot of time actually hanging out more than watching anime, which was what I used to do in prior conventions. I think this was the year of the L’arc~en~Ciel concert, which was fun but could’ve been better organized for the non-BNFs like us. Fullmetal Alchemist was my favorite anime at the time — as you can obviously see — and this was when I found out about the porny goodness of doujinshi.

***

The last anime convention that I attended was Fanime in 2009. I’m even surprised that I made it out there, considering that I really didn’t care about anime, much less the fandom, at the time. I think I just wanted to see my friend who lived out west, and possibly see the beauty that is San Jose, CA.

I definitely would like to attend another convention, so we’ll see…

Fanstuff Friday documents the fun and unexpected things that fans create and cherish in honor of their favorite anime and manga.

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Everybody Loves Alice: Alice in the Country of Hearts 1-4

This series, in 140 characters or less: Everyone is in love with Alice, yet everyone also has no problem killing her or other people who want to take her away for themselves.

Alice in the Country of Hearts starts off normally enough: Alice is in the garden, waking up from a nap, talking to her older sister about the book her sister is reading. You knows what happens next — she sees a white rabbit who then abducts her physically to jump with her into the chasm that will take them to Wonderland.

This version of the classic storybook tale presents all of the classic characters — such as the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit — as tall, willowy bishounen.  The White Rabbit who abducted Alice is Peter White, the bespectacled, bunny-eared prime minister of the Queen of Hearts. The Mad Hatter is Blood Dupre, the short-tempered leader of a crime syndicate known as the Hatters. The Cheshire Cat is Boris Airay, a gun-loving, midriff-baring, boa-wearing boy with cat ears. I feel the author went through a checklist of all of the qualities that make girls moe and made sure that they were all included in the story.

Hey, no complaints here. For all the harem manga that have crowded bookstores in various languages worldwide, more manga series that feature cute boys as its prominent selling feature are always welcome. As of September 2, 2012, the first omnibus volume by Yen Press ranks #7 on the New York Times best sellers list as it did even during its previous life as a Tokyopop title. I always wondered how it became so successful in Tokyopop’s waning era, when there were no big marketing campaigns to push it to manga-hungry fans. Maybe the allure of Alice and her bishounen harem was just too much to resist?

The last two manga series that I’ve written about on this blog (KCDS and The Flowers of Evil) left me feeling somewhat uneasy, and this one is no different. Maybe I need to read a volume of Chii’s Sweet Home in order to balance out and forget the crazy that’s Alice in the Country of Hearts. I always thought that the original Carroll story was bizarre enough, but this manga gave an already dark story an added violent edge. Don’t let their good looks fool you, all of Alice’s Wonderland suitors are creepy psychopaths who’d sooner kill her than kiss her. They’re all obsessed, manipulative, selfish and maladjusted. They all claim to love her, but a couple of them, such as Blood and Ace, wouldn’t mind if she was dead (maybe by their own hands). Same difference either way.

What bothers me even more than the insane behavior of her bishounen harem is Alice’s reaction to all of it. With Peter White, she has no problem refusing his advances when he’s a in stalker male mode, but as a little fluffy rabbit, she’ll willingly cuddle him and bring him to bed. It’s still the same guy, girlfriend.

And of all of them, her reactions towards Blood Dupre are the worst! In Chapter 14, he accuses her of “stoking the fires in our hot blooded men,” saying that the only reason why Alice is doing so well in Wonderland is because she has seduced all of the men, possibly including himself in that list.  When Alice denies this accusation and counter-accuses him of carrying on an affair with the Queen of Hearts who’s supposed to be his sworn enemy, he leans in and tells her that she should be punished for invading his privacy and finding out that secret. He then proceeds to choke her.  How does Alice react? She pouts, blushes, throws a book at Blood and declares that she doesn’t want to fall in love again.

Maybe I’ll take that gun and kill Alice myself.

The manga does have an interesting take on what exactly is the value of a person’s life. It’s explained that the reason why inhabitants of Wonderland are all right with killing and dying is because they can be revived with a new appearance as long as their ‘hearts’ are intact. Alice insists that even though they can be revived, the new person won’t be them anymore and she’ll be unhappy if she won’t get to see that person again.

You know I’ll read the last omnibus when I get to it. Even if Alice is a thinly-guised Mary Sue with a bunch of abusive boyfriends, you can be sure I’ll be reading faithfully to find out how this ends. My inner feminist is weeping.

Tiger & Bunny: Where’s the Love?

Tiger and Bunny by tsulala (aka Rem)

Ordinarily, I’d be further along than halfway through a series like this, but the boyfriend and I are watching this together and out of habit, we can only watch in two-episode chunks. Somewhat related, Justin and Zac at ANN featured this show in their weekly podcast and talked about how they couldn’t get past the early episodes to really fall in love with the show. I honestly don’t know what’s wrong with them, it took me less than three episodes to fall in love with this anime and the only reason we’re taking it slow is because I don’t know what to do once I have no more T&B to watch.

I must not be the only person who finds it curious that this series still hasn’t made it on American television — that is, Cartoon Network or G4 or whatever other U.S. cable channel still airs anime. While I don’t believe that an anime needs to be aired on television to be considered successful, Tiger & Bunny is a series that will undoubtedly appeal to the ‘casual anime fan’ of yore.  As other anime reviewers have mentioned, it’s a show that was made with Western sensibilities and aesthetics in mind. If Avatar: The Last Airbender  was successfully able to co-opt anime tropes to tell its story, then it could rightfully be said that Tiger & Bunny co-opts American superhero tropes to show us its interpretation of what a world with heroes could be.

Image credit: Zerochan

Tiger & Bunny sets us down in a world where superheroes have gone the way of the (Japanese) pop idol. In Stern Bild, heroes exist for entertainment. HERO TV is the reality show that follows each hero’s exploits and awards them with points based on whether they’ve caught a criminal or rescued an victim or bystander. At the end of each season of HERO TV, points are tallied up and each hero is ranked on their successes for that time period. This is not Metropolis, where Superman rescues damsels in distress or fights alien invaders for free. Being a hero is a job — their costumes are plastered with the names of corporate sponsors (mostly Japanese companies, because hey, this is still anime) and if a hero’s ranking falls too low, its sponsors may drop him/her altogether.

I’m falling into an anime blogger trap, but I love that even that initial hook is subversive to what has been the prevailing paradigm of the superhero. Traditional comic heroes aren’t supposed to be profiting from their powers, they’re supposed to be helping humanity or at the very least, fighting off other super-powered beings who want to harm humanity.

At the center of Tiger & Bunny, is Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, aka Wild Tiger. Kotetsu is an aging hero, probably in his mid-/late thirties, who’s not doing as well as the rest of the bunch. After finishing last in the last season’s rankings, Wild Tiger’s new sponsor decides to pair him with by Barnaby Brooks, Jr., a young hotshot who possesses the same abilities at Kotetsu.

Admittedly, when it comes to the characterizations of its central cast, Tiger & Bunny moves back to familiar territory.

Being a hero is all that Kotetsu has ever wanted to be, and with each new crop of heroes coming on the scene, his market value isn’t as high as it used to be. He has the added dilemma of being a single father; worse, he can’t even tell his daughter what he really does for a living. Despite all of the chips stacked again him, Kotetsu remains one of those idealistic and noble hero-types. He does genuinely want to help, but if he gets to be popular and sell a lot of trading cards, that’s great too! He’s the character that I find the most fun to watch: he’s goofy, makes jokes at inappropriate times, and affectionately treats everyone else like they’re his kid.

Bunny, on the other hand, is Sunrise’s take on Batman. Barnaby’s parents were killed by an unknown NEXT when he was merely a child, so his adult life has been devoted to finding that man and getting his vengeance. When he first partners up with Kotetsu, he’s cold, closed off, singularly focused on his mission and finding his off-beat partner a nuisance. My boyfriend and I laugh at the scenes when they show his version of the Batcave: a mostly empty apartment, furnished with a chair, a small table, a tablet computer, a framed photo of him and his parents, and a big-ass wall projection screen.  Awesome.

Tiger & Bunny is a fitting homage to the superhero genre. The creative staff took great efforts to ensure that even the small details in this universe are coy winks to recognizable comics tropes. The superhero school, the city of Stern Bild as a futuristic version of New York City, Kriem’s harlequin-inspired outfit — you and I have seen this before and the creators want to make sure that we notice that we’ve seen this before. I think it’s the same concept as watching the Avengers movie; if you’ve seen the individual movies that Marvel’s released previously, then you’ll love the Avengers even more so than Thor or Iron Man on their own. But if you haven’t seen the ‘prequel’ movies, your enjoyment is in no way diminished since the movie is strong enough to stand on its own merit. You don’t need to be an avid fan of the hero genre to like Tiger & Bunny, but if you are, then even better.

Maybe with the inclusion of Tiger & Bunny in Viz’s new Neon Alley venture (where it’ll actually be dubbed for those who thinking reading subtitles is hard), it will finally find the fan love that I think it deserves.

These Kids are Not All Right: The Flowers of Evil 1-2

When, with closed eyes, on a hot afternoon,
The scent of thine ardent breast I inhale,
Celestial vistas my spirit assail;
Caressed by the flames of an endless sun.
— “Exotic Perfume” by C. Baudelaire

The more that I write about anime and manga and what qualities I enjoy about individual titles, the more that I realize that I’m picky. I don’t like series that are too long, too short, have no romance, have too much action sequences, are too cute, or too macabre. I seem to have this prevailing Goldilocks mentality of everything needing to be “just right” for me to be satisfied with a work.

Having said that, it should be no surprise that The Flowers of Evil isn’t going to be included in the list of my favorites. The author of this series seems to be all about pushing the reader as far down the pit as he can go. Once you’ve gone beyond a certain point, there’s no going back.

The Perils of Reading French Poetry

Takao KASUGA is a middle school student with a penchant for reading obscure foreign literature, his favorite being The Flowers of Evil (Les Fleurs du Mal) by Baudelaire. Even as a young teenager, he’s stuck with the ennui of living in a small town. No one can understand him, nor could understand why and how literature and poetry have affected him and changed his life.

His only consolation in this existence is the lovely Nanako SAEKI, one of the prettier girls in his class. He considers her his “femme fatale” and his “muse.” One afternoon, finding himself alone in the classroom, he notices that one of the other students left their gym bag at the back of the room. He investigates and realizes that the bag and the uniform in it belong to Saeki’s.  While a more well-meaning boy would have brought it to the office or school lost-and-found, Kasuga does the unthinkable: he takes the uniform home for himself.

And with that small act, Kasuga’s life decomposes into a complicated web of lies, secrets, and blackmail. Little does he realize that when he decided to hold on to Saeki’s uniform, his classmate Sawa NAKAMURA saw him take it. Using this knowledge of his secret crime, she enters into a contract with him where she won’t tell anyone what she knows, but in turn, she can take something precious from him.

What is Perversion?

I was really uncomfortable reading the first volume, and wasn’t even sure if I even wanted to read the second. Kasuga seems to be playing the middle school version of the “repressed smart guy.” He’s socially awkward, but believes that he’s smarter than the rest of the group, and it is this innate intelligence that separates him from the rest. He has lofty, romantic ideals and imagines himself succeeding only if the environment and society weren’t pushing him down. Yet in all this, he lacks self-confidence, choosing to assign blame to external factors rather than taking responsibility for his own failings.

The crux of Nakamura’s motivation for blackmailing Kasuga, that is, to “peel off all the skin he’s hiding behind,” reminds me of one of the concerns that I had with Kokoro Connect. I don’t like the underlying message in both these series that an individual needs to act on their basest desires in order to reveal their true selves. Maybe it’s my age showing, but I do not believe that I have to reveal my private self to the world in order to know myself.  There are such concepts such as a public face and a private face, and having both doesn’t make you a phony; it actually means that you’re a normal functioning person.

Nakamura probably thinks that she’s doing Kasuga a favor by being the agent of his change. While Kasuga maybe does need someone to boost his confidence, the manner that she coerces him to act is so creepy and triggering that I almost quit the book then and there. Warning: disturbing panels behind the tag.

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Rokka’s Limited Voice in Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Hazuki sent me that cryptic mail, telling me to meet him at the flower shop. He really should’ve called.

I pull up the gate… and was that Shimao-kun? His back, his gentle smile… and all those flowers. All those bouquets that I loved and would never forget. All those birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, New Year’s. 

I saw the note on the counter. The handwriting… it brought me back to another time, to that moment in the hospital when Shimao-kun was bent over his sketchbook, writing and turning away when he noticed I was staring. I asked him why he preferred to write in katakana instead of hiragana, and he said it was for the mood. Katakana was more expressive, more elegant.

Sketchbook.  Where did his sketchbook go? I knew it was just here. Where are all his tools? His flower shears, his clippers, they’re all gone.

I called Hazuki-kun and he answered his cell phone. I asked him if he went upstairs, if he knew about the gray backpack and the potted plant by the window. If he has those things, he should return them. Stealing is wrong.

Then he says, “Hazuki-kun is the one who stole things away.”

Shimao-kun’s room. I pull out the envelope with the sketchbook page that he didn’t want anyone to see, “When I die will you eat a bit of my bones?”

Miho-san was accommodating to my peculiar request. I didn’t want to inconvenience her, but I knew that I had to make this journey on my own.  It’s the first time that I’m walking without a destination in mind.

Even though there’s someone I’m in love with, for me not to know who it is… I’ve never heard of such an irresponsible crush.

***

For a series where there are only three characters, Natsuyuki Rendezvous has been one of the more challenging series that I’ve watched in a long time. I feel for all three of them, yet I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to cheer on any of them.

Rokka, as the object of desire for both Shimao and Hazuki, is the toughest puzzle to crack, especially more so since we rarely hear her point of view. Whereas the audience is generally privy to Hazuki’s innermost thoughts — even accompanying him to the surreal dreamworld of Shimao’s creation, Rokka’s perspective wasn’t fully available to us. We see her from the eyes of Hazuki (and later Shimao as Hazuki), we are aware of what she does and how she reacts, but not what she feels and thinks about the matter.

I’m aware that limiting Rokka’s point of view is part of the dramatic tension. If we knew that Rokka, from the very beginning, would never ever be in love with anybody other than her dead husband, then watching Hazuki struggle for her love would be so frustrating. But it is precisely because we do not know, because we are not sure on who Rokka now loves, we share equally in the heartache and anticipation.

The battle for Rokka’s heart continues.