Miscellanea and Ephemeron
04/02/2006 Entry: "Con report: Sakuracon 2006"
By Tom Good
Sakuracon, the largest anime convention in the Pacific Northwest, took place in the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, its first year in this location. Noboru Ishiguro, director of such anime classics as Astroboy and Macross, appeared to talk about his new project, Mushishi, which had just won an award in the TV Series category at the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Other guests included anime voice-over actors David Vincent, Jessica Boone and Jennifer Sekiguchi. Michael "Piano Squall" Gluck entertained the crowd with his piano arrangements of music from anime and video games (read the interview elsewhere on this site).
David Vincent is the voice of Van in Gunsword, his first lead role in an anime. He worked with director Liam O'Brian. "When Liam and I got together we made a decision to stay as true to the Japanese version as possible and try to match the tones," Vincent said. He described Van as "basically a 27-year-old virgin. A bit nerdy, but a badass. His nemesis the Claw kills his bride just before his marriage, and Van dedicates his life to finding and killing the Claw." Along the way Van meets Wendy, a girl whose older brother has been captured by the Claw. She attaches herself to him and offers herself for marriage. He is appalled, but they stick together and have adventures, fighting a lot of enemies along the way. "It has great writing and a lot of the character development is really good," said Vincent.
Vincent has also appeared on the stage in New York, and his voice-over work includes Lt. Dan in Quake 4 and the voice of Puck from The Real World on Celebrity Deathmatch. Though he is involved with TV and film, he says voice acting will always be part of his career.
Jessica Boone has voiced characters in many anime such as Chrono Crusade and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. She is currently pursuing an acting and directing degree at the University of Houston. She says anime voice acting is "the best job in the world -- I get to be something different every day: zombie, ninja, queen . . ." She took a class in phonetics where she learned the international phonetic alphabet, and says that has helped her with anime voice-overs.
Boone's roles as very young characters convinced some viewers that she really was a child, and she says people are sometimes surprised to meet her and discover that she is not 12 years old. And when she showed an anime to her own father, he could not believe which voice was hers and argued with her about it.
Her work on Abenobashi involved cultural references related to Osaka which were not funny in English, so they had to try to think of something similar in American culture to make a joke about instead. She said the recording took a lot longer than normal because the cast couldn't stop laughing. Her favorite lesser-known role she wishes more people would see is Sayuri in The Place Promised in Our Early Days.
Jennifer Sekiguchi may have been the most animated (no pun intended) guest of the convention. She claimed not to be a "gamer" but spoke with great enthusiasm about playing games like Chu Chu Rocket, Pac Man Vs., and Final Fantasy VIII. She also discussed some technical and business aspects of the anime world. "Lex Lang directed me in Fafner," she said. "He was adamant about not putting both ears of the headphones on when recording." She said at first she didn't notice the difference, but with both headphones on actors tend to unconsciously monitor themselves too much, and their sound becomes too self-conscious.
"I was in FLCL and someone told me that's a classic, and I thought, oh no! I'm old! I'm in a 'classic'," she said. About her character Mamimi she explained, "I really related to her. I was picked on a lot as a kid, and [. . .] I understand how that feels. When she's alone she's very charming and special, but the other kids don't see that. I think people have a fear of being alone, of being left."
Sekiguchi talked about the business challenges faced by small studios. Distributors get a discount for buying in bulk, so if they buy 1,000 units from a small studio without many products, they may have to buy 1,000 copies of the same title. Whereas from a large company they can buy the same number of units, but get a greater variety of titles, so they would rather buy from the large company. She also explained the difficulties of working for more than one studio at the same time. When scheduling conflicts occur, people are understandably reluctant to rearrange their schedules so that a voice actor can go do work for a competitor.
I asked her about the violence in Girls Bravo, where she played Kirie, and whether the blood made the series more disturbing than the slapstick violence of the Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons. "I just think that's anime," she said. "With roadrunner / coyote, it's ridiculous, they can get completely flattened, then walk away and then be fine in the next scene. And there's an element of that in the use of the blood, because it's so unrealistic the amount of blood that comes out. And in the next scene they're fine again."
In my favorite segment of the main cosplay event, Lisa Lincoln came out on stage dressed as San from Princess Mononoke, and sang a sweet, lyrical song from the movie. From the front of the hall I heard a strange sound sweep through through the crowd behind me, like thousands of people all saying "Oh, wow!" Someone sitting near me stood up, turned around and said, "Holy crap!" At this point I stood up and turned around too. Hundreds of people in the crowd had turned on their cell phones, turned the screens towards the stage, and were waving them back and forth in the air. All the softly glowing lights resembled an immense field of fireflies. This visual suited the music perfectly, and was especially mind-blowing because it was the very sort of thing that might have happened in an anime -- one like Princess Mononoke. If I could go back and experience one moment from the convention a second time, it would be that one. Lincoln's performance won the "inspiration award" at the closing ceremonies.
Sakuracon hosted a variety of interesting panel discussions about anime. I attended Meg Uhde's "Adult Content in Anime" panel. She traced adult themes in popular Japanese art back to ukiyo-e prints during the Edo period, such as The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife by Hokusai.
The discussion covered many different issues about adult anime. For example, some distributors of adult-themed anime in the U.S. believed that their target audience was the same people who would buy live-action porn, so they used porn actors to do the English voice-overs, instead of using anyone who was actually good at voice-over work. The panel audience got to see a laughably bad example of this phenomenon, with the subtitles shown at the same time as the dubbed English to illustrate how much the content had been changed. In the original, a young man and woman had a conversation that had some subtlety, and showed at least a potential for character development and plot. The scene felt more like something from a soap opera than porn. But in the English dub, her lines were changed to: "Give me your body. I want to feel your ." Not only were these lines stupid, but the awful reading made the character sound deranged instead of sexy, and the timing was completely out of sync with the action on the screen.
Other topics included definitions of anime and adult anime, censorship codes in Japan and the visual metaphors used to get around them, and a survey of adult anime genres. Unde recommended as further reading the books Manga! Manga!, How NOT To Draw Manga, and Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga.
One of the convention center's large ballrooms was transformed into "Club Sakura" for late night music and dancing. On Saturday night, the line for entry stretched off into the distance, while inside dancers wore glowsticks and danced to J-Rock music. Hundreds of people jumped up and down in time with the music, which shook the floor even in other parts of the building. From one of the nearby panel discussion rooms, it felt just like an earthquake.
Sakuracon's cosplay director Mike Stark got married at the convention in front of the fans. I asked him how that came about. "Part of my job is to do the halftime show," he said, "which is really at the end, while the judges are away. And normally, you get this sort of pushed on to you... but this year I got to choose it, and I said well, we've talked about getting married, so how about we do it then? And everyone laughed. And then we sort of weren't really serious about it until everyone started encouraging us, and a lot of people on staff... started coming up to us saying, great idea, you really should do it! It was mostly live, with very little that was scripted, because I do a lot of improv comedy, as part of The 404s ... we had certain cues, but most of it was live."
When asked whether this was the first wedding at a convention, Stark said, "Oh, I'm sure there have been others, especially with sci-fi conventions -- there are probably some Klingons out there -- but for anime, I've never seen it, I've never heard of it. ...and I was in a great position where I was allowed to do it, so if they did, they may have done it on the side, but we were allowed to do it right in front of everyone. "
Sakuracon held a charity auction to benefit the Make A Wish Foundation. A special badge number 1, which will identify the wearer as the charity guest of honor at Sakuracon 2007, was a hot item. Bidding opened at $1500, and the badge ultimately sold for $2300.
A fashion show was also held to showcase both anime themed costumes and original designs like the one pictured here.
With more than 20 rooms full of events, there was always something going on: workshops, panel discussions, booths about traditional and online degrees in gaming, video screening rooms, gaming, and a large vendor area. The convention center has plenty of space, a nice vertical layout centered around escalators, and a simple numbering system for event rooms. This makes it easy to navigate even without consulting a map. You don't have to read in the program that an event will be held in the Homonculus Ballroom in the Onimusha Wing, then wander around trying to figure out where that is. Instead, if an event is in room 601, clearly that will be on one end of the sixth floor.
The convention center has some fast food restaurants conveniently located inside, but it is worth the extra money to try the creperie that is just outside the main entrance, facing the sidewalk. The food there is quick and delicious, and the lines are short.
I spoke to a few attendees who had never been to an anime convention before, and they all seemed impressed by how friendly, fun, and approachable the fans and convention staff were. That was my impression, too. I had a lot of fun at this convention and would certainly recommend it to all anime and video game fans.
Replies: 1 Comment
This is a wonderfull article!! I was at the con as well,(one of the people waving a cell phone!) and i agree that Miss Lincoln', preformance was very intense and seemed to stand out in my mind! (this could be beacuse i didnt get much sleep and the week endis a bit of a blurr, though....^_^)
Posted by Rachael @ 05/01/2006 09:36 AM PST
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