Well folks, the con season is well underway, and this year, I decided to check out AnimeNext in Somerset, New Jersey. I had an amazing time viewing panels, meeting with fans, admiring cosplay and just walking around the show floor. Here are just a few highlights from my time at the convention.
The Golden Age of Weekly Shonen Jump: A Visual History
“From roughly 1983 – 1996 there was one manga magazine that ruled over others: Weekly Shonen Jump. At it’s peak it hit 6.5 million copies sold a year, and no other manga magazine could even hope to equal it, let alone surpass it. Join George from Land of Obscusion for a look at the titles that defined this “Golden Age” of Jump, both visually and contextually, and see what remnants of this era remain strong to this day.”
The early time slot seemed to hinder this panel. While dozens of attendees were still lined up around the Garden State Convention Center waiting for tickets, a small trickle of around four to six people strolled in to check out this look at one of the manga industry’s most successful brand.
George began with a review of the early Jump titles of the 1970’s, such as Kochikame, one of longest running manga in history as well as Space Adventure Cobra, now available on DVD, Kinnikuman, whose sequel, Ultimate Muscle, was brought to America in the early 2000’s, and, of course, Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump, an anime so popular, it insured Jump Manga’s place in popular Japanese culture.
However, it was in 1983 that Jump Manga really took off with the mega-success of their action series Fist of the North Star. On the other side of thing, titles like Kimagure Orange Road proved that non-action series can be big hits in Shonen Jump. Of course, hyper-violent titles were par-for-the course with the release Baoh from Hirohiko Araki, the creator of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
Then Akira Toriyama created DragonBall . . . and the “Golden Age” was really under way!
Shonen Jump Magazine would continue their popularity with Saint Seiya and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, underrated classics here in America, while titles like Bastard!!! pushed the boundaries of what was considered appropriate in a Jump Manga. Delinquent manga such as Rokudenashi BLUES became popular as well, despite never receiving an TV anime of its own. Jump would continue throughout the 90’s with Slam Dunk, the manga that made basketball popular in Japan and challenged DragonBall for the number one slot, Yu-Yu Hakusho, which was immensely popular in the US, and Hareluya II BOY, the first Jump anime to run late night. The “Golden Age” would come to a close with titles like the popular Rurouni Kenshin, the constantly-trolling Level E, and the modern gag manga Sexy Commando Gaiden Sugoi yo!! Masaru-san (I don’t know what that means either!!!).
Of course, after 1996, with the end of DragonBall and Slam Dunk, readership dropped dramatically, as Shonen Jump entered a dark age. Titles such as Yu-Gi-Oh, One Piece and Hunter X Hunter helped keep Jump thriving, and with the introduction of Naruto and Bleach in the early 2000’s, Shonen Jump entered a new “Modern” Age, which continues to this day.
With an encyclopedic look at the history manga’s most popular magazine, this panel carefully took a look back at the various titles which made Shonen Jump great, interspersed with clips from the various anime series with spawned from them. Informative and entertaining, the attendance picked up as the panel moved along. The panel was filled with things even I didn’t know about. For example, I never knew there was a Dragon Quest anime, or that, before DeathNote, Tsufumi Ohba made a superhero comedy series called Tottemo! LuckyMan . . . maybe.
Tokyo S.O.S. 60 Years of Godzilla
“From Tokyo in 1954 to the mega city of 2014. Godzilla has reigned as King of the Monster for 60 years leaving monster and city in his wake. Presented by the Tokyo S.O.S. Podcast, we will show clip from Godzilla greatest hits and discuss the best and worst of his reign. So join us as we celebrate Godzilla 60th Birthday and pay tribute to the KING OF THE MONSTERS! Presented by the Tokyo S.O.S. Podcast in conjunction with the Absolution Network.”
With a collection of clips from TNT’s MonsterVision, Thomas Matis began his nostalgia-filled look back at the Big-G’s best (and worst) moments. Examining Godzilla’s iconic beginnings as an unstoppable force of nature in 1954, Thomas looks at the symbolism behind Godzilla, relating it to that of our own human nature and desires and the dangers that come when one tries to go against it. Godzilla was a walking, nuclear blasting metaphor, not only for the atomic bomb, but also the fire-bombings of Tokyo and the horrors of war itself. He was symbol of the trauma that Japan went through in WWII. The American version on the other hand . . . not as much.
The panel then fast-forwarded through the Showa era to Godzilla’s flashy, all-too-80’s return in Godzilla 1985 as well as it’s creative sequel, Godzilla VS Biollante.
We then moved on to 1998 . . .
Next came the Millennium series, with Godzilla 2000 and ending with Godzilla: Final Wars, which Thomas believes is one of the worst Godzilla films ever made, comparing it to giving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Michael Bay.
Skip ahead ten years, and we come to the recent Godzilla reboot, which did a lot to make up for the train wreck that was Godzilla 1998, despite its slow pace.
Covering over 30 films worth of content within a single hour timeslot is a tough job, and Thomas did a good job covering as much as he could before turning the mic over and giving the fans a chance to talk about their favorite Godzilla moments. Fans gushed over their favorite scenes, from Godzilla’s battles with the likes of King-Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla to the more ridiculous scenes, such as Godzilla’s flying drop kick from Godzilla vs Megalon. Of course, there are some things that just could not be covered in such a small amount of time. Still, the panelist kept the audience entertained and informed with plenty of little-known facts about Japan’s favorite Mon-star. Plus, he gave out candy!!!
Spirits, Wheels and Borrowed Gods
“Forest spirits, enlightened ones, and powers from beyond the seas all call Japan home. This panel explores the often complex and rich world of Japanese belief and sacred practice- from Kami to Buddhas and everything else that lives on in Japan’s history”
The amount of energy that speaker Charles Dunbar brought to this panel was enough for me to forgo any other event and sit down for this incredible hour long look at the history of Japan’s religious and spiritual deities. Dunbar would go on to explain, in great detail, the unique differences between Japan’s take on religion and the religions of western cultures. While Christianity, Judaism and Islam, all fundamentally alike in several ways, tend to clash over their small differences, Japan is all-inclusive, absorbing several different religions that honestly have nothing to do with one another. In Japan, you are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die a Buddhist, and Dunbar related these ideas in a way any otaku can relate to: Anime. Dunbar explained how religion influenced anime with examples from Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, to modern anime like Kill la Kill, and games like Persona 3, Persona 4, Persona . . . look there’s a LOT of Persona references, OKAY!
The panel focused mainly on the oldest Japanese religion still in practice today, Shinto. In Shinto, nature is scared, and the various Shinto deities represent the religion of Japan’s sacred ancestors. Dunbar took great care in relating the mythology of Shinto, not just to anime, but to the various myths and legends of western mythology. It is not difficult to compare the Shinto tale of Izanagi and Izanami (Both characters in the Persona franchise, BTW) with the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The inclusion of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucius teaching only widened the Japanese belief structure. That is, until the 1860’s, when the idea of “State Shinto” began to take hold. The Japanese Emperor was held as the direct dependent of the Sun God Amaterasu, and, in order to be taken seriously by the western powers, all other belief systems, be it Buddhist, Taoist or even Christian, were driven out of Japan. This removal of foreign cultural influences would have dramatic effects for the Japanese, especially during and after World War II.
I emphatically urge anyone who attends an anime convention featuring Charles Dunbar to attend one of his panels. Also, check out his website www.studyofanime.com.
Kill La Kill: Spot the References, Beginner’s Edition
“The makers of Gurren Lagann went and did it again, producing a hit modern series that, while reverential to the past, wasn’t bound to it. Once again there are plenty of “Easter egg” references to classic Japanese animation and pop culture that, while unnecessary to understanding what you’re seeing, can enhance your viewing or lead you to discover new favorites. Daryl Surat of Otaku USA Magazine and the Anime World Order podcast (http://www.animeworldorder.com) won’t have time to point out everything, but he’ll do his best regardless. NOTE: minor spoilers.”
Who would have thought that, in the course of a single Saturday, I would learn more about a single anime series than I have ever learned about anything in my life? That was my thoughts after enjoying not one, but THREE Kill La Kill panels in a single day. I think it is safe to say that I will never look at this series the same way again, which is very ironic, because the first thing I want to do is re-watch this entire series from start to finish, just to see what I, apparently, have missed!
For my first Kill La Kill Panel, Daryl Surat of the Anime World Order podcast took a look at all the hidden jokes and references buried deep within what has obviously become one of the most popular anime to hit US shores in quite some time, and believe me, there were a lot of them! From Mako’s spastic screen transitions to every show opening and closing, Kill La Kill is packed with nods to several bits of Japanese pop culture, from classic live-action shows like Sukeban Deka to anime such as Armored Trooper Votoms, Fist of the North Star, Devilman and so much more. There are even homages to ecchi anime like Kekko Kamen . . . actually, that’s not too surprising.
What is surprising is the subtle nods to American movies. Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed the cast of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction hidden in the crowd in one episode, or the Terminator’s hand giving a thumb’s up from a pit of lava in another. These little “Easter Eggs,” and many more like them, were not the result of subtle planning, but of bored animators who just felt like “dicking around.”
Of course, I immediately want to go back and check out these references and “Easter Eggs,” and try and find more of my own. Be sure to check out Daryl Surat and the Anime World Order podcast at www.animeworldorder.com.
Kill La Kill with Studio Trigger
And so, the hits just keep on coming as AnimeNext was treated to Jiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama from Studio Trigger. The room was packed to capacity, bodies jammed together, sweltering in their own body heat, just to catch a glimpse of the men who helped create this ridiculously fantastic series. Both men seemed delighted with the response to their studio’s first big hit, and came bearing gifts; original artwork and storyboards from the series (Sorry, no photo’s allowed). With artwork came several revealing secrets to how Kill La Kill came to be, as well as several more hidden “Easter Eggs” which were even stranger than the ones previously mentioned.
For example, did you know that the original art style for Kill La Kill would have looked more like Panty & Stockings? It’s true! I’ve seen the sketches for myself, OR that the Elite Four were all meant to be women (Yes, even Gamagoori) Did you catch the VERY subtle references to Marvel Comics? Apparently, the creators were big fans of the series World War Hulk and the recent Agent Venom series, and yes, for all those who have speculated, the word “Kill” in Kill La Kill IS meant as a word pun! The English word “Kill” sounds almost exactly like “Kiru,” the Japanese phrase meaning “to dress,” meaning the title can also be read as “Dressed to Kill.” Giving how the series focuses mainly on using clothing as weapons, this title fits perfectly.
Kill La Kill and the Transformation of Japan
“On the surface, Trigger’s latest anime explosion seems to be more about boobs and butts than anything else. But dig a little deeper, and themes of state-sponsored fascism, elevated gods, the perils of war, and the construction of identity all shine through. This panel looks at the series as an extended analogy for Meiji Japan, the reconstruction of Shinto, and the quest for a unified Japan . . . cloaked in enough fan service to make anyone blush.”
So, apparently Satsuki Kiryuin is the Shinto Goddess Amaterasu, Ryuko is an Oni and Ragyo is the demonic goddess Izanami . . . or Christianity . . . or maybe the United States. That’s the jist of what I got from Charles Dunbar’s exquisite panel on the hidden symbolism behind the most recent success from Studio Trigger.
According to Dunbar, he got the idea for this panel after watching the first episode of the series while at a Starbucks. While studying anthropology, Dunbar was immersed in the mythology of Japanese culture, and how it would eventually effect their imperial ambitions. All of a sudden, a shot introducing Kiryuin appeared, the young woman bathed in the light of the sun, standing up high, above a loyal and adoring public. She was the living embodiment of the Sun, a perfect stand-in for the Japanese emperor, and all of a sudden, an entire Starbucks was wondering why some guy was hysterically laughing at his laptop.
This panel is as close to perfect as one could get. It’s informative. It’s insightful. It’s entertaining. It gives the topic the kind of research and devotion it deserves, and the presenter expresses his findings in a logical and scientific manner. To think, all this time, I thought this show was just about girls in skimpy sailor fuku beating the crap out of each other!!!
A Few AnimeNEXT2014 Cosplay Photos
I would recommend any anime fan in the tri-state area to attend next year’s AnimeNext. I had an amazing time. To the staff and volunteers of the convention, I just want to say thank you, and I can’t wait to see you again next year!
-Michael “The Navigator” Arroyo