Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nate Reports: Otakon Vegas 2014

It's a brand new year and I've already set my new year's resolutions: To make my reports shorter and go to as many conventions as I can (ok maybe that last one was a bit redundant). So I set off the year of 2014 to an anime convention that was the farthest con I've been to in my life. Who knew it would be in Sin City! That's right, Vegas Baby! And best of all the con was run by the good people of Otakon. With that in mind, I was looking forward to a great time at this Otakon Vegas weekend.

Day 1:
Just to note everyone, Otakon Vegas was during the weekend of my birthday and what better way to celebrate it than Las Vegas! Excitement has already built in for me as I took my morning flight from Oakland to Las Vegas where I would take a Supershuttle to the Bally's hotel and resort where we would reside for the whole weekend. Now before coming into Las Vegas, Matthew would call me the day before to notify me about a change in room. We actually upgraded our room into a suite with a Jacuzzi bath! And only $40 more, that's not a bad deal! After hearing that, I would like to see how the room looks now due to that. Here's a video I recorded coming into the awesome suite!

After settling in, I quickly dressed up in my cosplay for the day, where I would debut Makoto Naegi from Dangan Ronpa. Once everyone in the room got into their cosplays, we all left the Bally's resort to the Planet Hollywood resort where Otakon Vegas was held. I would head up the stairs to the resort's convention center and I would already see Otakon Vegas in front of me as Artist Alley and Registration was in the lobby of the 2nd floor. Matt would direct me to the Press registration desk which was at the back of the convention and I would pick up my badge from there. I would then roam around the con to see how the convention is. I went to Dealer's hall to see that Funimation was there promoting Space Dandy since the whole desk was full of cosplayers from the show. I would pick up some of their freebies before seeing what the other dealers were pulling out. I mean who doesn't like freebies from a company that is giving you your favorite animes?

I didn't know about the gatherings that were around the convention so I wasn't aware about the Dangan Ronpa gathering that being held in front of the entrance of a Las Vegas show. I would arrive there while their gathering was happening and I found out I was the only Naegi there. All of the people there were pretty happy they finally have one and I felt really appreciated about that. The gathering was really fun as cosplayers were cosplaying from both games (DR and SDR2). The entrance was also round shaped, so we actually did a courtroom trial shoot where all of the cosplayers are in the circle like we're actually figuring out the culprit just like the game. That was really fun!

Kirigiri and Naegi solving the case! 

Aoi Asahina and Sakura Oogami cosplayers flexing

Protags (Hajime Hinata and Makoto Naegi) brofist.

At 5:30 I would head over to the Funimation Industry panel where Justin Rojas would present what the company is currently working on for the beginning of 2014. He would introduce himself as well as the services that Funimation would bring to the fans which includes their website, Facebook page, Instagram, blog, and other web services for fans to keep informed about the latest Funimation news. He also did introduce their app where fans can watch their Funimation shows for $7.95/month with their Elite Video subscription. Now the big news they brought out was a no brainer as Space Dandy was about to premiere thanks to Funimation. Not only that but the Otakon Vegas attendees would be one of the very first people to see the new show, EVEN BEFORE JAPAN AIRS IT! It's like we're making history here! The Space Dandy premiere would air on day 2 of Otakon Vegas. Some of Funimation's shows are airing on Toonami on Adult Swim which includes Space Dandy and other anime hits like One Piece, Soul Eater, FLCL, and FMA Brotherhood. They also did speak about their simulcasts that they will show during this winter season, most of them continuing from last fall. They include: Unbreakable Machine Doll, One Piece, Tokyo Ravens, Freezing Vibration, Blazblue: Alter Memory, and Toriko. See new episodes of these shows every week from Funimation's streaming services.

Justin would then show a video that talked about the Funimation show where Justin and other members of Funimation would make videos every week and they are on exclusively on Youtube. Now he did hint about the continuation of this series if it is going to continue on making new episodes. Him and his crew are still thinking about it if it should continue, but with enough fan support they may still continue the service. But for now, it's on hold. Maybe that's why they weren't showing much new episodes currently.

Justin would then showcase the new releases that is out on DVD and Blu-Ray. He would explain the details about each anime release and would then show a trailer promoting it. Here is the list of anime DVD and Blu-rays that have been released recently:
  • Akira 25th Anniversary movie 
  • Good Luck Girl (Binbogami-ga)
  • Wolf Children
  • Aquarion Evol
  • Fairy Tail Movie: Phoenix Priestess
  • Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero
  • DBZ Season 1
Attendees of Otakon Vegas can pick up their copy of these DVD/Blu-ray animes in the Funimation booth in the Dealer's Hall. For those who didn't attend, they are available at your local anime distributing store.

The panel would then introduce the new simulcasts that Funimation will be streaming this winter season. Titles include: Noragami, Inari, Konkon (That's one title btw), Koi Iroha, and Maken-Ki! 2. Justin would also announce a new show that they will simulcast which is called D-Frag! Check these new titles out on Funimation's streaming services. The panel would then end with a thank you video that they made back during Youtube's Geek Week and would then turn into a Q&A after that.

I would leave after the Q&A and would grab a bite to eat at Fresh Bar and Grill where I would get myself a needed meal since I didn't grab food for the entire day. After the meal, me and Matt would head back to the con for Sayaka Sasaki's concert. Now I only knew her for her works in providing music to animes. Her most famous work would be from Nichijou where she sung the ED song, Zzz. But that was all I know about her. It's time to listen to what she will provide to the Otakon Vegas crowd. She would take her place onstage and sing some of her hits, including Zzz. Here is her performance of the song:

Then in a surprise, she was doing covers of other Anime OPs and EDs. She even covered Only my Railgun by Flipside from the anime, A Certain Scientific Railgun and even the ED of K-ON!, Don't Say Lazy! It was like I was listening to Mio herself! Haha sorry fan moment, but I never would expect her to sing these songs! I did tape her performance of Only my Railgun, which can be seen here:

As her concert wasn't awesome enough, letting her sing these songs made it even better! Overall, a great performance, it was a really entertaining concert! After the concert was over, me and Matt would head back to our suite where everyone was relaxing. We would call day one of Otakon Vegas over and would dress up for the night life at Vegas. Overall the first day was pretty entertaining. Even with a low attendance on this day, it still lived up to my hype. I had a fun first day and now we wait until day 2 to see what Otakon Vegas has next on their sleeves. But for now, it's time to party! I mean we're at Vegas, there's a lot of things to do here!

Ryuuko Matoi from Kill la Kill

My friends, Dalton and Craig, playing video games in the game room

Blogmates Ryan and Amanda with a couple's shot in front of the Bellagio fountains

Day 2:
I would wake up at 10am after a long night out in Vegas. Everyone including me would cosplay into characters in the Persona series. I would cosplay as Yosuke Hanamura from Persona 4, Matt as Junpei from Persona 3, and Amanda and Ryan would cosplay Yukiko and Minato. I would notice that Matt would leave early to check on the Sumo event that was going on at Otakon Vegas. I would not be able to catch it so me, Amanda, and Ryan would grab an early lunch at Earl of Sandwich. The place has great sandwiches and other delectable entrees that everyone would enjoy. Best of all this eatery is one that would have a discount for Otakon Vegas attendees. All we have to do is show our badges to them and they would give us 20% off our total bill. Talk about savings! 

After my lunch, we all would go to the Aniplex of America panel as they talk about how they are starting the new year off. When we entered into the panel room, we were all given tickets. Those tickets would be for a raffle at the end of the panel where we could win posters of titles from Aniplex of America. The panel started with a trailer of all their shows that they are providing to the United States which include Madoka Magica, Sword Art Online, and Kill la Kill. Now the MC would introduce us to a special guest that is visiting Otakon Vegas and he was Masahiro Ando, the Director of Blast of Tempest. He was pleased to be here to see the Otakon Vegas attendees and he did host a showing of Blast of Tempest where he would have a Q&A after the showing and would give away products to a couple of lucky attendees who shows up. He would sign a Blast to Tempest poster before he left. That would be part of the raffle giveaway at the end of the panel. 

The MC would then talk about the new simulcasts this winter that they will be providing streaming service for. The first one is Silver Spoon 2nd season. They did simulcast the first season so it is a no brainer they would also stream the 2nd season to their fans. The new season starts January 9th. Aniplex of America also explained titles that are continuing from the fall season including Magi: The Kingdom of Magic which I really enjoy (Sundays), Samurai Flamenco (Thursdays), and one of the best titles to come from the Fall season, Kill la Kill (Thursday). You can check out the Aniplex website to see where you can see new episodes of these shows. 

The MC also talked about Sword Art Online: Extra Edition which is a 2 hour special that occurs after the 2nd half of the original series. They also did emphasize about a contest that was running during Otakon Vegas where one could take home an actual Nervgear from the show! I wonder who won that by now. The MC would then talk about new titles that they would simulcast for the winter season. One is called World Contest Zveda Plot and Nisekoi (both start on Jan. 11). Looking forward to seeing these new titles!

Now Aniplex would shift to their DVD/Blu-ray section where they would talk about video releases of a couple of their titles. Below are the titles that the panel discussed that are now out on DVD and Blu-ray (each title would show a trailer of their show):
  • Blast to Tempest: First season is out now, 2nd Season is out on February
  • Sword Art Online: These DVD/Blu-Ray combo sets includes both Japanese/English dub as well as Spanish subs. Comes out in 4 volumes. All of them are out now.
  • Fate/Zero: On Blu-ray/DVD combo. Comes in 2 sets and includes both English and Japanese dub. Both sets are available now. 
  • Blue Exorcist Movie: Only Available on DVD and a special hybrid set. Contains the English and Japanese dub along with its subtitles. Both sets are out now. 
  • Vivdred Operation: The Uncut DVD set is out now (Japanese, English subs)
  • Oreshura: DVD set out now (Japanese, English subs)
  • Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic: DVD sets of 2, features both English and Japanese dubs and subs. Episodes are uncut. Volume 1 will be out on Jan 14 and Volume 2 will be out on Mar 18. 
The Aniplex panel would then make some special announcements. The first announcement was about Blue Exorcist coming to Toonami in March where they would air the Toonami ad slot. The next announcement was about their upcoming movie coming to select theaters soon. The series that got all of us into tears is showing their movie thanks to Aniplex of America. That's right, it's the Anohana movie. Showings of the movie starts on Jan 18. Check the Anohana website for more information.  Lastly it's news that everyone was waiting for. You may have seen the video of this when you saw the 2 hour special but it looks like they will be the ones simulcasting this show next season. It's Sword Art Online II which from the video covers the gun gale arc. The first episode will air this April.

The panel would then conclude from there and the raffle would then begin. Unfortunately we wouldn't win any of the awesome posters but it was great to be there to see what Aniplex of America has in store for us coming into the new year. 

Director Masahiro Ando promoting the showing of Blast to Tempest

After the panel, I headed straight to the interview room with Matt where we were scheduled to interview two guests of honor: Mary Elizabeth McGylnn and Richard Epcar. You can see our interview here:

The interview came out to be successful as it looked like we had a great interview knowing more from them about their roles as voice actors and writers in their works. I would then head out to Jaime Marchi's Q&A panel where fans would give her questions about her roles as a voice actor and writer to most anime series. I was able to give a question to her to talk about her time in Vegas. She replied that she loves it and that she is currently having a good time out here. Other attendees would also ask her questions on her VA roles that include Liz from Soul Eater, Kana from Fairy Tail, and Panty from Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. Overall it was good to see how a VAs life is. Apparently it's busy especially when you are also responsible in being a writer for certain animes. I'm guessing it's a hard yet manageable life for an anime VA.

Jaime Marchi on stage answering questions from her fans.

Now of course the big thing about this day is making history as we would be one of the first people to watch the first episode of one of this winter's shows, Space Dandy. Directed by Shichiro Watanabe who also created Cowboy Bebop and Kids on the Slope, it is a show that no anime fan should miss out on! We would get in 30 minutes before the showing to find ourselves good seats to the show. When the time hit, Justin Rojas of Funimation would come up on stage to introduce us to Space Dandy. He would give us strict rules where we should NOT pop out any recording devices ever in the showing or else they would be taken away. It makes sense, we don't want anyone to get spoiled when they see it later that night. And after a greatful message from Shichiro Watanabe himself (wearing a Dandy jacket), all of us watched the English Dub premiere of Space Dandy. The episode was hilarious and entertaining and I ended up enjoying it very much! I would make the decision that this would be an anime I would definitely follow this winter season.

Funimation Cosplayers of Space Dandy

Let's get this show going!!!!!!!

After the showing, guests of honor Ian Sinclair (Voice of Dandy), Zachary Charles Bolton (ADR Director), and Jaime Marchi (Writer) would come up on stage for a Q&A with Justin Rojas first before giving it out to the audience. Since it was a Space Dandy Q&A everyone asked questions about the show and how they were able to make such a great first episode. Some of the fans were hilarious as they asked questions in Dandy's voice which entertained Ian a lot and even he answered questions in Dandy's voice which kept all of us entertained. I was able to stay throughout the whole Q&A and would get a better understanding about the show. All I can remember is that Dandy is just a dandy guy in space and that Ian pulls off one great Dandy.

Justin Rojas (left) with Zachary Charles Bolton (middle left), Ian Sinclair (middle right), and Jaime Marchi (right) in the Space Dandy Q&A

Afterwards, me and Ryan would head over to the Funimation booth where we would get more free swag from Space Dandy as well as get a picture with the cosplayers of the show (actually we had to do this in order to get the calendar, but I still like the photo) 

Me with the Space Dandy cosplayers. Time for a little promotion! Photos created from Photomatic

Me and Ryan would hurry back to the autograph line to get autographs from Ian, Zachary, and Jaime. I would be able to get Ian's signature to the Space Dandy poster and banner and I would get a friendly picture with him. Zachary would sign the poster and banner as well. I also did give him a chat about his works being an ADR director. He did hint me that he is working on Psycho-Pass so just a heads up there guys, Psycho-Pass is currently in the works. Keep an eye out for it soon! Jaime would sign not just the poster and banner, but my Soul Eater manga that showed Liz and my badge in a way that Panty would sign it. She pretty much placed a big F***!!! on my badge! I was really happy to see these guys and letting them sign my stuff. They are really friendly people and I hope to see them in other cons in the near future. 
Me and Mr. Dandy himself, Ian Sinclair
Me and Jaime Marchi

I would head down to see Matt who was currently watching the NFL Wild Card games. I actually wasn't thinking about watching these games, so I roamed around the area playing some slots before heading back to the room for some rest. When nighttime struck, all of us decided to meet at the con for the Anime-Squares panel. It's like Hollywood Squares except that the questions are all anime related. Matt would be a part of the panel where he would be given some questions to help the contestants win the game. I couldn't believe he got the Madoka question wrong. His question: "Who eats the most in Madoka Magica?" His answer: "Mami" (facepalm) HOW COULD HE FORGET KYOKO!?!?!? I was very disappointed, but he would redeem himself as he was able to answer the Shaft anime that is noted for characters with wide faces, which was Hidamari Sketch. Actually, that question helped our blogmate Amanda win one round of Anime-squares! The event was fun to watch. I actually really wanted to be a contestant in this panel, but either way I still had a good time seeing everyone having fun in this game. 

I would then go with my friend Dalton to the rave which surprisingly didn't have much people in there. When I entered the room, there were only like 100 people (maybe less) dancing to the beat of the DJ. It was that small that we all entered into the middle and danced the night away. Well, not really all of the night. I promised Amanda and Ryan to get food with them at Burgr, a restaurant in the Planet Hollywood resort made by Hell's Kitchen chef, Gordon Ramsay. Luckily the line was not that busy that we were able to get in in under 5 minutes and would grab ourselves a bite into one of Chef Ramsay's famous burgers and fries. And man they were delicious! It was definitely something tasty especially from a 5 star restaurant like this. I loved the food and best of all, it was under $20. Not too shabby! 
Hell's Kitchen burger and fries at Gordon Ramsay's Burgr. Looks good doesn't it?

The three of us would head back to our hotel room to see that Matt took some Persona cosplayers for a relaxing hangout. Most of the cosplayers were locals so it was a good time to talk to them about what's good living in Las Vegas and having an anime con like Otakon to come over. Well I wanted the relaxation from a busy day today and the Jacuzzi was what I needed. We would be up till 2am before calling it a day. Well a better 2nd day to say the least. I was able to have more fun than the previous day and it looked like there was more to do on this day as well as seeing more attendees cosplaying and having fun. Tomorrow is the last day sadly. Otakon Vegas was going to conclude the next day, although there were other things that were happening besides the con.

This Kyoukai no Kanata cosplay group looks awesome!

Tsuhiki Araragi cosplayer from Nisemonogatari

Moredecai and Rigby from Regular Show at Otakon Vegas. OOOOOOOOOOHHHH!

Days 3 and 4:
Instead of me covering Otakon Vegas on its final day, I was pretty much watching the football games that were going on this day. If you didn't know, I am a football fan as well. My favorite team is the San Francisco 49ers and they would be playing this day in a matchup with the Packers. And I also placed bets on the games so my money was on the line! So at the beginning of the day, me and Matt would head to the Planet Hollywood Racing Sports book and would watch the games from there. We would watch the entire Chargers/Bengals game in which the Chargers would pull the upset. Me and Matt both bet on the Chargers and we would win more money in our pockets. With the money we got, we would head back to Burgr to grab ourselves a well deserved winning lunch. But the day wasn't over for me. I still had a bet to check up on and it was on the 2nd game of the day: 49ers/Packers. I would watch the conclusion at my hotel room where I would see my team, the 49ers, kick the final field goal which helped them win the game. This also meant more money for me as I also won my bet as well. It was a great day of football for me! My teams won and I got richer, that great feeling of victory! 

From the Planet Hollywood Racing Sports book. A good day to see some football! 

With the games done and that Otakon Vegas is all but over, all of us would meet up back at our hotel room as we get ready for more sightseeing in Vegas in order for us to not have post-con depression. We would dress up and drive to Fremont Street or more like Old Vegas. We would see Fremont Street and the humongous lighted board that covers Fremont Street. The board would make Old Vegas appealing and glittery. Every top of the hour, the board would show a dedication collage of a classic hit rock and roll band as it plays their hit songs while we gaze as the show. We were treated to Heart and Bon Jovi. If we only stayed for one more hour, we would have seen The Who, which Ryan really wanted to see. We even got to see The Heart Attack Grill and the Toy Shack, two famous stops that appeared on Pawn Stars and Man vs. Food. We would then head home to relax and prepare for tomorrow where we would all leave for home.

Las Vegas looks really great at night!

On the next day, I would pack up my belongings and would take the Supershuttle before heading to the McCarren Airport for my flight back to the bay. But not before I give out my farewell video. 

This actually was my first convention to review out of state. I never would expect my first out of state con to be in Las Vegas. What also got me going to this con was that it was organized by Otakon, a very famous anime convention in Baltimore, MD which was located all the way over in the east coast of the country. It was great to hear that they would make a subsidiary anime con in the west coast. At first I didn't know what to expect over at this convention because I never been to Otakon at all. But from hearing other people's reviews of Otakon, it got my hopes up in seeing what this con has in store. 

To say the least, it didn't fail to impress me. The organizers of Otakon Vegas did a pretty good job taking the whole convention center and making it a place for everyone to enjoy. Most of the rooms were filled for panels that many of the attendees enjoyed viewing as well as information panels that got my attention. The Dealer's hall was not bad. I would have expected a bigger turnout but I guess there wasn't many dealer's that wanted to attend Otakon Vegas. Probably perhaps Funimation took over most of it as they were giving out really awesome goodies to the attendees. The game room didn't look bad at all. There were many TVs and video game systems that anyone who love the games can play. They even had a center table where people who want to play multiplayer shooters like COD: Ghosts or Battlefield 4 can play together with a LAN connection. I actually never seen that in a video game room of a convention yet, pretty impressive. 

Although there were some setbacks to note. One setback though is that the convention center wasn't big enough. Some departments like Artist Alley, Registration, and autographs were located outside of the convention center in a hallway where other entrances to other Planet Hollywood shows were located. I find that to be inconvenient not only to the attendees but to those who wish to watch a show at the Planet Hollywood. I would recall our Dangan Ronpa gathering where we had it in the entrance of the Brittney Spears show. There were many people trying to go in and out of the show's location and it is a bother for everyone as the people from the gathering are trying to get shots of the cosplayers, not the people getting into the show. Also cell phones weren't working at the convention center. I would not be able to call, send texts, even check up on my email because I wouldn't get service at the con and so were my fellow blogmates. I would have to say to try to get a new location. There are many convention centers out on the strip and each resort has one. Otakon Vegas may be relocated to another resort in the strip (New York, New York, Bellagio, Caesar's, etc.). 

But what I really like about this convention is the people. The "locals" here in Las Vegas are really friendly people. In every gathering and panel that I would attend to, they are really awesome people to feel acquainted to.  And it's not just that. Everyone at the casinos and the malls are really friendly to tourists like us. But then again it might just be our cosplays. We are wearing things that not really a lot of people have seen but it's just amusing to see that they appreciate the cosplay I wear or that I'm here just for an anime convention. I am really liking the anime community here in Las Vegas. They really have given me a warm welcome here.  

To sum it all up, this was a very good start to Otakon Vegas. Everything from the Dealer's Hall to the panels looked great. Everyone had great cosplays to show. The guests of honor weren't bad and it looked like they had a great time at Las Vegas. I want to give a big thanks to Mary Elizabeth McGllyn and Richard Epcar for their time in our interview. Most importantly, the staff who organized a great con. Even if the attendance was about 2000 people, they still made the convention entertaining to my liking. I look forward to attending next year's Otakon Vegas and to see what they will have in store next year. 

Well that ends my fun at Las Vegas. But birthweek isn't over yet. Next week is another convention and it's all the way down in Southern California. I'm talking about Anime Los Angeles! The con tour isn't over yet apparently for me. But it's sayonara for another year to Otakon Vegas and it's on to LA from here! See you guys there! 

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