Monday, February 29, 2016

Ray Reports: Animation on Display 2016

Last year, I took a bye year from Animation on Display. This year I thought about swinging by, and the right circumstances led to my decision to attend after all.

Since I started attending, AoD has changed venue twice: from the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco's Japantown district to the Hyatt SFO in Burlingame off US 101 in 2014, and then to the Santa Clara Convention Center near Great America and Levi's Stadium this year. I was getting ready to be a little excited that AoD was finally growing by moving into a proper convention center rather than just a hotel, but as I'll explain soon enough, that wasn't exactly the case.

Still, I managed to squeeze whatever enjoyment I could from this year's iteration; the key was having a plan and sticking to it.

Day 1 / Saturday

When I arrived at the convention center, I was expecting AoD to take up a large portion of the convention center, much in the same way that Japan Expo USA did in 2013 when it utilized the main exhibitor's hall. As it would turn out, AoD was sharing the same facility as two other unrelated events, using two disconnected portions of the convention center. Definitely not the worst of venue usage, but it was not what I was expecting.

Conveniently, the registration counter was next to one of the side entrances into the 1st-floor portion of the convention space. As far as registration lines went, they stayed small throughout the weekend.

The first event I went to was the autograph session for seiyuu Yuu Asakawa, who you may know as the voice behind Sakaki of Azumanga Daioh, Rider from Fate/stay night, Luka Megurine from the VOCALOID music software series, amongst other roles. I was quite surprised to find her speaking in surprisingly good English; her interpreter seemed to be there mostly in case she had trouble with complex English expressions. After getting her to sign my Luka fanart book, she plugged a panel that she was hosting later today, though due to other obligations I didn't go.

Said other obligations were a shoot-em-up demonstration at 3:30 PM and a Tetris: The Grand Master demonstration at 4:30 PM, both of which had started half an hour late. The demonstrations took place on a streaming setup, with AoD having partnered with Twitch channel FinestKO to do the gaming streams. Said setup was on a stage with seating for interested viewers. The turnout remained mostly unchanged going into the STG stream, although some extra folks did show up for the Tetris stream. While I've known the players for a while, and have in fact played a few rounds of TGM with them previously, watching them, in person, play in front of an audience helped give me an idea for the difference between playing at home in private or in an arcade and playing for a large crowd of players with the possibility of making serious mistakes.

9 PM was the concert for Lotus Juice, a rapper best-known for his contributions to the soundtracks for Persona 3 and 4. Nate and I managed to secure front-row seats, not that it mattered too much as for most of the concert as LJ encouraged the audience to come up and dance in front of the stage. Of course, LJ didn't just perform tracks from P3 and 4, he saved those two for last; most of the songs he performed were original songs, as well as a special collaboration song with Raj Ramayya, another musician well-known for his songs in anime and video games, most notably Cowboy Bebop. Like Yuu Asakawa from earlier, LJ was surprisingly fluent in English (when I first heard "Mass Destruction" in Persona 3, I could've sworn the rapper was American and not Japanese), as if his songs weren't already of indiciation, and seemed to enjoy himself performing and interacting with his fans. I'll leave it to Nate to provide video footage and additional details about this concert and our experiences with it.

With the concert done, there wasn't really much else to do, so I turned in for the night.

Day 2 / Sunday

I didn't intend to do much on this day, and I didn't even cosplay.

I've been going to conventions since 2006, and going to them in cosplay in 2007. It feels so odd going to a convention and not cosplaying; that feeling of being virtually invisible is something that feels so strange when I spend nearly all of my time at a given convention wearing a costume. At the same time, I wasn't gonna be at the convention for long so I felt that taking the time to put on one wasn't necessary.

I attended one event on this day, the Yuu Asakawa Q&A. For her Q&A, as part of her efforts to study and improve her English skills, there was one condition for her: She could only answer questions in English, unless exceptions were made by the panel moderator; if she slipped into Japanese otherwise, she would have to briefly sing a Luka song.

Many of the questions concerned her aforementioned Rider and Luka roles, but also a lot of questions were about her studying of English; after all, it's rare for a seiyuu to take the time to step out of their comfort zone and learn a new language, and in fact these sorts of questions were the primary reason I came to the panel.

Some of the questions asked of her (paraphrased):

  • Q: What prompted her to learn English? What was the most difficult aspect of it?
    A: The seiyuu business 10 years ago was undergoing some dramatic changes, and she felt that she had to try something new, something to make herself stand out from other seiyuu. Being able to speak English would be a strong selling point for her, she believed--"I know English better than many other female seiyuu, you should pick me!" As for the most difficult aspects of English, while she is able to get help with speaking it in the US thanks to her fans and convention staff, finding an EN-JP interpreter in Japan is more difficult. Additionally, there are sounds in English that are not native to Japanese, such as "th" sounds (which often end up becoming 's' or 'z' sounds in Japanese).
  • Q: With Luka's sheer popularity, does Yuu ever feel jealous of her?
    A: She is jealous...of Miku.
  • Q: Now that she's pursuing freelance projects, is there still a possibility of her working with Type-Moon on the Fate series?
    A: As the voice of Rider, she is very much needed for any possible projects involving rider. If an actor's talents are sufficiently high, an agency will be willing to keep that particular actor around.
  • Q: For karaoke, what songs does she feel exhibits her skills the best?
    A: She doesn't really sing karaoke, but she does have to for work. After all, she has to pay to sing at a karaoke lounge, but she gets paid for singing for her work.
  • Q: Does she plan to attend Miku concerts in the United States?
    A: No, because they're not (primarily) Luka concerts.
  • Q: Has she ever considered cosplaying characters that she's voiced?
    A: She has, but then she'd face the problem of being compared to the actual characters, many of which are tall and have large breasts, and Yuu doesn't have either of those particular qualities.
After the Q&A session, we all gathered around to take photos with her and maybe talk with her a little more. Notably, the outfit she was wearing on this day was a dress modeled after the TARDIS from Doctor Who; seems like she's a fan of Western series.

With everything I intended to do at the convention done, I took off shortly afterwards.


I didn't really make it a huge point to have a full-fledged convention experience this time around; since AoD was close enough to my home this time around, and I was only interested in some specific events, I simply focused on enjoying myself at these events and get some enjoyment out of this convention; much more than if I just go to a convention "blind" and don't bother going to any events.

This is the first convention since 2012 where I did not do any sort of crossplay. It takes a lot of time to do so compared to putting on cosplay of male characters, and while it's fun to do, the prep time is just what sucks the fun out of me sometimes, so for Saturday I just went with something simple, and for Sunday I simply didn't cosplay at all since I just wanted to take it easy. In contrast to the feeling of standing out while in cosplay, I felt like little more than scenery, in both good ways and bad; I didn't have to worry about making sure my cosplay was on properly, but I also felt that it was harder to connect with people when not in a cosplay; after all, I've made many friends because of my cosplays. Mostly, I only skipped cosplay because at the moment I don't really have any good cosplays on hand, hopefully something that can change by Fanime or at least the NorCal Summer Cosplay Gathering.

Going to Yuu's Q&A panel was perhaps the highlight of my convention experience; it's quite uncommon to meet Japanese VAs who can speak in English as well, and many of the questions asked of her experiences studying and learning English provided some helpful insights on what it's probably like to study English as someone whose native language is Japanese. I was also interested in what she had to say about relationship with Luka and Vocaloid in general, and was surprised to see her express fairly positive thoughts about it;  there are things I could delve into regarding Vocaloids and the VAs who provide their voices, but this is all a topic for another day.

As for the logistical elements of the con, AoD felt like a small convention all over again. I like to think it's a decently-sized convention given that it's had to move at least once or twice due to increasing attendance, but having it in two small partitions of the convention center makes it feel like a small event. No word has been announced of where AoD will be held next, but if it comes back to the SCCC, I hope it can get a larger cut of the convention center to work with. I didn't spend much time interacting with staff, but most of that time was positive and there were no major issues this year. 

Will I come back next year? Possibly, if AoD once again offers programming and guests that catch my interest, and if it's in the same area once again. Because I have a particular goal in mind, both for this blog and for myself, one that takes place around this same time of year, but is on the East Coast...

But this report is about AoD and not other events, and so for now, this is Ray, signing off.

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