Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Animated Reviews: ShutoCon

I have sort of a love-hate relationship with anime cons. On the one hand: I've been watching Godzilla movies and anime since the early 1970's when all they had on t.v. was reruns of "Speed Racer" and the first runs of "Battle of the Planets" and "Star Blazers". So anime has been a large part of my life throughout my entire life. On the other hand, "cosplay" kind of creeps me out. Being at a convention to meet a voice actor who's work you have admired for decades while teenage kids wearing extremely revealing costumes are bouncing around you, acting in character, is a really uncomfortable situation for a middle-aged man to be in. Occasionally, you'll meet some kid or college-age student who is a little more mature than the rest and can hold up their end of a decent conversation. But most times, it just leaves you feeling icky when you realize that the attractive girl wearing the bikini top and hot pants, who just asked you why you're not in costume, is actually young enough to be your daughter. And as the months move from Spring to Summer, and the temperature rises with the seasons, the costumes get more revealing and I get more and more uncomfortable. As it takes place in June, I go through a lot of soul-searching before making the decision of whether or not I should attend JAFAX.

'Pinkie Pie' 1
ShutoCon was a touch more more bearable this year than last. Even though the weather was warmer, it appears that 'My Little Pony' is now the big thing. Basically, the outfits are far less revealing when all you need is a monogrammed t-shirt and skirt paired up with a bright pink wig and a 'horsie-ear' headband.

It being the second year for ShutoCon, I was determined to ignore my social anxiety and attend the only "animation" convention in Lansing--and I use that term lightly, though not in a negative fashion mind you. ShutoCon caters to a wider audience then just the folks like me who are all about the art of Japanese animation. At this convention, you'll find a plethora of cosplayers, people who study the Japanese language, aficionados of the Gothic Lolita fashion, artists who create Japanese-inspired artwork, people who are interested in Japanese food and culture, as well as those who just want to do some shopping for Japanese-themed products.

'The Samurai' 2
Personally, fortune smiled on me in the dealers room as I found a long out-of-print DVD that I've been searching for since the mid-nineties. Yes, I could've picked it up for the same price (when you include shipping) from Amazon.com, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember the name. Sadly though, the dealer who was there last year with all the 6" Godzilla figures didn't have a booth at ShutoCon this year. Sometimes you're stuck going the Amazon.com route even when you want to support local businesses.

Sushi Charm
At the cons, I try to support local artists as well as local businesses and this year I found perhaps the cutest artist ever in my fifteen plus years of going to conventions. 'Tasty Peach Studios' is an artist working out of Indiana who creates cutesy little chibi-themed characters. As I stood there and felt the saccharine overdose starting to make my teeth hurt, I quickly bought a little sushi charm and walked away before the sugar coma fully set in. While I'm not really into the 'moe' scene, I have to admit that, if I had a daughter, I would be spending way too much money with Tasty Peach. As it is though, Christmas shopping for my sister's niece is going to be a lot easier this year! Her work is actually a pretty fascinating study of character design so I put a reminder in my notebook to chat her up at JAFAX and see how well her designs would make the translation to animation.

However, shopping wasn't the main reason for attending ShutoCon. As the convention organizers brought in two of the four voice actors that I suggested in 2011's "who should we get for next year" forum, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to have Richard Epcar and Mary McGlynn sign the 'Ghost in the Shell: Innocence' poster that Crispin Freeman autographed for me last month at Con Ja Nai.

Me and Richard 'Batou' Epcar
To put it plainly, Richard Epcar was the man. I'm not sure what ShutoCon paid him to appear at the convention, but they sure got their money's worth. For three days, he made himself available for several autograph sessions, gave multiple lectures and Q&A sessions, and was always ready to put his arm around a fan and pose for a photo while telling a funny story or giving career advice.

Over his sessions, Mr. Epcar covered a lot of ground including how to become a voice actor--not just for anime, but for animation in general--his career history, how he got into voice acting, and how he got into directing and screenwriting. Additionally, he ran a hilarious out-takes show for the 18+ crowd where it was one video clip after another of voice actors flubbing their lines or being silly and inventing their own lines. I especially enjoyed how he talked about recording the recent unabridged Doc. Savage audiobook 'White Eyes'--which I purchased from him for this year's twenty-hour roundtrip drive to the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Mary "Major Kusinagi" McGlynn
At one of the autograph sessions, I had a nice conversation with Mary McGlynn regarding our mutual enjoyment of 'Millennium Actress' and our sadness over the tragic death of Satoshi Kon. In addition to discussing her career and handing out advice, an accomplished singer, she even sang an accapella song from her upcoming album. Much like Mr. Epcar, Ms. McGlynn was all about the fans and was always ready to hand out advice, pose for a photo, or answer a question while rushing through the hall to her next session.

One thing I do regret though is not going to the rave. Luckily, since I was volunteering to check badges down the hall from the ballroom that night, I did get to hear some of the music at a level that wouldn't damage my hearing. A made a mental note to keep an eye on Greg's website for its relaunch and check it for upcoming performance dates. Given that I've already lost a small range of hearing due to some serious acts of stupidity at loud concerts during my younger years, I probably won't ever be front and center at a D.J. Ayers show in the future. But considering how much I enjoy electronica, I'd love to just hang out sometime, outside the main hall, and enjoy the music without having to bump into the sweaty little kids with glowsticks, dancing in the ballroom and making the same mistakes with their hearing that I made in the past.

Cons, better with friends. 3
In the end though, despite whatever anxiety I may feel over sharing anime cons with younger generations, I consider myself lucky to have been old enough to be a part of all but one major wave of anime hitting the shores of America. I wasn't there for Astro Boy and Tetsujin 28, but I've been around for and been a part of everything else since then. It almost makes up for having to suffer through a decade of bellbottoms and Disco.

Update 4/30/2012:
ShutoCon just got Greg Ayres's contract in the mail today. Looks like I'll have the chance to hear him jam at next year's rave after all!

1. Photograph copyright 2012, Paul Gordon.
2. Photograph courtesy of Amazon.com.
3. Photograph copyright 2012, John Collins of Weird Review.