This past weekend, Otakorp, Inc. had extended their reach out to Las Vegas. Hosted at Planet Hollywood’s mezzanine level, the three day event included the usual programs that seasoned Otakon members have grown accustomed to (and yearn for repeatedly). However, we all know Otakon for its capability to amaze us each and every year. That said, some of the highlights this weekend included Funimation’s world premiere of Space Dandy, Destination DC’s sumo exhibition with Byambajav Ulmabayaryn and Kelly Gneiting, a highly in-depth scripting and storyboarding workshop as well as a whole suite of industry and fan panels.
In the past, I’ve stressed using the Guidebook app as well as the paper program. For this go, I have to say the custom mobile solution from KitApps, Inc was tremendously helpful along with the schedule screened on an LCD TV near the entrance. Also navigation was a breeze with Planet Hollywood’s convention center layout. I don’t know if its personal preference or the overall layout of the Vegas specific app, but it certainly provided a pleasant user experience. The caveat is you would have to download the app prior to entering Planet Hollywood as reception was poor indoors.
For this inaugural Vegas con, yours truly kicked off the weekend by attending the opening ceremony. Convention Chairman Terry Chu, Associate Con Chair Jennifer Piro and Otakorp, Inc. President Andrew Earnhardt gave us a run down as to why a west coast expansion made sense, what to expect and of course wished us a great time at the very first Otakon Vegas . The mic was turned over to Guest Relations Director Jim Vowles, who introduced each of the thirteen guests including Masahiro Ando, Riichiro Inagaki, Sayaka Sasaki, Kaworu Kurosaki, Fred Schodt, Richard Epcar, Ellyn Stern, Jamie Marchi, Ian Sinclair, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Zach Bolton, World class sumo champions Byambajav Ulmabayaryn and Kelly Gneiting were en route at the time.
Following the opening ceremony, with several swipes (and taps for reminders) on the app, I had planned out my weekend excursion starting with American translator, writer and intepreter Fred Schodt’s “Astroboy, Forever” panel. I have always been a bit of a Tezuka and Miyazaki fanboy, but after the ninety minute long program, it was hard not to fully appreciate how far ahead of time the Godfather of manga and anime was. Astroboy, once known as the Mighty Atom, was incepted as a manga character in 1951, became an animated series, live action and full feature animated movie. One interesting tidbit was finding out that Astroboy has served as inspiration to modern anime, manga and even robotics including Honda’s Asimo. I’m sure all attendees left with a deeper appreciation with the mangaka’s approach towards ecological preservation and how he “casted” his characters as if they were principal actors in a play.
Next up on the agenda was a quick stroll next door to Panel 2 where Weekly Shonen Jump manga writer, Riichiro Inagaki of Eyeshield 21 fame would talk about how the American Football one shot (a manga’s version of a pilot) evolved into thirty-seven volumes and an anime series. In 2012, Eyeshield 21 was an accidental discovery, but easily became my favorite one hundred plus episode anime series (right next to Monster). So it was a great pleasure to hear the man speak about the series, its development and answering many undying questions about a manga-ka’s lifestyle as well as the origin of the Deimon Devil Bats logo. While there was a bit of technical difficulties earlier in the panel, Inagaki was able to cleverly cover the Vegas arc in the manga series.
For the inception of Otakon Vegas, I felt it was a must to attend things missed out on previous cons. With the opening ceremony out of the way, two other programs really enticed me. One would be the “Art of Scripting and Storyboarding” workshop as well as the demo and sumo match hosted by Destination DC. With the scripting and storyboarding workshop, attendees were treated to information overload from all stars Masahiro Ando (director of Blast of Tempest, Canaan, Cowboy Bebop, etc), Riichiro Inagaki and novelist Kaworu Kurosaki. While Ms. Kurosaki discussed how her husband, Nobuhiro Watsuki, approached creating the storyboard, Inagaki would stress the importance of character eyes and placement of character and environment in the cells. Ando’s portion of the presentation was highly technical with shortcut terms such as the “box (frame)”, “q.tb (quick trackback)” and “SL+TU+FO (slide, track up and fade out).” As an added bonus, Kurosaki san, Inagaki san and Ando san prepared a three way collaboration project for attendees only. I can’t go into details due to the speakers request, but can say the visit to this workshop was well worth the trip out to Vegas.
DC Destination’s sumo exhibition, demo and match was the other highly anticipated program of the weekend. This falls under the category of Otakorp testing out new ideas and I have to say with a packed room, it was a well received experiment. USA Sumo champions Byambajav Ulmabayaryn and Kelly Gneiting demonstrated legal, illegal moves as well as competed in five matches. Further surprising viewers, USA Sumo’s founder and announcer of the event, Andrew Freund, invited guests to compete against the two champions. Neither age, gender nor physical stature mattered as excited contenders ranged from Otakorp’s press relations head Victor Albisharat, Anime News Networks columnist Mike Toole, an attendee cosplaying as vocaloid Hatsune Miku and a few other younger participants.
No Otakon is complete without seeing a world premiere, a few shows/movies as well as sporadic visits to the artist alley and dealer room. That said, Funimation’s world premiere of Space Dandy was the talk of the con and Makoto Shinkai’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices were high priorities on my list as well as the first four episodes of Ranma 1/2. As a side note, Space Dandy most excellent adventure is amazingly humorous, packed with witty lines and beautifully animated by Studio Bones. In a way the hero, Dandy, vaguely reminds me of Cobra the Space Pirate, except Cobra doesn’t sport a varsity jacket and pyschobilly pompadour.
As an attempt to broaden their reach and provide outstanding Far East culture related programming, Otakorp, Inc. has succeeded with Otakon Vegas as a “First year Con” and I look forward to attending many more in the future. Otakon Vegas 2015 will take place again at Planet Hollywood on January 16 to 18.