It was Fanime’s 25th Anniversary this year and the overall experience was… still really great. Aside from a nice art gallery showcasing memorabilia for years past and the “Silver Anniversary” tag plastered on banners and various memorabilia, there wasn’t a big emphasis on celebrating the occasion itself. Fanime 2019 was another awesome experience that was over way too quick for people like myself and John who came down on Thursday. There were issues, like a lacklustre anime music video competition, the expected round of technical glitches at panels (which, in fairness, were way down from last year), and that one staffer who wouldn’t let me into a panel early because he said all press members had to show up 15 minutes before for that kind of access. These were all minor problems and between the dealer’s hall, arcade, and (so many) panels I had no reason to go back and hang out in my room while the con was in full swing.
Now here’s where I attempt to explain why:
The Society For the Preservation of Gen One Pokemon
These guys, Max and Clayton (along with their buddy Andrew who showed up for a couple panels) were the frequently hilarious trolls who were behind the “Make Anime Great Again” panel I saw on the con’s last day in 2018. After seeing their schtick in action once -- which can best be described as seeing a shitpost unfold in real time -- I knew that I had to see what they were up to this year. I got plenty of chances to see them in action as they hosted a whopping SEVEN panels throughout the con. I went to six of them. The one I didn’t see, “We All Live in a Pokemon World,” was fortunately the least well-received of them from what I heard the two of them say later. So how’d the rest stack up?
Dubs Are Better Than Subs/Make Anime Great Again: They mentioned that these two panels were basically a set as they dealt with the reception of anime in America. Both shared the same history lesson as we learned that Pope Scrooge McDuck started the crusades in the 1200s which led to the “Crusader Rabbit” cartoons in the early 1900’s which in turn inspired Osamu Tezuka to create “Astro Boy” and anime. We also learned about how subtitling anime is a wasted endeavor since no one speaks Japanese, it promotes ableism, and is unfair to the illiterate (panelists). Much was also said about how there hasn’t been any good anime in the last decade, with the fault being down to the audience’s terrible taste in shows. If you really wanted to look, there were some valid points being made about fandom underneath all the trolling. I might only be saying this because of what John had to say about their flagship panel…
Fifth Gen Isn’t Pokemon: My Pokemon experience is limited to what I read on gaming sites and seeing “Detective Pikachu” a few weeks ago with my sister’s family. John, however, has much more experience with the games and from his time having to pay the “Pokemon Tax” for his family whenever a new set of games is released. I was entertained from seeing these guys riff off of the design comparisons they set up on their powerpoint presentation and taking “Pokemon” way too seriously in general. John assures me that there were some valid criticisms here about diminishing returns in design and gameplay, and I’m perfectly willing to take him at his word here.
Console Wars: Can these guys be serious? Not ever entirely, but this panel was a good showcase if you wanted to see them in action when they’re not focused on being living shitposts. This was a fairly straightforward history of the major console generations starting with the 70’s, where if you wanted to play a new game you had to buy a new console, up to the present day. I didn’t learn a whole lot new from this panel, but I still had fun because the guys put an entertainingly irreverent spin on much of the facts.
Sonic, An Unfortunate History: I was prepared for a solid hour of dunking on the Blue Blur. That wasn’t what I got, however. According to Max, the sole panelist here, his partner bailed on him earlier in the week for reasons. Max was set to focus on the Sega half of the story, and his partner was going to focus on the Sonic games themselves. So what we got was a good, if familiar, history lesson about how Sega of America stole Nintendo’s lunch money in the early 90’s and then promptly faceplanted after having to deal with Sega of Japan’s bad business decisions. Max did his best with winging things when it came to the games, and had a good running gag involving actual rose-tinted glasses. It’s just that the unfortunate history of Sonic games over the last decade should’ve been a perfect fit for his trollish nature and the end result was a missed opportunity.
Waluigi Time: This was the last panel I saw at this year’s con and it was appropriately nuts. Max and Clayton were hosting this time, and doing respectable Luigi and Waluigi cosplay for the occasion. Things started off in (relatively) sane fashion with a history of the character’s actual game appearances -- not so sure about their take on the character’s origin as a tennis racquet-wielding figure with glowing eyes from Shigeru Miyamoto’s dreams. Then we got into their plans for “Waluigi’s Master Matador,” which is set to be their masterpiece with programming from Jackie Chan and promotion involving Waluigi setting up an Italian restaurant in Portland that’s also a front for a Bolivian cocaine smuggling operation. It all makes sense in the end!
Fanime’s master of insults was back for another year of porn and presidential campaigns. In much better health too.
Cthulhu For President: Pena started things off by apologizing for last year. You see, he made the decision to go through with the panel even though he knew he was suffering from appendicitis. So he felt he was off his game and took off to the hospital immediately afterwards to have it taken out. If only we could all have excuses as good and justified as his for when we screw up. After that, he was back on form as Cthulhu’s campaign manager reiterating the cabinet -- now the the Night King serving as the head of the NEA -- and platform as outlined in years past. Even if there wasn’t much new there, Pena still managed to punctuate things with funny asides and the real fun in this panel is seeing him interact with the people brave enough to ask him a question. He got asked serious questions, most of which were answered in a fashion that involved the phrases, “Because we’re evil,” or “We’ll eat them.” Then there were the people who tried to be funny and failed, or just asked stupid questions. They got his glorious wrath and a button thrown off to the side for their trouble. Except for the guy who was cosplaying as a “Destiny” character and got a swift “Back of the line!” once that fact came out.
Hentai Music Videos: 10 Year Review: Pena also hosts the “Hentai Music Video” competition, which was moved off-site along with the rest of the hentai and yaoi to the 18+ Silver Island location at the Doubletree this year. I didn’t attend, but this was a great substitute. Pena told us a bit about the competition’s origins and how the first year not only had one entrant, but wasn’t even advertised in the guide. He also offered hentai DVDs to people who were able to get his trivia questions right, and scorn to those that annoyed him. The real attraction was the retrospective of winners from years past and they’re always great pervy fun. Best of all was his maniacal laughter after this particular group got trolled by the traditional closing video cockblock. It was truly the mark of a man who enjoys what he does.
Richard “MoNgR3L” Neil
MoNgR3L is a reliably entertaining presence at Fanime. Whenever John and I see his name in a panel listing we know we’re in for a good time. Unsurprisingly, that was true again this year too.
Lain: 20 Years of Present Day: MoNgR3L was joined by Bokusatchii (whose real name I forgot to take down) and Lawrence Eng, an otaku studies scholar who is also a big “Lain” fan, for a retrospective of this cult classic series. “Serial Experiments Lain” was an anime series, as well as a videogame, about the encroachment of digital technology on everyday life that actually got a lot of stuff right and holds up well today. I’d add that it’s also really goddamned weird in story and execution, but it’s the alluring kind of weird that encourages you to look closer at it. The three panelists didn’t have a specific course of discussion planned after recounting “Lain’s” origins as they brought up several discussion topics on their presentation and let the audience talk about what they wanted to. In some cases that might’ve been a recipe for disaster, except this group had plenty of good insights on the series and the panelists offered good commentary to keep things on track. Seeing this panel reminded me not only how much the series had to offer, but how much of it I had forgotten about. It’s time to give it a re-watch.
Anime’s Fiercest Females: This is either the third or fourth time I’ve seen this panel and it never gets old. The main reason for that is because MoNgR3L keeps changing the lineup each time. So this year he, and Bokusatchii, had an all-new set of fierce females to talk about. The lineup ranged from the mecha girls of “Symphogear” to the cross-dressing French noblewoman Lady Oscar from “Rose of Versailles,” to the “Battle Angel” herself Alita for the first time because MoNgR3L finally figured out how to edit together a family-friendly portrait of her strength. Best of all was the inclusion of Noa Izumi from “Patlabor.” Not just because I’m a huge “Patlabor” fan, but because the scene they chose to show off her capability was the excellent mecha fight at the end of the first movie where she has to get out of her labor and shoot the berserk one she’s fighting in the neck with her shotgun. That’s something else which is due for a re-watch too.
He’s another panelist that I found out about last year. As is the case with MoNgR3L I know I can expect good things from a panel he’s hosting.
In Defense of CG Anime: Using CG in anime has garnered a bad rap as of late and we got to see some footage from the recent “Berserk” series to see its biggest offender in action. With the bad established, he went on to show us good examples of the form from titles like “Ping Pong,” “Expelled From Paradise” and “Code Geass: Akito the Exiled.” I think that he proved his point by the end of the panel even if the answer was kind of simple. CG anime works best when it’s actually trying to look like 2D anime and has a director who knows what they’re doing when they’re using it.
Anime Goes to Hollywood: This was a fun look at Hollywood’s attempts to make live-action films out of anime over the years and the (almost always) results of that effort. We got to see legendary crap classics like “The Guyver” and “Fist of the North Star” in action, two different adaptations of “The Drifting Classroom,” “Gundam’s” first and so far only venture into live-action with “G-Savior” and the reputedly decent adaptation of “Crying Freeman.” Minto had more to talk about with the recent “Alita: Battle Angel” movie and the upcoming slate of live-action adaptations, but he wound up being really pressed for time and had to skim through most of it. Which was a shame because I wanted to hear more.
Make Mine Mecha/History of Lupin III: Both of these panels were done by a con panel group known as Scarlet Rhapsody with one of their members, Jared the Greek, doing most of the talking. They were both informative panels about their respective subjects: “Mecha” took us from the 70’s to the 00’s, touching upon the likes of “Mazinger Z,” “Gundam,” “Macross,” and “Evangelion” along the way with time for cult favorites like “Armored Trooper Votoms.” The “Lupin” panel was much the same only with a bigger focus on the favorite titles from Jared and his co-host. It was fun hearing them talk up the franchise and its history in light of both creator Monkey Punch’s passing earlier this year, and because of what I wound up seeing at the con…
Lupin the Third: Mystery of Mamo & Dead or Alive: I wound up seeing two different “Lupin” films from two very different eras. “Mamo” hails from ‘78 and was a strange film by any standard. In addition to having an opening where Lupin is caught and hanged only for the next scene to involve Inspector Zenigata tracking the thief down to find him sleeping in a coffin in a very Dracula-esque castle, the plot revolved around this Mamo character who claimed to be immortal and responsible for all of human history. Things only get weirder from there. It’s not what you’d expect from a “Lupin” movie yet only manages to be entertaining in a “What the hell did I just watch?” kind of way.
“Dead or Alive” was a lot closer to what I expect from a “Lupin” movie as it has Lupin, Jigen and Goemon trying to get their hands on a treasure from a country that was recently taken over by its military. Fujiko is here too and she’s working her own angle along the way. The plot involves nanomachines, a dead prince, the woman who loved him and is now out to get Lupin, and one of the dumbest “killer’s not dead” scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s still familiar high-energy fun and it gets bonus points for being one of the rare “Lupin” movies where it looks like Zenigata actually knows what he’s doing.
Video Game Conspiracy Theories/Anime Conspiracy Theories: Surprisingly these panels were hosted by different people… or were they they same people and that’s just what they wanted everyone who came to see them to think?! We may never know, but at least there was some fun confusion to be had with the many theories on display here. The mysteries of whether or not Giygas was a fetus when you defeated him in “Earthbound,” what was in Donald Love’s briefcase in “Grand Theft Auto III,” are you exploring the afterlife in “Animal Crossing,” and is that guy who encourages you in “Pokemon” actually your dad were all addressed. Points to the panelist for providing good examples as to how all of these theories got started. The anime theories were a bit more on the comedic side with thoughts about what the purpose of the “Grand Sponsor” was, how it had ensnared Rumiko Takahashi in its grasp, and what was with all of the oni in anime these days. Fun stuff overall.
The History of Anime Tropes: Does exactly what it says on the tin. This was an informative history about many of the familiar tropes in anime from tsunderes, beach episodes, author self-inserts, and more. Even if it felt like a good portion of the panel was cribbed from TV Tropes, the panelist still found a way to put her own spin on things and inject some clever asides in her presentation along the way.
Anime Villain Appreciation: Our panelists were a three-man group called Blacker Than Black Times Infinity and they had no problems showing us some love for the bad guys. Even when they’re responsible for one of the most infamous anime endings of all time, as was the case when one of them praised Griffith’s ambition and selfishness in “Berserk.” He also had lots of praise for another ambitious villain, Dio Brando, from “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” while his fellow panelists showed some appreciation to more recent villains like Stain from “My Hero Academia,” and Princess Malty from “Rising of the Shield Hero.” It was an entertaining presentation from the three panelists even though they had to contend with one of the worst villains you can encounter while on a panel: A powerpoint presentation that doesn’t want to cooperate with you!
Q&A With the Completionist: This was the only Guest of Honor panel I went to at the con -- in retrospect I should’ve gone to the Toshihiro Kawamoto career spotlight after how the AMV contest turned out -- and it was also one that I came late to. Once I started taking it in, I found a YouTube personality whose videos I’d have to check out when I got home. Jirard “The Completionist” Khalil makes it his business to 100% the games he comes across and he had plenty to offer all of the fans who came to ask him questions. From the games that he’s tried to complete yet never been able to (“Skyrim”) to what it’s like working with Nintendo (and being able to interview Shigeru Miyamoto twice), to how to avoid getting your video demonetized by YouTube, it was an entertaining and informative Q&A session all around.
That was my con! I had a great time and got some enjoyment out of every panel I went to. After writing them all up here, however, maybe I should consider spending more time in the dealer’s hall, arcade, or one of the film rooms next year…