Saturday, August 30, 2008

OTAKON 2008, Artist's Alley, Commercialism, and Life after Weaboos:

Another Otakon has come and gone.

I’ve finally been able to reach a point where I believe I can give you an Otakon report that is only interesting because you, dear reader have already gourged on Otakon recaps to the point where you are looking for any last morsels of media to stuff in your face before the sugar rush wears off and you cant take another bite.

This year was markedly free of the type of licensing industry presence that had been seen at Otakons that had recently come before. This particular development was something that should be understood as inevitable regardless of the health of the industry. When one realizes that the presence of such corporate booths do nothing to recoup their high costs at a fan-event, as the dealers room of Otakon shall forever remain only a retail space and not a place to take major industrial steps forward. As happens at non-business conventions like Otakon and in the whole media industry itself, the major labels have passed on the burden of shouldering the costs of the home media market to the retailers because they have to. Even the big boys such as Funimation, and Bandai had retail partners there, handling product sales. The upshot of which, was that there were serious deals to be had, such as Funimation box sets for $30 (I picked up Tenchi and Shinchan), all of Cowboy Bebop for $40, and talking down the non-descript table people selling ADV titles to let the platinum Evangelion set go for $45 if you asked nicely.

I didn’t bother taking many photos. You wanna see photos? Go watch this.

Moving on to another phenomena of Otakon which is the Artist’s Alley; it is interesting to note that the dealers room has become slightly less of a hotbed of contention. The debate focuses around a point which seems to universally exist in the balance between the fandom and the people who create anime itself ...I mean make actual anime/manga for real, not you at home working on your flash for NG or you over there with the bloated deviant art account and drive full of crappy fanfics (that’s all of them). Billed as the “convention of the Otaku generation” sadly most of that actual generation no longer attends and the event has been overrun with “the weaboo generation.” If there is anything that is endemic of the latter, it is an unmistakable cone of ignorance they carry of how the world works, stemming from a terrible combination of youth and social maladjustment. Nowhere is the juxtaposition of these two groups more easily observed than in the Otakon Artist’s Alley. The weaboo misconception is that that this is going to be like comiket and the internet level of lax rules of intellectual property where it’s ok so long as a C&D doesn’t get sent apply, and there is plenty of modest profiting from sales of art made by people who are copying the work and designs of other people. The idiocy of the younger (and less talented) generation’s argument that their wholesale offerings of character goods which earn creators no royalties is ok to do at Otakon because it’s legal in Japan, can be summed up by this following example of “what’s legal in Japan”: In Japan I can bang a 16 year old schoolgirl and her twin sister in the family TV room while chowing down on dolphin meat and wiping my forehead with used panties from a vending machine, then spend the rest of the night at a cockfight drinking beer in public (also from a vending machine).

Now if you are one of the 3 people who read this blog and have never been to the Otakon Artist’s Alley, it is quite large and the space it occupies is bigger than most convention dealer’s rooms and in some cases bigger than entire conventions themselves. Their ability to compete with the dealer’s room is a genuine concern of actual retailers, who are held to higher standards when it comes to the legal status of what they sell to the public, and who pay a lot more for a table ta'boot. Vendors have a valid concern when it comes for arguing for fair play against a room full of other people selling character goods for a cheaper price at tables which are a fraction of the cost of dealer space. And herein doth approach the grey area of enormous magnitude, contained within the simple question “what is art” or in this case “what is fan-art, and can is it ok for it to be a commercial product?”

I always spend more in Artist’s Alley than the dealer’s room, but I spend it on original art, not works of commercial characters that the artist didn’t create on their own. To buy unlicensed character goods assumes that the industry and original artists are in such good economic shape, that this kind of sub-market can exist without hurting the whole system, which is simply not the case. Art is art, but just because you drew a great picture of a character you have nothing to do with (other than you like it) is not valid entitlement to sell that as a commercial product. The right to create is not the right to sell. It’s great to be a fan and want to own things of the characters you identify with (or think are hot) but to sell such items on any scale other than single commissions, is like a cosplayer asking for a dollar for every photo taken of them, and that dear readers is a dick move.

There are many who disagree with this and think that all should be fair game in this situation and if the artists want to sell home made unlicensed commercial products at the highest possible turnover then they should be allowed that because not only is that allowed in Japan, but as true fans, their love for the anime and the characters makes what they do more genuine. That is not true, since nothing says “love” like a royalty check, just ask an actual manga-ka, or seiyuu, or director, or producer, animator, studio, composer, HR director at an anime company, or a cashier at the Osaka Animate store.

And that’s how we solved the mystery of the butthurt weaboos.

Other things that happened at Otakon was that the Ninja Consultants had their wits about them enough to have the great idea of recording the mother of all anime podcast episodes in their convention hotel room at 1am Sat/Sun, with a rouges gallery of podcast people who’s names I can’t really remember completely, but it went something like 2 thirds of AWO, the big guy from Fast Karate, the guy who sounds like a chick from R5central, MT, some teenager, and I think I was there. There was also a guy outside who went to a wedding but then got hit for no reason and the police came. FYI when you listen to that please keep in mind that some tequila was involved. Pics or it didn’t happen? Here’s the string-bean saying something I am sure he thinks is important.

This year didn’t seem to have as much of a swell of energy to it. It didn’t seem to have the energy of growth to it, and that may be in no small part a result of the former major players in the game all falling out of the picture. Say what you will and my previous post not withstanding, ADV is probably outta here. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing but it actually seems that there were slightly less cosplayers as well.

In addition Otakon once again showed that it really is run by fans for fans, as the press office failed to deliver on just about everything we were after, and I became aware of this lack of competence quite a bit too late, so あ!PoN will not be having any episodes filmed at Otakon, even though we went down with a full set of gear. Fear not however, since we did have a long sit-down with director Satoshi Kon (preview here), and we’ll be talking to plenty of people at the (better run but more commercial) NYAF. Next year we’ll also be at the Tokyo Anime Fair so look forward to that also.

So is this going to be the very start of the sucking sound made the vacuum created by the rapid departure of the weaboo flood that will soon find something else to gravitate to now that the anime industry is going to have a hard time “giving the people what they want?” Honestly it is possible, but what is also (more) possible is the sustaining of at least a higher plateau, and as Katrina 2 gets ready to kick New Orleans in the still-sore nads, and we’re about a week from having Sarah Palin’s fake pregnancy explode all over CNN, one must continuously remind themselves that Executive management in just about any field has an unlimited potential to bumble their way into an unending forest of epic fail.

See you next Otakon.