Sakura-con 2009

As Japanese guest liaison, I'm usually fairly aware of the work of my assigned guest. But in the case of Koichi Ohata unfortunately I had not really seen much of his work. So earlier in the week I rented some of his titles from Scarecrow Video. Perhaps (unfairly) many of his anime are seen as crude, ultra-violent garbage. Admittedly, I fell asleep a few times watching M.D. Geist, mostly due to being tired from a weekend of skiing, but I really respect his vision, especially at the start of his career. The way anime was done (but perhaps more so today) was to build a story around sympathetic, conflicted main characters (Gundam) but Geist in M.D. Geist (as an example) was so badass he was anything but a nice guy: He sets off a doomsday device which releases a horde of robotic monsters, programmed to destroy civilization, just so he could have something to fight.

Thursday, the day before the convention: I was asked to pick up Nadesico (from Kent/Covington) and drive her to the convention. Apparently, she expected (same as last year) to be picked up by somebody doing an airport run, although that'd still take somebody about an hour out of the way. "Why am I doing this?" I find out in the car she's unfamiliar with Yoshitoshi Abe, who she's liaison for. I also hear she was up until 3AM watching anime "for free" off the Internet, since she "can't stop watching." Oh, she wants to work more days, since she's working one day a week teaching Japanese, but she can't find work. Etc. I'm not put in a great mood by this and the traffic and worrying about where to park tonight.

Then finally arriving in for the relations meeting, I find out Ohata's not coming. He was unable to attend due to a medical emergency, specifically a serious digestive malfunction (appendicitis?). Thus, reassignments are made. I get ABe ("ah-bey"), though shared with Dylan (as panel translator) and Michiko as first-year co-staff. As ABe's bringing his girlfriend (or wife? not sure), I figure it will work out fine. (Also at the last minute, I hear Rick (last name?) is actually coming but Masaki and Chiho could not.)

In terms of organization, I feel pretty good already. All our badges are prepared, schedules are good and are well planned, our Nextel phones seem set up properly, etc. Most of the guests had arrived earlier in the day and thus the only thing I had to do was have fun and introduce myself to ABe at the dinner tonight. Oh, we do have to discuss plans for the following three, four days but we're doing the usual: Pike Place Market, Sci-Fi Museum, Boeing Museum of Flight, Underground Tour, eating oysters, etc. There was talk of whale watching but with the cold and rainy weather didn't seem like a good idea.

The "industry" dinner at Julian's was similar to the past few years, though this year more than in other years we had Japanese food, or at least good approximations of traditional dishes in cocktail party format. E.g. ramen in a mug, okonomiyaki on a small plate, tiny dishes of mackerel, curry tofu, mini creme brulees with ginger and cupcakes with matcha icing.) There was a full bar and plenty of tea, coffee and whatnot as well.

Post dinner, traditionally, we spend the night visiting supermarkets, but after a quick stop at QFC for some snacks, we head back to the hotel.

Friday morning was the usual breakfast at Ruth's, a thankfully short opening ceremony. We made a run for Bruce Lee's grave on Capitol hill, in quite beautiful weather for visiting a cemetary. The garden for Lakeview Cemetary is quite nice as well as the view of the lake. Okamoto took plenty of pictures, had his picture taken with Bruce and so on until I wandered off. Then it was off to Dick's for some lunch. I'm never too excited about the food but it was at least food.

James dropped me and my guest off for shopping at Westlake Center and the local Bartell's Drug Store for Peeps, which apparently are known in Japan. (What did I have for lunch? Calorie Mate?) Then Press, then a Q&A panel and finally there was the Guest Reception–dinner. As well known as ABe is in the U.S., the panel room seemed a bit empty. I accidentally gave ABe some macaroni with crab meat, and he's allergic to crab and some shellfish, although all I recall him mentioning was octopus. (I should have asked about food allergies!)

Michiko and Dylan hung out for a bit while eating, but I stayed with ABe for quite awhile as nervous fans approached and asked for signatures and I helped translate whatever praise or questions they had. Michiko brough her laptop and had a sophisticated fortune telling program and was giving Yukari her fortune–same with ABe later. (The analysis tools looked similar to something my Dad had run for himself and us kids, although his was probably on an old IBM PC or Mac.) For all the secularism and humanism you see in Japan, fortune telling is big there: Aren't fortune tellers essentially people who tell you to not give up hope? Maybe many Japanese feel their lives are hopeless thus the appeal.

Following dinner, which went on until about 10PM, we headed over with Rick and some other guests to Ruth's Chris for drinks and snacks. ABe just wanted to "show up" but he stayed there until I left to see Smile.dk back at the convention.

I like Smile.dk's music, having listened to it through Internet radio over the years, but I wasn't sure how they would be live. A few local DJs preceded them and around 11:30PM they came out. Para-para dancers showed up for one number. I was a bit confused over the sound quality and I thought maybe Sakura-con screwed it up again… Turns out a couple of volunteers weren't doing things quite right, so I heard the following days.

Unfortunately, in any volunteer organization you get a lot of not-so-great staff–including me?–that are scouted by friends and remain in their position although they aren't great, but simply willing. Looking at the "Souvenier Program Guide", it's not well edited (typos galore), it's not consistently typeset, and photos and content look bad (too dark, scaled wrong, lack of transparency.) Some text pages were done in raster and scaled. Most highschool student newspapers would have fewer errors.

Saturday: Late breakfast. Dylan and Michiko were at breakfast with ABe. Michiko's also assigned, which is okay but I found that with Rick, Dylan to some extent, Michiko, and myself, it was a little too many people sharing responsibility of their welfare. I guess because my guest was sick, we'd have to deal with too many staff. Hitomi and Okamoto were getting along just fine and I was a little jealous of their relationship.

We basically had the morning free for walking around the Seattle Art Museum and later in the day we'd meet up and do the Seattle Underground Tour. ABe was really, really into taking pictures of alleyways and dark places underground: He draws a lot of beautiful but sad comics. He was always lagging behind the rest of the group, but luckily for him was not locked underground. Fascinating were the glass pieces set into the sidewalk, and in particular where there was enough light and dripping water to feed a few ferns and moss on a wall.

Evening panels: Nothing too revealing here. One interesting point was an artist like ABe has difficultly drawing his character designs so that they can animate (e.g. transition between profile and frontal angles for a face) and be consistent frame-to-frame. There's also trade-offs for level of detail when going from illustration to animation. ABe had also been experimenting with 3D cell-shading for a dojinshi character, for a new show, but still in an experimental stage.

He's been working character designs for a game for the Wii where you're a policeman (or woman) who gets shot in the line of duty and as you die, you're supposed to use the Wii controller to die as "cool" and "interestingly" as possible. As you chase the bad guy, you earn "coolness" along the way, which you "spend" during your death sequence. The goal is to accumulate as many points as possible as 12 policemen die.

Nightime: Rick make reservations at Elliot's Oyster House. Lots of good food and a bit better than I remembered. Plenty of oysters and bottles of wine, as chosen by Rick. King crab was amazing. Hitomi got some complicated salmon dish, but salmon doesn't really work too well with complicated toppings.

Later: Sakura-con operated an open bar ("Green Room") in a conference room upstairs. Similar to last year's but we actually had to pay the hotel to run it. No sign of ABe or his girl, but guest relations folk came as well as some of the bands. Didn't really talk to many people but other relations people. I'm not that outgoing. Oh, I did wear my "Sukebe Representative" tasuki (banner). Lots of silliness and affection for my fellow staffers. The banner was passed around. "Ai-chan" wore it but then later ripped it; she's a surly drunk. Come to think of it, not drunk she's fairly surly too.

Sunday: Later breakfast, followed by "How to Write an Anime." Apparently some kiddies still think they can write their own anime and have somebody in Japan animate it for them. No. It costs about $100,000 for an episode, and probably about 2-3 million to produce a season. Given the amount of shows and competition, it's hard to imagine anybody making much money at all doing anime. Still, one can create cheaper shows using Flash, as Okamoto had created this:

Since the staff couldn't provide Internet or a region free DVD, I brought in my laptop and I helped with Okamoto's panel, which was on mecha design, which he's been doing since even before Transformers. Basically, we showed these videos:

They don't make opening music like this much anymore.

Note the music was done by Joe Hisaishi, who did the music for many Ghibli-Miyazaki movies.

The last of these is "live action" but he also works on designs for live action shows, which do use a lot of transforming robots and rubber monsters.

Following the panel was a QA for Hangy & Angry, who I saw briefly rehearsing without their fancy hair and clothes. Not my cup of tea, really. The panel staff wanted to use my laptop to show a promotional video, so I stuck it out. My laptop wasn't really working well with their burned DVD, but so be it, and unsurprisingly it skipped a whole lot. Oh, lots of chaos with those trying to get autographs. There was an obligatory producer/manager Japanese lady who translated Hangry or Angry at the panel, but managers are usually poor at translation but are arrogant to do it anyway. I often wonder why not just have Alyna do it all, because those two weren't that hard to translate. Anyway, there were two lines, one for those who had merchandise tickets, and many of those people ended up in the wrong line, or visa versa. I left soon after.

Closing ceremonies was going on, but instead I went to the charity auction. I usually spend a few hundred or more on stuff and usually the good stuff's last. Lots of stupid items still. Some of the nicest illustrations ABe brought in and signed and sketched on were just "thrown in" with big ticket items, preventing me from getting my hands on them. Still, I found one item I knew Hitomi would love to have and bid it up to $450. Apparently Okamoto really was responsible for the original armor designs for Hitomi's favorite show, Samurai Troopers, and it was a sketch of the main character, who she loved.

I wasn't sure what her reaction was: Either she'd think me stupid for spending that kind of money for a sketch, or she'd be plesantly surprised. But actually she was so happy that she cried tears of joy and hugged me in front of a lot of people, which was a reaction I had never experienced from her. She cried in the Green Room in front of everyone and I brought out the Naruto tissues and she looked like hell. Money well spent, but I suspected this wouldn't last: She would start being annoyed at me again real soon.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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2 Responses to Sakura-con 2009

  1. Dancho says:

    Just responding to your thought on the issue you mentioned about drive to Convington. I really like to apologize about the mess this has caused. While I was obviously in the situation at the time (handling multiple things at airport) I should have considered more thoughtfully before I ask you to do this. I underestimated magnitude of effort this required.But thank you very much for taking the request. And I promise, this won't happen again in future.

  2. genman says:

    One obvious solution would have been to take the bus, which according to the trip planner would been a 1:30 ride.But maybe it's just about driving somebody I don't really get along with… 😉

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