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Avatar: the Last Airbender

[META] Thoughts on AnimeExpo

After eleven years of being an anime fan, I finally made it to Anime Expo, the biggest anime convention in the United States, held in Los Angeles, California, this past weekend. I’m a veteran of Otakon, the second-largest anime convention in this country; I’ve actually blogged about that con for this Symposium before. I went to Anime Expo (which this year was co-located with the X Games, for some amusing convention center logistics) to co-present our article “Even a monkey can understand fan activism” in the convention’s academic track with my friend Alex Leavitt. Perhaps inevitably, wandering around AX led me to compare the two, although the last anime con I’ve attended was actually Otakon 2010 two years ago. AX has long had the reputation of being the “industry” con to Otakon’s “fan” atmosphere, and I found that to be largely true – compared to Otakon, there didn’t seem to be quite as much cosplay (though there was a lot of it, and a lot of it very good), and the panels were mostly put on by anime- and manga-related companies and people involved with them, perhaps neatly symbolized by the fact that our badges put us down in the “industry” category and staff kept offering to let us jump the massive queues for panels. One of the people I was hanging out with asked me at one point whether I’d seen anything truly mind-blowing at the con, and I was hard put to it to think of an answer. In the United States as well as in Japan, it seems, this has been something of a fallow year in the production cycle for anime and manga. But the overarching lesson I drew from AX, actually, was the realization that anime/manga fandom doesn’t need the industry. This might sound counter-intuitive, since over the last four to five years the bottom has basically dropped out of both the anime and manga industries in the United States, leaving only a handful of scrappy companies in near-monopoly positions after the exit of some of the scene’s former titans. But this winnowing has left a lot of empty space for innovative partnerships across platforms (such as those Tokyopop has put together to continue publishing Hetalia, or that Fakku.net is putting together to publish hentai manga in print), and it will be interesting, to say the least, to see in what directions these partnerships develop in the future. In particular, I’m glad to see companies beginning to finally harness the full power of digital content delivery tools. (Although I have to admit I thought it was more than a bit rich for Stu Levy of Tokypop to cite “piracy” as one of the causes of his company’s recent near-death experience, since I know for a fact that Tokyopop routinely relied on scanlation groups to pick out new titles to license.) More than that, however, my pilgrimage to AX taught me that anime and manga fandom is not only alive but doing well, well enough that members of a Christian group (I don’t know which one) took it upon themselves to protest outside and pray for the souls of the sinners for the convention’s first three days. In all seriousness, though, when I went to Otakon two years ago I was a little taken aback at how thoroughly it had been transformed into a subcultural convention rather than a convention for just anime and manga. AX has not been transformed to any similar extent, although I did see one or two people cosplaying as raver-style Pikachus, and the number of Homestuck, My Little Ponies, and Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra cosplayers was quite remarkable. This seems to me to reflect not only a broadening of the fanbase of anime and manga, but also the new strength and richness of the American animation scene. I found myself telling someone at a party several weeks ago that I didn’t think that it would have been possible for Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko to create the show that they did in A:TLA, which wears its Asian-American storytelling colors with all pride and also is remarkable for the number and variety of its strong female characters (a trend epitomized in the fact that the eponymous protagonist of Korra, the current Avatar, is also a girl), if it weren’t for the success of anime, and realizing that I believed it wholeheartedly. Similarly, I can think of several newer authors of SFF who are obviously anime-influenced (N.K. Jemisin most prominent among them), and I know for a fact that a lot of manga fans have become enthusiastic Homestuck readers. I don’t know that all those bronies would be such enthusiastic Pony fans if shows like Sailor Moon, Utena and Powerpuff Girls hadn’t proven that girls could be awesome a long time ago, either. In a way these developments make me feel better about the disappearance of Japanese-language manga from the AX and Otakon dealers’ rooms of now compared with those of the early ‘Naughts. It’s a lot easier to get manga in multiple languages now than it was then (I can take a bus to Kinokuniya, for example), anyway, and in any event, I’ll gladly trade shifting merchandise availability for the broader influence that anime is beginning to have, and for its broader availability. Now if only Japan could put out some truly stellar shows again. Well, in the meantime, at least there’s Evangelion 3.0.

[ADMIN] The joy of loopholes

Last year, Andrea Horbinski wrote a self-introduction post here that started out like this: There’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in an apartment in Kyoto, Japan, as I write this post. Three and a half years ago, on a Fulbright Fellowship to Doshisha University in Kyoto, faced with a lot of free time and nothing in particular with which to fill it other than reading manga, biking around the city, and searching for interesting things on the internet, I fell (back) into fandom, and thence into the Organization for Transformative Works. I didn’t know it then, but that was a transformative moment for me. I suppose there’s a certain propriety to the fact that I’m sitting in a graduate student office at Doshisha University in Kyoto as I write my own self-introduction post. My road to Doshisha, and into the OTW, was completely separate from and unrelated to Andrea’s, but unfolded so similarly that I almost feel like I can point at her post and just skip my own introduction. She even likes the same titles I do. But I’ll take this opportunity to assert my individuality. I’m Nele Noppe, a Japanologist by trade, currently in the middle of a PhD fellowship at a Belgian university but spending a few years in Japan to learn about doujin culture (doujinshi and related fanworks). My research compares how English-language and Japanese-language fandoms exchange works. More precisely, I’m interested in the architectures and circumstances of those exchanges: what technology is used, what the legal limitations are, what languages are used, what the involvement of non-fans is like, and how all that influences what sort of works are made. I’m endlessly intrigued by what happens when technology, law, and large groups of very determined and enthusiastic people collide. As for the fannish side of things, I grew up on Franco-Belgian comics, but the American Elfquest was my first really active fandom. After buying a Zetsuai 1989/BRONZE mook at a con, I tumbled into yaoi and never looked back. I spent my last years of high school poring over dearly-bought Japanese-language BRONZE and Kizuna tankobon with a tattered kanji dictionary in hand, and enrolled in a Japapanese Studies program as soon as I could. More than half of my fannish life was spent memorizing everything on Aestheticism, roving around the old Anime Web Turnpike, and chatting on Yahoo! mailing lists. LiveJournal, fanfiction.net, and other big fannish hubs only came onto my radar after I wandered into Harry Potter fandom sometime around 2006. Right now, I write, read and draw mostly about Avatar: the Last Airbender, and lurk in a variety of manga fandoms. Avatar is a good fandom to be in right now, and not just because the new series The Legend of Korra rocks and I found a bunch of people who share my tiny OTP. As mentioned above, the clash of technology, fans, and law fascinates me no end, and parts of Avatar fandom have been getting into some pretty interesting clashes lately. Take the neverending string of online leaks from the new series, from clips to whole episodes. At first it seems to have been an insider who was smuggling out clips, but once they stopped, others took over and started tricking Nickelodeon’s website into giving up upcoming episodes early. Unless I’m mistaken, last week’s episode 5 was the first one that managed to air without being preceded by any leaks whatsoever. And of course everything that was leaked or uploaded to the official site was immediately re-uploaded elsewhere so fans outside the US could access it as well. Leaving aside the dubious legality of everything that’s been going on around Korra, what strikes me the most about this ongoing situation is how utterly unprepared Nickelodeon turned out to be to keep the leaks from happening, and people from sharing them around. (Viewer numbers for Korra were fantastic, leaks or no leaks.) Amazon met with a similar fate. The first part of the Avatar tie-in comic The Promise was supposed to be published only this January, but it was circulating online by November last year. Amazon made the issue available for pre-order and enabled the “look inside” feature, which shows every visitor a couple of pages from any book. A bunch of Avatar fans descended on the site, saved the handful of pages each of them could see, and started putting their puzzle pieces together. Nearly the whole comic had been reconstructed on Tumblr before Amazon realized what was going on and put some brakes on “look inside”. (Sales for The Promise were fantastic as well.) This is the sort of creative loophole-exploiting that, to me, is typical of the interesting times we live in. Individuals have technologies at their fingertips that even large companies couldn’t dream of just a few decades ago – and apparently can’t really grasp the significance of even now. The laws that govern the use of those technologies are completely out of sync with what people can actually do, or think they should be allowed to do. And there are a lot of people working together all around the world in order to communicate better and route around whatever hurdles are in their fannish paths. I expect that I’ll spend most of my Symposium posts talking about those things, and often from a transcultural perspective, given my focus on doujin. I’m thrilled to be here and get a chance to learn from you all.