Monday, October 24, 2022

Anime Weekend Atlanta 2022

Back in 1995 when we were preparing to cut the ribbon on our first Anime Weekend Atlanta, the expectation was that we'd have a fun little gathering of the local anime fans, and that would pretty much be it. We'd watch some videos, we'd buy some VHS tapes, we'd judge some costumes, and then we'd go home, and maybe we'd keep having one of these things every year, and maybe we wouldn't. Anime fandom was a niche of a niche, a subset of nerds clawing their way out from under a pile of Star Trek cons and comic book shows and gaming festivals, and the idea that Japanese animation would become not only a sizable chunk of the fandom world, but would claw its way into the highest echelons of popular culture - I speak of course of hip-hop themed Sprite ads - that idea was just wishful thinking. 

Vendors Hall at the first AWA

Well, wishes come true sometimes. In the 27 years since that first show, Japanese animation has boomed and busted and boomed again in North America, sending generations of cosplay kids, figure kings, and wanna-be influencers  to roam the halls of many a confused downtown convention center. AWA swelled into a swirling mass of fandom filling the parking lots and hotel availability of a variety of facilities, eventually winding up in the Cobb Galleria Center/Waverly complex, which, little did we suspect, would wind up being next door to the new Atlanta Braves stadium.

Crowds at AWA 2021

And of course nobody except science fiction writers and epidemiologists expected a new and deadly virus would sweep the world, shut down gatherings, close borders, and make 2020 a blank spot on the convention calendars of many a city. AWA was no exception and the convention took a year off to play with Zoom calls, experiment with online spaces, and figure out how things were going to work when things got back to working again. The 2021 show climbed that learning curve, and the unheard of Thursday crowds, the parking lot COVID tests, and the commendable masking discipline of the staff and attendees meant not only could AWA return to physical spaces, but that the crowds would also return. Once the dust settled and the convention was over, we'd find not one reported case of COVID coming out of AWA, which certainly seems, to me anyways, that a vax and mask mandate answers the questions many of us were having about how we were going to hold large events safely. 


AWA returns this week. Along with guests and musical acts and the vendors and Thursday's Super Happy Fun Sellers and cosplay and video games and tournaments, AWA's vax and mask mandate has also returned. Some 2022 conventions have dropped those guidelines, and unsurprisingly, some COVID came home from those conventions along with the attendees. This is not a great outcome, and I'm glad AWA is trying to avoid those outcomes by sticking with best practices this year.

 

What am I up to? Thursday is the big favorite of fans and collectors and bargain hunters, the Super Happy Fun Sell, a garage sale of pre-loved anime merch rescued from closets and crawlspaces. Bring cash.

 


Friday night at 11:30 it's time for Neil Nadelman to unleash Totally Lame Anime to wreck eyeballs and tickle funnybones with the lamest Japanese cartoons ever made. Neil is the guy who translated Chargeman Ken, so he knows of what he speaks. 

 


Either later that night or earlier the next morning, take your pick, it's time for Anime Hell at 1:00am Saturday. Can the wee hours stand the short-form video nonsense projected using state of the art equipment and featuring Japan or anime or hell or neither or all three? It's up to you to find out. 

 


Later Saturday morning at 10:30 I'll be presenting a presentation all about the Japanese animation of 1972, a year that turned what was then still called 'terebi manga' onto its ear, grabbed the steering wheel of the dominant paradigm, popped the animation clutch and told the world to eat its super robot bird ninja dust.

 



Sunday it's time for me and ANN writer Darius Washington to investigate the anime of forty years ago, the miracle year of 1982 when Japanese animation birthed worldwide franchise successes, international collaborations, fairy princesses, space pirates, transforming robots, and cellists. 

 


All this plus food trucks all weekend long! See you at either the 27th or 28th AWA, depending on how we're counting! 

 

-Dave M 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Annoying Adventures With The Tape Trading Taskforce

this column originally ran in 2003 at Mike Toole’s “Anime Jump” website, and has been amended with minor corrections, slight alterations, and additional annoyances. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

Back in the pre-DVD. pre-streaming era, when you had to swap stuff with strangers through the mail to get any kind of decent Japanese cartoons, brave nerd pioneers would find ourselves having to get too close for comfort to certain specimens of the genus “anime-fannus North Americanus.” These are but a few of the many tales that make up the warp and woof of the rich tapestry that is your anime nerd heritage, and they should serve both as amusing anecdotes and cautionary examples. 

actual anime VHS tapes received via the US Mail
 

Oh so many. The person who created his own home-made flyers for our anime convention and posted them around town. The guy who spent weeks arguing on BBS message boards about how Masamune Shirow invented manga as we know it and then tried to track us down at Project A-Kon to argue about it with us some more but got thrown out of the con due to the weed and bong he brought to the staff room he was crashing in. The letters about 60s cartoons that segued quickly into being letters about sex acts. But let’s focus on a few.

1.

Back when I was copying tapes for people through the Anime Hasshin tape traders list, a California fan got in touch with me with an aim to getting copies. He sent his list, I sent my list back, he replied with a large letter back commenting (negatively) on the contents of my tape list and asking why I didn’t make copies in 6-hour EP mode. I replied that (1) EP sucks in terms of video quality, and anyway, (2) they’re my VCRs and I’ll do with ‘em what I want.

lists of anime tapes in the collections of anime fans circa 1990

 

His reply letter more or less agreed with me, or at least admitted that we all have our own preferences. I figured I’d never hear from him again, Well, a week later a tape arrived in the mail from him, along with return postage and a request list that was almost exactly six hours long. A movie, two OVAs, some TV episodes, just cram it all on there, please.

I’m like, whatever. The tape goes on the pile of tapes to be copied. You see, at the time I was copying a lot of tapes from people both through the mail and right at home. I’d come home from the local anime club with a stack of blanks and a list of requests, and I spent a lot of time violating copyright law so Bob McBobbob and his pals could watch Project A-Ko or “Dirty Pair Does Dishes” at their leisure.

One week later, I get a long, pissed-off letter from the guy, asking where the hell his tape is, how dare I treat anime fans in this way, where do I get off behaving in such an obnoxious fashion, HE always makes sure HE gets HIS tapes done quickly, etc etc.


So this gets my full attention. What I do is I dig out my oldest, funkiest, top-loading 2-head VCR that only records in black and white. It was a Panasonic that suffered a drop onto a concrete landing after I tripped on some stairs while carrying it to a Saturday night let’s-copy-anime-and-eat-pizza gathering at a now demolished apartment complex at Lindbergh and Piedmont in Atlanta. I used this Panasonic as the recording deck. Every so often as I passed the machine I gave it a mighty smash with my hand or other suitable blunt instrument. Talk about hashtag VHS Artifacts! They got all six hours of anime, though. Was it watchable? I don’t know. I never heard from them again. 

 

meet you at Zesto's on Piedmont

 

2.

A few years later we were fan-subtitling Captain Harlock though the auspices of Corn Pone Flicks. A VHS, a SASE, and a request for episodes arrived, as per our guidelines. We put the Harlock episodes on the tape, which was placed into its already-stamped return envelope, and mailed back.

 


A month later the emails started – that tape never arrived. Which is a thing that happens sometimes. Mail gets lost. It’s a thing. What made this email special was the demand we replace and mail this person their replacement tape on our own dime. Because, as the email stated, we were running a business and as such had a responsibility to our customers. Since we were most definitely NOT running a business, we actually had NO such responsibility. By that time we’d learned just ignoring the kooks was the best plan of action, which is what we did to the increasingly angry emails that continued to arrive, eventually accusing Corn Pone Flicks of running an elaborate swindle, stealing blank VHS tapes from an unsuspecting public. The perfect crime!

3.

Speaking of copying tapes, it was the custom of the time for anime nerds such as myself to have lists of their available anime titles photocopied and available to send out, because it’s difficult to ask for tapes you don’t know exist. If you were a member of an anime club or two, you might have access to the anime lists of five, ten, twenty anime tape traders. You might not consider these lists themselves a valuable commodity, but a Pacific Northwest outfit known as Kinosei Anime thought otherwise! For a small fee of six dollars, they would send you the tape lists of fans and clubs who were willing to copy anime for strangers! I found out about Kinosei when I started getting letters from people who had acquired my name and address from them. And no, Kinosei Anime never asked permission to send anyone’s name, address, and list of tapes out to the world as part of their low-stakes unethical behavior game. I mean, it’s not a big deal – I’m sure this scheme netted them, what, thirty, forty bucks, max – but ask first, people.

"Dear Dave, I have sold your name and address to strangers. Do you have any Kimba The White Lion. Thanks, Jeff"

 

4.

So back in, like, 1989-1990, our phone rang. It was the operator, asking if I would accept the charges on a collect call from a person whom I didn’t know. I figured it had to be an emergency, or at least really important, so I said “yes”. BIG MISTAKE. The mystery caller is a guy who fished my name out of the C/FO Directory. He figured he’d call me collect and ask lots of questions about Japanese TV shows in general and the live-action superhero show Spectreman in particular. No emergency, no crisis, not even a very interesting conversation. Definitely not worth my dime or my time. 

a mystery with a name

He wanted to know this. He wanted to know that. He wanted me to mail him tapes. He wanted me to mail him fanzines. He wanted everything as free gifts from the goodness of my heart and the bottomlessness of my bank account, the extent of both having been greatly exaggerated somewhere down the line. I gathered from his rambling conversation that his caregivers wouldn’t let him call people unless it was collect, and they also wouldn’t give him any money for fanzines or tapes. So obviously, collect-calling to panhandle from strangers was his only option. I finally got off the phone without agreeing to send him anything. Sure, I should have just hung up on the guy, but I was raised to be polite.

the 1988 C/FO Membership Directory - personal information redacted
 

He called right back the next day. I refused the charges. He called back several times over the weekend. We refused the charges. About a year later he called AGAIN. I heard the operator ask if I’d accept the charges from this guy’s name, and I threw the phone across the room while hollering “NOOOOOO!!” in slow motion, just like the movies.

Found out later I wasn’t the only person to get the collect treatment. A pal of mine in South Carolina also got nailed, and at least one former C/FO generalissimo was on the receiving end of who became known as “The Collect Call Bandit.” My guess is that the guy was in some sort of managed care or group home situation and whenever he got a chance, he leaped to the nearest telephone and started collect-calling people like a maniac until the white coats could pry him loose and get that straitjacket back on him.

Anyway the moral of the story is never, ever accept collect calls from strangers. Those 1-800-Collect people are LYING TO YOU. Oh, and also, never let anyone print your home phone number anywhere.

 

don't do it

Of course, these days we’re deluged by scam calls and robocalls from duct cleaning services and extended warranty salesmen and important messages threatening imminent arrest from the IRS, Immigration or the Social Security Administration. Compared to all this, simply being desperate for Spectreman sounds downright wholesome.

5.

The hands down most annoying guy I ever swapped tapes with was a person I’m going to call named “Bert Ernieson.” He’s another someone I got in touch with via anime club trader lists. Where do I begin? His video lists were handwritten in barely legible pencil on three-hole lined notebook paper. These letters were typically five or six double sided pages filled with scores of trivial questions. Tape requests from Bert would be for odd, hard-to-dig-out titles – in the VHS days this meant fast forwarding to the middle of a tape to find the exact requested episode of Urusei Yatsura or whatever. Let me tell you after four or five tapes, all this cueing time adds up. His mail would include various right-wing pamphlets, for instance the famed, completely bogus urban legend alert about how a cabal of atheists, led by Madalyn Murray O'Hair herself, were going to get all religious programming banned from TV. This right-wing Christian material seemed at odds with some of the selections on Bert’s own tape list, which, to be fair, featured a lot of obscure anime titles, but also included hard-core triple-X American adult films.


But all that was just mildly annoying. Bert, however, took it to the next level. For one thing, he shipped EVERYTHING Media Mail® (Book Rate), the cheapest, slowest, most error-prone way to mail anything. Nothing could induce him to ship things first class, not even sending him the extra postage. Invariably he would use and re-use and re-re-re-use cheap, fiber-particle filled padded mailing envelopes. Items shipped thusly would wind up covered with tiny bits of paper and fiber. This might be OK for books. However, trying to play VHS tapes covered with tiny bits of paper and fiber will result in a VCR mechanism coated with tiny bits of paper and fiber. This is, shall we say, contraindicated by the operating manual.


And then we have the VHS tapes themselves. The tape trading custom of the time was that you’d buy brand new tapes and copy trade requests onto the brand new tapes. But Bert had another plan. He’d copy YOUR requests onto whatever tapes he happened to have lying around. Brand new from the store, or used over and over again, didn’t matter to Bert. Quality brands like Sony, TDK, Fuji or Maxell? Awful house-brand K-mart tapes or clearance bin rejects? It’s all videotape to Bert. He explained his method was to re-copy every incoming video onto 6-hour tapes, apparently to save space in his closet or dungeon or whereever. In practical terms, this meant every single movie or TV show you requested from him had already been transferred to one of his grab-bag mystery-brand video tapes, at a recording speed ensuring the worst possible audio and video quality.

Avoid these brands
 

This tape-recycling meant leftovers at the end of tapes, just in case you enjoy being surprised by, say,13th-generation English dubs of partial Cream Lemon episodes at the end of the super robot cartoon you were showing friends while parents were in the room. Try it, it’s embarrassing and fun! Or when you agree to swap three tapes, and he sends you four, the extra one full of unasked-for junk, just so he can say “hey, I sent you four tapes, now you owe me four tapes instead of the three we agreed on.”

And yet, I continued to swap tapes with him (there were a LOT of obscure titles in his Crawlspace Of Questions), until one day he tried to pull a fast one on a friend, let’s call this friend Lisa Black. He couldn’t or wouldn’t follow Lisa’s simple requests for “new tapes” and “no fiber mailers,” so she refused to copy any more tapes for him. In order to get around her embargo, he started to send her blanks under a different name, utilizing the concept of “sock puppets” before the internet was really even a thing.

I dunno. Maybe it WAS his cousin, like he said. I don’t care. Anyway, she saw through the ruse, because Bert wasn’t smart enough to change his distinctive ordering habits, or his distinctive handwriting. Around this time I happened to mention Lisa in a letter to Bert and his reply was that he was disappointed “I was still dealing with that Nazi, Lisa Black.” Well, I replied that I’d been trading with Lisa for 10 years, that she was, to the best of my knowledge, not an adherent of National Socialism, that she was one of the few truly decent people in a hobby full of obnoxious jerks, and that Bert and I were done swapping tapes. Goodbye to shitty copies of obscure robot anime, to ripped fiberpack mailers, to 4th class book rate, to letters full of questions and demands. Somehow, the anime fan world survived without these things.

 

Life moves on. A fandom of tape-swapping nerds evolves into a fandom of convention-going nerds. Anime became something we watched in theaters, bought at Best Buy, and eventually streamed on computers. Of course, annoying fans still exist, but their annoyances are new and exciting, in ways we could only have dreamed of back in the day. And let’s be honest, the truth is that for every jerk there were and are ten or twenty non-jerks; reasonable, friendly, generous anime fans ready to show up, help out, and bring snacks, fans who send surprises in the mail and bring gifts back from their Japan trips, fans who build friendships that survive decades. Without fandom, my life would have be considerably lonelier, be much less exciting, and would certainly be bereft of many Japanese cartoons and their related paraphernalia and accoutrements.

Yes, there are a few times when I’m exceptionally maudlin or temporarily addled, when I reminisce about the “good old days” of swapping tapes through the mail. Who doesn’t love to get packages in the mail? Those were exciting times, learning about a whole new art form and sharing that knowledge with anyone who’d sit still long enough. Certainly those tape-trading networks proved their worth, educating a continent and forging powerful bonds And yet, if the harsh modern world of the 21st century means I’ll never again get bitched out by total strangers over copies of Japanese cartoons, then I’m all for progress.

-Dave Merrill

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Anime North: Dateline 1997

1997 was the year Titanic broke box office records, Seinfeld and ER battled for the top TV ratings, and Japanese animation like Princess Mononoke and End Of Evangelion solidified the medium’s grip on an international audience starved for that brand of entertainment. Meanwhile in Toronto, a province-wide coalition of anime fans were gathering to start what would become Canada’s largest anime convention, and indeed, the largest not-for-profit fan event in the entire country, Anime North. 

 

Recently the convention held their first festival since 2019, coming back after two years of pandemic closure. The question of whether or not the show would survive was answered with a resounding YES, with record-breaking attendance numbers proving Anime North’s resilience.

Myself, I didn’t get up here until Anime North was well under way. So, I missed the first Anime North, which happened on August 9, 1997 at the Michener Institute of Education, a specialist post-secondary institution devoted to applied health sciences education, just north of Dundas and west of University, three blocks from the AGO, six blocks from where the Beguiling is now, and just around the corner from where the bus station used to be.

It’s been twenty-five years since the convention began, so I reached out and asked some of that Class Of ‘97 about their Anime North experiences. This is what they had to say.


Karl Zaryski (attendee of the first and every subsequent Anime North): In 1994 I got to university, and I immediately joined the anime club (CTRL-A - The Club That Really Likes Anime) and for the first time had internet access and was able to read things like the rec.arts.anime newsgroup. I devoured what information I could find, I downloaded anime scans from FTP sites and printed them on the university's colour laser printers for $1 per sheet, and I got into VHS fansub trading.

CTRL-A held (at the time) three shows per term, six hours per show. I got introduced to Ah, My Goddess! (which was playing when I arrived at my first ever show), Ranma ½, Appleseed, My Neighbour Totoro, Giant Robo, and all sorts of amazing new stuff. (I asked my parents to order a copy of the Totoro dub at Christmas 1994, and it came with a mail-in offer for a Totoro plushie. That plushie is on the shelf above my head as I type this.)

 

Greg Taylor (Attendee of the first and 20+ Anime Norths): I heard [about Anime North] through the local anime club... which I'm FAIRLY sure was the one in Ottawa (Club Anime) since I was on a work term there in Summer 1997. A bunch of us drove down to Toronto for it (someone rented a van). Though it's possible I heard about it at CTRL-A in Waterloo first (where I was at University in Winter 1997). 
 
Karl: In May 1995 I had a co-op term working at the Ministry of Transportation in Toronto, so I was living with my grandparents near Bathurst and Wilson. I posted a question into rec.arts.anime as to whether there were any anime clubs in Toronto, and got a response back that a new one was just about to hold its first show. So, I was at the first UTARPA (University of Toronto Anime and Role Playing Association) show, which I believe counts as the beginning of organized anime fandom in the city. I counted a total of 16 people in the audience.
 
There was a bit of other anime going on in Toronto in those early days. In June 1995 there was the Ad Astra science fiction convention, which had an anime video room. I remember watching Luna Varuga, Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko, and maybe Dragon Half and Vilgust.



In Fall 1995, the DIC Sailor Moon dub started to be broadcast on YTV, and it was being heavily promoted and put into premium timeslots which brought it, and anime at large, into the spotlight. This really added to UTARPA's numbers; I think they were getting a couple hundred people out to their shows by mid-1996. During that time, I was back in Waterloo (or at my parents') but I was able to get to a few of the monthly UTARPA shows by bus or car.

CTRL-A was at a peak of its membership; I know that in the Fall 1996 term we had 396 members, making us the second-largest club on the Waterloo campus behind the Chinese Students Association. This was back when anime was expensive and hard to locate, so getting three or four evenings of it in a term for $5 was a pretty good value.

In August 1995, I see that Don Simmons made this post in rec.arts.anime.fandom to advertise the beginning of the planning for what would become Anime North.
 
the Toronto fan convention scene in the 1990s

Donald Simmons (first chairman of Anime North): In the mid-90s there were five anime clubs in the Toronto area, three SF cons [Ad Astra and Toronto Trek joined by media convention Primedia] and anime cons were starting to become a thing in the US. I thought that there was certainly enough interest in the city now to support an anime con of our own. I had a few years working at Ad Astra as the Dealer's Room organizer, and several helping to run UTARPA [and] had been thinking of volunteering to join up in the major planning of Ad Astra, but decided instead on founding a new anime con.

 
I had a flyer made up (by Shaindle!) which I distributed around to the anime clubs suggesting we start an anime con in Toronto, and arranged a meeting of everyone who was interested in helping. I was the con chair, several of the UTARPA staff joined up, and we got volunteers from other clubs and fans at large. Some of us knew each other, some of us didn't. I think I met [Anime North Programming Director] Eileen McEvoy at a Primedia.

the first moments of Anime North 1997

 
Karl: I don't recall any major problems like overcrowding, but I think that everyone's expectations were moderate. It [the first Anime North] felt mostly like an extra-large, extra-long UTARPA show, plus a dealers room, some panels, and I think there was at least a modest cosplay contest.


 

Because [the Michener Institute] was an academic building, the spaces we were using were parts of the first two floors and then part of (I think) the ninth floor, which was a bit of an odd spreading out.

 

Anime North 1997 costume contest



Greg: No big expectations that I recall. I'd hoped to pick up some merchandise. (And I did get some CDs.) Possibly was interested in seeing fans and cosplay (certainly took some photos of that). And since it only ran on Saturday, it let me visit with my parents on Sunday (they live not far from Toronto) before heading back. 
 
I'd only been to one Toronto Trek previously. As I recall that [convention] was more about the guest stars (at least for me), whereas here it was more about the fan community. (It's not that Toronto Trek didn't have community, it's just with Voyager running as the 3rd Trek series of the 90s, Trek was more visible than anime. It was bigger, you didn't have to hunt for it.)

 

Anime North 1997 panel

 

Donald: That we were doing something new to a lot of us was one of the big reasons I wanted to start small with a one day event, which limited the amount of work required and the things that could go wrong. 
 
We based the con off of how fan-run SF cons ran, as that was what we were most familiar with. Panel rooms, video rooms, convention lounge for attendees (that got dropped after a few years), an Art Show rather than the Artist Alley that's popular now. I'd been to a Creation Con or two and didn't like them much, they were all about everyone sitting down and consuming content. I think something we've tried to emphasize over the years is making the con a fan participatory event, something with events people can take part in, rather than just sitting (and spending). 


Sailor Moons Over the Michener

Karl: I remember at one point there was a lineup for using the washrooms, and so I decided to sneak onto one of the floors which the con wasn't using to find a washroom there. As I was about to go into the men's room there I bumped into a girl dressed as Sailor Mercury who was just coming out of it... She was quite embarrassed, and asked me to wait until her (also female) friend inside finished changing into her costume.
 
I seem to remember Derwin Mak was presenting some (cosplay) awards, and was in what looked like a military dress uniform. He wore that uniform (or something similar) for many many years after... I have no idea if it's a real uniform or cosplay. 



 

Norm McEvoy (Anime North Video Programming director): Telling people the medical specimens in the lobby were an Evangelion display and they believed it. 
 
Greg: Partly amazed it's endured (particularly after the Regal Constellation issues, and now the pandemic). I think that's in part due to keeping up with the times. Sending out the passes in advance was huge when that started, since now that I live in Ottawa, Friday night became an impossibility for making the drive there in time to pick them up.

Anime North 1997 programming schedule

 

Attending also became more of a chance to meet up with old friends (like Karl) versus getting to see shows, buy merchandise, or even be on panels. But the latter was obviously still a draw, since I went for over 20 years straight, even with there being the local AC-Cubed convention in Ottawa for a few years in there. Oh, and I'm partly amused now that AN has shifted back into July.



 

Norm: [I remember] actually being on the very first Anime North panel [“Saturday Morning Fever”, 10am, Main Panel Room]. Lots of Sailor Moon stuff, because the show was then (and still is) popular with Canadian fans. The absolute sense of relief when it was over and it was a success.


Anime North 1997 staff badge

 

Donald: I don't really remember much about how the con ran that day, which I suppose means it ran pretty well. That again is the advantage of a one-day event. We certainly got more people than we thought we'd get, nearly 800 when i was hoping for maybe 500 (needed about 300 to break even), but the space was big enough to handle that. 


Anime North 1997 Programme Book

Karl: Oh, yeah, I should talk about "Convention Anime". A lot of this is vague recollections and second-hand information, so take its reliability with a grain of salt.
 
So, a fellow named (IIRC) Robert Wong had run an anime club at the University of Ottawa, called "Club Anime". Then he was running a club in Toronto under the same name. I only ever dealt with him briefly, but people I knew who knew him tended to speak negatively about him. *After* Anime North's date had already been announced for August 1997, Robert announced that he was going to be holding "Convention Anime" on a date in July 1997, presumably to be able to claim the title of the first anime convention in Canada. There's a usenet post about it here.

My recollection of it was that it was pretty small and disorganized. At one point Robert basically pointed at me and told me to make sure nobody went into one of the video rooms between shows. That was a bit odd since I wasn't a volunteer, but I spent a few minutes doing some crowd control to try to help out. Anyway, after that one event, "Convention Anime" seemed to disappear into oblivion pretty quickly.

Unlike “Convention Anime”, Anime North would survive and thrive. The festival spent two years in the Michener, a year at a Ramada by the airport (attendance 850), a year at a Ramada with “Airport” in its name but not actually near the airport which later hosted comic and card shows and then was leased by the government to house refugees and to quarantine COVID patients, a year at the Marriott by the airport, and then two years at legendary Toronto hotel the Regal Constellation (4900 attendees), which was demolished in 2012.


 In 2004 Anime North moved to its present home at the Toronto Congress Centre & the Delta Hotel. Guests over the years include such notables as CB Cebulski, Colleen Doran, Ben Dunn, Steve Bennett, Fred Ladd, Sailor JAMboree, Scott McNeil, Stan Sakai, Senno Knife, Tommy Yune, Peter Fernandez, Corinne Orr, Haruko Momoi, J. Michael Tatum, Kumiko Watanabe, Robert Axelrod, Noboyuki Hiyama, Helen McCarthy, Hidekatsu Shibata, Neil Nadelman, Yuu Asakawa, and Ed The Sock, and the convention has grown from merely videos and vendors to include doll programming, comedy improv, music and dance performances, late-night parking lot raves, a great food truck lineup, fashion shows, game shows, video gaming, board gaming, and cosplay, lots of cosplay. Paid attendance at Anime North in 2022 was over 30,000 and it definitely felt like it. 

a small part of Anime North 2022

 Anime North will next appear on May 26-28, 2023. See you there! 
 
A big Let’s Anime thanks to Karl Zaryski, Greg Taylor, Donald Simmons, and Norm McEvoy for their recollections and assistance! 
 
-Dave Merrill

 























Friday, July 1, 2022

Anime North is back!


Well, we're back. Anime North returns to the Toronto Congress Centre and the Delta Hotel on Dixon Rd. (you know, out by the airport) for its 25th year of Japanese animation convention fun! Cosplay! Guests! Vendors! Late-night dances! Events! Videos! Gaming! All the fun you missed in 2020 and 2021 is back and in full force this year at Anime North. What are some of the can't-miss events at the con this year? Wig dyeing! Ninja Weapons Of Death! Kingdom Hearts Trivia! The Nominoichi swap meet! The Strongest Trees In Anime! Gundam Trivia Gameshow! Steampunk Hacks For Thrift Store Finds! Guests like Aaron Dismuke, Kara Eberle, Richard Epcar, Caitlin Glass, Morgan Lauré, Ellyn Stern, Arryn Zech, and Neil Nadelman!
 
BUT you may ask, what am *I* up to in two weeks? Up to my usual nonsense, that's what. 


Friday night at 9:30pm I'll be in the TCC North Ballroom presenting two hours of what has become a must-see event - Anime Hell. This kooky clip show train has been chugging along for years and shows no sign of stopping, which is a little concerning.


Saturday at 2 I'm taking a trip back in time to check out what Toronto's fan convention scene looked like before Anime North was even a thing. Failed cons, fan feuds, and demolished hotels are all part of this journey. It's happening in International B in the Delta!


Saturday night at 8 in International C, Dr. Neil Nadelman, PhD (Pretty hilarious Doctor) unleashes the goofiest Japanese animation that Japan ever animated and then wished it hadn't as part of his Totally Lame Anime treatment!


And Sunday at 3:30 we erase forty years of time and visit 1982 to check out what the Japanese anime scene was screening on their TV and movie screens in that eventful year. It's happening in International B in 2022!

If YOU want more information on Anime North please visit us at Anime North in two weeks! Or, right now, point your web browser to www.animenorth.com!

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Blue Sonnet On It


When the five part Crimson Fang: Blue Sonnet original video series was released in 1989, American anime fans immediately thought of one thing - the margarine brand "Blue Bonnet." But even without any knowledge of Masahiro Shibata's original Crimson Fang manga, fans in the US immediately grasped familiar story beats, which include an evil organization bent on world conquest, innocent youngsters turned into fighting cyborgs, latent ESP awakened by stress or disaster, and the old standby, a Japanese high school where students secretly have amazing powers. Blue Sonnet’s story was digestible even without English translation. The terrific theme song by GO! helped seal the deal, and even if the anime doesn't quite live up to the promise of the OP, we felt it was worth at least a watch in 1989, and still do today.


Matsusaka City native son mangaka Masahiro Shibata debuted in 1973 with “The Sea Of White Roses” and spent some time as assistant to Sukeban Deka creator Shinji Wada before hitting it big with his most successful work, Crimson Fang: Blue Sonnet, a sprawling eight-part (19 volumes) shoujo-manga SF epic published from 1975-1986 in Hana to Yume, Deluxe Margaret and Bessatsu Margaret. The series focuses on the life of Ran Komatsuzaki, the titular Crimson Fang. Ran is that most stereotypical of Japanese pop culture characters, a super-powerful psychic girl whose immense abilities both prevent her from having a normal life and make her the target for those would use those powers for, say it with me, eeeEEEeevil. By the time the Blue Sonnet OVA appeared, Shibata had moved on to other projects, his next big series being the post-apocalyptic combat maid series Sarai, which ran in Shonen Gahosha’s Young King for a decade starting in 1998.


But let’s put some Blue Sonnet on it, shall we? Turns out the new student at Tokyo’s Osei High School is actually Sonnet, a super powerful ESPer girl rebuilt into a combat cyborg by Dr. Josef Merikus under orders of the evil world-domination conspiracy TALON (Directive No. 1, released July 16, 1989). Sonnet is enrolled at Osei to check up on student Ran Komatsuzaki, whom TALON suspects is also a powerful ESPer. And they're correct; not only was Ran orphaned in a plane crash and raised by wolves and later by her father’s friend Jin Kiryu, but it also turns out she’s harboring the immense psychic power of the entity known as Crimson Fang (Directive No. 2, released September 25, 1989). After a few arranged incidents Sonnet is convinced of Ran's power, but at the same time is confused by the friendship and warmth of normal human society (Directive No. 3, released November 25, 1989). Will Sonnet's loyalty to TALON and their world domination plans win out over her long-suppressed humanity? Is there a blooming romance between Ran and Shuichi “Bird” Torigai? What happens when the nurse at Osei High finds out Sonnet is a cyborg? Will Ran survive Sonnet’s attacks, and will her humanity endure possession by the Crimson Fang (Directive No. 4, released March 25, 1990)? Can Kiryu, Ran’s little brother Wataru and the esper Yuri invade the TALON fortress and rescue Ran? Will Ran’s romance with Bird – aka renegade Cyborg RX-606 – be allowed to flower, or end in tragedy (Directive No. 5, released June 25, 1990)?

Produced by several different studios including AIC, Mushi Production and Tatsunoko, the Blue Sonnet anime is very much a product of the late 1980s. The original manga’s story and characters are compressed severely, and we’re left with generic OVA-style characters staring into computer monitors, Bubble-Era Tokyo scenery being smashed, and square-faced middle-aged men with glasses hollering orders in high-tech laboratories, instead of the knock-down, drag-out Sonnet vs Ran fight the OP promised.

 

If you’ve seen a sci-fi OVA from the 80s you know what you’re going to be seeing in Blue Sonnet – lots of high-tech control rooms filled with data readouts, corporate office blocks headquartering the dastardly conglomerates bankrolling our conspiracy, and underground bases guarded by sensors, jumpsuited goon squads, and mechanical man-killing monsters.

 

The sketchy, zip-a-tone energy of manga is difficult to translate to the TV screen, and the dramatic freeze-frames and expressionistic background effects of shoujo manga seem to suffer most. Blue Sonnet is no exception, the melodramatic emotional beats of the story struggling to overcome pedestrian animation and generic late 1980s character design. Regarding the OVA series, Shibata himself commented “It was too bad to be talked about.” Director Takeyuki Kanda was a veteran of Mushi Pro and Sunrise – he directed Dougram, Galatt The Great, and his masterpiece Round Vernian Vifam – but translating years of manga story into five direct-to-video chapters might not have been the best opportunity for him to shine. The same could be said for Blue Sonnet producer Walker Company, which went bankrupt after the release of the 4th episode.


To American anime fans who weren’t familiar with the manga, Blue Sonnet seemed like just one more entry in a Blockbuster shelf full of big-eyed girls hollering while their latent psychic powers make everything explode. It’s no surprise the subtitled Central Park Media release failed to make much of an impact. The anime market of the early 1990s was still looking for the next Akira, and Blue Sonnet is definitely not that. But then again, what is? For all its faults, 30 years on we still have that kickin’ theme song in our head, and that’s proof Blue Sonnet still counts for something. The video is long out of print but you can find them on the YouTubes if you yourself want to watch Ran explode into Crimson Fang, see Sonnet recover her humanity, and perhaps find out, what is love? 

-Dave Merrill 

A version of this article originally ran in Patrick Ijima-Washburn's fanzine Mangaverse.