Monday, April 15, 2024

With An "E"

Let me start with a personal note. I grew up in the US, but twenty years back I moved to Ontario to begin a new adventure north of the border. As a new Canadian, I lacked the cultural background that informed the upbringing of many of my new friends and coworkers. I didn't know Mr. Dressup or The Friendly Giant. I was sadly unaware The Littlest Hobo was, in fact, a dog. I'd never been to the Pop Shoppe, didn’t know who Tim Horton played hockey for, never watched Late Great Movies On Citytv. But there was one Canadian cultural giant that I and millions of others were aware of, one that predated SCTV, Celine Dion and the Kids In The Hall. Perhaps the biggest early Canadian pop culture export? An orphan girl named Anne. 

my Anne LDs

The story of a child finding a home and a life in turn of the century Prince Edward Island, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne Of Green Gables has sold fifty million copies, been translated into 35 languages, and has been the subject of films, TV shows and stage plays. This red-headed heroine appears in a bewildering variety of media including dolls, toys, picture books, musicals, museums, costumes, even license plates for the fictional Anne’s very real province of PEI. L.M. Montgomery was from PEI herself and used her childhood as inspiration for what would eventually become a series of Green Gables novels, even as she moved to Ontario and what we’d now call the Greater Toronto Area.

drive carefully, Anne lives here

There's a part in Montgomery's novel where the fire in the Green Gables hearth on a November night is described as "the sunshine of a hundred summers being distilled from the maple cord-wood" and I'm reading this and asking myself, did that L.M. just get away with this? She did, didn't she. The prose of Anne Of Green Gables is filled with minute, evocative, almost-sentimental touches of descriptive poetry - certainly in keeping with the Gilded Age provenance of its origins - and it speaks to the determination of Anne and through her, Montgomery, to find the beauty and wonder in what at first glance might seem to be unexceptional places, humdrum tasks and the sometimes tragic moments that make up life, a tall order for an unwanted child in a world that has almost no sympathy or resources for anything other than itself. 

Anne begins with middle-aged siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert requesting a boy orphan to adopt to help out around their Avonlea farm, as if they were buying a draft horse or ordering a new plow. When Anne arrives instead, there’s some clinical calculus as the Cuthberts weigh their agricultural needs against the literal welfare of a child. At this time, Canada was seen as a convenient destination for the unwanted children of late-period British Empire; from 1869 right up until the late 1940s the UK sent something like a hundred thousand children to homes across Canada. Most would spend their remaining childhood as de facto indentured domestic servants or field hands. The reality is that most of these children weren’t actually orphaned; most had parents overcome by financial or personal disaster, forced by circumstances to break up their families. Anne’s orphan drama played out in real life for decades on train platforms across the country from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.

my Anne cel

We first see Anne as an awkward tween, sometimes overwhelmed as her overclocked imagination battles her desperate desire to belong.  She matures to become a self-disciplined young woman determined to make something of herself, along the way, pulling Marilla and Matthew out of their gruff, glum routine and into a more fulfilled, if less orderly life, while making friends and rivals alike at the local school. Anne's overworked sensitivity shows its negative side when she overreacts to minor things, exploding them into major life-altering events as only a too-dramatic teen - which is all of them - can blow ‘em up. 

that girl is trouble, and is IN trouble

Cheerful perseverance in the face of hardship and an ability to tease the fantastical out of the everyday spoke to audiences around the world, even early Taishō era Japan, which is when the novel was first published in Japanese. Though suppressed along with other Western literature during the Pacific War, during the Occupation Anne Of Green Gables was put on General MacArthur’s Recommended Children’s Literature list, along with another classic of rural kid-lit, Little House On The Prairie. Both series would inspire enduring fanbases and Nippon Animation anime series. And that’s where we here at Let’s Anime come in.

Fifty episodes of Nippon Animation's Akage no Anne (“akage” means “redhead”) would air on Fuji-TV from January to December of 1979.  Anne was the first series under the banner of World Masterpiece Theater, a showcase that started as Calpis Comic Theater, then became Calpis Children's Theater and then 1978’s Perrine Story saw the title remixed to Calpis Family Theater, and then next year somehow changed again to World Masterpiece Theater for Anne. In 1986 the banner changed yet again to House Foods World Masterpiece Theater. Stay tuned, who knows what they’ll call it next? Anne of Green Gables would join Nippon Animation’s roster of exports, airing in Korea, Spain, Germany, Portugal, the Arabic world, the Philippines, Italy, France, and French-speaking Canada. A South African English dub would broadcast in Taiwan and South Africa. 

Marilla, Matthew, Anne, and PEI's Strategic Potato Reserve

Directed overall by anime legend Isao “Horus Prince Of The Sun” Takahata, Anne’s character designs were by animation director and fellow anime legend Yoshifumi “Future Boy Conan” Kondo. Reference for the wonderful backgrounds, art-directed by Masahiro Ioka, was provided by a July ‘78 research trip to Prince Edward Island by Kondo, Takahata and Nippon Animation producers Junzô Nakajima and Shigeo Endô. You’ll swear you hear Joe Hisashi in the soundtrack but that’s all Akira Miyoshi there, bringing Anne's fantastical imagination to musical life in a beautiful Hayao Miyazaki-animated OP. 

sure, just put some airplanes in there, Hayao

Miyazaki did layouts for the first 15 episodes of Anne, perhaps repaying Takahata for the help Takahata gave on the recently completed Future Boy Conan. But Takahata’s realistic, textural vision for Anne was at odds with Miyazaki’s desire to expand upon the source material, as he did with Conan. Soon Hayao would leave the show and Nippon Animation entirely. Watching the series with 2024 eyes, we see what legions of internet memelords would later call “the Ghibli aesthetic” are all present in ‘79; the cozy fires, the tempting food, the homey overstuffed sofas and Victorian comfort of the giant overcoats and pinafores and moustaches, far enough in the past to be hazy and nostalgic but not so far in the past that we can’t enjoy ice cream or trains. 

the aesthetic in full force

This nostalgia helps the show - and the novel -  breeze past some of the more brutal realities of the era, the first of which is how orphans were treated like one more exploitable natural resource. Pay attention to how Anne talks about her life before Green Gables, it’s a life of constant toil, either caring for somebody else’s children or cleaning somebody else’s house or trying to keep somebody else from dying from some Victorian illness. It’s no wonder the girl would spend as much time as possible conjuring up fanciful stories about trees and rocks and streams - 19th century reality is harsh. Like the Little House series, Anne seems to work as a subtle hint to modern readers that no matter how awful their own childhood may be, at least they weren’t stuck doing farm chores or battling cholera in a time before Hot Wheels and Barbies. 

before Green Gables, things were a little grim

On television as in the novel, we see a hopeful Anne arrive at the train station en route to surprising everyone at the home she’ll soon name Green Gables. Anne makes a friend in Diana Barry from the next farm over, and a fierce rival in dashing local boy Gilbert Blythe. She meets her own personal Nellie Olesons in the spiteful Pye sisters, charms the various busybodies and old biddies of Avonlea, wins an academic scholarship to Queen’s Academy in Charlottetown, and from there wins another scholarship to a mainland university, forcing her to consider leaving Green Gables behind forever. 

Anne's Style Adventures

Anneheads and Gable-otaku, rest assured all your favorite story beats are in the show, whether it’s the part where Anne dyes her hair green or the part where Anne defies death by walking across the ridgepole of the Barry’s roof. We indeed see Anne conjure up a rich fantasy life as the tragic, raven-haired beauty Lady Cordelia Fitzgerald, which leads to the tragic loss(?) of Marilla’s emerald brooch. Anne gets Diana drunk, Anne bakes the cough-syrup cake, and then Anne gets trapped on the pond, only to be rescued by the last person on Earth she’d ever want to rescue her.

they grow up so fast

Seemingly overnight, Anne transforms from a gawky tween into a Young Lady as the rest of her body catches up with her once oversized skull. The last quarter of the series is a show about an adult (teenagers hadn’t been invented yet) dealing with isolation, aging parents, career choices, tragedy, and the kind of exam anxiety staring Japanese viewers right in the face. Also anxious was the Nippon Animation team producing the show. Whatever slack they’d had early in the production was gone thirty weeks in as the crew dealt with an exodus of talent pulled away to work on Galaxy Expresses, Lupins, and Bannertails, not to mention subcontractor issues and staff downtime due to illness. However, the Anne anime remains entertaining even as the animation quality suffers, due to its firm foundation of gorgeous background illustration and solid character design.

will the princess be forced to marry someone she can't stand?

Given free rein with Anne, Hayao Miyazaki probably would have placed more emphasis on fantasy segments conjured out of Anne’s more whimsical notions. But Takahata - whose own daughter was Anne’s age -  put his foot down, keeping the show firmly rooted in PEI’s famous red soil, perhaps hastening Miyazaki’s exit towards TMS and the direction of a popular Lupin III film. Akage no Anne shares the same sensibility as the rest of the World Masterpiece Cinematic Universe; action and spectacle are underplayed in favor of characters and feelings, set against well-researched architecture and lush watercolored backgrounds. Takahata’s quieter, grounded Anne has an emotional weight it might lose if set amidst Miyazaki’s trademark contrabulous fabtraptions and death-defying action sequences. Anne would also be Takahata’s swan song at Nippon Animation; next for him would be Chie The Brat for TMS.

Anne merchandise includes this bicycle (bicycle does not fly)

45 years later Akage no Anne still entertains. There’s a double hit of nostalgia, both for the original property and for its 1979 version, which gleams with those wonderful Masahiro Ioka landscapes and Kondo’s characters. At the time it was up against shoujo opposition like Candy Candy, Lun Lun the Flower Angel, Rose Of Versailles, and Haikara-san ga Tōru, and sequels to Space Battleship Yamato, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Cyborg 009, and Star Of The Giants. And there was something called Mobile Suit Gundam that came out that year. But even without a tacked-on animal companion, New Type powers or cybernetic augmentation, Green Gables welcomes and rewards repeat visits.

keep your dreams in your Anne Dream Can

Everyone, that is, but the North American viewing audience, which has seen Anne as the star of silent films, musicals, the Megan Follows CBC show and a Canadian cartoon, but so far hasn’t been permitted to see this anime version. The absence of Nippon Animation’s Anne is a loss for us all, whether we’re students facing book report deadlines, executors of the L.M. Montgomery estate, or the hardworking staff of the PEI Ministry Of Fisheries, Tourism, Sport, and Culture, who’d probably appreciate an extra bit of attention come vacation booking season.

visit PEI this summer!

Nope, Americans can’t watch Anne Of Green Gables. Well, okay, you can, the show is up on YouTube with the English-accented English dub, and with subtitles  But there isn’t a legit Blu-Ray set, no official release, it’s not real here in the way the GKids Future Boy Conan is. Absent the anime show or a trip to PEI, maybe all we can do is spend a fall afternoon in the Ontario countryside, visiting L.M. Montgomery’s 1911-1926 Leaskdale Manse home or maybe the park near where she later lived on Riverside Drive in Toronto. On the way you can stop in anywhere that sells books and pick up the copy of Anne Of Green Gables you’ll find there. 

Leaskdale, just north of Uxbridge, L.M. says "have a seat"

An inescapable layer of Canadian cultural bedrock, Anne is so much a part of the landscape here that one could almost believe she was a real person. If we ever needed someone to remind us what it’s like to dream big dreams once in a while, Anne of Green Gables is the person to do it, real or not, whether live-action or animated, whether in prose or radio or film or TV or whatever medium you choose. Can we dream big enough to see Akage no Anne finally return home? 

-Dave Merrill

I am tremendously indebted to Animétudes and their amazingly well-researched and comprehensive look at the production of Akage no Anne.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Jack And The Sonorama

 Christmastime was just here, and for us here at Let's Anime, Santa Claus, or Mandarake's mail order service, was kinda busy. One of the presents under the tree this year was a Sonorama single for the 1967 Toei film Jack And The Witch! 


If you've never seen this film, well, it's kind of nuts. It's a movie about a kid named Jack who loads up his junker car with his animal friends and drives it straight through a house and into a nightmare world of witches and castles and devils and machines that turn little boys and little animals into little demons. 

There are motorcycles made of bones, menacing giant mushrooms, and generally a hallucinatory vibe that seems more at home in a Roger Corman hippie exploitation picture than what's ostensibly a children's film. We wrote about Jack And The Witch a while back, but the movie remains frustratingly unreleased in the West.

At least we can still enjoy the trimmed-down story of the movie as it's condensed into two sides of a 33rpm Sonorama single. You can too, we made a video out of it and it's up at the Mister Kitty dot Net YouTube channel right now for your entertainment!

From us here at Let's Anime (that's Dave Merrill and Shaindle Minuk, for whom this single was purchased) please accept our heartiest wishes for a happy holiday season and a bountiful New Year!

-Dave Merrill

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

When The Rings Of Time Come Together, We Will Meet Again

In the fall of 1979 I was a cartoon-addicted elementary school student, spending my Saturdays with Scooby-Doo and old Warner Brothers shorts on network TV. Weekdays the UHF stations gave us Tom & Jerry, the Super Friends, Speed Racer and Battle Of The Planets. That autumn the elementary school playground gossip was all about a new cartoon that had just started airing on channel 46. This new show was kind of like our favorite film Star Wars, in that it involved outer space battles between zooming fighter-plane starships; but this had something different. Apparently it involved a submarine or a battleship that for some reason was now in outer space. I scoffed. Certainly this was going to be terrible. But the next afternoon I found myself over at a friend’s house and the TV was on and there it was, Star Blazers.

I'd seen other Japanese cartoons before; this one was different. This was a heartfelt, melodramatic space opera whose characters struggled through tears and anger as they travelled one hundred and forty eight thousand light years and back to save everything they cared about, a cartoon that didn't hide its Asian origins as Space Battleship Yamato, but put them right there in the credits. I don't want to underplay the work of Yamato's producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki, but without Leiji Matsumoto we wouldn't have Star Blazers. We wouldn't have those hazy, dark-blue starscapes or the ethereal cosmic goddesses bringing a spark of mystery to the warplanes and battleships of this outer-space World War Two. Without Matsumoto we wouldn't have Yamato, but without Yamato Leiji Matsumoto would still be a titan of the manga world, if just for his melancholy space-train fantasies or  his instantly iconic space pirates or his cynical, tragic war comics or his comedies set in hardscrabble down-and-out-in-Tokyo, all drawn with that lush, descriptive brush line,  equally at home depicting dinosaurs, cavemen, Type-30 Arisaka rifles, or cosmic super-constructions. Leiji Matsumoto created futures filled with relics and ruins, where myth and legend coexist with science and technology, and where the only constant anyone could rely on was the strength of the human spirit. Sometimes we try to bury history, sometimes we try repeat it, but his world, our world, is everywhere an uncanny, turbulent mix of the past and present, and like Matsumoto's heroes, we can only try to hold fast to our ideals.

Early this year the world lost Leiji Matsumoto. As part of the North American anime fandom that grew around his work, I joined with other fans in presenting various memorial panels at this year's anime festivals. For me it was an opportunity not only to honor his memory and to show off some of my favorite Matsumoto works, but to dig around a little in his back catalog and uncover some things I'd never seen and some facts I might not have known.

I learned he'd been born Akira Matsumoto in Kurume, which is in Fukuoka, down on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. Even today it's a six hour bullet-train ride from Tokyo. In elementary school his class library had copies of Tezuka's New Treasure Island and Dr. Mars, turning a young Akira into a manga fanatic. He'd be a published manga author while still in school, and when Tezuka was in Kyushu with one of his perpetual looming deadlines, Matsumoto was recruited to be a local assistant.

The late 1950s and early 1960s saw Matsumoto begin a career in shoujo manga, marry fellow manga-ka and sometime collaborator Miyako "Licca-chan" Maki, adopt his pen name Leiji, and move into both science fiction and WWII manga with strips like Burning Southern Cross, Black Zero, Submarine Super 99 and Lightning Ozma, which coincidentally features a space battleship named Yamato.

In mid-1960s issues of Shonen Book, Matsumoto would draw Light Speed Esper, a story about young Hikaru who battles the alien Giron with the super suit created by Professor Asakawa and the help of his adoptive alien parents. Esper is perhaps the most involved SF manga series based on an electronics company mascot, and would also become a pioneering live-action tokusatsu TV show.

Matsumoto's art followed the culture into a more adult-oriented late 1960s as his Sexaroid and Mystery Eve pushed the mature-audiences envelope along with a wider cultural shift towards nudity and adult situations, and his Wheel of Time aesthetic first saw light in Tezuka's COM magazine as the "Fourth Dimensional World" series.


But it was the down-and-out-in-Tokyo loser of Otoko Oidon that gave Matsumoto his first iconic anti-hero, surviving in a four and a half tatami mat room on cheap ramen and home grown mushrooms. The antihero themes would continue in his war comics, beginning with "The Cockpit" and continuing under various names for the rest of his career.


When Nishizaki's Office Academy began preproduction of Space Battleship Yamato, there were several directions open to them. The idea of reviving the Yamato as an outer space warship wasn't a new one, having shown up in pulp fiction, model kits, and even Matsumoto's own Lightning Ozma. But honestly, if you're going to merge WWII and SF then you need to get the guy who's good at both, and that guy is Leiji Matsumoto. Bringing his signature aesthetic to a project that desperately needed a strong visual style, Matsumoto found himself knee-deep in the production of the TV series and its sequels, working on the show and a manga adaptation for Akita Shoten.

His attempt to insert a space pirate into Yamato understandably denied, Matsumoto would make Captain Harlock an important part of 1975's Diver Zero, a story about abandoned Moon androids rebelling against the people of Earth. His mid-70s manga would wander between the high school comedy of Oyashirazu Sanka, the SF of Time Travel Boy Millizer Ban, and in Princess, the feline adventures of Torajima no Mime.

Captain Harlock would get his own manga adventures in Play Comic in 1977. The same year he'd begin Galaxy Express 999 in Shonen King and Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace in Adventure King. This is what the rest of the 1970s would look like, a parade of Leiji-themed TV anime, feature films, radio plays, novelizations, toys, games, and merchandising, seemingly stretching to the Andromeda Galaxy and back. Leiji Matsumoto was busier than ever, yet still found time to take a safari trip to Kenya.

Part of this Matsumotoverse explosion was the premiere of the Westchester Films version of the 1974 and 1978 Space Battleship Yamato TV series. Retitled Star Blazers, this series would air in syndication across America where it would convince not only myself but an entire generation that Japanese animation was an exciting and innovative medium, and we needed to fill our lives with as much of it as humanly possible.

The "Yamato boom", fed by Matsumoto's visual style, would fade away as the 1980s anime world switched gears towards idol singers, transforming robots, and obnoxious aliens. SSX and the Queen Millennia anime series would both have truncated seasons, the Yamato herself would have its final voyage in 1983, but Matsumoto's manga kept right on, continuing his Battlefield series with Hard Metal in Big Comic and giving Japan a third Black Ship Crisis in Fuji Evening Paper. 


Never one to abandon icons, Matsumoto would throw Harlock and his crew into Wagner's Ring Of The Nibelungen in, of all places, the pages of "Used Car Fanatic," while his Battlefield series continued with "Case Hard" and the mysteries of Leonardo Da Vinci's genius were explored in "The Angel's Space-Time Ship."

The mid 1990s meant Yamato-boom kids were now adults, inspired by Matsumoto to work in his style and produce new animated versions of his works. One of the best of these later-period adaptations is the three-part OVA series The Cockpit, delivering three punchy antiwar stories from his Battlefield series.

A new Galaxy Express film and a home video adaptation of his Queen Emeraldas manga arrived in 1998, while Matsumoto produced the historical epic manga Shadow Warrior. Captain Harlock's Wagner cycle would make the anime transition in 1999, Cosmo Warrior Zero would fly through the same universe in 2001, and Harlock would revert to the "Herlock" spelling for a Rin Taro-directed video series in 2002.

An entire new generation of eyeballs would see Leiji Matsumoto's style as French electronic music robots Daft Punk built an entire album around a Matsumotoverse theme with their 2003 album/film Interstella 5555. At both Anime North and AWA I met audience members for whom 5555 was their first exposure to Leiji Matsumoto's work.

The oughts would see a parade of new Matsumoto anime that included versions of Gun Frontier and Submarine Super 99, the lengthy Galaxy Express side series Galaxy Railways, and an abortive attempt to rework Space Battleship Yamato into Dai Yamato Zero-go, which found its greatest success in the medium of Pachislot. In 2006 Matsumoto would bring his manga career full circle with Firefly Yokai, a new take on his first published manga, 1954's Honey-Bee Adventures.

Prepping for these panels, I conferred with several friends in Japan who'd met Matsumoto and were familiar with his studio, and I gathered some interesting facts from their experiences. For instance, Patrick Ijima-Washburn told me that he'd asked Matsumoto about his favorite comic from the West. Matsumoto thought he was talking about Westerns, meaning cowboy movies, and replied that his favorite Western was the 1954 Joan Crawford film "Johnny Guitar." 

Dan Kanemitsu, The Man from I.O.E.A. (the International Otaku Expo Association) related to me how former Matsumoto assistant, Yattaran inspiration and Area 88 artist Kaoru Shintani was working with fellow Studio Leiji-sha employees one day when a taxi pulled up and Matsumoto hustled in with a big mysterious bundle he'd just spent all his cash on, a bundle that turned out to be an actual Revi C 12/D gunsight from a Messerschmitt, you know, the star of several Matsumoto Battlefield manga stories, a key element in the film Arcadia Of My Youth, and an object Leiji had just spent every bit of ready cash on, could someone please pay the taxi? 

Speaking of youths and Arcadias, anime journalist Darius Washington made sure I knew that Matsumoto's model for his mysterious, aristocratic blonde characters was the German Heimatfilm actress Marianne Hold, the star of dozens of films including 1955's "Marianne Of My Youth." 

I also spent a little time assembling an online mixtape of music from various Leiji Matsumoto projects, which you can listen to over at Mister Kitty dot Net.

As for myself, my interest in Star Blazers led me to join one of the American anime clubs that grew out of the show's success on American TV, and soon I found myself running an anime club in my home town, writing fanfic, drawing fan art, publishing anime zines, attending one of the first anime conventions, and writing professionally about Japanese animation for a variety of print and online media. Eventually I'd help start our own anime convention, still going strong 28 years later, and along the way I'd make thousands of friends. Without that anime fandom, without Leiji Matsumoto,  I and many like me would have had a very different path.


“(Leiji) Matsumoto used to say, ‘At the faraway point where the rings of time come together, we shall meet again,’” Studio Leiji-sha director Makiko Matsumoto said in their statement. Leiji Matsumoto was the author of thousands of pages of manga, countless adaptations, characters, and adventures, recognized with the Japanese Medal of Honor With Purple Ribbon and the Order Of The Rising Sun as well as the Knight Of The Order Of Arts And Letters from France, and on February 13, 2023, he succumbed to acute heart failure in a Tokyo hospital.

Eulogizing Tochiro Oyama's passing in the film Galaxy Express 999, Tetsuro Hoshino says "being human means you also have to face death... whether you've fulfilled your dreams or not." Leiji Matsumoto's dreams were right there in the pages of his manga, dreams of romance, struggle, honor, violence, eroticism, humor, and the human spirit's ability to transcend time and space itself. He may be gone, but those dreams will remain with us, always.

-Dave Merrill

thanks to Patrick Ijima-Washburn, Dan Kanemitsu, Darius Washington, and L. Matsumoto.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Anime Weekend Atlanta 2023

It's October and that means it's time for another annual convocation of Atlanta's premier Japanese animation festival, Anime Weekend Atlanta! Every AWA is special, it seems every show's had their own specific vibe. 2023 is no exception; this is the third AWA after the 2020 cancellations, overall the 28th AWA, and this is the twentieth- and final - convention in its present location, the Cobb Galleria Centre and Renaissance Waverly. Yes, that's right, a combination of factors have led the convention to pack it up and head out on the road, Beverly Hillbillies style. 

But first - AWA 2023! Maybe you'll be joining the thirty or thirty-five thousand fellow anime fans at the show, enjoying the full spectrum of anime-con events waiting for you - vendors, guests, concerts, panels, video games, anime screenings, cosplay, raves, maid cafes, gaming, you name it. My advice is to show up early, be prepared for lines, check the Guidebook app for events you're interested in, and maybe check out some of the events I'm doing this year. 

The SUPER HAPPY FUN SELL is AWA's yard-sale-garage-sale-swap-meet event where closets and crawlspaces and spare rooms and storage units and second homes filled with previously loved, unwanted anime merch is resold to new homes, continuing the cycle of consumerism that, ultimately, is what keeps anime spinning. Thursday at 6! 


ANIME HELL remains the most confusing two hours of any anime con experience, as a variety of Japanese cartoon whack-a-doodlery springs forth to amuse and entertain. It's a clip show. Friday at 10pm!


CLASSIC ANIME COPRODUCTIONS is a look into the world of Japanese animation productions that were conceived and financed by American studios. Find out which of your beloved childhood memories was actually animated in Japan, and thrill as I ignore your lifelong favorites! That's Saturday at 4:45pm. 


THE WORLD OF LEIJI MATSUMOTO hops on the Galaxy Express to tour the myriad worlds of this recently departed manga legend. From Legend Of A Honeybee to Interstella 5555, we'll visit just about every stop on the track of this man's groundbreaking, influential career. Sunday at 10:45! 


And of course we can't forget Neil Nadelman's TOTALLY LAME ANIME Friday at 8pm and Ryan Gavigan's MIDNIGHT MADNESS, midnight Friday! 

Anime Weekend Atlanta had a long road to the Galleria. AWA had its first year in 1995 in the now-demolished Castlegate Hotel, a unique Atlanta landmark known for events of every stripe, interiors and exteriors untouched since the 1970s, and a staff with whimsical ideas about cleanliness, security, and contracts. From there the show bounced around Atlanta from the north to the south side and back again, spending two years in Decatur and another two down by Hartsfield Airport, a year in Gwinnett and a year in Perimeter Mall. 


When AWA moved to the Galleria it was liberating: finally the convention had room to grow, space to move, and a location convenient for parking, shopping, hotels, and all the other benefits of suburbia while remaining (barely) within Atlanta's interstate 285, which marks the unofficial boundary between "Atlanta" proper and the hinterlands "Outside The Perimeter."

The Galleria itself was a northside Atlanta landmark, a peak 1980s upscale shopping mall full of boutique shops, luxury goods, an 8-screen AMC theater, and a space station themed arcade complete with hissing airlock doors and Apple II's for rent. If you were an 80s teen in the area you likely found yourself there on a Friday or Saturday night meeting friends to catch a movie or play some video games. 


The outward shock wave of suburban development moved through and passed beyond the area and the 1990s found the shine rubbing off many of the neighborhood's 80s dreams. The Galleria started to lose tenants; without an anchor store there really wasn't a reason to go there if you didn't happen to be catching a movie. Who opens a ski shop in Atlanta, anyways? In 1994 the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority completed the Cobb Galleria Centre, a complex of convention halls and meeting rooms adjacent to and integrated with the Galleria shopping mall, which was purchased outright by the Authority in 2000. Connected to the Renaissance Waverly, this became one of Atlanta's best destinations for mid-sized expos and conferences. Which, as the new century dawned, turned out to be a category that included anime conventions. Over the next two decades AWA watched the area rebound as malls were revitalized, new developments arose, and a new generation of metro Atlantans moved from the outer exurbs back towards and into the city. AWA's growth paralleled that of the city itself, bustling, traffic-choked, always angling for new alternatives for everything. 


One of those new alternatives came in 2017 when the Atlanta Braves moved from downtown's Turner Field - yes, named for Braves owner Ted Turner - to the new Truist Park, located in Cobb less than a mile from the Galleria. What was once a pleasant if sometimes overlooked backwater became a hot new zip code as new hotels, retail, and restaurants surrounded the ball field, connected to the Galleria by a pedestrian bridge across I-285. 


As a fall convention, AWA found itself competing for parking and hotel space with legions of late-season playoff Braves fans; suddenly AWA was in the big leagues, in more ways than one. Braves traffic and parking woes were a fact of life for the post-COVID Anime Weekends. Convention organizers weren't sure if fans would be returning to in-person conventions after the pandemic, but as it turned out returning to conventions was number one on everybody's list, and it seems like they brought their friends. What was once a cavernous empty hall now teemed with fans, what was once acres of free parking started to fill up Thursday afternoon at $10 a day. Increasingly AWA's attendees and staff began to wonder how long the Galleria and the Waverly could sustain this pressure. Would the convention finally join the ranks of other conventions and move to downtown Atlanta? Yes it would and yes it did. The convention is moving downtown. Partially because of space issues, but also because AWA has no choice. 


Next year the Cobb Galleria Centre is undergoing a makeover; the remaining retail space will be demolished and converted to more convention space and a new hotel will be going up in the northwest corner of the parking lot. Unless you enjoy cosplaying in a construction site (and you may! No shame!) the place to be in 2024 for AWA will be the World Congress Center downtown. 

I'm going to miss the Galleria. It's close to where I grew up and it looms large in my adolescent memories of goofing off on weekends wandering between malls and shopping centers, getting carded trying to get into R rated films, spending my allowance in the 2001 arcade. Little did I suspect eventually I'd help to wrangle twenty or thirty thousand anime nerds through the food court where I used to kill time before wandering over to Midnight Movies at the Akers Mill General Cinema (also demolished). Not that downtown Atlanta doesn't hold its share of memories for me, because it definitely does. Maybe we'll get to make some new ones there next year. See you in 2024! 

-Dave Merrill