Monday, April 10, 2017

Worldcon '84: The Anime Room Experience

Since 1939, the World Science Fiction Society has held a Worldcon every year. Well, they took a few years off for WWII. Anyway, each annual Worldcon happens in a city at least 500 miles away from the site of the previous Worldcon, because reasons. As the pre-eminent gathering of science fiction fans and pros, it's the go-to destination for every sci-fi junkie and fantasy nerd who can scrape up plane fare, jam themselves fifteen deep into hotel rooms, and endure three hours of stern Bob Heinlein lectures on American freedom (Kansas City, '76). And as part and parcel of that swirling stew of propeller-beanie-sporting poindexters, anime fans have found themselves thrust into the heart of Worldcon on more than one occasion. 

1984's Worldcon -  "L.A. Con II" - took place August 30 all the way to September 3 - that's right, these things are FIVE DAYS LONG - at the Anaheim Hilton and Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland and also the future site of 1998 and 1999's Anime Expo. Guest of Honor was Gordon "Dorsai!" Dickson, with Robert "Psycho" Bloch and Jerry "Janissaries" Pournelle MCing and hosting awards ceremonies. L.A. Con II had almost 8400 members, an impressive number for the time. Even for fans of "Japanimation", as it was then called, the convention was truly a magical gathering. Visiting Gundam guru Yoshiyuki Tomino revealed here for the first time that Mobile Suit Gundam was getting a sequel. A 35mm print of the Lensman anime film received its American premiere. Carl Macek screened Harmony Gold's direct-to-video Macross, the precursor to next year's Robotech. And over in the Santa Monica Salon on the 4th floor of the Hilton, the LA chapter of the Cartoon/Fantasy Organization was rocking the house with a full slate of that Japanimation thing, all weekend long!

Recently uncovered in the voluminous files of Dr. Steve Harrison - who was there! - we now have definite proof of the schedule of the 1984 Worldcon's anime room.  And what a schedule it was, with a mix of the old and the new, the English and the Japanese, future franchises and lost relics waiting to be forgotten. 

always open with Star Blazers

Thursday kicked things off with Star Blazers, next straight into Tatsunoko's robot-fighting Casshan, followed by some Galaxy Express 999 TV episodes, and then dropped unsuspecting audiences into Toei's 1973's risque Go Nagai adventure series Cutey Honey.

Next up, a jarring change of pace with the considerably classier Sherlock Hound - you know, the Sherlock Holmes adventures animated by TMS starring the Famous Detective Holmes, who's now a dog living in a dog London? Sure you do. Then, back to outer space with Tatsunoko's Macross, the English dub of their Dashing Warrior Muteking, some more Star Blazers for your afternoon, and then back to Tatsunoko land for an episode of their then-new SF series Southern Cross. That was followed by an English language episode of the TMS series Adventures Of Gamba, the world-famous tale of the sailing mouse battling to defend the mouse island, popular all over the world except in the United States. 

Southern Cross and Muteking; two tastes that taste great together

This was followed by the magical girl Minky Momo, and then the always-popular "dinner break".  The rest of the evening? Galaxy Express, Lupin III, Star Blazers, Gold Lightan, a early subtitled version of Lupin III Castle Of Cagliostro, the first episode of TMS's robot anime Orguss followed by another TMS robot anime God Mars, and the wee hours would see more Star Blazers and Macross

TMS covers all the bases with mice and Mars

Friday started bright and early with Tatsunoko's 1975 outer space knight Space Knight Tekkaman, soon to be released to home video in an English-dubbed version with the C/FO's own Fred Patten on staff. The daytime's schedule of the familiar Star Blazers, Macross, Galaxy Express and Cutey Honey would be enlivened by what might have been the North American premiere of the world-famous Daicon III and IV opening animations, produced by what would become Gainax.

take that, Eleking

Take a break for some fresh air as they re-run last year's Worldcon costume contest, but be back at 5:30 for the Space Adventure Cobra film, Osamu Dezaki's love letter to the splitscreen psychedelic psycho-gun world of outer space adventure, and settle back for more Star Blazers, Macross, 999, and Orguss, with a side of art-thief coffee-shop proprietors Cat's Eye.  Oh yeah, and GI Joe

Saturday? Get there bright and early for more Star Blazers! Some Space Cobra! A little Galaxy Express, some more Cutey Honey, future-cop adventures with Tatsunoko's Urashiman, highlights of CostumeCon II, and then Carl Macek himself will introduce the American feature-length adaptation of Super Space Fortress Macross! Singing along with the theme song is not only suggested, it is strongly encouraged. 

Macross Vs Urashiman
Then get ready for vintage Miyazaki with Lupin III #155 - "Farewell Lovely Lupin" - some more Southern Cross, what appears to be the English pilot dub of Tatsunoko's Mospeada, more Macross and Galaxy Express, a special presentation of the live-action Japanese SF film Sayonara Jupiter, the English pilot for Space Adventure Cobra, and more Star Blazers, Orguss, and Cat's Eye, at which point it's 2:00 in the morning and you stagger back to the room you're sharing with a bunch of strangers to try to claim a spot on the floor, stunned with the realization that you still have two more full days of Worldcon ahead of you. 

Lupin III and Cat's Eye setting a good example for the nation's youth by stealing stuff
A few questions still remain: did the anime room continue for Sunday and Monday? And why no Gatchaman? Why no Captain Harlock or Raideen? How did Tomino feel about the complete lack of Mobile Suit Gundam on the anime room schedule? 

Tomino joins the Mickey Mouse Club; photo by Steve Harrison

Worldcons future and past would deliver Japanese animation firsts to American audiences: the 1983 Worldcon featured rooftop cosplayers and a screening of a 35mm print of Arrivederchi Yamato (it was supposed to be Final Yamato, but something got lost in translation), and the '88 New Orleans Worldcon, "Nolacon", would see both a 35mm print of Wings Of Honneamise and the premiere of Gainax's Gunbuster, and as a video room staffer, the opportunity to make VHS copies of the anime opening credits tape brought over by Japanese visitors was priceless. But in 1988, we were ready; we knew what "anime" was and were hungry for more. In 1984, not so much. For sheer impactful power of an artistic medium upon a nation unprepared for its awesomeness, 1984 was a singular year. 

Special thanks to Steve Harrison for unearthing these schedules and to L.A. Con II and the C/FO for making it all happen in 1984!


Anonymous said...

Yo, I was there too, G! I was 13 years old (“A word of warning...stop by age eighteen--or else"--Milk & Cheese) and flew down 1100 miles from Eastern Washington, where my family was living at the time. Steve must have had twice the journey, but it is a WORLDcon, after all (LA Con II's welcoming message to attendees, which included the phrase “Enjoy. Or we’ll break your knees and leave you in the desert” was written in five languages, including English, Japanese, Russian, French, and Elvish. No Klingon in them days. I don’t recall whether it was Sindarin or Quenya).

My grandparents, who lived in the O.C., were kind enough to put me up during the con and drive me to and from Anaheim every day, so none of that crammed-in-a-room stuff for me, at least on that occasion. Those were my prime SF-reading years, encouraged by the fact our local used bookstore sold paperbacks for 25 cents. I recall, however, that Worldcon membership was something like $60-75, and that was in Reagan dollars--big money for a kid. I know I saved up for that myself, but I don't recall if I paid for the flight, too (I'm guessing I received some family support there). I was just remembering that the local airport in Pasco, WA still used those school cafeteria stick-letters-on-a-board signs for arrivals and departures. Walk out onto the tarmac, fasten your seatbelt, and, as this was 1984, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

LA Con II was where I first met Toshio Okada and Yasuhiro Takeda, who were running a General Products table in the dealer’s room; GP had organized a tour for Japanese fans to attend the con, and it may have been on that occasion that the special “bonus scenes” in Los Angeles of Kaiketsu Notenki 2 were shot. As a gift for my parents, I bought something I knew they’d get—General Products’ reproduction of the zero gravity toilet instructions from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was also, I’m sure, one of their cheaper items, and I was grateful enough just to have made it to the con; I didn’t have a lot of leftover cash for shopping. Fortunately, there were plenty of free giveaway items promoting 2010: The Year We Make Contact, as well as next year’s release of Larry Cohen's The Stuff, a movie evoking a fear of that great technological advance of the 1980s, frozen yogurt, one day turning against us.

The Japanese fans rolled in a posse that could only be described as strong, stupid, and dope—they were the second-largest contingent of fans from outside the U.S. (after the Canadians), numbering 93. Hiroaki Inoue, who would soon co-produce Royal Space Force, was also there, with an earlier film he co-produced, Lensman. No anime could be more appropriate to an old-school SF con, you’ll agree; this was said to have been the first public American screening of the movie--Kodansha arranged it. Manga! Manga!, of course, had been published by Kodansha the year before, and in fact it was its author, translator and scholar supreme, Frederik Schodt, who interpreted for Tomino. Tomino’s appearance at the con was sponsored by a grant from the Japan Foundation (decades before “Cool Japan”), giving some indication of just how well-organized the Japanese presence at LA Con II was.

Dave, you don’t happen to still have any documentation—flyers, schedules or such—of the subtitled Honneamise screening at Nolacon II? I know it happened, but I’ve never seen any write-ups on it from the event itself. It’s not listed in the Nolacon II program guide, which I’ve read although I wasn’t there (the guide seemed oriented more towards essays and reminiscences than programming). Was it indeed on 35mm? ANIMAG reported it as being on 16mm; 35 would suggest there was considerably more resources behind it. Toren told me that the subtitled version, while a definite improvement on Star Quest, was nevertheless a production mess that he wished he had been given an opportunity to fix beforehand.


d.merrill said...

Carl, thanks for the reminisces and the additional data!

I remember the clackety projector screening Honneamise at Nolacon, and I think you and ANIMAG are right, it was 16mm. I don't have any physical anything myself from that convention, no flyers or schedules or program books. Our crew kind of got into the show through the back door - we had legit badges, but that was all we had.


Anonymous said...

Well, you put a lot of effort into these blog posts, so I thought I should at least chip in something ^_^ The connection between LA anime fandom and its SF fandom isn't entirely gone even now; Anime Los Angeles has connections to the venerable LASFS (as, of course, did the C/FO). I wonder if those connections can also still be found at some of the East Coast cons with old-school SF roots, like Boskone or Arisia.

The viewpoint LA Con II took towards its anime programming was not so much "let's have an anime track, too"--it was very explicitly "There's some great SF and fantasy work being done in Japan, so check it out." In other words, it was about what anime (and Japan in general) was bringing to the genre. I think that was a positive approach.


Steve H said...

I greatly enjoyed finding and sharing these treasures but it also opened up a great big box of "if I knew then what I know now" regrets.

Not just the stuff I didn't buy but SHOULD have (ha. money was so damn limited) but all the things I didn't do. If I had tried harder I could have gotten a ride to Japantown to check out Pony Toy and Melody Records and everything. If I had known about Okada's interest in old model kits I'm sure I would have enjoyed talking old plamo (with a translator, of course). There was a gentleman from Japan who expressed great interest in a copy of Space Fanzine Yamato (I had brought a few I had left just in case) so I gave him a copy as a present from American fandom, he gave me his meishi (business card) and it turns out I later learn he was a mecha designer who worked on Technoboyager among other things. So many missed opportunities.

Lensman was generally well received even if it was shown in a rather awkward way (a room in the convention space, flat floor and folding chairs. Reading the subtitles was an exercise in frustration, let me tell you!) and while it didn't get many points for 'truth to the books' it was still entertaining.

Anonymous said...

I should have asked this before, but do you recall who was involved with the presentation of the subtitled print of Honneamise? Did any of its Japanese staff seem to be there, such as Toshio Okada? Was there some sort of introduction given for the film, or questions taken afterward?

The reason that I ask is that the ANIMAG article (I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it was written before Nolacon) seemed to indicate the purpose of the showing was to promote a future official subtitled video release of Honneamise. As far as I know, no such release materialized, although something like that would happen two years later with U.S. Renditions' Gunbuster, which you mentioned was also screened at Nolacon (was the Gunbuster showing also subtitled?)


d.merrill said...

Carl, I can't say for sure who was involved with the presentation of Honneamise, other than Toren Smith being present. I was in and out of the room. I didn't see the Gunbuster presentation, so I don't know if it was subtitled or not.

On thing I *can* say for sure about that New Orleans Worldcon; we went to the French Quarter and I bought a T-shirt with John Lydon on it in a gift shop.

Anonymous said...

John Lydon? Wouldn't that purchase have been more appropriate at...Sakuracon? HAW HAW!

The first time I went to New Orleans by myself (as opposed to with my parents) must have been in 1992, and I somehow managed to get into a conversation about Laputa with the house manager of a local theater that was putting on "Breaking the Code." I can never remember in which pocket an otaku is supposed to place their handkerchief, but nevertheless I always seem to run into my kind in any strange city.