Anime NEXT 2015

I have been attending this convention for a decade now, starting when I was in high school and when I was very much embarrassed of my love of animation (particularly Japanese animation). A couple of unfortunate instances with classmates made me hide it from most people. But at my first Anime NEXT, I distinctly remember being on my phone the first night, walking around the hotel lobby after things had quieted down, telling my mom how comfortable I felt, being surrounded by a proper community. It was a much smaller con then, as conventions weren’t the pop culture juggernauts they are now. Nonetheless, ANEXT has maintained the charm that initially drew me to it. And, although I’m not the active fan that I was, I can still appreciate everything the medium and fans have to offer.

Although the dealers room and artist alley are always jam-packed, the beautiful grounds of the Garden Sate Exhibit Center allow for people to spread out and appreciate all of the costumes and props designed. This year, a Japanese rock band my brother and I really like, FLOW, headlined the convention, and did not disappoint. It was pretty interesting for my brother, our friend, and me to attend a concert and then immediately after go to a rave, but somehow it worked. The DJ had a very interesting mix of trance, house, chip tunes, and video game soundtracks mixed together. In addition to FLOW, another huge celebrity attended, Trigger Studios. They are well known for hit shows like Gurren LagannPanty and Stocking, and Kill la Kill. They also received a lot of positive attention for their short film Little Witch Academia, which had a very, very successful Kickstarter campaign that is funding a sequel due out this October.

Most years, I don’t really do much in terms of convention day-time programming, but I am very happy to say that this year I opted to attend a few panels. Growing up, voice acting was something I was interested in (if only to find a career I could possibly have in the animation industry) so it was interesting to attend a couple of panels hosted by professionals. I also attended a nostalgia-fueled panel about Cartoon Networks Toonami block with some friends who also grew up watching it. We also attended the annual unofficial Digimon Vs. Pokemon soccer game, which is in it’s 5th year running. My friend, who dressed up as a character from Digimon, got to play in the game, which I am admittedly jealous of. Perhaps some day!

One of the panels I went to was called “Women in Animation,” ended up being one of my favorite things about the con this year, all thanks to one woman. The panel featured three American voice actresses, and one animator from Japan, Ms. Aya Suzuki. My favorite activity of the weekend (other than seeing so many friends) was a panel called “A Video History of Anime,” which was educational, funny, and entertaining. I’ll be writing more about both of these panels in separate posts soon, as I believe they warrant larger coverage!

There were a few other panels I’d have enjoyed attending, but didn’t get to. But it’s very reassuring that the convention continues to provide some more slightly serious/educational content for fans. This post is already a bit longer than I’d like, so I will simply end it by being generally grateful to have a convention like this one be in my life for as long as it has, and to encourage any readers to consider attending one in their lifetimes, whether their interest be anime or comic books or even any other random thing like tattoos. There are conventions /expos/gatherings/meetups for all sorts of things. Finding a broader community is a pretty nice thing.

Tony Zhou and the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy

This past weekend, I revisited the video essays of Tony Zhou. It reminded me that there are still so many classic and contemporary live-action films that I need to still see. The first time I saw his essay on the visual comedy of Edger Wright last year, I had realized I’d yet to see any of Wright’s films outside of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

And so, with the lessons of Mr. Zhou fresh in mind, I’ve been re-thinkng my viewing of the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy, consisting of Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World’s End (2013).

cornetto-trilogy-590x331

I enjoyed them in the order they were released, with Shaun being my definite favorite by a longshot, and, enjoying End, but not enough to seek it out again. I found that my reasoning for this solely had to do with the character Simon Pegg played in each, and how much I related to them. Or didn’t. Mostly didn’t.

In terms of visual comedy, dialogue, cinematography, and overall production, they were all on a level playing field. I found myself actually laughing out at funny quips, slapstick, and noise effects, that much more appreciative of them thanks to Tony Zhou. And that much more disillusioned by American cinema.

But the characters…In End, I despised Pegg’s Gary King with every fiber of my being. I understand that that’s how his character is supposed to be, and that even his friends can barely tolerate him. Hot Fuzz‘s Nicholas Angel’s frustration was palpable to me, but the sheer idiocy surrounding him turned sour to me, to the point where I was more annoyed than humored. Shaun was clearly the most relatable of the three characters in his struggle to be a better version of himself for those around him. It made me wonder that, had Wright’s films not been so visually appealing, if I’d have been able to sit through End. I honestly don’t think so, considering my indifference for the characters. The heightened storytelling also allowed for the absurd premises of the films to be more digestible too. I wonder what came first as Wright refined his arsenal…it would be interesting to see his earlier work, either as a student or making shorts or commercials. Was his style always so outlandish, even with more grounded scenarios, or did his desire to expand outside the norm necessitate his inventiveness? I’ll have to do some digging for a follow-up post!

On top of peaking my interest in discovering and learning from new films, Tony Zhou also makes me want to analyze films more, and better. Way better. He’s such a gem, who must spend hours researching and composing his  essays, let alone editing them, and this post was written in a collective 3 hours over 2 months (because I’m a weenie and didn’t finish and post it when I first thought to write about it). I know my writing can’t be as good as Tony Zhou’s video-ing. At least, not any time soon. Which means I need to start now. That is the constant struggle.

I’m glad that watching video essays could spur me into seeing films that, although I never would have sought out, would (and did) thoroughly enjoy experiencing. There are so many more films from Tony’s and other people’s essays (both written and visual essays) that I’ve never even heard of, so I intend for this to become a trend.

Definitely check out the work of Edgar Wright and Tony Zhou!

On the Fragility of Life

A boy, Anthony, I was close with my senior year of high school passed away yesterday. He was a New Jersey state trooper–it was car accident while on patrol late at night. Sadly not the first time I lost someone I was close with senior year of high school, but that one’s a whole other can of worms.

The last thing I want to do is be insensitive, or make it about me, but I think when these things happen and you are straddled just enough between it having nothing to do with you1 and it hitting close to home2, you can’t help but reflect on your own life.

It was quite a gut-check for me. Always good to have those, but obviously never in this way. Even in a potentially dangerous field like law enforcement, you don’t expect this sort of thing to happen. Losing Lucas years ago has given me a biased viewpoint on the common mentality youths have. I know we aren’t immortal, I am, constantly, very much aware of this. We aren’t immune to the cruel randomness of the world. This patrol that Anthony was on, it was probably very routine. He was probably bored and eager to get home and sleep right before it happened. And then he never got home. And that’s so, so unsettling.

I feel like an ass for writing about this. But I can’t help but analyze this, juxtapose it to my life, perhaps as a coping mechanism. A sort of guarded “how can I learn from this so it doesn’t happen to me?” But you can’t prepare yourself for so much in this world. And you can’t constantly think and worry about it either. You just have to live. Really, truly live.

This is why I feel one can’t take life too seriously. I imagine that sounds counter-intuitive to what I’ve been trying to say. Obviously, I take my job seriously in that I want to do well and build a career, but I am also very quick to defuse a situation with a reality check. At the end of the day, I’m making animated films. At the end of the day, I’m sitting in a room with five people with PhD-level knowledge of computer graphics and we are arguing about llama fur or grass simulations. Not exactly curing cancer over here. But I don’t regret my decision by any means.3 I try not to hold grudges, I try to keep an open-mind, I try to help decrease world suck.4 5 It’s hard to build a future when you don’t look past today, but it’s so important that you don’t take today for granted. There’s so much more to life then whatever is currently stressing you out.

This has nothing to do with animation…but I think it’s relevant in the whole ‘being human’ 6 department. I just think that most people could use the reminder to take a step back from the day-to-day grind and remember why they do it in the first place.

Footnotes:
1. Although we were on good terms throughout high school, we never maintained contact following that
2. When you go to a small Catholic high school, you end up knowing everyone
3. I’d also like to think that animation does bring joy to people, and adds much needed positivity and art into the world
4. Or at least, not add more suckiness to the world
5. DFTBA
6. Unintentional pun…

Escape the Room NYC

My friends and I have been enjoying playing the Escape the Room games in NYC. Costing around $30 per person, you need to book well in advance, and (pending the specific game) need anywhere from 6-12 people to play. On a previous outing, we played the James Bond themed “The Agency” game (that we did not win), and more recently we (successfully) completed the Sherlock Holmes-themed “The Home.” The only game left at the Midtown location for us is “The Office.” There are two more games located at their downtown location (“Theater” and “Apartment”) we’ve yet to play. Similar games have been springing up, such as a pop-up Attack on Titan game that was held at Yankee Stadium!

Having studied game design back in undergrad as an interactive multimedia student (and a tiny bit in grad school too), I enjoy experiencing these “big games” on a very meta level. Both the experience of playing–the exhilaration, the teamwork and communication needed to beat the clock, the puzzles (and the puzzles within puzzles)–and the experience of being cognitively aware that I am going through these pre-determined motions and interactions, is quite a rush. The thought that I am actively playing a game someone else meticulously designed, game terminology floating around my head all the while, that was specifically designed for this space, is pretty fantastic. That’s what I love about big games: they are, by definition, inherently specific to the surrounding environment. A good example and chance to play some big games is the Come Out & Play festival, which (in this year’s case) takes over Governors Island and DUMBO Brooklyn for a weekend (July 17-18th) of site-specific fun.

In one of my undergrad game design classes, we were tasked with designing a big game that made use of our college campus. It was very fun to playtest the various teams’ games and see where they took us on the campus, and how they made use of the space. But Escape the Room is great as the space it occupies was built for the game, rather than it just being a variable the designers had to factor in. (Obviously, the designers had to factor in certain things about the space before designing the game though, but more basic things such as cubic meters, ceiling height, etc.–things you can’t actually legally change when renting a space in NYC.

Being able to deconstruct the game as both a player and a designer, allows one to use these angles to help progress the story along, and give you an idea of what to expect. As all of my friends who I attended with are gamers (video games, board games, card games, casual games, you name it)(oh, and avid Sherlock-watchers!), I felt pretty confident. The fact that we had already played one before as well added to the knowledge and experience we collectively pooled. We sort of knew, not what to expect, but how to manage our expectations and the nature of the unknown factors we’d face. I feel like I talked about the same thing over and over but with different wording each time…I just really enjoy this type of thing. 🙂

If you are ever in NYC, I highly recommend giving one of these a whirl. I loved “being” in 221B Baker Street and rummaging about, with a certain theme song on loop in my head the whole time. And as I mentioned before, if you’re interested in experiencing other types of “big games” yourself, consider Come Out & Play in July.

The game is on

The Lord of the Rings in Concert

Last weekend, I attended a performance of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in concert in NYC. It was hosted at the Lincoln Center, where I’ve seen the New York Philharmonic Orchestra perform. This event featured the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, who have been traveling the world essentially covering movie scores. Past performances include “live” screenings of Pirates of the Caribbean, Back to the Future, Ratatouille, Indiana Jones, and more. This was their first time performing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in North America.

Amazing. Def had an out of body experience. #lordoftherings #LOTRinConcert

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Having bought this ticket off of a co-worker, I was locked into The Two Towers. Though I think I would have picked it had I had the option. I remember in middle school facing the exact same dilemma in a music store. Adoring the scores to these films, I wanted (and could only afford) one CD. It came down to Fellowship or Two Towers, with my love of the playful Shire music pulling me towards the first, and my love of the grandiose Rohan epics pulling me towards the second. In the end, I decided on Two Towers largely because it had a nice combination of “happy” music and action music. (Return of the King did not have much of what 12-year-old me classified as “happy” music, ruling it out entirely.)

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