A week ago, I attended the 10th edition of Montreal’s Otakuthon. A convention which takes place in the heart of downtown Montreal, Otakuthon (as you might have guessed by the name) is a yearly celebration of Japanese pop culture, more specifically anime and manga. Otakuthon is in fact the second largest anime convention in Canada falling right behind Toronto’s Anime North. Since its inception in 2005, the convention has consistently grown every year showing not only the success of the event, but the hard work organizers put into the convention. This year’s edition attracted its highest turn out yet at just over 20,000 participants over the three day weekend event, a far cry from the 1,872 turnout a decade ago. It’s no surprise that the convention has grown so steadily since the fandom has grown as well over the past decade. However, the event also attracts fans from all over North Eastern Canada and the United States. Fans I have met hail from Eastern Ontario, the province of Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. We cannot also forget the large swath of fans that hail form states such as Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York that also attend the con on a regular basis as well. (For many of whom a trip across the border to Montreal is much closer then the next closest con)
The reasons fans attend cons are manifold and include anything from cosplay, buying merchandise and meeting some of the industry’s notable personalities. As a veteran con-goer, (I’ve decided that 6 cons is enough to attain a veteran status) I’ve learned that the main reason I attend conventions, especially anime conventions, is for a sense of fan solidarity. While the North American anime fandom shares quite a few traits with the other nerd/geek fandoms in pop culture, it is by far one of the smallest. This is in no small part due to the nature of the medium and its roots in North America. Anime, for the most part, does not exactly conform or harmonize with much of North American pop culture and entertainment. Actually getting into the medium and liking it is not exactly the easiest thing in the world. I remember my early struggles with subbed anime, the head scratching moments of not understanding mannerisms and references, and being at odds with the sometimes complete alien nature of a medium of entertainment which originates from across the Pacific. I continued on due to my curiosity for something new, but I can see as to how the medium is a complete conundrum and a black hole of confusion to others. I understand as to why anime still has a stigma which still revolves around it. It isn’t easily understood, even amongst the others ner-doms of pop culture.
The second reason the anime fandom stands apart is due to the nature of interaction between the fans. Anime experienced a huge surge in popularity in North America just as the internet was emerging in the mid to late 1990’s. Before myself, “oldtaku” made due with whatever was released in North America in VHS format, there wasn’t much else you could do. I was part of the Pokémon/Dragonball explosion of popularity which permanently put anime on the North American map (for better or for worse). After myself, the internet played a much larger role in bringing a tremendous amount of titles that were not previously available to an audience eager to experience more. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that so many fans took to sharing content through the same means by which they first learned about anime, the internet. The expansion of the web in both size and its availability, is integral to the development and the expansion of the fandom in North America. Without it, it’s fair to assume that the fandom would be nowhere as large as it is today. As a result, much of the fandom’s interactions take place on the internet. In fact, it would be fair to say that a higher percentage of the fandom’s interactions take place on the internet in relation to non-internet interaction. (Just need to take a look at websites such as 4Chan and Myanimelist) I actually consider myself lucky to have a friends that actively watch anime. Many people I know don’t have the privilege to be able to share with someone else they know and have to keep the hobby to themselves. As a result, I find that the anime con has a special sense of solidarity, somewhat unique to the fandom, due to how relativley little fans interact face to face with one another. It’s a unique experience that reminds us that we are all part of a greater and much larger group. A sense of comfort that you cannot feel from a computer screen. It’s the main reason as to why I attend Otakuthon every year.
Every year, there are highlights to this experience, but this year provided me with an invaluable moment as a fan of anime. A moment of solidarity with friends and other fans of which I could not help being incredibly proud. This year’s event featured a last minute addition to the panel schedule adding Tristan MacAvery in the 9 o’clock slot late on Saturday night. For those of you who do not know who MacAvery is, I do not blame you. After all, he has been out of the anime business for nearly 15 years. In the past, he has been cast in titles such as Golden Boy, Street Fighter and Slayers. However, his hands down most notable role was that of Gendo Ikari in the English dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Nowadays, MacAvery lives in Syracuse and still makes a living voice acting for indie video games and as an author. Regardless of all that, I went to the panel to meet and greet with THE Gendo Ikari from a landmark series left a permanent mark on the industry and community.
As you would guess, MacAvery’s name is no longer floated around the industry like it used to be and it was quite apparent at his late night panel. My friends and I were amongst a small number of people who actually attended. It didn’t surprise me to see so little a number show up. It was the dying hours of the cons when more than half of the attendees had already gone home. Moreover, most people probably didn’t even know who the featured voice actor was when they took a look at the schedule. Hence, late Saturday night there I was in a room which could easily hold up to 100 attendees, only holding about a dozen or so individuals and I was not surprised. However, instead of disappointment, I actually felt ecstatic knowing that only the small number of people who attended the panel came for the exact same reason that I did. We were all there to listen to a voice actor that only we knew and cared enough to come and see. Out of the 20,000 attendees at this year’s event, only a small handful of us came to see Tristan MacAvery speak. Only we cared enough about the old school Evangelion and all the stories behind its production that we waited hours late on a Saturday night. It felt as though it was a rather exclusive event. Or in other words, were the niche within a niche.
Was MacAvery disappointed at the small turnout? Absolutely not. Although he most likely expected a small turnout, he expressed a tremendous amount of gratitude to those of us you still remember him. Making the drive from Syracuse, New York across the border in Canada just to meet and speak with a handful of fans is something that he was more than willing to do. What I learned from MacAvery is that despite his tremendous role in the past, he is a humble, observant and kindhearted individual. He spoke about his philosophy of ‘fans first and above all’ and practices it without any reserve. The five hour drive from Syracuse to Montreal and being held at the border for hours due to some mislabeled medication in his vehicle just to see a dozen or so fans is proof enough.
Overall, the panel was fantastic, especially for all the Evangelion fans who wanted the dirt on the behind the scenes action of the English dubbing. There are too many stories for me to reiterate in this post and to write them all here would make this read ridiculously long. However, I can share a few highlights which really made my evening. Did ADV know what they were doing when they dubbed Neon Genesis Evangelion? No. They did not even know what direction the story was going in when they dubbed the series. No. Not a single individual responsible for the production of the series bothered to watch the entire series or at least inform themselves on the entire plot before diving head first into the project. MacAvery mentioned that this was the result of the company’s moto of profit first, fans later. ADV knew they were going to make money regardless of the quality of the dub or their actual level of knowledge of the series. As a result, the voice actors found it difficult to adjust to the vast and needlessly unexpected turns their characters were taking throughout the series. It came as a total shocker that a classic such as Evangelion was so haphazardly put together for a North American audience. Of course I could divulge much more, but what happens at the panel sometimes has to stay at the panel.
In all, I would like to thank Tristan MacAvery for making this year’s Otakuthon such a memorable event for my friends and me. I would also like to that Otakuthon for letting have such a great and unique Otaku experience year after year. If it were not for the hard work so many people put into Otakuthon every year, I would never have been able to meet and greet with such great individuals such as MacAvery. Of course, I would also not be able to experience the special feeling of solidarity amongst the fans we meet and share our interests at such great events and panels. So a big thank you, merci beaucoup to you all and see you next year!
As always, thank you for reading to the end. If you appreciated the post please leave a like, or if you have something to contribute I would love to hear it in the comments down below. Some of you may have noticed that I changed the layout of the site. I changed to this new theme because it seems much cleaner, minimalist and straightforward then the older one. More importantly, I find that the text and the manner in which it is presented makes it much easier for you, the reader, in not having to squint in order to see what I write. So let me know what you think of the change and if you have any suggestions. So until next time, take care and I will see you all in the next post.