Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Of Human Energy and Flying Robots


My word of the day is “energy.”

While Japan has switched off all its atomic energy plants and gone to fossil fuel this year, friends of Japan over here in Calgary enjoyed another energetic Otafest. The “ota” part is short for otaku, a Japanese word meaning living-in-your-mother’s-basement fan. Over here, though, the meaning’s not nearly so extreme. This weekend young people gathered to enjoy Japanese pop culture, especially animation and comics, or, anime and manga. (You don’t need to write these words in italics anymore)

The annual festival, totally put on by volunteers, is always held at the University of Calgary, on the Queen Victoria Day weekend. At one point, while I was sitting in the food court, a happy Asian family, one with a light easygoing energy, asked me, “What’s going on?” This while so many otaku in costumes were having lunch and passing back and forth. So I explained things, adding that, just as Japan has better animation than we do, over in Japan the housewives are watching South Korean TV dramas for being much better than theirs. At this the adults burst into laughter. Their poor boys had to be told that while yes, there was a huge dealer’s room that includes toys, you need an Otafest wristband to get in.

As usual, I attended mainly for the anime. Why? As with opera, I can get into feeling far more tragic emotion and laughter from anime than I would while watching Hollywood shows on the zombie-box. I said as much to a conventioneer my age, a bald fellow in a plaid shirt. He pointed out that a lot of the background inspiration was western opera, as well as western myths and religions. Indeed. The young people attending may never have heard of the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, but they know what they like. We both liked how we were old enough, i.e. rich, to buy anything we saw. That’s a nice thought, one that perked me up all weekend as I searched for DVD sets and stuff.

So many conventioneers looked so excited all the time. My heart went out to contrasting little groups of two or three —rarely three-- where everyone had somber faces. I wondered if they had grown up with a somber expression as their default, and if they had gravitated together because they had similar energy levels, from having similar pasts. “God bless the beasts and children.”

The only seminar I attended, about piloted Gundam giant flying robots, had a low energy level. The lone panelist, with a computer hooked to an overhead display screen, had ample resource material to explain his points, yet he apologized several times for not being more prepared. I guess he meant he had no really well planned lesson for us, but he was OK, and he surely had enough background knowledge. He also had knowledge of how to facilitate, as he knew when to say, “let’s move along,” when to ask for a show of hands, and when to ask for questions. If the energy never got very high, well, maybe it was the nature of the topic. The lesson I took away was to always have a second person, or more, on your panel, even if they have to admit right away, “I know nothing” about the topic. I’m serious: Because the comfortable energy sent between the two panelists, besides being reassuring to them, may then ignite others attending the panel to warm up too. And besides, the most powerful force in the universe is a determination not to let the other guy down: There would have been no apologizing about a lack of preparation. (Note: Someone said the audience was too diverse for the panelist. That sounds right, in which case a second panelist might have helped build bridges)

I don’t think anyone reacted to me as being old, except I was asked for directions a lot. For me, the festival was like being in a fairy tale, a land where, without any need for fearful warm-up, strangers who met could start talking right away. I wore no costume, no yuppie clothes or business suit, merely a T-shirt and jeans.

At one point I asked a lone girl about her school uniform costume, complete with armband. She burst forth at length about it, and how she was from a little private school. Truly, there can be a strange energy to experiencing a big party where you don’t know anyone. My advice: Unless you’re a hardened guy my age, try to drag a friend along. If you’re a woman my age, have no fear of standing out. Last year my curious English professor’s wife was well received by the young fans. In fact, come to think of it, contrary to nerd stereotypes, I guess there were even more young ladies at Otafest than young men.

Ah, nothing like a balance of genders to add energy. (At one point I overheard three girls sharing a phone-camera photo of a boy they knew in costume) As for my own energy, I noticed it was down this year, partly for some personal reasons, and partly because of a significant reduction in the number and type of anime offered… At least I patronized some young artists. –And hey, I already have all my new posters up on my refrigerator door! And I’m energized to have bought lots of stuff on sale, -yes!- enough to last me through the whole year. I’ll be back!

Sean Crawford
Back in the mundane world,
May 2012
~Of course we celebrate the birthday of our monarch, but we can’t be changing the date every time we get a new one, right? So Queen Victoria’s birthday stands in for whomever the current monarch is.

~On page 5 of google's otafest listings I found this collage teaser-intro to the Gundam panel I attended.

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