By David Cabrera
#7 – Introduction to the American Anime Convention – Fan Panels
You know what otaku like to do, anywhere in the world? They like to share information. Think of the 20,000 brains walking around in those big conventions, and let's say that there are a few thousand people in the throng who know enough about some niche in the otaku landscape to talk about it for hours and hours. Wouldn't it be a waste if, in a place like this, with such a huge potential audience, nobody got to hear what these ordinary fans have to say?
Well, at any big anime convention, the discussion panel is a major part of the on-site entertainment. Throughout the convention center, panels from industry and fans alike run all day and well into the night (typically the adult content starts after 10 or so). The topics for the fan panels are submitted by fans and approved by staff: if your proposal gets through, you too can talk about the otaku topic of your choice up in front of a bunch of strangers for an hour!
I've been going to conventions for a long time, but I only started doing panels a few years back when prodded by some friends who managed a con and needed some hours to fill. Some of those panels were rough: not every hour that needed to be filled had a topic and more than once I was dropped into a room and told “Alright, Dave, talk to these people about anime.” I found out I really liked it. The convention feels different when a tiny part of it is your show. The feeling is a little bit addictive.
The goal of the fan panel is to entertain the crowd, and of course to be somewhat informative. My friend Mike Toole has a panel he's been running for years called “Dubs that Time Forgot”, in which he shows off extremely obscure English-language dubs of anime that most of the audience would never have seen, like the English dub of K-On that ran on Animax Asia, an unreleased dub of Gurren-Lagann made by ADV Films before the company collapsed and the rights shifted, or a dub of Lupin the Third: Mystery of Mamo seen only on flights on JAL Airlines. The material is different every time Mike runs it: it's a packed panel every time.
My popular panels are very simple by contrast: they're called “Most Dangerous Anime”, and I give a guided tour of the weirdest stuff I know. Titles have included Charge Man Ken, Musashi Gundoh, Abunai Sisters, and Gundress. There's an 18+ version as well, at which Kakugo no Susume (we call it Apocalypse Zero) caused one audience member to actually beg “turn it off!” Oh, I warn my crowds in advance... but they never listen.
Next week I'm going to be giving four panels at I-Con not too far from here: the two panels I mentioned, one on Japanese mahjong, and another on the Japanese TV show Game Center CX. In exchange, because I've been paneling for them for so long, they put me up in a hotel room and pay my way. Fan panelists aren't usually compensated like that, though: they do it for the sheer love of the thing they're talking about. Unbridled passion on display can either go really well or really badly, so going to fan panels can be a bit of a gamble. When people do it right, though, it can be just as much of an attraction as the industry puts on.