Crunchyroll Expo 2018

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For those who are not familiar with Crunchyroll and it’s service, it is probably the largest provider of anime streaming content on the Internet. Through mobile and console apps via Roku, Amazon Fire, Playstation and XBox, they have grown very popular as the default service for licensed legally available anime. One of the pluses is their licensing deals with Japanese studios to allow simulcasts of current anime seasons. That means as an episode airs in Japan, it is streamed online with subtitles that same day.

In 2017, Crunchyroll had their first Crunchyroll Expo (CRX for short) at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It was quite a good turnout as a medium-sized convention, Not San Diego Comic-Con numbers, and that is a good thing. This year, CRX was held in San Jose, a larger venue and at least as big a crowd if not bigger. To be fair SacAnime was also going on in Sacramento and the behemoth of Dragon Con was also going in in Atlanta.

CRX differs a few ways from other anime conventions in that since it is run by a specific company there is of course bias towards Crunchyroll and it’s content. If you’ve ever been to Sony’s PSX, then this might sound familiar. Fortunately, Crunchyroll has enough content worth running a convention over.

The exhibit hall of the convention center had much to offer, including food from outside vendors whose menus included katsu curry sandwiches, takoyaki, and what has become a mainstay at geeky conventions in San Jose’s convention center, Psycho Donuts.

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In addition to the main hall being a vendors room where you can get all sorts of anime related merchandise from blu-rays to cosplay wigs, figures, plushies and even body pillows, there  was an extensive artists area. This artist area is a great place for finding art prints, postcards, even crochet. And to me the examples of creativity is really well represented in anime conventions.

This year, there were quite a few premiers and retrospective screenings of anime films all throughout the day. GKids, which is celebrating its 10 anniversary, brought in their library of Studio Ghibli films and even their Irish import, The Secret of Kells.  A major stand out for me was the premier of the English dub of Maquia. It had previously made the rounds in limited release subtitled and is now about to make the rounds again dubbed. If you get a chance to see this in the theater do so — and call your mother. Seriously, you’ll want to. It is truly a beautifully animated film that is also incredibly emotional as well.

Another premier was for a new anime about to make the rounds called Penguin Highway. It’s quite a charming and at times surreal film about youth, inquisitiveness, and of course penguins. I’m a sucker for pengins already adn penguins in anime will score huge points from me.

Both films came courtesy of Eleven Arts Studio which was responsible for bringing over the truly remarkable film A Silent Voice — which , by the way, still doesn’t have a North American home video release. I had to import the Region B UK blu-ray. Luckily I had a blu-ray player that can switch regions. More in-depth reviews of both films are forthcoming.

One new upcoming show I got to see was the premier of The Rise of the Shield Hero coming in January to Crunchyroll. Yes it’s yet another Isekai anime, a genre where a protagonist is brought out of their regular mundane world and transported to a fantasy RPG like world. And frankly for the first half of the premier episode I was cynical, but after a twist it does become very interesting and becomes a little darker. I’ll be looking forward to where they go with this in January. Meanwhile there have been several light novels and manga already translated and available already.

Of course, as with most anime conventions, there are guests. One of the most popular animes right now is My Hero Academia, an anime that is heavily influenced by Western super-hero comics. So it’s no wonder that it has a cross appeal not just because its influences but because it’s a darn good show. In my opinion it is also a show that is very well done in the English dub and several of the English voice actors were on hand having fun swapping their roles from several scenes from the show.

Crunchyroll was just recently acquired by AT&T and I don’t know how that will effect the service going forward and also the future of any more Expos. But if AT&T were smart and cared (seriously, I doubt that from my experience) they will grow and continue on with CRX. So until next year — hopefully…

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My Reflections on The 2018 Hugos

The Hugo awards, probably the most prestigious award of the science fiction and fantasy community were handed out on August 19th at Worldcon 76 in San Jose. Now this was the second Worldcon I had ever been to but this first one I voted on.

So when you sign up as a member of Worldcon, you are eligible to nominate and vote on the Hugos. I did not participate in the nominating process. And a good thing too. Apparently all the books I read in 2017 were not published in 2017, except for one.

When the Hugo nominations came out I was not prepared for the fact that I did not read a single one of the novels on the list, nor any of the novellas, let alone novelettes or short stories. I did manage to see all the movies nominated which were under the category of “Dramatic Presentation Long Form.” So yay for having the time to watch a bunch of nerd movies and no time to read? No? I guess not.

There was of course no way that I was going to read all the works nominated. There was even a Best Series category. So I set out the goal of reading all the novels, six in total. And maybe the novellas as they were relatively short.

Little did I know, there is such a thing as a Hugo Packet. Much like how around awards season, studios provide screener copies of their movies for review and voting thus becomes easier. Yeah, I found out about this late.

Oh, and the votes are ranked voting, so out of six nominees, you are supposed to rank your 1st place to 6th place choice for winner.

Come the night of the Hugos and the show went on. My friends Veronica Belmont and Tom Merrit lost in the Best Fancast category for their show The Sword and Laser to the Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace hosted Ditch Diggers podcast.  It’s Tom and Veronica’s first of hopefully many Hugo nominations.

Winner of the John W. Campbell Award for New Writer went to Rebecca Roanhorse. “So listen, y’all a Black and Indigenous woman just won the Campbell award,” she said to applause. Though I have not read her debut novel Trail of Lightning, I did read her short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience,” which by the way also won the Hugo award for best short story.

Winner of the Best Graphic Story went to Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood. Written by Marjorie M. Liu with art by Sana Takeda. This is the second year in a row of winning for them. It’s a really well done graphic novel series. Very mature, often graphic. But yet beautifully drawn as well. Sana Takeda also won the award for Best Professional Artist.

The winner of the Best Editor Long Form went to Sheila E. Gilbert. Now this is one of those categories that I know next to nothing about but they are responsible for editing many of our favorite novels. Here, I would probably shut down and look at my phone, then Ms. Grant closed with this statement:

I’d just like to add one more thing this year. We find ourselves living in a terrifying dystopian reality. If someone had submitted this as a novel to me, I would have turned it down as way too improbable. But if this had been a novel instead of 21st century America, I could have at least edited and improved the situation. The only way that we can all do that now is to exercise our right to vote. If you can vote in the Hugos, you can vote in the midterm elections. Vote to change the present. Vote to save the future. Go out and vote and get everyone you know to do the same. Thank you all very much.

Truly, to me the highlight of the night went to N.K. Jemisin who is the breaker of records. Not only is she the first African American woman to win the Hugo back in 2015, but she has won it three years in a row. No author has done it three years in a row. She won in 2015, thwarting the efforts of the Puppies movement. Her first win was for The Fifth Season, followed by The Obelisk Gate, and she pulled off the trifecta this year with the final book in the trilogy, The Stone Sky. Now some of those sad and rabid puppies may have cried tokenism and not earning her Hugo, Ms. Jemisin had a message for them:

And yes, there will be naysayers. I know that I am here on this stage, accepting this award, for pretty much the same reason as every previous Best Novel winner: because I worked my ass off. I have poured my pain onto paper when I could not afford therapy. I have studied works of literature that range widely and dig deeply, to learn what I could and refine my voice. I have written a Million Words of Crap and probably a Million More of Meh…But this is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers—every single mediocre insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, that when they win it it’s meritocracy but when we win it it’s “identity politics” — I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger in their direction.

The full video of her speech is below:

And the full text is available here.

The Hugos are a way for us, readers to acknowledge great accomplishments. And this was a tough field to vote on. I regret not being able to vote in as many categories as I could, but I am glad I was able to participate.

For a full list of nominees and winners. The San Jose Mercury News, Newspaper for the host city has a fill list of nominees and winners here.

Until next year, Worldcon. I won’t be in Dublin, but I’ll be sure to vote again next year. And hopefully I will be reading more.

Harry Potter and the Brisket of Beef

So a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending LeakyCon 2018 a Harry Potter Convention. It was in Dallas  Texas and since it was in the middle of August it was muggy, and it was rainy, actually. So of course with tradition among all convention centers, the air conditioning was turned to about 60 degrees inside while it was in the 90s outside.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, when you find yourself in Texas, and you like barbecue, y’all gotta try Texas barbecue. I found my way to Lockhart Smokehouse which is a place where you place your order at a counter in a back and they give you your food wrapped in butcher paper, then you find a place to sit. As my hobby is smoking barbecue, it was damn good brisket. Seriously, getting good authentic barbecue should not be that hard in San Francisco. Okay, onward.

If you discount the Harry Potter Celebration Days at Universal Studios Orlando then this is my third Harry Potter inspired convention my first was Azkatraz 2009 which was held in my hometown of San Francisco It was fun. And of course, being that kind of nerd, I really liked the academic panels, especially about the mythology and influences of the books.

My second was LeakyCon 2016 in Anaheim. It was similar in many ways to Azkatraz. It was a small convention, maybe less than a thousand attendees, but that made it all the more friendly. Sure, the passes I got allowed me autographs with some of the actors, but I was not actually interested in getting anything signed. The highlight of the event was one night just hanging out in the lobby with a couple of those same actors who were having a great time playing the bar piano and belting away Broadway tunes.

LeakyCon 2017 was held in Dublin, Ireland. I was hoping for Dublin, California. But no go there. So I missed out on that.

Which brings us to LeakyCon 2018 in Dallas, Texas. For me I had not planned on going post Dublin. In fact, since I ain’t rich and have to work for a living, by mid 2017 I already planned my nerdy convention going, Baycon in May, Wordcon in August and CRX (Crunchyroll Expo) sometime in the fall. In fact I already paid for Baycon and Wordcon a year ahead of time. So of course I ended up going  to Dallas anyway, which happened the weekend before Worldcon.

I don’t know what the final numbers are for the attendance of LeakyCon 18 were but it was far bigger than I had imagined it would be and frankly beyond the intimate convention that I was expecting. Instead it was like something between a Wizard Word Convention and Wondercon size. Hurray for the attendance, but there were sacrifices of that small intimacy and of previous experiences and as huge and diverse as the panels were, there were a couple of things lacking, one of which was no panels on cosplay or costuming. And there were basically no or little academic panels. There were quite a few sorting of other fictional character though.

I’m sure there were several factors that contributed to the size of this sold out convention, part of it was that there has never been a Leaky convention in Texas. Another part was that since last year’s was in Dublin Ireland, those that could not make it overseas wanted to come to this year’s. And of course guest actors from the movies (with autograph opportunities) were a big draw. Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol (Kowalski and Queenie respectively from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) have great chemistry and play off each other well off screen as well as on.

We are at a cusp now. Harry Potter is now entering into its third decade and it is remarkable that the fandom is not slowing down. But it should be noted that many of those fans in 1998 when the first book came out are still around and possibly raising their own children. Which brings me to the point about the panels, they still skewed towards a YA crowd but a good percentage of the crowd were over 25.

Next year, I’ll be in Boston. They will have one in Dallas too, in August again. No thanks to that. Anyway, I hope they realize that diverse panels also include panels for some of us old folks and some of us nerdy college grads and English majors would totally love more academic tracks in the programming. If you are fan of Harry Potter, going to one of these is still a joy and definitely an experience.