Last weekend, I traveled down to Baltimore and went to Otakon, a massive, three day anime convention held every year downtown.  I attended a bunch of panels, including a very interesting two-hour panel on voice acting, and saw a bunch of interesting Japanese animation.  Here’s what I saw, and what I thought of it.

Baccano!

The first anime I caught was two episodes of period fantasy “Baccano!”  adapted from a novel, the series focuses on a large ensemble cast of gangsters, thieves, and bootleggers in the United States during the Great Depression.  There is a framing device about an organization that observes historically significant events, and the series jumps around in time a bit in the first episode before getting down to business in the second.

The plot deals with a New York City gang war, as well as the upcoming trial of an Alchemist.  There is a train full of characters heading for Grand Central Station, some of whom are followers who want to see the mysterious figure freed, others who want to steal his secrets.  Not much is clear, but it is evident that some of the Mafia players have already gained immortality, and have an unsettling ability to shrug off hit attempts.

I had seen clips of the series in AMV’s, and after two episodes, I bought the boxed set.  I’m looking forward to seeing where all these plot threads wind up.

Rating:  A

Gundam 00:  Awakening of the Trailblazer

Next, I caught a showing of the movie sequel to the series Gundam 00.  The plot is a bit of a deviation from the standard “war against war” plot of the series, but still manages to deliver enough fan service, cameos, and missile-blasting special effects to keep the pickiest G-fan happy.  Without spoiling anything, the event that Gundam wielding secret society Celestial Being was formed to confront is happening more than two hundred years sooner than expected, and humanity is still unprepared.  When an exploratory ship from Jupiter arrives with all-hands missing, and strange events start happening on earth, it’s up to Gundam pilot and “Innovator” Setsuna to save the day, but first he has to come to grips with his own abilities.

The effects were still on the spectacular level I’ve come to expect from this series, and the climactic space battle lasted at least half of the film, but I still found the climax to be a bit of a let down.  Still, it was giant robot fun with an enjoyable veneer of politics and conspiracy.

Rating:  B+

The Sacred Blacksmith

Saturday morning, I watched an cute little fantasy series about a female knight, a blacksmith/swordsman with a magical assistant, and a sentient ‘Demon Sword’ incarnated as a young woman.

The show had an interesting “Visions of Escaflowne” meets “Revolutionary Girl Utena” vibe, complete with lesbian subtext.  I thought that the dialogue was sharp, even for an English dub, and though the animation was a bit on the cheap side by modern standards, I really liked the character designs.

Rating B-

Wagnaria

Due to a change in the schedule, I saw a few episodes of a simple, ‘slice of life’ series about a teenager who takes a job working at a family-style restaurant.

The series was cute and silly, lifting whole script pages from earlier series like “Love Hina” and “Azumanga Daioh.”  There was even a girl who was blatantly ripped off of Chiyo-chan, leading to a ‘hilarious’ scene where the main character has to explain how he isn’t a pedophile.  Reliably executed if it’s that’s your kind of thing, but not really to my taste.

Rating C+

Coffee Samurai

In spite of the title, this was actually a Korean short, running about 45 minutes, and though the designs were simple, and the animation was bare-bones, it was a charming little film.  The story deals with an exceptionally powerful warrior, who, when he is defeated in battle, wishes with his dying breath to be reborn into an ‘invincible steel body.’  Two hundred years later, he is reincarnated as a coffee vending machine, although he has lost none of his martial prowess.  The story starts when he has a chance encounter with a graduate student, and the two fall in love.

“Coffee Samurai” is charming perhaps because it treats its action scenes with complete seriousness, even when the participants are vending machines and playground equipment.

Rating:  B+

That was all of the anime I was able to watch this year, the rest was the usual blur of costumes, video games, and the dealers room.  I was able to pick up some “Vampire Hunter D” novels, which are my reading guilty pleasure, and also play a genuine “Taiko Drum Master” arcade machine in the video game room, which I haven’t done since I lived in Osaka, and missed.  It was a good convention, all in all, and I’m looking forward to the next one, UB Mini-con this October.

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