On the convention scene Down Under…

One day late and arguably a little short all things considered…but this little report will also serve as my excuse for not completing my weekly post yesterday. The next Frontier commentary is actually done – it just needs an hour or two for formatting…but I’ll leave that for this coming week.

Instead of working on that, I made a quick trip to Sydney for SMASH, i.e. the Sydney Manga and Anime Show. In contrast to most conventions, and unlike SMASH itself a few years ago, the con went for just one day, but in all honesty, reflecting back on the conventions I’ve attended over the years, I’m somewhat excited at how far Australian conventions have come…even though I am also acutely aware of how far we still have to go.

Hm…I wonder what the greatest draw of this con was…

I’ve only ever been to three different conventions – Manifest (Melbourne), Wai-con (Perth) and now SMASH. Back when I was in undergrad, Manifest was hailed right around Australia as the one to look up to. It’s been interesting to find out in recent years (around the time I first went to Japan, really) that it has lost that standing and just become a run-of-the-mill affair that few people really care about. An online friend who lives in Melbourne isn’t particularly inclined to check it out, and friends who used to cross the country to attend it simply aren’t interested anymore, even those who live in the city. Just what has happened?

One thing that drew me to SMASH this year was the caliber of the guests they had secured: Miyamura Yuuko (Evangelion’s Asuka), Tange Sakura (Card Captor Sakura), and Miki Shin’ichirou (Bleach’s Urahara and Gundam 00’s Lockon). From what I can gather, SMASH was the first convention that brought seiyuu and other famous international guests over, beginning two years ago. Since then, Supernova has tried to get in on the act, bringing over Morita Masakazu (Ichigo from Bleach) last year, whilst SMASH managed to get Watanabe Shinichi (director of Excel Saga and several other series) and several musicians. Personally, I think their guests this year topped even that effort.

In between helping a friend, I managed to catch bits and pieces of each of their panels, and saw the crazy queues for their signing sessions. Some of the things that went down in Miki-san’s panel were hilarious. For instance, the clip from Gundam 00 that had been chosen for him to perform live happened to be the one where Lyle and Anew had their final exchange. After the organizers played the clip as had been screened in the anime – the typical ‘naked scene’ drew the usual giggles from the audience – Miki-san’s “You want me to do this scene?!” had me grinning. Of course, he showed his class and went right ahead with it. Another point of note was a question about his feelings over BL works, and Miki-san’s answer is one that resonates with me. Basically, they’re worth doing when there’s a proper story, when there is meaning and heart to it – though don’t ask me if all the BL works he’s partaken in satisfy this. Seiyuu don’t really have much choice in what work they do when they’re relatively new, and I don’t think it would have been different for Miki-san in his early days. Another Q&A I really enjoyed was about what his most difficult experience as a seiyuu was. The answer: being made to drink lots of alcohol by senior seiyuu when he first started.

But the topic from Miki-san’s session that really stayed with me was about how he approached his roles. Admittedly, I cheated – I read about it on his wikipedia page before the con, and thus had been anticipating that he would talk about “reviving” or “reanimating” (as the translator chose to put 再現) characters, as opposed to “playing” them (演じる). Basically, although these characters live in a fictional world, within that world, they are as real as you or me. Hence, in order to bring them to life, Miki-san does not see himself as existing before the microphone. Only the character is there, an individual with particular background and experiences that has made him who he is. Understanding that background and those experiences, and taking them in, is the first step towards bringing the character to life. (Hm…I think that’s how I’d translate 再現).

I caught even less of Miyamura-san’s and Tange-san’s panels, but I was really taken by how dedicated and professional they both were as well. It’s amazing how Tange-san still has Sakura inside of her – her normal voice doesn’t sound much like that! And I really liked Miyamura-san’s voice acting panel, where she covered the kinds of things that seiyuu do in their training and preparation for a role: stretches, tongue-twisters and other tongue exercises, practice and then the real thing. The fans she chose to perform one of the Evangelion scenes was also pretty damn good – Keisuke’s “いやな感じ” (something like “That’s so wrong!”) was spot on! I hope that Miyamura-san’s voice acting workshop project works out well – I’d like to go along for a class if possible, the next time I’m in Melbourne!

In my view, international guests intimately involved in the creating of the works we love are one of the greatest draws that any convention can have. Conventions may be arranged by fans for fans, but I would argue that it is important for fans to respect the works too, rather than just creating fan work derivatives, typically parodies. In my understanding, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to show the passion that the original creators have for them, even long after their official involvement in them has ended. Occasionally, this might backfire: a particularly famous Macross example comes to mind. However, each of the three veteran seiyuu that came to SMASH this year certainly showed their passion for their work, and I would love to see more Japanese guests invited and welcomed to the land Down Under (Kawamori Shouji would be a dream…or, perhaps, Watanabe Shinichirou). In that respect, the low attendance at the panels themselves was kind of disappointing to me, and had me wondering if there was anyway to boost that. Perhaps it’s time I took a trip to Supernova to see how the next guest there is received.

However, this is not to say that SMASH went perfectly. I do not know all the details, but let’s just say that the organizers learned a lot this year. Having to balance the schedules of three guests would have been challenging, but some of the issues that arose probably had to do with complacency, for SMASH has arguably advanced in leaps and bounds in terms of its standing in the Australian Anime community over the last two years. But complacency breeds carelessness, and the kinds of attitudes that have relegated other events and organizations over the years to being quagmired in the receding glow of their former success. A piece of advice left for the organizers this year resounds in me: SMASH should still try its best to be about the community, not about the numbers. Whilst sponsors are always preoccupied with the figures and stats about just how many people walk through those doors, at the end of the day, such a preoccupation can only lead in the wrong directions, towards money and profit that is devoid of heart and soul. We must remember: something produced in that spirit, as a commodity, cannot have been lovingly created, no matter how much it sells. However, something that is lovingly created can be successful, and, perhaps more importantly, even if its not, you can still get a sense of satisfaction out of the accomplishment.

p.s. Many thanks also to the friend who invited me to help, for even though I couldn’t do most of the normal con things people do, this trip to Sydney really was an experience I won’t ever forget.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

2 Responses to On the convention scene Down Under…

  1. Pingback: Seiyu’s Life: if you really want to learn Japanese, get into seiyuu! | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  2. Pingback: The sixth memory of 2012: an unforgettable experience | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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