Two weekends ago, on Saturday May 19 and Sunday May 20, my girlfriend and I attended the Stevens Institute of Technology Anime Club-run (though not Stevens campus hosted, starting just this year) Castle Point Anime Convention. We had a great time!

Our two days included plenty of the usual convention trappings: Enduring preregistration lines. Browsing and spending money at the combined dealer’s room and artist alley. Admiring and taking stock of the cosplayers—My Hero Academia representing in a big way, Pop Team Epic as the muse for several friends’/couples’ cosplays, Nier Automata having a solid presence, those few Inuyasha faithful still kicking around.

Observing a video game area, which skewed heavily towards rhythm games, plus a Dragonball FighterZ station pretty awesomely set up like a pair of linked sit-down arcade cabinets; on a sidenote, watching good players throw down against each other was extremely entertaining! And getting to hang with some of our friends from college throughout it all.

(pictures would go here, too...had I taken any :c )

In addition to all of that, we also partook in another of the convention staples, the panels. Now, in our experience, attending these have proven over the years to be quite the crapshoot, because...well, panels tend to be a heavily mixed bag, to put it generously. Or, on a less kinder note, someone put on a panel at CPAC 2018 literally called “Why Are Anime Con Panels Still Bad?” Which I did not go to, for the record, so who knows, it might have been just as bad.

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This year, however, it appeared my girlfriend and I had a pretty good sense for what was worth going to, because everything we saw was uniformly great! To wit...

Breaking the Fourth Wall

The first day of the convention was not much of a panel sort of day, so this was the only one which we saw that Saturday afternoon. Granted, maybe I’m slightly biased on this one; the host, Erin, was one of my friends from college. But I think the way in which it went down—how fun it was, and how involved the audience got—could easily speak for itself.

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What it was about is as straightforward as a title gets: Talking about the different ways fiction can acknowledge and cross that “fourth wall” between its world and its audience, and how that all could affect said audience. The very means of the panel’s execution itself played right along with that idea; rather than being conference talk/school presentation-style (she didn’t even have a laptop, instead giving us handouts with notes!), Erin extensively interacted with us in the audience.

She would call up volunteers to hold up props and act things out, and encourage us to mention our own examples for shows, manga, and games that broke the fourth wall in the various ways she mentioned. This was a discussion-heavy panel as a result, where the panelist was more moderator than purely a presenter.

The format worked well, and also led in part to neat moments and anecdotes. My favorite had to do with the idea of cosplay breaking the fourth wall by bringing a fictional character “into the real world.” One of the audience members talked about the reactions she would get from others, especially kids, whenever she’d cosplay as a spider character (Muffet?) from Undertale. She’s apparently a rare character to see cosplayed—very difficult to pull off at that—but the joy it brought to others made the effort well worth it.

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It also briefly almost turned into a bloodbath upon the invocation of the Netflix Death Note movie, so, you know! Nice times!

The Tanks of Girls und Panzer

The second day of Castle Point ended up being the day when we went to the most panels. This was the first of them, late in the morning. I absolutely adore this series, so the two of us agreed to give it a shot. It ended up being very worthwhile!

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The title doesn’t paint the full picture of what this ended up being. Instead of the wide overview of tanks featured in the show that it might suggest, the focus was a bit narrower and deeper. Part of it was comparing the appearances of several tanks in the show to how they looked for real (turns out GuP did good in that regard), but more of it was the two panelists pointing out and poking fun at the myriad of ways in which the show, OVAs, and movie contradicted the reality of tank operation in World War II.

These are not the kinds of topics—the true top speeds of WWII-era tanks, the actual possibility of the short gun on Ooarai’s Panzer IV taking out a Matilda, what fresh hell it would have been as the tank crew of a Hetzer—that I would normally give much thought to, but the two guys running the panel made the subject matter fun and interesting. I guess relating it to the tankery anime, and at points even World of Tanks as well, does wonders for that kind of thing!

There was even a whole section nearer the end dedicated to, of all things, different types of tank ammunition, as they felt it was a topic that Girls und Panzer glossed over and oversimplified, and dare I say that it might actually have been the most interesting—also most terrifying; good God, discarding sabot and HESH rounds—part of the whole panel. It helped as well that some of the audience was well-versed in this stuff as well, with one person there even a young veteran who shared a few stories about modern-era tanks. Their contributions enhanced things further.

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This was apparently the first panel the two guys have ever held. To which I say, that was a thoroughly impressive first showing!

What Makes CLAMP

My girlfriend has some fairly extensive experience and varied opinions about CLAMP’s output—a MASSIVE Cardcaptor Sakura fan, not as much into their older stuff or the current huge crossover-like stuff like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles—while I am not nearly as well-versed (Cardcaptor Sakura is a treat, quite liked Angelic Layer as well), but both of us didn’t know the full deal about them. This panel, run by two huge longtime fans of the group, helped give us a far clearer picture.

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The only unfortunate thing was that it warranted and deserved a longer timeslot than it got, because there was A LOT of compelling material covered by the two women running the show, and they tragically had to cut some of it short thanks to the clock. Nonetheless, what they related to us was still potent. We got the introduction to who CLAMP was, from doujin circle to manga-creating collective, along with a breakdown of the current members and their roles in the group.

They also laid out basically the full chronology of CLAMP’s works and distinguished them by several eras, and went into how each era was defined not only by the characteristics shared between the various manga but also by the creators’ mindsets and goals at the time. What particularly struck me was where they pointed out numerous elements from their works that resonate with the queer experience, in tandem with CLAMP’s frequently not conventionally romantic approach to themes of love.

They briefly touched on the set of recurring themes that showed up in CLAMP’s repertoire as well. However, this was the part where the panelists were forced to gloss things over significantly thanks to time constraints. Regardless, my girlfriend and I both greatly enjoyed what we got. The panelists’ passion for CLAMP was readily apparent and infectious, and I left the room understanding at least a little bit more of its appeal and legacy.

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Plus, what’s more aspirational than a doujin group-turned-mangakas jumping at the chance to turn their old JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure doujin egg baby OC into a character for one of their manga years later?

Just Say It Already!

This one ended up being a case of feeling slightly misdirected. We both got the impression that this was going to be about prolonged/frustrating will-they-won’t-they setups from many a romance in anime. What it ended up actually being was the pair of panelists, from a collective called HenTieCake, just talking about a collection of romance-genre shows, drawing from both romantic comedies and more dramatic fare.

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It’s apparently a recurring panel of theirs, with each year bringing with it a different slate of anime they discuss. One time, as they told it, got waaaayy heated when Nisekoi came up. This time wasn’t nearly that bad, I’m guessing, though Opinions Were Had on the girls of Infinite Stratos at one point. Harem shows are dangerous, y’all.

The shows in the rotation this time included Orange, ReLIFE, My Sister is Among Them! (...), and The World God Only Knows. My girlfriend and I felt that the most interesting one they brought up, however, was Kotoura-san. After the panelists talked about what it was and what makes it tick—a dark, depressing take on a girl ostracized by everyone around her, parents included, because of her mind-reading abilities, promptly turned on its head into a zany comedy when she first meets the main guy—it motivated us to later on start watching the show ourselves. We quite like it so far!

Appreciation is due to the dudes of HenTieCake for this. Mark another one down for “sentences I never thought I’d type with full sincerity.”

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That covers it all where I’m concerned. And it only took *squints* 1581 words and counting to do so!! Geez, at that rate, my sixTAY days of writing is gonna burn out hardcore by day 10. Hopefully successive posts won’t be nearly so long.

Such as the one I’m aiming to do tomorrow about my own experience and takeaways from running my first convention panel...

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Finally, reader question time! If you’ve frequented panels at conventions before—no matter the kind; anime, video games, comics, math, science, trains, all are valid—was there a notably good one that you attended? Or, if there was a notably not so good panel you attended, why was that the case?