Was AFNYCC Worth It?| Anime Fest @ NYCC | Convention Review

Covering the controversial convention one photo at a time.

So to start this review off, let me just say that I was not enthused to attend on Sunday. I made one two three separate posts about this con’s inception in anticipation for what might be experienced. I was still hopeful that it would be an enjoyable experience.

And then I looked at Social Media.

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I’ll be damned. There were sad and disappointed threads detailing the lack of programming, events, exhibitors or even attendees for that matter.

This morning upon waking, I was struggling to find a reason to go. The weather had turned and it was now overcast and drizzling. People were saying the shuttle bus wasn’t exactly on time or picking up many people.

I googled AFNYCC to try and pull up the convention twitter handle to view the shuttle bus pick up locations again.

My blog came up.

I googled the entire festival’s name, my blog came up again…before the con’s actual info or media links.

Since I wrote about it so much prior to its debut, I thought it was my civic duty to attend and document what I saw and experienced there. This is my sole reason for not just letting the con keep my $20.

Good SEO practices on my part aside, this convention needs to be documented. Someone on Twitter likened it to Dashcon. I associate it in my head with The Last Airbender film. Did the fandom wipe it from their collective memory? Yes. But it also served as a basis for not forgetting what happened the first time a remake was carelessly done, and spread awareness for the new live-action ATLA Netflix series coming soon.

I feel the same way about this. I will bite the bullet along with other con goers, and will immortalize it here on the internet.

Will they shape up next year? Who knows. But this will be here for anyone who wanted a detailed peek at what actually went down during Anime Fest @ NYCC x Anime Expo.

(Also some of these photos were edited on a potatoe, so excuse the quality of some shots.)

On an unrelated note, I’ll be purchasing my weekend pass for Anime NYC this coming week.

If you enjoy this convention review and would like to help me get to other cons, visit the support page to donate. Thanks and let’s begin!

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I arrived to the Jacob Javits Center around 9:30 am. I looked around for the shuttle buses, but seen none in sight. A man on a bullhorn was shouting directions to the comic con crowds on where to line up if they already had tickets. Once he paused for breath, I asked where the shuttle bus pick up was. I was directed to an area behind where we both stood. I waited five minutes and got antsy, as the day was overcast and there was a humid drizzle falling.  I walked over to the front entrance of the convention and asked a woman donning an earpiece connected to a walkie-talkie if she knew when the shuttle bus would be coming. She had no clue what I was talking about so I explained it was for the Anime Festival. She pointed me in the direction the man had and told me it should be coming eventually, as the 9:30 am pick up had just passed.

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Fifteen minutes later I was tired of standing in the elements and began walking. Around 9:53 I saw a bus for the Javits Center pass me by, but I was already ten blocks away. So the bus was a thing at least on Sunday, despite what I saw on Twitter for days earlier. Even with Midtown traffic, might I make a suggestion for if this convention continues next year?

Maybe it would be best to have a staff person sit on the bus to check passes and they could update the app on when they are in transit, and close to certain pickup points. It would take away a lot of the mystery of when the bus would come.

Before I left, I asked those surrounding me if they knew when the bus would come and everyone had unsure or confused answers. I also took photos of the incoming crowds.

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I planned to mention in the NYCC post my troubles finding a show program that Friday. I spoke to security/ReedPop staff and asked if there were program booklets for that day. They directed me to a place inside. I explained that I did not have a ticket for that day and that I went Friday and got no definitive answers on where to find one. In my head, I came to the conclusion that they were a myth and simply did not exist. Aside from one or two people, the entire convention nobody had one out.

A staff man was kind enough to reach into his own backpack and give me a booklet. I am extremely grateful for that act of kindness.

I can proudly say I now have eight years’ worth of NYCC program booklets to remember my experiences. I know that is not what is most important, but it’s been something fun for me to do over my years of attendance.

The walk to Pier 94 wasn’t completely terrible. It was just desolate and it reminded me of my walk there for Tech Day over the summer. Although I must admit, it was a bit depressing walking one way with a red colored Anime Fest pass and watching all of the green colored New York Comic Con passes continue on in the opposite direction.

As I got closer to the pier, I saw about five people going to the same place as me.

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Security was simple to get through, and I’m not even going to lie I snagged an extra lanyard from comic con on Friday because I didn’t expect there to be any at Anime Fest. The lanyards were red promoting Dark Horse Comics. So I guess there was a bit of color coordination with each events badges – red lanyard and ticket for AFNYCC, green badge and Line Webtoon lanyard for NYCC. One of the security staff from earlier had mentioned my badge looked totally different from everyone else’s, and I didn’t understand what he meant until now.

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Walking into the event space, you are greeted by the smiles of the staff. Unlike comic con, it was very easy to find someone working. I had a lot of casual conversations with them along with a lot of the vendors and exhibitors.

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Aside from Good Smile Company, however, it doesn’t seem like any of the other power players bothered to set up additional shops at Pier 94.IMG_5161

The Official Merchandise Shop and several vendors looked bored and were trying to commune with anyone passing by. I don’t think they did well on business due to the low foot traffic. It was a huge contrast from the main convention’s crowds.IMG_5096IMG_5041IMG_5087IMG_5122IMG_5134There was a well-sized gathering when I attended on Sunday, and the Autograph Signing for Cowboy Bebop even had a looping line. One of the two English translators with the production staff was Dr. Mari Morimoto, a veterinarian and real power player in the Japanese translation game. I’ve crossed paths with her at past con events (Kishimoto at NYCC) and at my old place of work. She recently had a lecture at The Japan Foundation’s The Nippon Club earlier this October that I tried RSVP’ing for but never heard back.

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As for the convention floor, I took a few photos of the infamous “Aladdin Rug”, bamboo tatami mats, parachute game, and a few other things.IMG_4944IMG_4995IMG_5016IMG_5135

 

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I think this is where the problem lies with many con-goers who went to this event.

Eavesdropping on conversations, some people were really excited about it. They had never been to Comic Con or an actual dedicated anime convention.  Many had brought small children or tweens who seemed to really enjoy the activities there.

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However, they are unaware of how anime conventions are ‘supposed’ to go. Given the names attached to this poorly and hastily thrown together convention (New York Comic Con, Anime Expo, a good handful of the major Exhibitors like Funimation, Viz Media, Crunchyroll, Vertical/Kodansha, etc. attending the main con) it was a complete fail.

It seemed like a small town non-profit convention that had no access to any Japanese culture or talent nearby. Only thing is, this is Manhattan. I worked in Midtown East for a while where all of the Japanese businesses and companies reside. I know firsthand just how strong and alive the Japanese and Japanese-American community is in this city. That’s not even factoring in other boroughs.

In its haste, the convention didn’t seem to partner with any of the smaller or local facets like Anime NYC has successfully done.

This is why we saw Chinese animation vendors, random tiered merchandise, and other things you would not normally expect at a for-profit convention with status associated with it.

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Then again, NYCC has never done anime well. A fact I’m glad no one has forgotten, again consoling me when I overheard conversations about this as I perused the convention.

But it was not all bad. A lot of talented Artist Alley residents were gypped, and deserve a bit of spotlight.

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The Elven Caravan was selling really cool custom painted elf ears.

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Jenovasilver has something saucy for you all with her “good wholesome cute things and sin!” (also lots of Voltron)

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YUKIPRI is a digital illustrator and webcomic artist who has some really great Yuri!!! on Ice art.

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A lot of the normal vendors were really nice people just trying to manage a badly dealt hand. No one seemed outwardly bitter.

The Taiwanese Cultural Center in New York was in attendance promoting some cool animated content they had coming up. I spoke about one event they were associated with earlier this year.

All in all, it wasn’t a completely bad experience. Would I pay to attend again next year? Absolutely not. Is it worth the $20 price tag as-is right now? No.

But don’t take my opinions to heart, as everyone will have their own interpretations of things and events. What sells me on any event is quality, effort, and people.

The people were really nice, however, there was no effort put into this “con” and because of that, the quality of what could have been a blast off the first year ultimately failed. This is especially true since the fanbase is literally there, but for some reason, the convention couldn’t cater to them even with all of those feedback surveys Comic-Con regularly does. It’s amazing.

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Let’s hope ReedPop takes the general consensus’ feedback and shapes it into something malleable that everyone can one day enjoy.

Did you attend Anime Fest @ NYCC? How did you feel about the buzz online surrounding this event? Can they do better next year? How?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on WordPress, Twitter, Reddit and Instagram for more convention reviews and news!

 

 

I Don’t Think I’ll Attend New York Comic Con Next Year | NYCC 2018 Review

After attending each year since 2011 religiously, it seems the East Coast convention’s magic has worn off on me.

It was a clear, cool day arriving to the Jacob Javits Center for Comic Con. I had a Friday badge, and had arrived later than previous years. Timing the trains correctly, I could leave home around 8 am and arrive an hour later in line with one of the doors in clear view. Despite not coming super early, I always had good luck with getting to the show floor first.

I remember in 2012, I left super early from home and missed tickets for the private signing with Danny Choo. I was heartbroken. So heartbroken, that despite fighting a con cold with a 3-Day badge I called out to him after his panel. I boldly asked for his autograph and despite the packed room, he came over and spoke to me. I didn’t want to go to College and before transferring to my dream university, I spent my downtime on campus viewing his website and watching anime using the school library’s crappy wifi.

It’s was the only thing that got me through those days.

That year I also received a map of Japan, which along with my signed badge and other mementos collected over the years hang on the walls of my computer room. I remember was so sick that I couldn’t finish out the remaining days of the convention that year, and on the way home I cried in happiness that I’d met him. It was something I never fathomed possible at that point in my life. Things were terrible all around, and I retreated to anime in the worst times as a crutch to cope with things. Danny Choo had always attended Anime Expo in Los Angeles and I never thought I’d attend that con, until 2015 when I did – but that is a story for another time.

Each year I was dazzled by the people, the costumes – the energy of the big city. Coming from the suburbs, it was a chance to see things that were not a part of my environment. My surroundings. Parts and facets of my life I desperately wanted to become main staples danced and mingled at this yearly con. I would later attend college in Manhattan, work in the city and have my dream job years later at a Japanese Cultural Center – but the me back then could not even realize that those were viable options.

My world was so small. Everything felt so hopeless. I was just so incredibly sad each day.

In 2014 The Legend of Korra came to New York Comic Con. I remember doing live updates on Tumblr for the fandom along with a core group of other users, sitting on the floor waiting for the panel, fans handing out “Thank You Bryke” pins. Just being in the same room as fans of the original show, Avatar: The Last Airbender and the precarious sequel series made me immensely happy. My fandom had come to life and was here, something tangible my senses could understand and soak in. We were no longer hidden behind our screens or gifs or lengthy discourses of the show – we were all here in one room together; and it was magical.

I attended an off-site event to promote an upcoming video game for the LOK series and made so many new friends. We ate pizza, drank beer and talked shit about the Asami – Mako – Korra love triangle. This was before Korrasami became endgame. It was a great time.

I also went to the Brooklyn Brewery Defend Beer parties in costume. Getting a lot of stares on the subway, I powered through it and met wonderful people at the party. It was my first time back then traveling to different boroughs alone and although I was scared, it was a new experience. The con also had these off-site cosplay parties where you could meet other fans and win the coveted 3-day and 4-day badges in a raffle. I never won, but I always met great people and the free food was delicious.  The parties were in random places (a gay bar downtown by the “gay” pier, the weird side of midtown no one goes to) but it was always a good time.

Sometime after that, I had my first internship in that area of town. After my day was done, I’d often pass that bar and smile to myself remembering the good times before sitting down to stare at the bay. Because of that experience, I learned the area and had a better time getting around when I needed to navigate the area during my time as an intern.

The following convention year, it all changed and really clicked into place. Kishimoto Masashi was coming to NYCC, his first time overseas at an event. The internet went wild. I was still on YouTube during that time, and I remember the power players like Sawyer7mage, Double4anime and Forneverworld to name a few flying to New York for a chance to meet him.

Viz Media was giving wristbands out for a private signing and held a raffle at three different times that day. I already snagged a wristband to his panel after literally running to the line and being counted in. A few minutes later, the line was capped as many other fans also did the same and ran for their lives to get a chance. I ended up entering the convention center that morning right by the place I had to go to, and asked Lance Fensterman if it was the correct place. I had seen him on TV just the hour before being interviewed by the news and thought it pretty neat to just run into him like that.

I silently thought maybe it was kismet, I would be able to meet Kishimoto.

In the raffle crowds, I made many line friends. My name was not called during the first round, and I wanted to stay close so I set up shop on the floor in an area where weary con goers were eating and looking at their merch. Around the time of the second round, I left, realized my name was not called and went back to the same spot. This took hours. The final round was being called, and only about two or three spots remained. The woman calling names would simply skip over your chance if you were not there and making noise that showed you were present. My name was called, and as I was in the back of the crowd – I hadn’t heard it. Suddenly, I heard a bunch of people shouting “wait, she’s here – she’s in the sheep costume back there, don’t continue!” My line friends from earlier were calling my name and rushing me up front for my wristband.

They were genuinely happy for me. It was the nicest thing that had ever happened to me. These complete strangers who shared the same passions helped me on my mission to meet Kishimoto, when they could have ignored my name to better their chances. Suddenly, sitting in the same spot alone and hungry for hours and wasting the rest of my convention time had been worth it. Even now, it makes me tear up a bit just thinking about it.

I wondered what the difference was between me and someone like Sawyer7mage, who was not chosen for the raffle or Kinokuniya signing. Someone who had reviewed the series for years consistently and was the most genuine of the reviewers in my opinion. He made a video saying that although he did not get a signature, he randomly met the mangaka in the restroom and Kishimoto told him he recognized him from watching his YouTube videos. He was happy with just that, and it was such a heartwarming story to watch him explain and describe.

I wondered why I got the ticket, and why he didn’t when I felt he deserved it more.

I stopped thinking so selfishly at conventions. No longer the first one to grab a poster, or shove someone out of the way for a freebie. I started going out of my way to help other con-goers in the way I had been helped. And of course, when I had that signed shikishi at home I looked at it and cried. That seems to be a common theme, me crying over silly things.

I know that when I do get to Japan, I may just bawl my eyes out the minute that plane lands on the tarmac.

After that amazing experience, nothing could ever top it for me. The following convention years had been quite…dull from my perspective. I went, walked the convention floor, seen a few panels, snuck some food in to eat and went home while catching a gyro on the way.

The Gyro place has since closed. New York Comic Con stopped offering the free cosplay event parties. They stopped offering 3-Day and 4-Day badges. They stopped finalizing the talent list and putting it online before the purchase of tickets. They implemented fan verification. They implemented the virtual queue from hell. They got stricter on cosplayers and props. Security was beefed up. The generous freebies stopped. The lines were now long and convoluted.

The things I fell in love with at the con were gone and had changed.I’ve changed along the way, as well.

I have had so many wonderful memories at this convention over the years and I wish many other con goers the same camaraderie and happiness I experienced for generations to come.

For me, however, I think it’s time I branch out to see what else is out there. This convention used to be something I looked forward to all year. I planned costumes, saved money, and felt eternal happiness in everything I did.

I’ve since retired the costume I religiously wore. I now know Manhattan and a few other boroughs like the back of my hand. I know where to go for authentic anime merchandise and traditional Japanese cultural experiences in the city. I know where to find the best curry, the best ramen, and where to catch subtitled films in theatres. I’ve learned so much since the time I first attended New York Comic Con in 2011, that I feel like I’ve outgrown it in a way. I’ve graduated, and want to experience what else the world has to offer. I did attend Anime Expo in 2015 as a college graduation gift to myself, but as a now self-identified thoroughbred New Yorker I felt like I was in a different country while there. It was an atrocious time, but luckily there was a group of people next door to my hotel room that were from New Jersey. We hung out a bit and talked about how much we collectively hated California.

Next year I’d like to go back, as I made some new friends who stay in LA and attend that con. I should have a different experience with an open mind.

I’ve also learned how to read and write in Japanese since 2011 (although my spoken conversation skills are still a bit shaky and lacking confidence) I’d like to go to Comiket one year. Or the Tokyo Game Show. Or even AnimeJapan. Along with Sacred Anime Pilgrimages, there are so many things I’d like to do that I could not envision until now.

I’m no longer afraid to try. I’m no longer afraid that my dreams won’t come true.

I realized while writing this that the missing factor in my enjoyment of the con the last few years has been a tie to anime or a life-long fandom. That was also why I was so visibly angry when Anime Fest was announced and presented as some new convention when I remembered its previous incarnate. Especially on the heels of attending Anime NYC last year and receiving a special pin for its inauguration. It felt like such a slap in the face to my patronage of NYCC.

Which is why, along with other reasons stated and unstated, I most likely will not attend New York Comic Con next year.

That is, unless an earth-shattering guest is in attendance. Then I will buy a single day badge.

Otherwise, I’ll be home saving my money for new adventures.

I meant for this to be a review of the current con that indulged us all this weekend, but it seems that this somehow ended up being a review of all my past con at the Javits Center.

I’ve had fun, and that’s all I ever wanted. I hope in years to come they improve on some things, and continue to bring fans happiness with as little hassle as possible.

What is New York Comic Con like?

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll leave it here.

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In Asian Spaces

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Madara, the Okuri-Inu| Natsume Yuujinchou | The Youkai of Anime

A new installment in the Sunday series – this week focusing on Madara from Natsume’s Book of Friends.

This series will explore yokai, their history, and prevalence in a series. Japan is a land where spirituality is prized over religion, and Shintoism is viewed more as tradition than a bind. The tradition of visiting temples on the New Year, adding yuzu fruit to baths during the Winter Solstice, Jizo statues and local shrines are so old that no one remembers its origin story.

See our previous post on Nyanko Sensei, the Maneki-Neko.

Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]

Number of Seasons: Six

Original Air Date: July – September 2008

Manga: Yes (ongoing)

OVA/Movies: Yes

Character Name: Madara (Nyanko-sensei’s true form)

Yokai Name: Okuri-Inu [送り犬]

Association: Guardianship, banishment, protection.

Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (Season 1)

Description: A giant white wolf towering in height well beyond surrounding forest trees. Madara has red marking on his cheeks and a symbol on his forehead. He seems knowledgeable concerning purification rituals, binding of spirits and the local history of his area.

I came across really interesting information while learning more about this youkai. Wolves (日本狼) were abundant across Honshu until a strain of rabies infected the species.  Appearing first in Kyushu and Shikoku, it quickly spread throughout other islands in the nation. There is a dispute on whether the infection was brought to the island through domesticated dogs or human visitors. Others insist that the species was systematically killed off through government mandates. Either way, the last known wolf was killed near Yoshino (Kii peninsula) in the year 1905. However, that did not stop reports of the beast in rural areas of Japan well after the last official sighting.

Wolves, or ‘okami’, play a huge role in Shintoism. 狼 (おおかみ) takes the honorific ‘o’ that denotes reverence and the kami reserved for deities in its English translation. However, in Japan kami is a word that has other meanings.  It can also be interpreted as “superior”.  Norinaga Motoori is a celebrated scholar and philosopher known for his theological approach to Shinto. His practices are extremely detailed and I will elaborate on them another time once I have a fraction of understanding, but until then I’d like to cite a quote from Norinaga via an article from the Japan Times.

“I do not yet understand the meaning of the term kami,” wrote Norinaga (in “The Spirit of the Gods,” 1771). “It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings. It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains and so forth. In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspiring, was called kami…Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful, are called kami…”

Even if you are not familiar with Japanese wolf spirits, I am sure you at least remember hearing about a video game called Ōkami circa 2006. I had this game for the WII and it took me literal years to complete. Not because it was difficult, I thought my save file had a game-breaking bug. I was so frustrated that I didn’t touch the thing until years later where I decided to start a new playthrough then realized…I was just being dumb. I completely missed a prompt to continue a cutscene, and that is why I could never progress in the game no matter what I tried. I don’t even know if that was some sort of wisdom on my part to figure it out later, or just ascribed to finally taking my time in the game.

Either way, this mention has merit.

Ōkami is an unbridled resource for anyone interested in Japanese folklore or its ancient times. A short summary would be that it tells the story of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, saving the lands from the evil influences of Orochi – an eight-headed serpent creature. The goddess is called forth to the human realm by a guardian of Kamiki Village named Sakuya. Amaterasu, or Ammy also gives the legendary hero Susano’o the courage to slay the beast while drunk on golden sake.

In the actual ancient legends, Amaterasu and Susano were siblings; created after Izanagi cleansed himself once he left his wife Izanami in the underworld. After a fight with her storm god brother, the sun goddess hid in a cave and the world fell into darkness –  with spirits running amok. The other deities assembled and tricked her into coming out of the cave, thus lighting the world once more. The gang fastened a sacred rope, or shimenawa (注連縄) [rice straw] purification rope across the cave so that her light would never be obstructed again. Susano was expelled and sent to wander the world as an outcast. On his journey, he found Kusa-nada-pime, the Rice Paddy Princess who was being attacked by an eight-headed dragon. He made the dragon drunk on sake and slew it with a sword…you get the picture.

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[If you still haven’t heard any of these names before, you have probably seen an episode of Naruto. In Naruto Shippuden, Sasuke has some sort of Sharingan eye jutsu named Susanoo that acts as a guardian taking a samurai-like form. Orochimaru is an arguably “evil” ninja who uses serpents as a summoning (Manda) and frankly for everything else. He’s pretty creepy, actually. It may be a stretch, however, to point to Sakura and Sakuya, as it seems Kishimoto never put that much thought into her character after admitting it difficult to write for women.]

The Legends

In the rural, mountainous regions of Nihon the wolves made their dens. From a spiritual perspective, they were seen as protectors of the forest and “patrons” of weary travelers. The mountains were viewed as dangerous, distrustful places where the spirits of the dead roamed freely. The rural dwellings for humans 里の世界 or Sato no Sekai were different from the 山の世界 or Yama no Sekai which were ruled by the mountain spirit – Yama no Kami (山の神 ).

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This concept is heavily touched upon in Natsume Yuujinchou and furthermore in Mushishi with Ginko always searching for a mountain’s spirit at the sight of trouble. If you remember, there were several instances where Nyanko-sensei and other Youkai would warn Natsume against travel to certain parts of the forest. Or Sensei would comment on “not knowing the forest” if the pair were traveling.

There were places that humans were just not allowed to dwell. Each forest had its own set of rules that the spirits, or yokai, were expected to follow.

The Episode

Upon the shimenawa breaking, Madara does a bunch of theatrics to intimidate Natsume and is released with an aura of dark energy. Natsume is “unfazed” and simply stares at him. Madara seems surprised that he is not quaking in fear. Nyanko-sensei mentions that he owes him for breaking the seal and that he will be his bodyguard in exchange for his gratitude. Outside of Shinto folklore, this seems to be a common arrangement amongst situational spirit – human contact. A sort of binding contract or ‘pact’ that dissolves at one party’s demise. In this case, it seems like Madara will willingly serve Natsume during his lifetime in exchange for The Book of Friends upon his death. Madara chases off problematic youkai who would bring harm to the boy, resembling a ferocious “guardian” canine or “guard dog” spirit.

A Deeper Interpretation

Madara’s surprise at Natsume’s reaction could denote his age. In this connotation, he may have been sealed during a time where these stories and legends may have been treated as fact and as such – common knowledge to travelers. Madara expected a reaction from his time period – given his manner of speech is noted to be archaic and attributed to an old man – I theorize he could have been birthed in the 1300s – 1700s at the earliest. I say this because other spirits seem to know and remember him, and youkai are said to have much longer lifespans than humans. This is also backed up by numerous yokai not recognizing gender and when Natsume corrects them on his identity (i.e. not being his grandmother, Reiko) they seem to remark on our appallingly short natural lives.

This brings us to the 番犬, or watchdog legends.

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In the mountains late at night, a wolf was said to sometimes trail a traveler.  The sending (off) wolf, or Okuri Okami [送り狼] would then disappear once the resident was near their home. If the traveler tripped or looked back while the wolf followed however, this could be taken as a sign of aggression and give reason for the wolf to attack. This begs the question: was Madara a guardian, or Okuri-Okami in his past? What happened along the way to ‘corrupt’ him and initially wish to control all the residents of his forest in Kyushu? Did he have a falling out with the mountain god, or was he just being his (usual) shady self? More questions than answers for now, but I hope the manga does allude to something like this in the future. Since it seems Madara knew Reiko better than he lets on – being able to take her form when he can only do that with “humans he gets a good look at” to paraphrase.

I may have to update or provide new entries for Madara with each season I cover of the show, otherwise this post could in theory go on forever. Maybe with more rewatches, I could come up with a theory on why exactly he is a divine being – as indicated by his markings and spiritual presence to effectively banish lower level or ‘purify’ intendedly evil ayakashi.

If this post got you interested in the series, feel free to check out Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 1 and Natsume’s Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2 Standard Edition by using these links. It supports the series and also helps out the site at no additional cost to yourself!

What do you think of Madara’s character? Is he a scorned yokai, or just an old spirit who has been through some things? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram for more #YokaiSpiritSundays!

List of Known Freebies at New York Comic Con | NYCC2018

A list compiled by Reddit and personal finds of freebies at NYCC this year.

In no particular order or booth numbers because that is essentially how the con rolled this year…

SyFy Fan Lounge (up the escalator in the circular area. You know you’re there when you see crayons and coloring books randomly, spot overworked slightly demure staff and a line wrapping in a circle like some great angry serpent) – free t-shirts also may find the elusive bags here.

Heather Bus (towards the right hand side of the Geico booth if you’re standing in a wrap-around line. Literally a gratified yellow school bus) – Go inside the bus and a bunch of Heathers’ in character will take your photo on a bus seat, and then tell you if you tag it on social media they “might give you something…or whatever.” Upon exiting you get a nifty Heathers pin promoting the reboot.

Geico (Just look towards the Javits Center ceiling to see the judgmental reptile staring at you with glee in anticipation of your personal info. Which by the way, say something to the effect of “I only have my badge, not my license” and staff will waive scanning your ID.) – You get a big blue bag out of it that holds a good amount of weight. Go into the semi-sturdy van set up before leaving and play a game to win different prizes. I got a Geico plushie with a different cape than last year. I think playing the memory game on the screens also give prizes, but I’ve never seen anyone win that yet. Don’t forget to get some hand sanitizer on the way out. There is also a 360 photo/video booth before exit you might want to pop in.

Fandom – You get a cute little pin with their logo on it.

Crunchyroll – A huge pit filled with some sort of bananacat animal plushies. You put shoe covers on your sneakers, hand your cell phone to one of the staff and literally just flop down into the pool of stuffed goodies. You receive some sort of card and red wrapper for partaking. I’ve heard inside the wrapper was an enamel pin. I was in line for this but the person I attended the con with kept incessantly going on about the amount of germs at the con and how I already felt ill, so I skipped out a few moments later.

Outlander/American Gods (towards the green entrance con-goers with tickets were funneled through.  It is outside of the convention center with an American cowboy get up.) – Show the Starz app on your cell phone and I believe you also may have to go through some inside store to get the goodies.  American Gods give out t-shirts, character buttons and you can take a photo. Outlander gives out a tote bag, and reportedly a perfume vial along with “a personalized leather luggage tag.” The line was a bit long when I arrived and I was still fruitlessly searching for a program booklet, so I skipped this altogether.

Stranger Things – Can receive a replica of Mike’s bike when signing up for a Hawkins Library Card. In addition to a few other little gifts.

Sideshow – Stop by the booth and ask for a card. Go to the smaller comic book vendors and receive stamps from each. Return back to Sideshow and receive a free Marvel Thanos pin that is engraved with ‘NYCC 2018’ and its booth’s namesake. Try to complete this task early if possible.

Loot Crate – Pay with a MasterCard and get a go at their UFO catcher….They may draw you in under the false pretense of scanning your badge to enter a raffle and then ask “have you used your MasterCard today at our booth? If so, you can play our claw machine to try and win mediocre prizes!” Unbridled fun for the masses!

Good Omens – Take an elevator and after a bit receive an enamel pin and a “Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter” book for your time.

Mood Fabrics – These folks are giving out a little booklet with cosplay patterns and some information. You can scan your badge and be entered into a drawing for a sewing machine to…you know, finally complete all of those backlist cosplay costume ideas.

DC Universe – Receive a gift bag with Titan pins, comics promoting Aquaman, Shazam and Titans. May have to sign up for the service trial to receive these, just remember to cancel before the week is out unless you want to be billed.

Adding onto DC Universe, I received a set of four pins in plastic near the Publishing area but I can’t remember from whom.

Marvel – You may have to fill something out on social media to receive a box with pins, character figures and two masks. Can enter a drawing to win an xbox.

Square Enix/KH3 Demo – Tickets are given out each morning when the convention floor ends, so get there early. After the demo receive a themed popsocket with the logo. Apparently, they are also giving these to people who are in the right place at the right time, so don’t be afraid to ask about it!

YuGiOh – Take a photo and be a part of a children’s card game for all of eternity.

Imgur – Free pins at their booth.

Overwatch – Cosplayers allegedly can wait in a shorter line. The special pin is the Reinhardt character. Can you tell I don’t know much about the game?

She-Ra – A huge statue towards the concourse of the Javits Center. When I passed by I just seen people taking photos with prop swords, and someone asked about freebies but the staff said they were out. Apparently, you can get a headband and a set of buttons. Not sure if the statue and the ‘She-Ra experience’ are two different things. Again had no clue of the layout because of no show program and didn’t want to eat my battery life using the website. Or app.

Penguin Random House – Giving away items associated with the promotion of Anne Rice’s newest book (Blood Communion: A Tale of Prince Lestat). Pins, posters, a cool red feather pen, and some other goodies were available. Basically just travel along all of their different offset booths (graphics, etc) and grab posters and chat with the delightful staff. They are also giving out full on free signed books in drawings every few hours, be sure to check out their booth early to see what’s going on for the day.

Chevrolet – No detailed license scanning this year, thankfully. Complete a survey and have a choice of a few goodies including blue or silver drawstring backpacks that high schoolers wear on field trips and t-shirts.

SmartyPants Vitamins – T-shirts for winners of a quick game, vitamins for all who want them. Towards the entrance of the convention center.

Stranger Comics – Free comics if you follow their social media. Not sure which series or issues.

Rilakkuma (Pop up shop just on the cusp of Artist Alley.) Walk through the cutesy little alcove and the staff can take your picture if you are alone. It was really nice that they tried keeping the stragglers moving in a polite manner so everyone had the chance for nice photos. –  Receive a cool deco pen for your time.

Kodansha – Sign up for the newsletter beforehand (I literally just showed them an email from a week ago) and receive a character pin. I believe they also had posters.

Oni Press – Pins and posters. If the pins are not out just ask one of the staff and they should have some, as they were tucked away until I said something.  Really nice people working that booth.

In general, everyone was really nice that I encountered.

Dark Horse – The elusive yellow bags. Get there early, because they do go super-fast and you will be haunted every time you see someone go by with one in tow.

Viz Media – Posters, manga sampler, fighting a stampede.

GKIDS – Posters and little character pins. I also think you could get a special Mirai film promotion poster with a purchase.

Vertical Comics – Posters and a very cool shojo manga sampler.

Note: Remember to try your best to go to booths with free bags as early in your con day as possible. They usually run out within ten minutes in some cases (looking at you, Dark Horse…three years running and I still haven’t secured a new bag).

Check out the Reddit thread here and add your freebie haul to the list! Also be sure to check your favorite exhibitor’s actual website or social media for more info on possible exclusives!

Did you get a good haul? How was your con? Are you excited for next year? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more convention news! NYCC and AFNYCC con reviews coming soon!

Nyanko-sensei, the Maneki-Neko | The Youkai of Anime | Natsume Yuujinchou

Kicking off the #YokaiSpiritSunday series on the official first day of fall, today we will take a look at Nyanko Sensei from Natsume’s Book of Friends!

Of late I’ve found myself writing a lot about yokai, or Japanese spirits. I have always had an interest in them, and read books pertaining to all types of ghosts and supernatural phenomena.

Years ago when the last local Borders Bookstore went out of business, I stocked up on a hodgepodge of encyclopedia on mythical creatures and universal folklores. Since I spoke of strange things so often, a friend in high school gifted me a book on youkai one year. I tried channeling this passion into the now-defunct YouTube channel I often reference in older posts. It was not doing well, and since I loved the channel so much I didn’t want to also see a series I put my heart into go down.

So it’s been here, in my head and heart for about five years. More ideas are stored here as well, ideas I would like to share on this blog. Eventually, I’d like this WordPress to be more than a blog, more than a website, more than a well-known name. I want it to be a community, a tangible place where people can feel safe. A place where people can discover that there is more substance in anime then they previously believed. People, especially Westerners, have this cognitive tendency to associate animation with childhood. They truly don’t believe animation is just another medium to explore stories, themes, and cultural consensus. In film school, I tried my best to cover animated films or shovel in a bit of discourse on why they matter. It was appreciated, which is one positive thing I can say about my ‘liberal’ compadres and professors.

This series will explore yokai, their history, and prevalence in a series. Japan is a land where spirituality is prized over religion, and Shintoism is viewed more as tradition than a bind. The tradition of visiting temples on the New Year, adding yuzu fruit to baths during the Winter Solstice, Jizo statues and local shrines so old that no one remembers its origin story.

These beliefs are shown in anime, either in the literal sense or the symbolic metaphysical. I am not Japanese, nor will I ever be. I do not attempt to be Japanese, I merely love the richness of the culture and accept the good and the bad. I try to be objective in my writing, and I will try to do so as this series goes on. I am an American at heart and although there will be some things I will never understand, that does not mean that we cannot try – together.

So I bring to you all, a new series to the blog that is near and dear to my heart: The Youkai of Anime series.

This time, we will take a look at Nyanko-sensei from the anime Natsume Yuujinchou, or Natsume’s Book of Friends. I will be rewatching all six seasons of the series and writing about the various yokai (and yurei) in each episode. Naturally, this will take a while. I don’t want to spam any one subject on In Asian Spaces, so it will be updated most likely each Sunday. I will also cover other shows, mixing them in so that one show or one subject is not the central focus.

Think of this as a yokai catalog, detailing folklore spirits in Japanese anime.

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Series Name: Natsume Yuujincho [夏目友人帳]

Number of Seasons: Six

Season 1 Original Air Date: July 8th – September 30th 2008

Manga: Yes (ongoing)

OVA/Movies: Yes

Related Media: Hotarubi no Mori E [蛍火の杜へ] or Into the Forest of Fireflies Light

Character Name: Nyanko-sensei

Yokai Name: Maneki-Neko [招き猫]

Association: “The Lucky Cat” “The Beckoning Cat” “The Waving Cat”

Episode of Appearance: Episode 1, Natsume Yuujinchou (S1)

Description: A plump, reservedly “ugly” calico cat with stumpy legs and beady eyes. Red markings on his cheeks that hint at his true ‘majestic’ form.

In episode one of the series, Natsume is being chased by a spirit. He runs into a shrine and passes onto purified sacred grounds. Accidentally knocking over a lucky cat statue, he releases Madara from his long imprisonment. As of season six of the anime, we have yet to find out who sealed Nyanko sensei.

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Are you all familiar with the tales of the maneki-neko?

A maneki neko, is usually a calico cat figure holding a koban in one paw with the other outstretched. A koban was a form of Japanese currency in the Edo, or Tokugawa Period (1603-1868). Edo was the former name of what we know today as Tokyo.

There is a lot of debate on whether the mankei neko is Chinese or Japanese in origin, which I cannot fully say. I came across a few articles that speculated the relationship of the figures to sex work and hinted at a changed or hidden meaning. Then again, theories exist on whether or not Spirited Away is about the sex industry, so anything could be interpreted as such. Meaning this is not to deny that it may have existed, this post simply won’t discuss that possibility any further.

The Legends

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During the Edo period, a lord of a surrounding district took shelter under a tree. A cat from afar beckoned him into a nearby temple. Upon leaving, the tree was struck by lightning. Thinking it was a divine act, the lord decided to patron the temple in gratitude.

It is a good time to note that riches historically were tied to how much rice one had. I remember a favorite Japanese teacher explaining a great way to remember the word for rich person. お金持ち(おかねもち)takes the words 金(かね)(o)kane, which is gold and 餠(もち)mochi, for sticky rice. The “o” is used to denote honor or show respect, making it sound less harsh.

Therefore, a person who has a lot of rice becomes a wealthy person in Japanese society. One koku of rice was thought to be the amount needed to feed one person for a year in this society. One koku in terms of currency was thought to hold equivalency to one ryô and in turn, one koban.

Another legend states that a feline beckoned wandering samurai into an adjacent temple. The group dwelled in the haven until the end of a storm. Long after, one samurai continued to frequent the temple and offered patronage. He revealed himself to be feudal lord Naotaka Li, the temple in question Gotokuji in Tokyo, Japan.  Li donated crops and rice fields to the struggling monk who dwelled there.

This temple’s lucky cats differ in appearance than the rest in that they have a bib-like collar and bell in place of koban. The site reportedly has a high count of deceased neko buried on the premises.

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I have read further legends that combine these two stories to some degree. One even suggests the cat was a Japanese deity in disguise – Bodhisattva Kannon, a goddess of mercy. The common factor seems to be a temple near ruin that is saved by a chance encounter with a wealthy benefactor.

Aside from this information, there doesn’t seem to be much else on the English speaking side of the web. The same archaic books, ukiyo-e, and sculptures are referenced and offered up as evidence but never a true…definitive answer as to how this begun.

When I do travel to Japan next spring, I will be sure to visit the Gotokuji shrine. It seems like a good place to buy maneki neko in Tokyo, given the legends surrounding it. I’ll even write on an Ema board, or wish board to pray to the benevolent spirits.

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Despite his initial shady nature, I’d like to think Madara is Natsume’s lucky cat. Throughout the series, he serves as a protector and ‘teacher’ or sensei.

“The association between karma and merit is highly significant for my discussion of the Japanese notion of luck. During my fieldwork I was frequently told that misfortune could be averted by taking appropriate spiritual precautions. One way in which this can be achieved is through establishing a relationship with certain deities.” – Inge Maria Daniels, Anthropologist.

Note: Anthropology has a problematic historic association with eugenics. However, I found this textual quote of interest pertaining to this discussion.

Given the tone of the series, (in my own interpretation) Natsume Takashi is slowly paid back good karma in the form of friendships and as an orphan, his family’s history.  Instead of running from or fighting spirits he encounters, Natsume would rather try and speak to them first. With Nyanko-sensei’s instruction, he learns to protect himself and engages youkai only when necessary. Sensei could be interpreted as his special protection deity, particularly considering Madara’s true yokai identity.

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Next week we will discuss Madara/Nyanko sensei and his true form.

(It is really majestic!)

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out another ongoing series, such as NEET in Anime. I have a few more shows in mind to draw from, but tell me about any series I should definitely cover! At me on Twitter and use the hashtag #YokaiSpiritSunday!

If this post got you interested in the series, feel free to check out Natsume’s Book of Friends, Vol. 1 and Natsume’s Book of Friends Seasons 1 & 2 Standard Edition by using these links. It supports the series and also helps out the site at no additional cost to yourself!

Are you a fan of Natsume Yuujinchou? Which anime series will you watch during the fall season? Do you think sensei isめっちゃかわいい?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to follow our growing community on Twitter, Reddit, WordPress and Instagram!

[Quote on karma sourced from “Scooping, Ranking, Beckoning Luck: Luck, Agency and the Interdependence of people and Things in Japan” by Inge Maria Daniels.]

One More AFNYCC 2018 Update Before the Con| New York Comic Con

Ugh.

I know what you are all thinking

“In Asian Spaces, are you really writing about the doomed Anime Expo x NYCC Collab that is AFNYCC 2018? Even when you specifically said you would not in your last post until convention time?”

Yes, I absolutely am. As a concerned citizen who has made up their mind to no longer attend NYCC after this year, I may as well give it my all on critiquing this hastily-thrown together sham of a festival.

So, I am not sure about everyone else, but I am subscribed to Comic Con’s newsletter. I am not sure if the Anime Festival has its own newsletter yet. Aside from emails begging me to purchase a Thursday ticket or raising awareness about pre-festival events to attend I really haven’t received much concerning AFNYCC. I haven’t even received my ticket yet.

Except…one email I opened which detailed the lineup…that I hope will actualize more talent as we creep closer to October.

Aside from lamenting the delay of my Book 3 Earth Kingdom Korra ‘Alone’ cosplay once again (it seems to be a yearly ritual at this point), I am still kind of ticked off that I was never able to contact New York Comic Con’s support team concerning the ticket glitch I received when purchasing for Saturday. I just cannot seem to get through to the email address, and I feel deep within me that Sunday might be a wasteland in terms of worthwhile events and activities.

Anime Guests of Honor for the Main Con include:

NYCC 2018 Anime Guest of Honor

Kawamoto Toshihiro, Nobumoto Keiko, Yamane Kimitoshi and Sato Dai for a Cowboy Bebop panel on Thursday.

This should come as no surprise, Cowboy Bebop: The Movie rescreened in movie theatres this summer and the 20-year-old classic series has garnered contemporary buzz once again.

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We then have Nozawa Masako and Nagamine Tatsuya for a Friday Dragon Ball Super: Broly panel. I am not a personal DBZ fan (could never get into it and heard various nerd debates about characters growing up. This also applies to Yu Yu Hakusho) but I recognize its importance and it should be a treat for the fans.

I have no problem with this lineup, even if it is a bit thin.

Other guests at the main con include a handful of combined English Dub voice actors for My Hero Academia, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Boruto, and Sailor Moon. The author of Radiant will also be in attendance, to presumably discuss the October premiering anime adaptation of his work.

As of right now, this is the lineup for announced guests.

Turning our attention to Anime Fest @ NYCC….our Guests of Honor for Friday are as followed:

Kawamoto Toshihiro, Nobumoto Keiko, Yamane Kimitoshi and Sato Dai.

Yes, this is the Main Con’s Thursday lineup a day later. I understand that since the talent is still here from Japan they could make another appearance, but as this is literally the same as the main con…it offers no value to a purchased AFNYCC ticket.

Again, it is early and the festival could end up being a lot of fun.

Let’s continue to look at the other Anime Guests, shall we?

A few VA’s for Overwatch, tired but seemingly obligatory appearances by Rooster Teeth for RWBY & gen:LOCK, More VA by way of The Dragon Prince, a reprise of Boruto, Sailor Moon and Radiant.

Something of personal interest is the appearance of VA and production staff for Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Jack De Sena (Sokka), Giancarlo Volpe (Writer/Director) and Aaron Ehasz (Head Writer/Exec Producer/Fellow Zutara Shipper).

Janet Varney (Korra, LOK) and Grey DeLisle (Azula, ATLA) will be holding separate autograph sessions.

This has to be said: I do not care that it has been over ten years. I still support and ship Zutara in the deepest crevices of my heart.

It didn’t happen in ATLA or American Dragon: Jake Long, but one of these days Dante Basco and Mae Whitman will have lead characters who end up together. Even if it takes an eternity.

I am rooting for them!

Aaron Ehasz and Elizabeth Welch Ehasz deserve more credit concerning the success of the original show. Not to bring up age-old resentment and bitterness, but they really were great in steering the story down its most…’natural’ paths concerning characters and their motives.

These expressed opinions arose from years of being extremely active on Tumblr and hearing stories directly from production on their accounts, offsite blogs and fandom gossip that proved true over the years.

Actually, I may now check out The Dragon Prince on Netflix because of Ehasz and Volpe’s involvement.

Aside from this Saturday silver lining that I most likely will not see, it doesn’t seem that there will be an abundance of unique guests attending the festivities.

Just one more interesting tidbit before wrapping this post up, I urge all attending to keep checking out the Anime Fest at NYCC homepage via the comic con website.

NYCC 2018 Anime Fest Access

As of right now, there are three offsite venue panels your pass gives you access to. If you have a valid AFNYCC Friday badge, you can attend the DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender panel that is accessible to NYCC attendees with that day’s pass. In similar fashion, Dragon Ball Super: Broly is on Friday and RWBY & gen:LOCK Mega have a panel on Sunday.

I don’t remember seeing this in an email, but I simply could have missed this information.

In conclusion, as if I’m writing some sort of thesis paper, Anime Fest is looking quite grim.

Hopefully, the quality of the creators, guests and industry panels make up for this.

NYCC 2018 the party starts soon

Also, I am really still upset about my Sunday ticket but I’ll be damned if I try to contact the Con again.

Signing off on this topic, you’ll hear more about this from me in sixteen days when the convention starts.

Are you attending the Anime Festival? What enjoyable anime conventions have you attended in the past? Any recommendations for guests you would like to see? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on WordPress and email to receive updates in the future regarding this topic!

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest: More than Just Competitive Eating

A brief look at the intertwined associations between Competitive Eating, Mukbang and THE King – Kobayashi Takeru.

A hazy summer day, I set out for Coney Island in Brooklyn on the Fourth of July. I worried about making it to the women’s set on time but was pleasantly surprised when I walked out of the subway and found a great vantage point for the contest. It was on a slight angle, and at that time – around 10 am- the sun was still hiding behind thick knitted blankets of clouds. In the sky, planes flew overhead carrying aerial advertisements at their tail. There was one for Dunkin Donuts, which seemed to have worked because the people who assembled and stood next to me had hot cups of coffee on a humid, 95°F day.

For the entire subway ride over, I thought about how I got to this point. I kept smiling and then catching the eye of someone – which caused me to quickly turn away. I didn’t want to be that weird person who was so obviously in their own world, they became a target for something bad. So I stayed alert and thought about how for years – I’d waited for this moment. Finally, I had a chance and free time to do something I’d always wanted – See Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest live.

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Early 2000s, the heyday of MTV’s television programming. Do you remember those days? Where you actually watched music videos for hours and they were legitimately enjoyable? Without cringe?

Before the era of Spotify and YouTube streaming to inflate artists numbers and earn them an easy spot on the Billboard Top 100, TV show docs like Fat Camp, I Used to Be Fat, and (to an extent) Jersey Shore ruled the network’s ratings. Of course, Catfish: The TV Show came along -but MTV’s True Life laid the foundations for its success.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, Japanese culture had a huge impact on me growing up. In middle school, I was bullied and rediscovered anime late at night on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Reruns of Fullmetal Alchemist and Inuyasha crept into the speakers of my tv during the wee hours of the morn. I loved Inuyasha’s OP, or opening song. I think the episodes were frequently shown out of order, but there was some semblance in that it was at least the same season – just jumbled.

There was a popular Hot Topic in my local mall. A lot of stores I grew up with closed at the same time due to rising rent prices for the locale. Before it did, I brought a FMA red hoodie that I wore to death – in fact, I still have it. I enjoyed shopping there since they often had anime-related items because they were as “edgy” as the ever popular Invader Zim merchandise; so the selection was always plentiful. Viva La Bam was also popular in this era, so there were a plethora of wristbands with his strange heart in what looked like a hanger symbol.

Soon after that purchase in high school, I started working at a store (my first job) that was a subsidiary of Hot Topic’s parent company.

One of the cashiers in my local store – I don’t know if it was racism, discrimination of youth, or a general dislike – always accused me of stealing things so I stopped going. I had ceased frequenting the location for a few months, but since I had an employee discount I went back in with some friends. I purchased a few things and when I arrived to work that day I was told that I had been fired. The cashier accused me of stealing and called corporate headquarters on me. They never checked the cameras, apparently her word was just that good.

My manager and the staff scheduled that day cried and kept apologizing that they had to let me go; we had become a family. I was supposed to go with them down south to watch them get new designs at a tattoo parlor edgy employees frequented. But it was corporate and I was a new employee – their hands were tied. I was fifteen.

I’m not going to talk about sad things, it was just a memory that surfaced while writing. I’d like to talk about something (arguably) happier. Mr. Takeru Kobayashi.

First, let’s look at our current cultural climate and relationship with food.  A few years back there was this huge controversy surrounding Travel Channel show Man vs Food and its host, Adam Richman.  Richman was an amateur competitive eater who took on local diner and college campus challenges across The States. Early retirement and Instagram rants aside, we shouldn’t ignore what his show did for pop culture and acceptance surrounding the sport of competitive eating in America – which arguably was inspired by mukbang.

Korean Mukbang channels and eating shows have gained a lot of popularity over the years. Mainly because people are lonely, although some speculate that it’s some sort of weird fetish (…that we’ll explore another day).

A mukbang is when an individual records or live streams themselves eating large quantities of food while interacting with viewers. Although we are all ‘plugged in’ and connected by technology, as people we pretend to have much better lives than we actually do.

The stunt culture is especially big in the digital nomad, travel blogger and wanderlust communities but only because they have to sell a dream. So taking photos one day and spacing them out for a week on an Instagram feed for the lonely office worker who is drinking coffee and eating fast food miserable on their undeservedly short mandated break becomes a beacon of hope for some. I can’t speak for anyone personally, but having been on both ends – the miserable worker dreaming of something different and now the traveler trying to seem more active than I really am – I can understand both sides. I can see the appeal of not wanting to eat alone. Of not wanting to be alone, even.

Many Korean women (like Japanese women) seem to be on infinite diets and would like to ‘share a meal’ with someone without actually eating.  I remember going to buy a bento for lunch during my shoujo girl life and chatting with the usual cashier about the ingredients due to my allergies. The cashier eagerly kept telling me that the translucent speckled gelatinous blobs in a corner of the box were ‘konnyaku’ and had no calories so I could eat lots of it. I asked a co-worker about the food later that day and she mentioned that it was a popular diet side dish – especially in the summer.

This, coupled with the ironic popularity of competitive eating in East Asia, brought about the rise of Mukbang on YouTube. Japan also has a huge market for the sport, dubbing competitors as Food Fighters or Oogui (大食い) “Big Eaters”. One of the most popular Oogui eaters happens to be Kinoshita Yuka.

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YouTube Personalities like Kinoshita Yuka, ロシアン佐藤 *, Furious Pete and Matt “Megatoad” Stonie rose to the occasion. But before this, existed the eternal king – the undisputed before the organization allegedly did everything in their power to dethrone him because he was not “American” – Kobayashi.

* (A quick tidbit on Russian Sato, or Russian Hat – she enjoyed wearing Russian hats in her earlier videos similar to how JackSepticEye wore a scally Irish flat cap in his earlier videos. This was before he dyed his hair green after Markiplier lost a bet and dyed his red and a plethora of mediocre YT ‘Gamers’ dyed their hair varying degrees and shades of the rainbow and told themselves it was because they were creative artists and not just unoriginal screamers.

*Jack realized he hated it and reverted back to his original brown color to fit back into society. He made a remark in one of his videos that mentioned how tired he was of the stares when out in public. It must have been a huge identifier for the private personality. Gosh, can you tell I’d been deep into YouTube for a long time?)

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I became a big fan of Matt Stonie on YouTube. I enjoyed the playful tone of his challenge videos and his family’s presence; the voice of his mom laughing at him, or his brother’s heavy California accent counting a challenge down. The balancing of a phone on a bunch of bananas to use the timer and it falling down midway. It seemed very authentic and uncommercial. Just a guy with a supportive family having fun enjoying a hobby that became his current profession.

In early 2006, MTV released a True Life Episode titled “I’m a Competitive Eater” which focused on profiling three eaters: Tim “Eater X” Janus, Ian “The Invader” Hickman, and Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi. There was also an appearance by Eric “Badlands” Booker, who is still going strong at Nathan’s competitions each year and even has a rap career. Eater X received a shout out at this year’s festivities, but sadly he did not attend.

I started following the Nathan’s Famous Contest over the years, watching the highlights on the news after finishing the live stream. Each year Kobayashi completely dominated the competition and each year the league seemed wary about it. A foreigner continually dominating an All-American contest in the heart of Brooklyn? How could that be? It couldn’t go on.

And so it did not.

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Kobayashi is credited with raising the bar in regards to what the competition has become today. His method of dunking bread into cups to soften it and make it easier to digest is the determining factor of his success. In the documentary, he often spoke about Japanese markets not carrying American hot dogs so he made due with what was available – Japanese style sausages. Before his appearance on American circuits, he completed food challenges in his native country. The Tsunami ate a record 50 hot dogs during the allotted time – forever changing the perception of gastronomy limits.

So, where is Takeru Kobayashi now?

He was forced out for allegedly not signing an exclusive contract with Major League Eating. This meant that if he did sign, he could not make outside appearances and it would severely limit his income. So he left, and even held his own contest to stick it to the league.

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I wish I could say that the atmosphere associated with the annual competition has changed, but sadly it hasn’t. During the women’s set, World Champion Miki Sudo was assembling her set up before the contest began. MC George Shea kept making these out of place comments that made Sudo seem like a diva. Blaming their late start on her needing water, and during the competition commenting on her appearance while eating. Comments in the vein of “oh, her ponytail is swinging she’s getting angry now!” and things to that effect. There were no comments like this during the men’s set. Also, the late starts had been attributed to ESPN’s connection concerning the live stream. Shea later admitted after a plethora of time killing performances and dances that the network yelled at him last time he didn’t follow their orders.

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Maybe I was being too sensitive, but as things progressed…it just rubbed me the wrong way.

It’s been extremely hot here in New York. With little to no cloud cover, many of us in the crowd were sweating under the beat of the summer sun.  Many people didn’t show up to the women’s set, which I found to be a shame. The crowd for the women was amicable and no one was pushy. As the day went on, the police presence increased and the rowdy crowds assembled – drunk and tired and sunburnt red.

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A women with rainbow colored hair pushed her way to my side and repeatedly knocked into me until she got annoyed and decided to walk away. A woman with a forward facing backpack and a kind smile stood to my left. We frequently made gestures and talked about the unmannered people who engulfed us. A woman to my right kept trying to move my bag and place her oversized purse on the sliver of a corner available from a bench. On the bench, a women kept putting up a black umbrella, uncaring of who she hit. I pulled out my Canon camera – a past Christmas gift from my mother – and received a look from the oversized bag woman. You may know the look I’m talking about – the “how do you have that type of camera and you look like that?” type of look as she stared between my equipment and her iPhone.

Later as the men’s set came on, she decided to allow her son and daughter to push their way in front of the crowd who had been standing for hours towards the gates. Her son’s head was in 80% of my photos for the men’s set – something I saw her smile about. People can be petty, but it didn’t ruin my time. Especially since I’m sure she went home and suffered some intense sunburn.

I enjoy the spirit of competition but I don’t believe in the purposeful pitting against of one another in some sort of tribal sense of Americanism. Due to our current political climate in this country, I can’t help but point out the correlation between the police presence blocking the crowd’s view, rowdy young men booing every competitor that was not “American” in their eyes, and when Matt Stonie was introduced someone loudly shouting that he shouldn’t win because “he’s not even American”. He is a California native, but I assume they mean because he is haafu, or half Japanese half Western born and raised in America. An American competitor who is not, for some reason to these individuals, the same type of “All-American” poster boy Joey Chestnut seems to be for these fanboys. A young Japanese man was introduced as the “new Koybayashi” to the jeers of this crowd and cheers to myself and other well-wishers. I made it a habit of loudly applauding each and every competitor of color, despite the shoves and stares I received. I didn’t care, I didn’t think it was right to boo someone based on their ethnic descent or nationality.

(I’d also like to point out how hard it is to find a full name roster of the competitors online. Aside from the well-known pro eaters, I can hardly find anything else out.)

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Again, maybe I am being too sensitive.

At one point, there was a loud chant of “Free Kobi” to which the Emcee Shea – through his soliloquies, rap battles, and patriotism that felt like thinly veiled racism – paused after he caught wind of the cries. The police turned their attention to the crowd, and I was positive someone was going to be asked to leave. The presenter continued on speaking of how much he loved the atmosphere and his competitors. He played it off well, but I’m sure Nathan’s is still not able to live down the fact that Kobayashi was the best competitor they had ever seen and he was not a “Joey Chestnut”. And it truly burned them up inside.

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Behind schedule half an hour and baking in the sun due to technical difficulties regarding ESPN’s live stream, the men’s competition finally began. We all watched eagerly and shouted for our favorite competitor. When it was all said and done, there was a discrepancy regarding the final counts.

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Now if I remember correctly, Chestnut had around 50 hot dogs and the presenter kept taunting him that maybe the heat was too much, and the humidity had slowed the champ down. I had really detailed photos of the women’s set but because of crowds and other aforementioned factors – my photos of this particular set were lacking in visibility.

Suddenly, despite many referees who were made into a song and dance upon arrival, no one knew for certain how many hot dogs Chestnut and another competitor had eaten. Apparently, they had shared a plate without the barrage of ref’s noticing.  Stonie was out for the count, and there was heated deliberation until finally it was decided…Chestnut ate 74 hotdogs?

Joey Chestnut ate enough hot dogs for a new world record, but the contest was initially unsure if he really did set a new record?

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Needless to say, I left exhilarated that I knocked something off my bucket list – but I can’t help feeling that the games are a bit…biased and skewed for certain competitors.

Which isn’t really the spirit of Brooklyn nor Manhattan – cities full of transplants from the global community. I will most likely be attending next year if I don’t have other plans. I had a few other offers this year – some even romantic -but I decided instead to watch sweaty men and women shove hot dogs down their throats on a humid holiday.

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As I walked up to the subway platform and squeezed through an open door, I thought about the day and how happy I was that I went.

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My one hope is that the competition begins to realize that everyone enjoys the festivities and that you shouldn’t cater to just one type of person – especially when they seem to feel…entitled to see themselves represented and dominate anyone else who would like a shot at glory.

Did you attend the hot dog competition on Coney Island? Had you attended food competitions and events in the past? Do you have a favorite place in Brooklyn? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more updates on events around NYC.

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