Better Fan-Made Convention Panels

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Honestly, I'm surprised at how crappy fan-made panels are.

When I go to a panel about a certain series, I want to come out of that panel more informed, more intrigued, and more in love with that series. Sure, I want to be entertained, but I don't want to sit through 90 minutes of meaningless crack, yaoi jokes every other sentence, and kids goofing off. If I'm at a convention, that's 90 minutes that I could spend doing something else.

A great deal of the panels that I have seen and been to have been awkwardly bad. The 'Yaoi 101' panel at Fanime 2010 was a huge waste of time. Instead of actually discussing the history of yaoi, cultural aspects that led to its creation, common themes, related terms, famous series and shows, famous authors and artists, and the reaction to yaoi in Japan and abroad, the girls who ran the panel did nothing but flip through pictures on someone's laptop, and played some episodes. They didn't even watch the episodes before hand, and were constantly fast-forwarding to find "the good stuff". It was awful. For a panel that called itself "101" it was anything but.

If you just want to goof off, you can do it during the rest of the convention. Do a respect to your fandom and educate and inspire. Learning something new about your favorite series doesn't have to be boring. Instead of focusing on a summary of the series and the characters, try to offer guests a view of the series that they usually would not have - the "special features" if you will.
If you or your friends are planning a panel, consider adding these aspects to your presentation:

-History: How did this series start? What was going on in Japan at this time that may have influenced it? Discuss any influences that author may have had, or admitted to having.

-Culture: Probably what interests me the most. What cultural influences are in the series? In case of European influences (like in Black Butler, Princess Tutu, Chevalier d'Eon, or Emma) are these accurate at all?  Be sure to include photos of any landmarks, costumes, or buildings that appear in both the series and in the real world. If there are behaviors, gestures, sayings, or actions in the series that are culturally specific, explain these (you can also make it a sort of game).

-A Face to the Name: Include photos of the manga-ka, director, producer, and voice actors (both American and Japanese). Be sure you know how to pronounce their names correctly. Also include what other series they have worked on in the past.

-The Soundtrack: Is the soundtrack noteworthy? Did it win any awards? Are any unique instruments used? Do you think the soundtrack enhanced or burdened the series?

-The Costumes/Fashion: Are the clothes worn by the characters based off of certain cultural or historical garments? If they are modern, what decade do they most closely reflect? You can also compare and contrast the costumes with real life - for instance, in a Princess Tutu panel you can discuss how real ballet bodices always have straps and fake nude inserts - Kreahe's bodice is almost an impossibility.

-Pop Culture: Did this anime influence anything on it's own? For instance, Ghost in the Shell inspired a few scenes and themes in The Matrix

-Cosplay: If you have an experienced cosplayer on the team, consider doing a small section on cosplay from the  series. Spotlight a few well known cosplayers (with their permission, of course), and do a short "Do's and Don'ts" list. You can also involve the audience. 

Also be sure to:
-Echo audience comments and questions: Especially if you are in a large room. Repeat (and elaborate or clarify) any questions or comments from the audience. 

-Be prepared: Do a run-through of your entire panel before you go to the con. Make sure you fit in the time limit. Better yet, do it infront of some non-otaku friends so you can get some honest critique...Which leads to our next point:

-Accept critique: Someone who critiques your panel is not a villain. Every crit you receive can be helpful and useful to bettering your panel. Do not take critiques personally, but never ignore them. If you are involved in the art world at all, you will know how integral constructive criticism is to improving your work. If fact, you may even want to consider having a little feedback session at the end of the panel.

Also, DO NOT do these things during your panel:
-Constant yaoi/shota/sexual references: Believe it or not, some people find this rather insulting. Plus, it's cheap, base, and caters to the lowest common denominator. You're better than that. Anime fans deserve better. Don't give the audience junk food - give them a gourmet treat that they would not be able to get anywhere else. 
If you want to include yaoi stuff, have a damn good reason for it. Better yet, present evidence from the series. Keep it short.

-Pairings: If it is not canon, leave it out. Pairings, quite honestly, are stupid. These days every hormonal teen can slash anyone with anyone else, so why even bother?
-Voice your personal opinions: Really, we don't care which pairing you personally support, or if you don't like a certain character. Keep it to yourself and stay professional.
-Too much goofing off: A little bit is fine, but please, GET ON WITH IT. A good panel presenter will be able to drive the panel with good speaking skills, appropriate jokes sprinkled in with the dialogue, and discussions that are truly interesting.

-Don't eat food during your panel: Even worse is chewing right in front of the mic. Drinking water is fine (and good for your voice).

-Crappy Images: Make sure that every image you use in your presentation is clear and sharp. This will be tricky if you are working with an older anime, but if you have a Photoshop or GIMP savvy friend, you can have them enhance the images for you.
 -Watch more than a few minutes of footage at a time: Only include clips that are relevant to the discussion, and let them be short. Encourage people to rent or buy (never download) the series if they are interested. Remember - support your fandom and the industry.

-Screech or shout: Please, for the love of all things holy... Keep it together. Keep it professional. Do not bring yourself down to the level of the masses. If you lose it and start getting crazy, you have lost your authority as a panel leader and you have lost your validity. Never shout orders. If people in your panel room are getting too noisy, quietly ask a fellow panel leader to go outside and find con staff to come in and quiet them.

Panels do not have be terrible, they do not have to be free-for-alls. If you consider yourself a dedicated fan, you can help educate and enlighten your fandom by hosting panels that are well thought out, well-researched, orderly, and professional. 

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