Otakus Gather for Anime Weekend Atlanta

Atlanta is a city of fan conventions, and we just had one of the biggest and best in the country in Dragon Con. Atlanta fans know that Dragon Con is followed by a series of great conventions that help to keep fandoms engaged as the convention season comes to an end. For Otaku, Anime Fans, that convention is Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA). But, AWA is more than a local convention for Atlanta Fans, it is one of the largest regional Anime Conventions and one of the oldest and most successful conventions of its type in America. More than that, Anime Weekend Atlanta is a place to explore Anime and have fun!

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Founded in 1995, Anime Weekend Atlanta had traveled to a lot of locations before finding its current home in the Cobb Galleria Center, just north of Atlanta in the Vinings area of Cobb County. The location incorporates the convention center itself, and the adjoined hotel, Renaissance Waverly. Sure, AWA started with just one conference room, but it has expanded mightily as attendance swelled to 25,107 in 2015.

Anime Weekend Atlanta distinguishes itself by keeping its focus strictly on Anime. While many of the guests at AWA this year have diverse backgrounds including American animation and videogaming, Anime dominates the programming.

Gaming, of course, is an important part of AWA, and has grown as the convention has grown. Video gaming continues to feature the best in console gaming, while the analog gaming presents a wide range of games including “table­top board games, card games, social games, CCG Tournaments and various Role­Playing Games [RPGs].” I would also expect a LARP or two be happening though, even if they are not part of official programming.

One of the things that makes AWA unique is the Anime Weekend Atlanta Fashion Show. This event doesn’t cover costuming, but rather representations of Japanese Street fashion as interpreted by convention goers. This is a juried event and contestants must apply by mid-August. A high water of Elegant Gothic Lolita community in the Southeast, this event grows in popularity every year.

Costuming! A huge part of AWA is Costuming. Costumers and cosplayers come from around the country to show off their best Anime costuming at AWA. While most of the costuming at AWA celebrates Anime, that is not the whole story. Twenty-four hours a day you will be able to enjoy and take pictures of fantastic costuming covering everything from Ghostbusters to Inayashu to Speed Racer, and all sorts of costumes in between! Remember to bring your camera, but also be polite when requesting a picture from a cosplayer.

AWA has a full guest list this year including: Curtis Arnott, Johnny Yong Bosch, Metamorphose, Sandy Fox, Scott Frerichs, Todd Haberkorn, Lex Lang, Vic Mignogna, Vedetta Marie, and Sarah Anne Williams. These guest will be available in panels and events, as well as many of them signing autographs for their fans for a small fee! Programming at AWA promises to continue a long tradition of being entertaining and enlightening! Apart from the Anime Rooms, Video Art Track (VAT), and gaming rooms, there are panels covering nearly every aspect of Anime, Japanese Culture, and costuming.

Needless to say I am excited about Anime Weekend Atlanta this year! There so much more I more I can talk about! Music and parties! Dealers room and artist alley! Costume Contests and demonstrations! Come join me at AWA to find out for yourself what all the fuss is about!

http://www.awa-con.com

CD Review: ‘The Crystal Ceiling’ by Bella D

Written by Danielle Boise

When I first started to listening to Bella D’s, who happens to be is a steampunk-infused symphonic rock songstress, debut LP, The Crystal Ceiling, due out on May 13, the first thing that came to mind was a vision that if Sarah Brightman had a baby with Emilie Autumn and the badass that is Lzzy Hale, that it would be Bella D. Her voice is one to be reckoned with –  it is fiery, fierce and full of inspiration.

What is so fascinating about The Crystal Ceiling is it is a conceptual album, which, let’s face it, doesn’t happen that much anymore. It’s a trend that I’m happy to see resurface. To have an entire album tell a story, any story, and allow us as the listener to take an active journey with the artist is fascinating, because you truly never know where you will end up by the time you reach the conclusion of the story. What wounds the songs will bring out in you while going along with the ride of the album? The idea of whether or not you will survive, what sacrifices you will make in the process of feeling the entire album from start to finish is an intriguing concept to me. That’s why I love them so much. It takes you out of your own reality, and places you somewhere else for an hour or so.  Another intriguing fact is that in conjunction with the release of the album on May 13, Bella D will also include the first installment of a comic book series that brings this conceptual album to a whole new realm by incorporating the musical story into a visual realm.

With The Crystal Ceiling we get to go on this intriguing journey, a mystical journey, where you may be thwarted at every turn. There is a sense of doom lurking around you at all times, which comes from Bella D’s love of dystopian novels and video games and translates very well into the creation of The Crystal Ceiling with a sense that the circumstance in which you find yourself in is beyond overwhelming, but you don’t give up. You battle your way through the layers of demons (real and imagined) in your life for your survival. Not just for your existence, but to keep your soul intact. In the process of fighting your way through this dominion, you realize that love, as grand as it is, it won’t necessarily save you in the way you think it will and YOU are your OWN White Knight and don’t need anyone else to save you, which is perfectly illuminated with the song “Save Me,” the lyric “my morbid curiosity drew me to you, but you left me alone in anguish and fear” is the perfect representation of this.

The Crystal Ceiling is a powerful 12-track album that starts off with the otherworldly “Breaking Free,” and when Bella D hits the note for “Free” all you can think is Damn!, because you realize you are listening to magic. “The Shatter Mirror” is truly reflective in nature. It makes you think about one’s mortality and lifespan in a different perspective. The concept of realizing the life you have always envisioned or may want is no longer an option, that it’s shattering around you, and in that moment you have a choice. You can choose to live in that moment of sorrow forever or you can collect the pieces and make something new out of it. “Battle On” is hauntingly sublime. “Invincible” is filled with turmoil and chaos, but empowering because of the unwillingness to give up, which really is the thesis statement that runs throughout the entire album and that survival is the only option. “Dio Solitario Della Notte” is heartbreaking gorgeous. It’s like going to the opera and listening to beauty and awe of being enraptured by a voice that is heavenly. “Starlight” is the conclusion of the album, filled with questioning, angst and a need for answers from the unknown.

This is an ambitious project, one that Bella D undertook and did it exceedingly well with grace, especially considering amidst the recording process, she found out that she was fighting for her life, literally, as she was diagnosed with BRCA positive aggressive Breast Cancer and had to undergo not only terrible rounds of chemo, but go the route that Angelina Jolie did by having a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries. The album took on a whole new meaning for her; it was her real life battle and struggle to live that you hear from the first note to the last. “I cannot live in fear,” sums up the album perfectly.

This is not a Disney fairy-tale, rather a Brother’s Grimm sort of yarn; so for fans of artists like, Sarah Brightman or Emilie Autumn or films like, The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival, The Crystal Ceiling is right up your alley. It infuses a sense of a defying nature of stubbornness by not giving in with the power and substance of life, even a hard life with hints of dramatic elements interlaced. It’s the perfect eargasm.

Interview: Voice acting veteran Crispin Freeman at MomoCon

Crispin Freeman has been a voice actor since 1997 and has over 200 acting credits on his resume, and has voiced some of the most iconic anime and video game characters that have graced our screens. A small sample of his characters include Alucard from “Hellsing X” to Zelgadis from “Slayers,” and Legolas in assorted “Lord of the Rings” video games. Freeman also uses his scholarship in mythology to explore the storytelling in film, television and animation on his website Mythology & Meaning.

This weekend at MomoCon 2015 in Atlanta Freeman took time to talk to the press about his career, the voice acting industry, gender equality in animation, and the difficulties of acting in a video game. TAM was there to document the interview and ask some of our own questions.

How do you feel about the portrayal of female characters in animation? Japanese animation (anime) in particular?

It’s a very big topic, and I actually do an entire presentation on female hero journeys as a part of my mythology scholarship that I do at conventions, academic conferences, and film festivals. What I have found is that in Japanese Animation, there are certain female hero journeys that are available to women that are not usually done in America. Specifically, what I am referring to is the sort of magical-girl archetype. The idea of a woman having her own magical powers is usually problematic in American storytelling. In fact, there was a very big deal made in the original Avatar series that what they are doing is not “magic,” but rather, “bending.”

That being said, Japanese culture can be rather chauvinistic, especially for an industrialized nation. So, whereas in America, we essentially aspire to this notion of gender equality, we don’t get there by a long-shot in terms of our storytelling either in Hollywood or in animation and comics. Fortunately, these kinds of topics are now much more publicized, which I think is good. I think awareness is going to change this. But, there’s also going to have to be some institutional changes so that we don’t still have all of these issues, like the fact that Black Widow isn’t included in the Avengers merchandise when they’re showing a picture of all the Avengers. That is ridiculous. It’s 2015. Can’t we get over this already? It is still an issue, because there is still an extreme lack of parity on the subject.

How did you get into the voice acting career?

Well, if you want the gory details and a blow by blow account of how I got into voice acting, I actually have a podcast on voice acting called “Voice Acting Mastery” at voiceactingmastery.com. Episode 4 and 5, I actually go into ALL the details about how I got in. But, in a nutshell, I was working as a theatrical actor in New York City. I was getting my Masters in Fine Arts at Columbia University, but I had always been a fan of animation, ever since I was young, and specifically, Japanese Animation had always been my favorite. There was a studio in New York that was dubbing Japanese Animation into English, and a friend of mine who had worked for them suggested I contact them. I sent them a copy of a radio play that I was working on at Columbia University, even though that was totally the wrong thing to send because it is not really a demo. They took pity on me, I guess. I was able to audition for some anime shows, and that’s how I started doing voice work, which I was doing on the side.

Then I realized that I was getting more excited about working on the animation stuff than working in theater. That’s when I decided that I needed to move to Los Angeles to get to a bigger marketplace and pursue voice acting full time.

How has the growth of movie, television, video games and animation production in Atlanta affected what you do for a living? Have there been any ripples in the voice acting industry?

Well, I’m not that aware of what’s been happening in terms of Atlanta and its business. To be perfectly honest, many times if it is a game project, gaming companies will come to Los Angeles to record voice actors because they want to access that talent pool in Los Angeles. I may not always be aware that the game company may be based out of Atlanta. So, maybe it is having an effect and I am just not paying close enough attention.

Because everything moves at such a fast pace, especially with games where everything is so secretive, it’s so difficult to figure out who I am working for, what the project is, even what the name of my character is in real life.

I just found out that with a game I have been working on for years, they have been telling me what my character’s name was, and that’s not actually the character’s name in the game. So, even if it was coming from Atlanta, there are so many different non-disclosures and secrecy that I may not even know. So, I guess I am blissfully unaware.

How has that secrecy affected your process, when you are not given the full story of what it is that you’re trying to portray?

It’s quite frustrating! As voice actors, we want to do the best job possible, and the way to do the best job possible as an actor, is to have as much detail and information as possible. But, that is exactly what they don’t want to give us. So, it can be really frustrating. It feels like you train all your life to be a Formula One race-car driver, and then they ask you to drive the golf course, but you KNOW that that’s not what they want. You know that they want you to race at 200 mph, but you can’t if you don’t know the course. So, it is frustrating.

I understand that on their side, they are worried about people poaching their ideas, and they are worried about how to market their product. I get all that, but we’re supposed to be their collaborators. We’re supposed to be the people working with them. So, on some level, while I have some sympathy with them, it sure makes our job as voice actors a lot more difficult. I wish there was some way that they would feel a lot more trusting to give us the information we need to help their project be that much better. That’s really what it comes down to. We want to make their project better, and the more information we have, the better we can make it.

With the expansion of new technologies as well as new niche markets, have you found yourself being offered opportunities in any of those new media forms?

It’s interesting. The fact that recording equipment has become relatively inexpensive has certainly democratized the voice-over industry in a way. It’s not dissimilar from what happened when the Macintosh was invented in the 1980’s with desktop publishing. Suddenly everyone could do desktop publishing. Now you can buy a professional quality microphone for two, three hundred dollars and if you can treat the space in your home with enough acoustical foam and sound isolation, you can have a decent sounding booth to do professional work in. So that means that voice-over is more accessible to more people than ever before.

However, that doesn’t necessarily change the production pipeline for certain things like animation and video games. Especially with character based voice-over because everyone has to be recorded on the same equipment, almost all of the time. So, that means that everyone has to come to the same studio. So, Disney and Warner Brothers aren’t really changing the way they do stuff just because you can buy a $300 microphone and record from home. They still need you to come to the lot to do stuff. But, when it comes to promos for companies, industrial narration and things like audiobooks, that kind of stuff is certainly open to people being able to work from home. There’s all sorts of independent video games now that are taking advantage of the fact that there is this talent pool that has their own recording equipment at home. So, that has expanded the eco-system, shall we say? But, the big-ticket stuff still tends to get done the same way. We may audition from home, but we still have to record at the studio.

What is the guild / union situation with professional voice acting, and is it something that independent artists and developers can tap into in order to acquire talent for their projects?

The Screen Actor’s Guild just recently combined with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the guild is now called SAG-AFTRA. The guild covers all media for union actors from television to film to new media. Anyone who wants to use union actors, they need to be signatories with the union and pay them union minimum rates and pay into pension and health and all that stuff. That all gets technical if they want to do that.

There are certainly independent video game developers who are maybe not interested or maybe don’t have the budget to work with the union talent quite yet. But, in my opinion, I think the cost of working with union talent is pretty minimal compared to the quality of what you get. It depends on how people want to work on projects.

Why MomoCon is the place to be in Atlanta this weekend

This afternoon we sat down with Dan Carroll, the Director of Media Relations for MomoCon 2015, and talked about the convention, what fans can expect this year, and why the Georgia World Congress Center is the happening place to be in Atlanta this weekend.


This is MomoCon’s first year here at the Georgia World Congress Center, and it looks like it is shaping up to be an amazing one! How has the attendance been this year, compared to last?

We are anticipating 20,000 total attendees… last year we had 14,600. The move to the new venue has obviously given us more opportunity, more exposure, and a lot more fun for the people coming. We have convenient parking, MARTA takes the local Atlanta folks right to the conference center, and as you can see from where we’re sitting, we have this amazing, giant, enormous vendor area and the largest gaming square footage area in the southeast at a convention.

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This year it is very apparent how important the inclusion of gaming is to MomoCon’s programming. Is this a sign of the direction MomoCon plans to take moving forward?

Absolutely. We’ve had gaming since our first MomoCon. In fact, MomoCon directors would meet together on a regular basis to play analog games and also plan out the convention. It works out that we just happen to adore games. We’ve had some amazing LAN/console gaming competitions in the past, and right now you and I are looking down on the show floor and can see how large the LAN area is, as well as the console gaming. But, the big new amazing thing is the indie game developer showcase.

The showcase is providing an opportunity for new developers to show their work, and the showcase itself is juried. There are a number of industry experts that are going to be reviewing the games, judging them and giving out cash prizes.

Moving forward, is the indie game developer showcase going to become an even bigger part of MomoCon’s programming?

We are Georgia’s anime and gaming convention. The gaming is going to continue to grow and the anime is going to grow too. Also, it’s not just anime, but American animation too. Next year, I think you’re going to see a lot of growth in the comics area.

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How long do you see MomoCon being booked here at the GWCC? 

I believe we’re currently booked through 2019, and we do have contingencies for growth into other halls here at the GWCC, but we’re going to take it one year at a time and make sure we do the best we can. What we do here at MomoCon is focus on the end-user/attendee experience. The membership brings a lot of fun with it.

What have you personally been the most excited about with MomoCon 2015?

Well, a number of things. We have some of my favorite voice actors here this year. I just got off of a panel with Crispin Freeman, the voice actor who performed as Alucard in “Hellsing.” He does an amazing job. I also got to meet with Greg Weisman, (writer, developer and showrunner in several American animations including “Gargoyles,” and “Star Wars Rebels”) which was great.

Probably for me more than anything else is to see how comfortable, relaxed and filled with enjoyment the fan-base is here. People have commented about our diversity in terms of age, race, gender, LGBT, and how everyone is completely accepted. We are just a warm environment, and as always, anytime you have any event in Atlanta, it’s filled with a lot of hospitality.

What would you say to parents with kids that may be interested in coming to MomoCon, but are unsure of its content and family friendliness? 

There is still plenty of opportunity for people to come and enjoy MomCom 2015, and MomoCon 2016 is just around the corner. The one thing families need to know is that all of our programming is “all-ages” appropriate, 24 hours a day. There are no late night panels that are adult oriented or inappropriate for anybody. We have a pretty solid dress code and we like to make sure that our customers are presenting themselves in the best possible way. We also like to make sure that we are following standards that are family friendly and inclusive.

What kind of programming do you have for the kids?

Well, card gaming is always big, but this year it seems to have exploded. We also have the Chalk Twins here, and yesterday we had a sidewalk chalk art competition here. It turned out really well. The weather has helped out a lot.


MOMOCON IS GOING ON ALL WEEKEND. VISIT HTTP://WWW.MOMOCON.COM TO FIND OUT MORE INFORMATION.

CD Review: ‘721835’ by Double Experience

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Sick of bands that only sing about love and loss? What about bands that spend more time getting dressed than writing music? Then the self-described “nerdy neo-rock band from Ottawa, ON,” Double Experience says they’re the answer you’ve been waiting for, and I’m inclined to agree! Having put in quite a bit of work over the last few years to make themselves known, this Canadian crew toured throughout six countries, performed over 500 shows, and traveled over 100,000 miles in support of their full-length album 721835. Chocked full of hard-hitting rock songs with infectious melodies, chugging basslines, and addictively fun guitar riffs, these fellows have hit a musical sweet spot for me, and I think you’ll agree.

The music found within, originally released on five collectible trading cards before finding its way to a more traditional release, is far from what you’ll find in your local bargain bin. Double Experience totes in its list of influences behemoths such as Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Queen, and Led Zeppelin, and occasionally these become apparent, such as on “Wolf In The Ewe” whose opening guitar line sounds a lot like something we’d hear from QOTSA. Yet this foursome pulls out tunes that are very much their own creation. I’m almost certain that “Horror Beyond Imagination” is about Scooby Doo…

What I like most about the music is the sheer amount of enjoyment you can tell these guys had making it. Describing themselves, they list hobbies and loves such as Dungeons & Dragons and Star Trek, noting that these passions absolutely flow over into their songs. But even though I grew up as a fellow nerd, I don’t feel that the songs are overflowing with topics that I highly identify as nerdy. Diverse, yes, and without a doubt worthy of a dozen listens, but not dripping of references to D20 die and +10 to Archery (though they do mention the Prime Directive). Far from trying to discredit their neo-nerd basement cred, I’d just like people to realize how enjoyable this music is for everyone! And for those periods when you just need to get serious, Double Experience has you covered with the song “Here’s Y,” a passionate moment on the album that reflects on Generation Y and the band’s disappointment in those people who don’t appreciate the life they have.

If there is one thing that the album overflows with, it’s passion. Ian Nichols is a fabulous singer and really puts himself into each word he passes to the microphone. Guitarist Brock Tinsley not only brings a refreshing groove to the music, but whips out licks that keep the music bubbling with interest. Bassist Tim Kealey and drummer Kenny Saunders (now David Cartwright) hold the songs down, but fellows, I heard you get funky in the bridge for “Horror Beyond Imagination.” Bravo! Needless the say, the energy found on this album is over 9000.

Double Experience is the kind of band that releases music videos showcasing Super Mario Bros. speed runs and conducts contests where you can win new games, because that’s the kind of stuff that they love and want to share with others. They’re also a band that recently released a single entitled “Goddamn Mimetic Business” featuring Fred Mascherino of Taking Back Sunday and Terrible Things. But a little while ago they put out an album entitled 721835, full of hard rocking songs that make you want to do a combination of headbanging and solving strange mysteries with talking dogs. This is an album I wish I had learned of sooner so that I could have caught the band live in concert when they came through the United States. With any luck, I’ll be free next time. In the meantime, I recommend you give them a listen. Then we’ll both be saying, “Shut up and take my money.”

PS – You may be wondering what the album title means. I, myself, was scratching my head over this peculiar choice.  Knowing that these are not your run of the mill musicians, I thought that perhaps it was a code of some kind.  However, nothing I tried made since. Even more annoying was how other reviews and interviews noted the title, but never delved into its meaning, leaving me to despair further. Finally, one interview braved to ask the question, and the answer puts me to shame. In a gamer-type fashion, Double Experience has written their album title in 1337 (or l33t/leet, ala Elite) Speak. Thus, the true album title could in fact be Tribes. Perhaps, however, the appeal is greater with the air of mystery. Torment your friends with the unknown.

 

For more on Double Experience, visit:
Official Website
Purchase 721835 at: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band
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