A look at the presence of the tokusatsu genre at Anime Boston 2014 and an interview with tokusatsu panelist Bob Skerry.
Last weekend, I attended Anime Boston, the 7th largest convention in North America focused on Japanese entertainment and culture. Amidst the Shingeki no Kyojin, Sailor Moon, and JAM Project furor, those of us in the tokusatsu fandom were able to meet up and connect about our passion for rubber suit monsters and well-fitting spandex, not only in casual conversation on the convention floor, but through a semi-impromptu cosplay photoshoot as well as a pair of panels run by “Toku Master” Bob Skerry.
Bob has been running a series of panels on tokusatsu since 2012 when he started his HENSHIN! Series, a generalized panel outlining some of the various franchises in the genre. In 2013, he continued this series with a panel focused specifically on Super Sentai, and this year he further continued the series with Kamen Rider. While not the only panelist attempting to bring tokusatsu to the Anime Boston panel lineup, he is arguably the most dedicated and prolific.
I was able to interview Bob after the convention about his experience with his tokusatsu panels both this year and in previous years, as well as what he thinks of the tokusatsu presence at Anime Boston, and his plans for the future of his HENSHIN! Series.
[Question] What made you start your HENSHIN! series of panels?
[Bob Skerry] Well, I started watching Super Sentai in ’07, and had only started Kamen Rider at the top of 2010. I knew only a few folks on the TV-Nihon forums, but otherwise no one else in the fandom. When I’d gone to AB 2011, I’d met someone and recognized their badge name (Nazca Dopant). They’d given me a wristband that read something along the lines of “Heal Help Henshin – <3 for Japan” to help support Japan after the tsunami around that time. Seeing someone else be a fan and knowing that the genre was so low under the radar of the “mainstream subculture”, I figured I’d do a general tokusatsu panel.
I planned for 2012, and was so determined to try and do well. I got a big turn-out, and people enjoyed it. From then on, I wanted to help further knowledge of the genre, and bring tokusatsu into the forefront with anime, gaming, and other geeky subcultures that are now considered popular.
[Q] How well do you think your HENSHIN! panels have been received by the tokusatsu fandom presence at Anime Boston? What about with those not already involved in tokusatsu fandom?
[BS] Well, overall I’d like to think I’m making a bit of a splash. People tell me how they look forward to having panels specifically aimed toward the fandom, as there’s not a lot of recognition at most cons. Most folks are so struck with nostalgia by the idea of Saban’s Power Ranger franchise that the idea of Super Sentai is foreign and likely lost in translation. Kamen Rider is barely acknowledged; good luck on knowing anything else with the average con-goer. To many, my panels go over very well.
Mind you, these are still works-in-progress, and a full format has yet to be achieved. I generally take critiques from attendees right after the panel, and often get good feedback and notes.
[BS] There are plans to focus on a general panel for different franchises each year. Currently, with the advent of the theme for AB 2015, there may be a hold on the next in that line, which will be Metal Heroes. This will finish off Toei’s Big Three, and then the HENSHIN! Series will start to touch on the other franchises, the order of which will be determined at a later date.
[Q] Do you have plans to repeat or expand upon any of your previous HENSHIN! Series panels at future Anime Bostons?
[BS] There will likely be re-runs of the earlier panels at some point, refining prior points made and allowing those who may have missed those panels a chance to see them again. It will also give the Series a chance to try new formats and allow other panelists under the Series name to try their renditions on the genre.
[Q] What about other conventions in the North East, or in the rest of America?
[BS] There may be plots in the works. Currently, there are talks of going to Katsucon, Connecticon, and possibly even Otakon. However, HENSHIN! Series’ home will always be Anime Boston.
There’s definitely a desire to expand, but first the seeds must be sown.
[Q] This year, the panels you presented also included a specialized Sentai panel titled “Sentai Color Theory”. Do you have plans to continue with specialized panels?
[BS] Absolutely. The intent of the general panels is to attempt pleasing members of the established fandom while at the same time whetting the appetite for knowledge in casual folk who may be interested in given areas of the genre. Whereas the specialized panels are intended to placate mostly to the fandom. As ideas are developed, more specialized panels will surface.
[Q] How well received was this specialized Sentai panel? Were you happy with the turnout?
[BS] Many attendees seemed to enjoy the panel. Another guest panelist, Atreju, and I had great chemistry on stage and could easily have gone on longer than the hour we had initially allotted. We intended to have more audience input, but this was hurt by our time constraints. Atreju will certainly be invited back, and hopefully be included in the future HENSHIN! Series roster.
I was certainly happy with the turnout, and found that many in the audience had a blast! HENSHIN! Series will likely return to this panel in the years to come.
[Q] Do you feel that tokusatsu has a significant presence at Anime Boston? Or do you feel that it’s more of a niche fandom?
[BS] Right now, tokusatsu is still a niche fandom, but it has grown tremendously since 2012 and prior. More people have an idea of what fans are talking about, and offering interest because of anime like Tiger and Bunny or Samurai Flamenco referencing the genre. Anime Boston has recognized [tokusatsu] more now than in previous years.
[Q] Do you think we can expect to see an increase in the presence of tokusatsu on the Anime Boston convention floor?
[BS] Likely, but not without the help of fans. If anime fans weren’t sharing their interest back in the 80’s and 90’s, the word “anime” wouldn’t have become a part of most peoples’ vocabulary as it is today. It is the duty of all fans in the fandom to share with friends who might show interest, talk about story structure amongst each other for people to catch wind of, and show off to younger relatives to pass the torch. Anime Boston can see more tokusatsu on the floor, but not without us to put it there.
[Q] What about an increase in presence in the panel lineup?
[BS] As far as fan panels? Maybe. 2013 saw three panels on tokusatsu that year, from three different parties. Mine was only one of them, but my Super Sentai general panel was by far the most recognized and talked about from what many of the attendees told me, and even the other mentioned panelists. If more interest grows, so will panels.
But, if you mean industry or Japanese Guests of Honor, probably not for a few more years. The staff at Anime Boston will bring them, if the attendees are great enough en masse to warrant it.
[Q] Anime Boston tweeted that the theme for 2015 will be “Mecha vs Kaiju”. Do you see this as a boon for the tokusatsu fandom, or do you think that live-action genres like tokusatsu will continue to take a back seat to animation?
[BS] Well, the “Mecha vs. Kaiju” theme certainly helps the fandom’s presence. Kaiju are very much a standard in tokusatsu, as the most well-cited franchise in the genre would likely be Gojira, also known by most as Godzilla. The term “tokusatsu” is “live-action special effects media”, so of course we’ll see at least attention for that end of the theme. Though mecha have their own sub-genre in anime, mecha in tokusatsu is very much noted and recognized. If anyone brings a focused panel on either of the two for tokusatsu next year, it will get attention.
Bob’s panels were a highlight of many tokusatsu fans weekend, and a last minute photoshoot for tokusatsu cosplayers was arranged and took place Saturday night between his two panels. I noted personally that, despite being slotted at the same time as the JAM Project Solo concert, his Sentai Color Theory panel still nearly filled the panel room, and there was a great sense of energy and community among those present.
Besides the two panels Bob ran and the photoshoot, there were also two booths in the Dealer’s room selling tokusatsu-related merchandise, and both booths nearly sold out of their supply from the currently airing Kamen Rider Gaim series. Reports from attendees indicated that the musical guest, JAM Project, played not only their new song from Garo: Makai Flower (Garo: Makai no Hana) but also made an attempt at playing the theme song from Abaranger.
Tokusatsu is slowly making its presence felt at Anime Boston, but the future of its recognition at Anime Boston, as well as other Japanese entertainment conventions in the U.S., depends most of all on the fans.
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