Wednesday, October 08, 2008

lainspotting at Sitacon 2008

So far, I've been to 4 cons this year:

Anime Punch (guest)
Anime Expo (panelist)
San Diego Comic-Con
Otakon (panelist)

For 2008, I have one more to go. This weekend, I'll be a guest at Sitacon in Utica, NY. I have three panels scheduled:

  • Old School Gainax: From Daicon to Eva
  • Anime in Academia
  • Otaku Studies 101

Should be fun. If you'll be there, please don't hesitate to say hello.

Here's the official website:

Sitacon's listing on

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thoughts and clarifications: MSNBC article on sexuality in anime/manga

This is my response to the MSNBC article in which I was quoted. Or more accurately, this is my response to the Anime World Order podcast episode which includes their response to the MSNBC article:

Hey guys,

Lawrence Eng here. By the way, I live in San Diego now. I just wanted to comment on the MSNBC article discussion.

After all the protests about Patrick being misquoted and things being taken out of context, how about a little benefit of the doubt regarding the other quotes/interviewees?

I stand by my quotes in the article (and feel they contributed positively), but I wasn't paraphrased completely accurately regarding the demographic of people attending early anime cons in the US.

Ignoring for now the simple fact that what even counts as the first anime con(s) is debatable*, I only started con-going in 1996 (not counting a Robotech Creation convention around 1986 or so I went to as a kid), so I don't claim to have perfect demographic data regarding who went to every early con.

For a better idea of what I actually said, referring to my personal experiences as a fan, rewind to an article (by Jeff Yang) that was published 3 years ago in SFGate:

The fan mix isn't just getting younger -- it's also getting more diverse. Lawrence Eng, a doctoral candidate at Renssaeler Polytechnic Institute who's made the anime fan community the primary focus of his research, remembers the era when he first became a fan, back in the early '90s. "When I first started going to conventions, everyone looked like me: males in their late 20s and 30s, a lot of them Asian," he says. "Now at AX, there are so many women there; they make up at least 50 percent of the attendees, maybe more. And you have people from every race and background. It's become much more of a normal distribution now."

Regarding the "colossal factual errors", I know we should hold MSNBC to higher standards than your typical blog post, but some of the errors seem fairly minor considering the level of fan outrage I've been observing.

I agree that the clarity of the Gurren Lagann/Overfiend sentence was problematic, but when interpreted correctly (re: adjective agreement, as you discussed), it's not strictly an error.

Lolicom was incorrectly described as coming from "lolita" and "comics", but the section heading it was discussed under was called "Lolita-complex culture". Based on that, it could have been a minor slip-up during the editing process, and not poor research.

Regarding otaku as "techno-geeks": Some of the earliest, widely published writing on otaku in the English language was the Greenfeld Wired article you mentioned, itself heavily influenced by Volker Grassmuck's essay on otaku which was written even before Otaku no Video put the word "otaku" on the radar of American fandom. Whether or not you agree with their description of otaku, it's not incorrect to say that was how otaku were written and thought about in the early 90s, and the term has now evolved into something a lot less academic and much more widespread.

Long story short: talking about otaku in terms of technology (especially IT and mass media) is not a new thing. William Gibson, in particular, really ran with that idea, describing otaku as "pathological-techno-fetishist-with-social-deficit" in Idoru (1996) and really getting deep into otaku infophile behavior in Pattern Recognition (2003).

Given how many people have expressed outraged regarding the 'lolicom comes from lolita comics' thing, is it really a huge stretch for anyone to think that anime and manga in America is somehow affecting people's "attitudes about sexual expression"? I mean, before anime and manga were popular here, how many Americans would even know what lolicon is? Now, we have a vocal subset of fans who know the etymology of the term, distinguish between lolicon and shotacon, wonder why the author didn't talk about yaoi/yuri, etc. In that light, Patrick's final quote isn't that off. There is something powerful going on when kids are consuming media products from another culture. Even if that content isn't always (or even usually) sexually explicit, people are being exposed (in a generally positive way, I would add) to norms and values that are often different from the American mainstream. If it wasn't different, I don't think we as fans would be as interested in the content.


*How do we define "anime convention"? How many anime fans gathering constitutes an anime convention (versus a club meeting)? When talking about "the first anime convention", do we count the first C/FO meetings? Video rooms at sci-fi cons (like at BayCon in the late 80s)? Yamatocon (which I believe was pretty specific in its scope)? A-Kon (which wasn't a full-blown anime con until after AnimeCon, according to some)? AnimeCon '91? Since it's all a matter of definition, the debate continues. For example, Fred Patten defended his statement about AnimeCon being "the first all-anime convention" in the US (see his collection of essays: Watching Anime, Reading Manga, pp. 81-82).

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

CJAS turns 20

20 years ago today, the first meeting of CJS (Cornell Japanimation Society) was held in a townhouse on North Campus. Along with co-founders Masaki Takai and Kay Lillibridge, a small handful of Cornellians got together to watch anime and enjoy each other's company. The tradition continues...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

serial experiments lain - 10th Anniversary

On July 6th, 1998, serial experiments lain debuted on Japanese television. Ten years later, the show's legacy endures and it continues to inspire new audiences who discover it. I haven't done a whole lot online to celebrate Lain's 10th birthday, but perhaps I'll do some more lain-related panels at conventions this coming year.

On a related note, I just got back from Anime Expo this weekend, where I had the opportunity (once again) to be on the Anime and Manga in Academia panel, along with Mikhail Koulikov of the Anime/Manga Web Essays Archive and Danielle Leigh, who writes about manga on the Comics Should Be Good! blog on (a site that I like a lot, by the way).

I also met up with my friend and fellow lain fan Ray (of Distortion Gallery fame) who I haven't seen in about 2 years. My wife Carol and I had a really nice time hanging out with Ray and his lovely wife Marie.

I also ran into some other friends at the con, which is always nice. I spent a lot of time in the dealers' room this year, but didn't buy very much. I'm saving up for San Diego Comic-Con, which I'm really looking forward to.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lawmune's Netspace turns 10

Ten years ago today, on June 23rd, 1998, this website ("Lawmune's Netspace") went live. Some of the pages were created before June 23rd, but they weren't available on the Internet until that day.

1998 was the year I graduated from college, which is why I started this site in the first place--as a method of communicating with my college friends and whoever else was interested in reading what I wrote.

A lot has changed since then, but a lot has stayed the same, too. Most of the pages I put up in those early days are still up. Some of it is outdated, but that's okay. I like having it there for the historical record. Besides, the Web shouldn't be full of dead links, and taking content down just because it's old is bad for the Web. I'll eventually update those old pages, some day.

A personal website turning 10 years old might not seem like a big deal, but this site has been very important in my life. Because of Lawmune's Netspace, I've gotten the chance to express myself as a fan of various things, shared knowledge and opinions, gotten involved in other people's creative projects, been invited to speak on several occasions, provided the idea for a character, and even got myself a job. Furthermore, with a brief note of thanks, I reminded the woman who would later become my wife how important she is to me.

My friends know that I'm a fairly private person. I prefer keeping to myself (and my family), but the Web has been a great place for me to share at my own pace. After 10 years, you might think there should be a lot more content here, but I'm actually very happy with what I've got. (That said, I still have a ton of half-formed ideas waiting to turn into full-fledged webpages.)

If you happen upon this blog post, and if this site has helped or entertained you at all during the last 10 years, thank you for visiting and reading! With so many different kinds of pages out there--including social networking sites, wikis, news aggregators, blogs, etc--the humble personal page seems to have fallen out of fashion, but I still think they (personal pages) are important and rewarding. Here's to 10 years! Let's see what the next 10 will bring.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Moving forward from sad days in Akihabara

Here are some links to articles about the recent tragedy in Akihabara, where a young man killed 7 people and injured several more:

17 Hit or Stabbed, 7 Confirmed Dead in Tokyo's Akihabara

Cry for help from comic book killer

Tragedy strikes Tokyo's geeks

Akihabara, of course, is the world's most famous otaku hotspot, known for its heavy concentration of anime and manga-related stores, maid cafes, and public cosplay (usually on Sundays). In recent times, there have been various reports of some otaku being mugged there, or of police cracking down on impromptu otaku gatherings, but in general, Akihabara has been considered a fun and safe place for otaku to visit. I've only been there once, but I had a good time shopping in the otaku specialty stores.

Right now, Akihabara is a site of mourning. I imagine that otaku in Japan feel the hurt on a very personal level, with their safe haven violated--by someone who shared their interests in anime and manga, no less, and many otaku in Japan probably relate to the suspect's alleged feelings of alienation. I linked to the 2 articles above, not because they're necessarily the best ones out there, but because they've tried to link (implicitly or otherwise) the suspect's actions with his hobbies, which is sure to flare up the never-ending debates about the harmfulness of mass media.

In fact, it's fairly safe to predict that we will see the following two viewpoints expressed in the media during the next few weeks:

1) Otaku culture is causing the breakdown of mainstream Japanese society
2) Otaku culture is a symptom of the overall breakdown of mainstream Japanese society

I suppose that point #2 is a bit more reasonable than point #1, but what we almost never see, however, is an idea I've tried to propagate for some time now: Otaku culture is neither the cause of the problem, or a negative symptom of the problem. Instead, otaku culture is a positive subcultural reaction to the problems of Japanese, American, and other postmodern societies. Sure, one could easily focus on all of the negative aspects of people who are called or call themselves otaku--people have been making fun of otaku for over 25 years--but considering that most otaku around the world aren't criminals but are instead doing some very cool and creative things, and belong to vibrant and diverse communities surrounding their interests, why shouldn't we focus on (and encourage) the positive?

I think's it's important not to let events such as these be the catalyst for others to judge otaku based on fear. More importantly, perhaps, anime and manga fans should resist the urge to point to their peers who might be more introverted, have more alternative tastes, or simply look different and beratingly call them 'otaku' to distance themselves from negative mainstream attention toward anime fans in general. Instead of continuing the cycle of alienation, propagated by divisive and sensational stories in the media, we can try to be inclusive and encouraging of pluralism, at least within our own community.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

RSS Awareness Day

Given how infrequently I update this blog, I hope there's no one out there who actually types in on a regular basis to see if there's anything new here. Instead, you should consider using RSS (for this blog and any other sites you want to keep track of).

What's RSS, you say? I'm glad you asked, because today (May 1st) is RSS Awareness Day.

RSS Awareness Day

Most browsers these days support RSS, and there are Web-based solutions as well. Personally, I love Opera's built-in RSS reader. I couldn't live without it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Classic anime openings

I just posted my Anime Punch report. One thing I didn't mention there is that I helped Lillian Olsen (my good friend and fellow con guest) with the multimedia clips she showed during her Classic Anime panel. She promised that I'd post links to the clips here on my blog, so here they are:

Magical Witch Sally

GeGeGe no Kitaro

Time Bokan Yatta-man

Time Bokan Zenda-man

Time Bokan Yattodeta-man

Star of the Giants

Dr. Slump Arale-chan

Urusei Yatsura


and one of my own all-time favorites...

NG Knight Lamune & 40
(first 2 openings)

Con Report - Anime Punch 2008

I'm writing this on the flight home from Anime Punch 2008. This was my third year at the con as an invited guest, and once again, I had a very good time. My sincerest thanks go out to the organizers of Anime Punch for having me, and for hosting such a good event that was safe, fun, and always full of interesting activities to keep enthusiastic otaku of all ages occupied.

In particular, I want to thank con chair Mike Beuerlein and Susan (the head of Con Ops) for their hospitality and helpfulness, the guys in charge of the panel rooms for always coming through when I needed help with A/V issues, and everyone who came to my panels (I hope you liked them).

Anime Punch is a convention run entirely by fans, and is associated with the OSU anime club. Even though AP is not nearly the size of conventions like Anime Expo (in Long Beach, CA) and Otakon (in Baltimore, Maryland), there was never a dull moment--which is something I can't always say about those larger cons. There's something about fans at smaller conventions that always impresses me. The atmosphere is different at events where the con-goers, invited guests, and staff aren't so different from each other, and where strangers are eager to help other strangers have a good time, instead of complaining about minor snafus and inconveniences.

For the first time in a long time, I had a very balanced con experience. I went to the opening ceremonies, attended (and presented) panels, spent some time in the video rooms, played video games in the game room, shopped in the dealers' room, ate some snacks in the (very nicely stocked) con suite, participated in game shows, struck up conversations with people I hadn't met before, went out to dinner with friends, and genuinely got excited about new (and old) anime again.

Much of my time was spent preparing for and presenting numerous panels. Officially, I was responsible for being on 5 panels, 3 of them to be presented completely on my own (so those were more like lectures or moderated discussions than "panels", per se). As it turns out, at the very last minute, I was recruited to talk on one additional panel, and I recruited someone to help me on one of my own panels.

Here's a list of what I presented:
  1. Gainax (together with Mikhail Koulikov, maintainer of the Anime/Manga Web Essays Archive and fellow AMRC moderator). I focused primarily on the early history of Gainax and the studio's pre-Evangelion works, and Mikhail covered the more recent titles.

  2. Otaku as Viewed by Media/Normals (with Laura). I introduced myself to Laura, who organized this panel, and she asked me to help out, so I did. We had a nice (if somewhat unstructured) group discussion about public perceptions of otaku culture (in both Japan and America). I hope Laura and I can do this panel again in the future, since it allows me to spend more time on other topics during my Otaku Studies talk (which I've presented at AP three years in a row).

  3. Anime in Academia (together with my academic colleagues CarrieLynn Reinhard, Mikhail, and Dr. John Lent). Traditionally, this panel has been very well-attended, and we even had a bigger room this year, but for whatever reason, it felt like there were fewer attendees this time around. Anyhow, all of us had other panels that were well attended, so that's okay.

    Lawrence at Anime Punch 2008
    (This image, by OZinOH, is used in accordance with a Creative Commons license)

  4. Otaku Studies. Based on my doctoral work, this is the talk I give every year (with updated content, of course) in as many places as possible. It's always very rewarding to share with my fellow fans what I've learned being amongst them and trying to make sense of our diverse community's various activities, values, and ethics. I always get really good questions and feedback from this talk. Hopefully, the more I give this presentation and make adjustments, the better it will get. Maybe I'll eventually turn it into a 2-part seminar or workshop.

  5. Anime and the Internet (with Aaron). I didn't know until the day before the con that I was the only person who would be presenting on this topic. That was okay, I figured, since anime fandom's use of the internet was such a big part of my doctoral dissertation. Also, I work for a company that makes the world's best Web browser, so this was right up my alley. That said, I was very pleased to see Aaron of the WARP Anime Podcast in the audience. I asked him if he'd like to be part of the panel, which he kindly agreed to do--contributing some very nice insight and information about the world of anime podcasts. Our discussion topics ranged from pre-Web online fandom to the development of early anime fansites to the current-day landscape of corporate sites, blogs, social networking sites, and Wikipedia.

  6. serial experiments lain. During this panel, I surely repeated more than once how happy and surprised I was that so many people showed up to hear and talk about lain, a show that will be 10 years old this summer. I was planning to chat with at most 4-5 people about my favorite anime TV series to celebrate its 10th anniversary, but there must have been a couple dozen people in the room, all of whom had watched lain and were fans enough of it not to attend the other, higher-profile con events of Saturday night. Since everyone in the room had seen lain already, it was a fairly high-level panel. We discussed the themes of the show, its influences, the shows it influenced, and how it affected us as viewers. I also showed some special video clips, shared information about lain merchandise, and gave away a lain artbook (to one very dedicated lain fan in the audience). Even though I prepared the least for this panel (not counting the fact that I've had a huge lain website for 9 years now), it turned out to be really fun, and I hope to do it again before 2008 ends.
I had a great weekend, and seeing all the smiling faces around me at the con, I know I wasn't alone. Anime Punch continues to foster a great intimate feeling amongst its attendees. As otaku, we're a community of fans that's all about having fun together, sharing knowledge, and being passionate about our interests, and that's why I still love going to anime cons and look forward to Anime Punch 2009!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Anime Punch 2008

I'm writing this from Anime Punch 2008 in Columbus, Ohio.

As in previous years, Lillian and I are both guests at this con, and we're happy to be here.

It's not exactly a vacation, though. I have 5 panels scheduled: Gainax, Anime in Academia, Otaku Studies, Anime and the Internet, and serial experiments lain

This is going to be a good con. The event schedule is packed with all kinds of good stuff.

If you're at Anime Punch, please come by to any of my panels, and feel free to say hi at any time.

Friday, March 07, 2008

SXSW blogging

Meet me at SXSW 2008Over the next few days, I will be blogging fairly regularly while I'm at SXSW Interactive, along with a few My Opera members who will also be at the event. Here's the blog we made specifically for that purpose:

If you're planning to attend SXSW, you'll most likely find me at the Opera booth.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Anime exhibit in Frankfurt (Feb. 27th - Aug. 3rd)

For those of you who have been wondering what anime-related projects I've been up to lately, here's a bit of news that you might be interested in.

Last summer, I got involved with an upcoming anime exhibition being put on by the Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, Germany. It's called Anime - High Art - Pop Culture, and it will run from February 27th - August 3rd of this year. Unlike exhibits of artworks that are inspired by anime and otaku culture, this exhibit promises to dive headfirst into anime itself and the fan culture surrounding it.

I've personally loaned a number of my posters and artbooks to the exhibit. For the time being, my bookshelves are bit less dense, and my walls are temporarily quite bare (until I put up replacements), but I'm glad that I can share some of my collection with visitors to the exhibit. I also wrote an article for the catalogue (described below). The article, entitled "The Fans Who Became Kings", is a look at the history of Gainax, focusing on their importance to the development of global otaku culture.

Here's some text from the exhibit's press material:

/ Neopop meets fan culture /
Anime – High Art – Pop Culture at the Deutsche Filmmuseum presents the history, aesthetics and production of Japanese animation. From the early beginnings to the great cinematic successes and the popular heroes of late 1970s serials to current computer and video games, the exhibition illustrates the fascination of anime and their dramatic and often breathtaking visual language. Modules according to genres show a varied collection of materials on production, reception, fan culture and merchandising. The exhibition also features rare collector‘s items and artworks from anime producers shown in Europe for the first time.

/ Interactivity /
Professionals, interested visitors and fans will find many opportunities to become actively and creatively involved in the exhibitions at both museums. Interactive features include fan art exhibitions and competitions, drawing cels and producing short animations yourself and the chance to try out a selection of video games. Films and lectures accompany the exhibitions.

/ The catalogue /
A comprehensive volume (300 pages approx.) will discuss the multimedia aspects of manga and anime in innovative ways. With contributions from leading international scientists and experts, workshop reports and statements by manga and anime artists, directors and collectors the catalogue will close the gap in interdisciplinary documentation of contemporary Japanese popular culture. It will be both a new standard reference and a highly attractive collector‘s item for fans and visitors to the exhibition.


Official website of the exhibit:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer (1943-2008)

Bobby Fischer is dead. I've never been more than a casual chess player and observer (my parents let me take some group classes as a kid), but I've always been fascinated by Fischer.

Looking back at his life, I think:
What an incredible mind he had; such will and determination--an unrelenting need to win and dominate his opponents. His work ethic was amazing, and his sense of humor was biting (though not always in a good way). An obsessive student of the game and its history, the man wasn't just a player; he was a true chess otaku. Most of us can only dream of being as good at something as Bobby Fischer was at chess.

As many people know, however, Fischer was also quite troubled for many years before he died. He spent years as a fugitive from the law, and his anti-Semitic diatribes led many to the conclusion that he must be mad, or at least a horrible misanthrope.

In response to the dark side of Bobby Fischer's life, some have said we should only remember his brilliance at chess, his good years, and ignore the ravings of a demented old man.

I don't think it's wrong to be outraged by the hateful content of his ravings (which I first heard in the late '90s), and what he said should certainly be dismissed as racist garbage. But the tragic part of Bobby Fischer's story should not be forgotten or glossed over, even by those who choose to remember the good things about Bobby Fischer. Although he abandoned and denigrated much that was good, he himself was abandoned by a society that could not (or would not) get him the help and support he needed.

Intentionally or not, Bobby Fischer was one of America's weapons during the Cold War; his sole purpose was to disrupt the previously undefeatable Soviet chess machine. Is it any surprise that he was twisted by the paranoia of the time? It doesn't take much to fuel paranoid delusions, and it's been revealed that Fischer and his mother were both under FBI surveillance for decades. The details are vague, but the KGB took an interest in him as well.

I suspect that most of us would crack under the pressures faced by Bobby Fischer. And when a genius with an obsessive mind like Fischer's cracks, the consequences are dire, and what can we do about it? Not much, perhaps, especially when those who need help refuse to admit that they need it. Despite his glaring flaws, I'd like to remember Bobby Fischer as an American hero and a chess genius of the highest order. He was a victim of his time, his celebrity, and the very genius that served him so well on the chessboard, but which became madness in the end.

Farewell, Bobby Fischer. Some will miss you, and some will say 'good riddance', but at the very least, you won't be forgotten.