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[JAPAN ANIME MUSIC LAB.] Anime Key Player Interview #5
Ethan Kick, Division Head of Guest and Industry Relations, Otakon Part.2



How many attendees do you guys have now?

We just moved from Baltimore so we took a small attendance because some of the Baltimore locals didn't go to the D.C. show but now D.C. locals are going so the numbers are going back up. We're at 27,000, I believe, for last year. The reason we moved from Baltimore is because we capped out the venue and couldn't grow any more. We were 35,000 then.

How come Otakon started in Baltimore?

Early on after it was a college show that the original founders ran, it eventually incorporated and moved to Baltimore and then from there took over the Baltimore Convention Center. We're one of the earlier shows. I was talking about my boss who told me shows back in the day were very small. There was no internet and connecting with people was very hard. The United States is so broad so it's not easy to always find people. When they moved to Baltimore and it started growing, we were really one of the only conventions out there that did what we did. When we grew enough to have funds, we were able to bring out guests which really attracted more people. There were only a few events early on that really stayed year-to-year. There was a show in Texas, California, Chicago, Toronto and us. I think we're one of the big ones at the start. A few more got in as the second batch and now there's tons of them.

So who was the first person who started the event?

I'll be honest, I couldn't even tell you. I think one of our oldest staff members is actually Kurt who’s one of our lawyers and his son was one of the original four founders. This shows you how disconnected we are. Not in a bad way, but just how the generations have gone on. I didn't even know until we sat down one night and we were talking and he was like “yeah I've been around for a while.” Then I asked him when he joined the team. “The mid 2000’s I know you're well-respected you've been here for a while.” He said “No my son was one of the founders.” I was like “What!?” (Laugh) 


Is there any difficulty in organizing the event?

I think inherently because we're volunteers we all have our own day jobs and other obligations to family, education and training. Once you hit a leadership level you’re pretty committed to making this our hobby. You can get into it for different reasons. I can say for me personally, the experience every year of getting to meet different people. We will have fans from Japan come too. We had Yoko Kanno one year. This is a story that I will always tell. So we had three friends and I was running back from an event and I got tapped on the shoulder. I figured it was someone who is just an attendee looking for something. I asked how I can help them and they started speaking in Japanese. I can't speak Japanese so one of the interpreters was with me and told me that they wanted to know where the Yoko Kanno concert is at. I told them it will be here tomorrow. Then they asked if they can line up now. I told them “No, we have to close the convention.” Then they asked “When do you open? We came from Japan.” I was thinking “What? Doesn’t she perform in Japan?” I didn't know she doesn’t perform often in general.

So it must’ve been very special because they came all the way from Japan.

If you've had a Nintendo 3DS, they had a function where it would connect signals with other Nintendo’s and they would show which regions people came from. I remember I had my DS in one of my pockets. I opened it up and saw Sweden, Norway, Korea and Japan and it would show the different areas from Japan. I was really surprised. It was really special and like I was saying earlier, for a guy who really enjoys world culture and seeing everyone come together for a common appreciation, I thought that was really special and that's very early on. I was still very low in the organization. I have friends all over the country and over the years, it became an opportunity for me to see all of my friends with common interest from the Midwest, west coast, southeast also from the north. It's so crazy now seeing my friends bringing their friends and seeing the different generations and how it's grown.

Is that how Otakon grew bigger? Through connections and friends?

We come from all parts of the country and from different backgrounds. There were people I never expected; doctors, lawyers, engineers, bartenders, store owners, company owners, we have people now in the industry that come over not as industry or guests they just come over to staff who just love seeing us. They can’t guess who the guests will be every year, but they love experiencing the culture and just having fun with everyone.

Otakon is like one of the biggest conventions in the U.S. right?

Yes, we're still one of the largest. Actually, our feedback last year was fantastic. Most of our attendees this year are coming back. They waited because of the move. They told us that they wanted to make sure that we were adjusted to the new venue and of course we understand. We wish they would come but it's okay. We moved last year so this will be our second year in D.C. and the venue's gorgeous. As much as I love Baltimore, the Capital is very prestigious.

What do you do to make it bigger every year?

We try to make it bigger every year so that can be a tricky question to answer. Fandoms and genres change every year so what we try to do is, for me personally, I'll listen to all the new openings and endings for every season, and keep a running list of kind of shows do well. I'll look at the Crunchyroll charts and the voice actors to see how they are doing. Just to make sure that as I get older, I want to keep in touch with what our attendees want to see because there'll be new ones and old ones kind of bridging that gap.

So you’re looking at charts to see which anime’s are popular?

Yeah but then also personal experiences. One of the best way is when you go to events, I always tell new team members to look at what everyone's cosplaying as. Like when Attack on Titan came out, sure you heard a lot about it but if you went to a convention, two out of every three people was in a uniform. There would be seas of them. They were everywhere.

Yeah. It was and is still big.

Yes still very big. But whenever a show is really popular there'll be cosplayers everywhere. You see it in person you also see it online. It kind of connects everywhere. It’s not just one answer.

Yes, this also connects to the next question. I was going to ask you which anime is popular and gathers a lot of people.

So Titan does really well, Gundam still does very well and these shows are just consistently shown. We have shows every season. Made in Abyss was really cool and different, that came out recently and that did really well. There has been a lot of shows. Even ones that have come back. Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura came back and the fanbase is still very large and now new generations can experience it.

Yes, I love that. So I heard that Otakon doesn’t just do anime but focuses on anime songs and also parts of the culture.

So I'm actually very jealous. I joined the organization in 2010 to 2011. So I missed some of the earlier events but we got L'Arc-en-Ciel one year. The coolest part about that is how that's the only time they've ever performed at an anime convention in the United States. A couple months back, there was an anniversary for it because on L'Arc-en-Ciel’s Facebook page it said “remember Otakon.” That’s when I thought, “I missed it! Nooo!” I wish I could have seen them live they are amazing. 

But then we had a lot of amazing bands over the years. Home Made Kazoku has performed, T.M. Revolution, and I remember CHEMISTRY came too. I think the year they came was one of my first years in Otakon. The Boom Boom Satellites came one year, they were really good. We’ve just had too many amazing performers.

What kind of Japanese music do people in the U.S. like?

Probably more Jrock. That does really well. But even saying that, if someone brought Hikaru Utada over, I think that would sell out immediately. So I think Jpop does well. A lot of it can depend on the generation and seeing what's popular at the time. I don't think it's necessary limited to genre.

Is there a trend right now?

Right now I think pop does very well but also electronic music, the fusion of pop and rock with electronic music has done well. But then also a fusion of hip-hop and electronic music also does really well. So a lot of these fusion music have really become very popular in the last few years.

So we talked to the president of Lantis a few months ago and he said that One Punch Man is really popular in America.

Yes absolutely.

What part of One Punch Man caught people’s attention?

I think the concept really resonated with a lot of the fans. You grow up with Dragonball Z and it's fun, a lot of people enjoy it as their first anime. But a third of the show is a little bit of a joke because they're powering up for three episodes. So the fact that One Punch Man just defeats an enemy with one punch but have to make the show more interesting because you know the boss will be defeated in one punch. Also the humor too. Humor can sometimes be lost in translation but the humor thereresonated with the American audience very well. It didn't get lost in translation. He also became a huge online sensation in the West. Different websites would use pictures of him to create joke memes. He was incredibly popular. We actually brought out the American cast when One Punch Man came out. It was really big. We also brought JAM Project around that year because they did the opening and also brought the voice cast over and our fans loved it.

Nice! Also the fact that he’s a superhero might have made the series popular.

Yes, absolutely! Superhero’s are super popular. I mean look at Marvel, it's very popular.

Next: Ethan Kick Interview Part 3 – Otakon’s present and future. 

It will be published on 30 July, 2018!