The Incredible Legacy of Cowboy Bebop

By: Acey R.

Cowboy Bebop debuted in Japan 21 years ago in Japan. It has, in that time, become a staple in the anime scene, with an incredible ability to convey a story, in which  everyone can find something to love. From the characters to the pacing, to the incredible soundtrack, Cowboy Bebop has managed to wrangle in fans consistently for the past two decades.

This futuristic anime tells the tale of bounty hunters in space who fly around space, trying to cash in bounties (and failing pretty consistently) on their spaceship, the Bebop. We have Spike Spiegel, a former crime syndicate member; Jet Black, a former police officer; Faye Valentine, a woman who is incredibly irresponsible with money and a talent for trouble; Edward Won Hau Pepelu Trivruski IV, an incredible computer hacker of the fine age of 13; and last, but certainly not least, Ein, a corgi. Now, if you haven’t seen the series, you might think this is a random sounding assortment of main characters. It is, but somehow, it works beautifully.

Cowboy Bebop is the perfect combination of comedy and drama. It tells the story in episodic pieces that span over the course of just a single season, never seeming to drag on for too long. Along the way, it takes time to touch on and explore each character, and how they managed to find themselves on a crappy spaceship going after space criminals. In that way, it’s easy to start watching and it never rambles.

Many have, at least heard of this series – even people who aren’t anime fans have heard of or watched Cowboy Bebop. I found this series when I was in high school. I have had many a late-night re-watch and great conversation with other fans of every age about the fascinating series. I’m always amazed at the perspectives, lessons and theories each person I’ve encountered walked away with, especially considering that they are often so vastly different from my own, proving that there are as many stories of bonding with this series, as there are fans. As fun as this series is, there are many life lessons strewn throughout, which has made this series as timeless as it is.

My love for this series comes in two-fold, first with the dynamic characters the main cast encounters over the course of the 26 episodes. Each one is unique and makes each encounter fun, because you never meet the same character twice.

The women in this series, has especially caught my attention and their immense diversity has always fascinated me.  To come completely clean, Julia is my favorite character. If you don’t know or remember who that is, that is fair. Julia is Spike’s ex-lover and quite elusive throughout the series, referenced several times and only truly seen in around three episodes. Yet, Julia plays this essential role in Spike’s story. I have spent hours re-watching end credit scenes (seriously, highly recommend to give some context into the whole Julia, Spike and Vicious conundrum, if, like me, you care), reading theories and re-watching specific episodes. Julia has this beautiful mystery, as she is never explained, and no context is ever given, surrounding how Vicious, Spike and Julia came to know each other.  By leaving room in Spike’s story, the show allowed for room for speculation and that is one of my favorite styles of storytelling. Perhaps I’ve come to love Julia so much because of the character I’ve created in my mind. It is a rare opportunity to look at the context clues given and arrive at your own conclusions about the answers.

The other element of the story that I found compelling was based on my struggle with anxiety. Cowboy Bebop is a series that has many lessons in it, but the one I found most important was the ability to accept things as they are. One of Spike’s infamous lines from the series is as follows: “Whatever happens, happens”. I repeat this line to myself daily. I hold this series so close to me, because ultimately, it’s about accepting things as they are, handling them when we can and letting go when it is truly out of our hands. Cowboy Bebop has elements for everyone to connect with, and I’m glad to have found something for myself.

I love this series. It deserves all the hype and praise surrounding it and I’ve been happy to spread the word ever since I got to watch it. It manages to convey its story without being rushed and it tells you the perfect amount of story. It has managed to secure itself as one of the classics and I am so excited to see how it’s still so relevant, now at it’s 21st Anniversary!

So in closing, thank you for Cowboy Bebop. I hope you all get to watch it as well.

See you space cowboy!

__________________________

Learn more about the celebration of Cowboy Bebop at Otafest 2019:

Otafest & the Spirit of Generosity

Hello, everyone! I’d love to share a little story with you all: a tale which has repeated itself over and over every year since it first came to be.

In planning for Otafest 2009, back when Otafest was still at the University of Calgary, our attendance numbers had been rising steadily to include about 4 or 5 thousand dedicated fans, even despite the economic downturn. We decided it was time to give back to the community, and Otafest took its first small steps raising money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital to the tune of $1735.

What had actually happened were actions which helped define the virtues of our community at Otafest for the next decade onwards.

At Otafest Lite 2009 and Otafest 2010, we fundraised for the Mustard Seed and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, respectively. Through every donation, whether it was a loonie, quarters, or a handful of pennies, the donations came in. I recall running around with (my own) giant plastic Coke bottle-shaped piggy bank as people added their contributions; I proudly showed off its contents, shaking and jingling its precious cargo and showing off its weight. In the end we raised over $5000 for each organization, shattering our expectations. The bottom of the Coke bottle had cracked from the weight; a small sacrifice, alongside our specially infamous “charity incentive staff punishments” as traditionally showcased during the annual Closing Ceremonies. We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community and we knew we truly had something special.

Most recently we gathered together as friends on a couch in a living room and marathoned a video game, demolishing the initial goal of $500 and raising over $1200 in 24 hours once again for the Alberta Children’s Hospital through an excellent umbrella organization called Extra Life. Participating in Extra Life while being backed by the Otafest community has been a goal of mine for a while. To me it wasn’t just about the streaming content or even the fundraising efforts but a chance to do something amazing and fun with our staff and being able to interact live via chat with you, the audience, in a captive setting. While I know our team to be open and reachable, it’s difficult for us to forge a connection during the main event as we’re typically busy trying to run a convention, and you’re busy enjoying it. We don’t often get to thank people individually and acknowledge their contributions directly; chances like these are rare and meaningful and I believe we took advantage of it.

In the 10 years since, we’ve raised somewhere north of $110,000 for various charitable causes with a large focus on local organizations: animal shelters, youth care programs, or notably, foreign aid relief (Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi earthquake/tsunami disaster struck close to home.) With everybody’s support, I can always look back with pride in our endeavours and count my blessings to be a part of such a loving community. I know we will continue marching towards a bright future together because it’s just who we are, this Otafest family.

Thank you.

Jei Wong
Otafest Programming Coordinator

Anime is Gay: The Intersection of Queer and Anime Culture

Anime is Gay

As a young anime fan, I never imagined that such an ugly and dismissive statement would lead me to a such wonderful and inclusive community. I was like every teen trying to figure out their path in the world, but with some added roadblocks: I was queer, AND I was a nerd. While queer representation in North American media was still stuck on the stereotypical Sassy Gay Friend™, and I was too young to go to the gay bars. What was a young queer girl in Calgary supposed to look to?

To my surprise, I found what I was looking for at my first Otafest, way back on the U of C campus. Nerd culture has always carried with it a very special type of acceptance: those of us bullied in our youth recognize a kindred spirit, and the staff and attendees at Otafest have always opened their doors with open arms. On top of that, the convention gave me queer-themed anime, opportunities to stretch my wings through cosplay and volunteerism, and connected me with other queer youth and allies in Calgary.

It was Anime that brought Cosplay to North America, and the opportunity to re-imagine myself as a powerful and self-assured anime character or a beautiful gender-bending Japanese “Visual Kei” Musician. I hear stories of the freedom I found in cosplay reflected in stories of Drag artists in the queer community, and feel honored to have helped establish the early cosplay community in Alberta. Now Otafest runs no less than five cosplay competitions, including the Crossplay Contest for cosplayers of all identities, and the Canadian qualifiers for an International Cosplay competition.

Queer themes in Anime were also transformative to my young queer life. Overtly queer-themed anime like Revolutionary Girl Utena finally gave me interesting queer role models in media – characters who happened to be LGBTQPIA and were allowed to explore their queerness as people rather than being defined by it. Magical Girl Anime like Sailor Moon gave me a plethora of strong and unique women to aspire to – who didn’t need to be rescued by heterosexual stereotypes. Even more Anime gave me complex male characters in queer relationships or close male friendships not constrained by North American standards of masculinity.

Otafest itself has continually sought to evolve and improve their own accessibility and inclusivity. Long before bathroom bills were introduced Otafest had implemented gender-neutral bathrooms at the University of Calgary, carried over to its current venue at the Telus Convention Centre (arguably the nicest ones in the venue). Taking Otafest to Calgary Pride was just the logical next step, opening our doors to Calgary’s queer community and taking our own community to march with pride.

In its efforts to build community in Calgary, Otafest has created something really vital to Alberta’s queer community – a place to form meaningful connections and relationships outside of the bar scene. I’ve never questioned whether putting in the countless volunteer hours to bring Otafest to life year-round was worth it – it is. For the teenaged me, and for everyone else in Calgary who needs to find a place to call home.

Welcome to the Otafest Homecoming

By: Sarah W.| Photo: Yugophoto|

Two decades of Otafest.

I’m writing this article from southwest Ontario, where I’ll be traveling from to get to the convention this year. I’m thinking about my friend Red who I’ll be meeting at the con, and our friend Sel who can’t join for the first time since 2008 since she’s off teaching in Japan at present. We’re barely older than the convention itself and there’s something that feels profound about that, more so than the fact that this will be my 12th year attending.

No matter how much time I’ve spent away from Calgary, coming back for Otafest means coming home in more ways than one. I’m reflecting on convergences – the flights booked, the plans made, the messages sent, everything centering around one weekend once a year where it all comes together. My oldest friends were those that I met here. When I come home, it’s a family reunion, every time, without fail. When I was younger and lived in the city, things were easier. I spent a lot of money on costumes and merchandise. Then I got older, and started on my undergrad degree in a different province, and all of a sudden there were more demands on my time and money. Now I’m in my mid-twenties, and budgets sure are a thing, but Otafest is and always has been included in that budget. Family is a priority, even when they’re not related by blood.

The first time I ran a panel, I was so nervous I swear I didn’t stop trembling until an hour after it was over. Now, I get to see some of my closest friends hosting the events that we anticipated year after year. Kinda cool. I remember the late nights in my basement, still in high school, swearing as I stitch-ripped another seam or stabbed myself with a hand-sewing needle.  A few years later, my friends and I had younger cosplayers coming up to tell us how much we inspired them to do their own thing, or talking shop and getting excited – together – about the techniques of crafting that went into a particular costume, a specific outfit, a performance or skit. Everyone involved in Otafest from the attendees to the content providers to the staff generates a sense of support, acceptance, and encouragement to grow– isn’t that the meaning of community? Doesn’t that feel good, and feel right? It’s a community that gives back. I love that about it.

Otafest has gone through a lot of growth in the last few years. Some reading this will remember the early days at the University of Calgary, with all the coinciding volleyball tournaments, the events hosted in lecture halls and classrooms, and the spontaneous bouts of performance art on Cosplay Hill at the Prairie Chicken (may it rest peacefully in whatever new home it finds itself).  Others will have more recent memories spanning through the inception of pin collecting, to the introduction of our beloved mascots (in the plural), to the monumental move to the Telus Convention Center. Still others will have never been here before (a side note: the water stations are truly a blessing).

Whether this is your first convention, or your twentieth; whether you’ve been here every year without fail, or had to skip a few; whether  you produce content for the convention through panels, or support the charity initiatives in whatever ways you can, or are here mainly as an attendee… welcome.

From one attendee to another, I hope that you feel strongly the belonging and fellowship that this convention has given to me and so many of my friends. I hope that you laugh, take yourself on adventures, get to meet some of the amazing guests, support local businesses and artists, give to charity, enter contests, cheer on performers, play games, enjoy the festival, take photos – whatever feels right to you. The quality of this convention, and the care and attention of the staff, is what’s drawn me back year after year after year – after all, many of them have grown up with the convention in the same way that I have. There’s always so much love that gets poured into how Otafest is run – I remember seeing the chairperson or other staff members getting moved to tears by the results of the charity events every single year. That’s a lot of love. I hope that you can feel it.

I hope that for you, it’s a celebration to remember.

I know it will be for me. It always has been.