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Our Digital Future is Now – Recapping AnimeChicago’s First Online Symposium

On March 6th, 2021 – and nearly one year after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – AnimeChicago hosted its fifth symposium entirely online, a first for AnimeChicago. Titled .future/now, the event fittingly looked at the intricacies of living in our modern always-online world as it is reflected in anime.

Opening the session was the YouTube channel Digital Dream Club, who dove deep into the series Gatchman: Crowds and explored its themes on heroism within a social media-laden society. They looked at how the series presented a neo paragon—a hero who is both transparent and actively listens who moves beyond the common hero tropes like secrecy and adherence to hierarchical structures.

William Vasquez, a MA graduate and part-time lecturer at California State University, Long Beach, presented on current isekai anime.  He focused on series like SAO, Re:Zero, and other shows that are based on video games, and how they fit firmly into the concepts of cyborg theory, avatar, and electronic literacy. He also offered suggestions on how these works could expand outside of their classic power fantasies into something more contemplative.

Finally, Lawrence Eng, PhD delivered a retrospective on Serial Experiments: Lain and its lasting impact on the greater anime landscape. He viewed the work from many angles: its ability to predict our current world, what it has to say for the future, and how fans’ perspectives of this 20+ year-old series have changed.

After the wonderful series of talks, the speakers joined together on a virtual stage for a final Round Table question and answer session that provided even more context to the already engaging ideas posed.

The goal of AnimeChicago’s symposium series is to bring fascinating concepts to anime fandom. Although we couldn’t be in one physical space, the transition to an online-only event was smooth and will continue to be the format throughout the pandemic.

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