Date: 8/6/2021

Host: Daryl Surat

Daryl Surat, clad in an orange shirt and fac emask, sits at a table in front of a room filled with people at Otakon 2021.

Image Credit: Samantha Ferreira

The sun shone brightly over the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, granting but a fleeting preview of the oppressive heat that was to come. Thousands of anime fans, clad in the weekend’s uniform of surgical masks and azure lanyards attached to rigid plastic badges, shuffled toward the building that would be their de facto home for the next three days.

Photograph of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center's main floor. Several attendees mill about beneath a sign that says "Welcome to Otakon 2021"

Image Credit: Samantha Ferreira

As the clock ticked ever-closer to nine, convention-goers filed into the facility by the hundreds. Though the crowds were large, there was a sparseness that could be felt, as the convention center’s cavernous entryway was still empty. The mezzanine, which would normally be filled with milling cosplayers and harried attendees who zipped from one building to the next, was nearly vacant.

Even as the clock struck nine, and the convention began in earnest, rooms remained eerily vacant. In Panel 2, Daryl Surat sat, wearing a surgical mask, as he addressed a quarter-capacity crowd from the front of the chamber. The quarter-capacity room was dotted with attendees, who appeared to be doing their best to respect the boundaries of distance between one another.

Daryl Surat, clad in an orange shirt and fac emask, sits at a table in front of a room filled with people at Otakon 2021.

Image Credit: Samantha Ferreira

Surat began his panel with a simple question: “Why thirty years?” Why not ten, or fifteen, or even twenty? To this, he posited that “there’s, like, forty shows that come out every three months; so much you can’t keep up with it!” He challenged those in attendance to think back to what they were watching a year ago. After a short pause, he explained that, given the collective confusion, thirty years was a fitting milestone to work from.

He immediately began a guided tour through this snapshot in anime history, showcasing iconic hits and unforgettable classics that were defined by the era. He began this journey with Otaku no Video, which is arguably the aptest of all titles to ship to stores that year. This fictional retelling of Gainax’s founding is, as Surat remarked, “the entire reason this convention exists.’ Indeed, the event owes much to this fictional retelling of Gainax’s founding, from which it coined its name and motto. It’s a fact the event hadn’t forgotten in its twenty-seven years of operation, as Otaku no Video – as it was in the first year – is the first thing played in the video to this day.

Still from Otaku no Video. A black-haired man in glasses and an orange shirt grins as he holds two fistfuls of VHS tapes.

Otaku no Video

As footage played, Surat offered playful commentary, joking that Kubo’s journey was “nothing that relates to the modern fan experience.” Still, the kernel of truth in the OVA inspired knowing chuckles from the elder members in attendance, as Surat acknowledged that “people look at you like you’re crazy if you say this is what being a nerd was, but it was like this!” Though, while fans today don’t paint their own cels or live in rooms lined with copied VHS tapes, some things never change, as Surat noted while the camera panned over the Otaku no Video cast at a convention, dressed in full cosplay.

Still of a man gesturing at a butterfly. Subtitle: "Is this a pigeon?"

Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird

This one segment would set the tone for the rest of the panel. One by one, from beloved club classics like Here Is Greenwood, to Brave Fighter of Sun Fighbird, to the laughable Mobile Suit Gundam F91, to Roujin Z, which hadn’t seen an official North American release since 2004. Through the hour, Surat was genuinely insightful, with an intimate knowledge of each title on display. He eagerly highlighted prominent moments and quirky minutiae with ease on every title, from the landmark opuses, to vanishingly obscure titles. All the while, the audience sat in rapt attention, eager to see the next show that would appear.

Surat was able to pull out wonkish facts and minute details, and package them into a truly engaging experience, delivering everything with a low-key snark that underscored the absurdity of the content he was highlighting. By the end of the panel, the mood had lightened considerably, and it felt as though the dark clouds that lingered over the event had begun to part.