A Basic Guide To In-Character Panels

What is an in-character panel? Assuming you’ve attended a con, you’ve probably at the very least heard of a character panel. These panels feature cosplayers who act in-character and do some sort of activity for attendee enjoyment. Often, the panelists will play truth or dare, take questions, or play mini games with the audience. Usually character panels are reliably popular, especially for sports anime (we’ll touch on this later). They may draw a crowd, however, some conventions have taken a stance against them due to the liability of the fanservice culture surrounding the panels.

Why are they so popular? Character panels draw a crowd because of their simple format. Many other types of panels are more ambiguous. When you walk into a how-to panel for cosplay or writing or some other activity, it’s kind of a wildcard if it will be interesting, if the panelist will have any charisma, or if the panelist is even good at what they’re claiming expertise on. If your’e a regular con-goer, chances are you’ve seen your fair share of cringe-y panels. While character panels can be cringe-y, they are inherently more bearable because even the BEST character panel is guaranteed to be cringe-y at some points. The audience expectation greatly changes when in a character panel. Additionally, unlike an educational panel, character panels (while this isn’t recommended) can be entirely winged, and still be entertaining. The knowledge that as an audience member you will go in and get entirely different content every time is inviting.

Who decides to run a character panel? Cosplayers, Friends, Actors, and Fans of the show! Often, it seems to be a group of friends/acquaintances who are ready to take their con experience to the next level. Usually, most of the people in the group give in after going to a number of other character panels and thinking “This looks fun” or “We can do this better.” Sometimes, a character panel is used as a way to show off cosplay the panelists are proud of. Overall, it’s always a group of fans who want to share their love of the show and/or its community with others.

Why are sports anime character panels so common? ̶B̶̶e̶̶c̶̶a̶̶u̶̶s̶̶e̶̶ ̶̶u̶̶n̶̶i̶̶f̶̶o̶̶r̶̶m̶̶s̶̶ ̶̶a̶̶r̶̶e̶̶ ̶̶f̶̶r̶̶e̶̶a̶̶k̶̶i̶̶n̶̶g̶̶ ̶̶c̶̶h̶̶e̶̶a̶̶p̶̶.̶ Sports anime attract a specific type of fan. These fans often crave camaraderie and relationships. They are invested in the story and the growth of characters, and are ready and willing to discuss it. Because the content of most sports anime is, in fact, playing sports, fans feel the need to fill in what happens between the matches, meets, and practices. For many fans who are also cosplayers, an opportunity to bring these scenes to life can’t be missed. While some fans may not be ready to become their favorite athletes, they will happily enjoy an opportunity to get an intimate glimpse at additional character content.

OK, so why don’t cons like character panels? There are a few cons that do not allow character panels. Some don’t consider it relevant enough cultural content, others are flooded with so many panel applications for the same Yuri on Ice or Haikyuu panel that they just threw their hands in the air and said “no”, others consider the behavior in these panels to be a liability. It’s common that character panels are 18+. This makes it easier on panelists who aren’t used to watching their language, especially when most character panels are akin to improv. Additionally, the adult audience at these panels tends to enjoy a bit of raunchy games like Honey, I love you but I Just Can’t Smile which features panelists trying desperately not to smile as either fellow panelists or audience members attempt to make them grin (usually through physical encounters and sexual humor); The Pocky Game which is reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp’s Spaghetti, except with a pocky stick; Or simply a sensual popsicle or banana-eating competition. Sometimes these activities will lead to panelists or attendees feeling uncomfortable which can easily become something troublesome for the convention staff and other attendees. By eliminating character panels, cons can reduce the risk of inappropriate behavior among panelists and attendees. Once asked why his con doesn’t have character panels, a programming director of a prominent midwest con said “I don’t like the gross bastardization of the content they are trying to portray. These panels just ruin the series’ for so many people.”

How can I be in a character panel? There are two preferred methods for being in your first character panel. Once you’ve done one, chances are your fellow panelists (and others!) will invite you to join them in more.

The “My Friend Group Can’t Coordinate” Method:

  1. Give up on your dreams of having your entire friend group in the same panel

  2. Buy a cosplay of a show you like, that has enough viewership people might go to a panel for it

  3. Get on Instagram, facebook, etc. Find cosplayers in the fandom. If there’s an existing panel that’s looking for your character, volunteer to join. If there isn’t, start a group yourself. Make a post. “Looking for people who would want to do an [ANIME] character panel at [SPECIFIC CON]. DM me if interested.”

  4. Once you have 3 people, start planning the panel. Is it Q&A? Is it truth or dare? You should at least have a vague plan before it’s time to submit panel. DO NOT MISS THE DEADLINE FOR PANEL SUBMISSIONS. Continue recruiting for your panel until you have the full main cast of the show.

  5. It’s important to meet your fellow panelists at least once prior to the convention. Get to know each other in person (and in group calls/messages too!). Talk about expectations for the panel and SET RULES/BOUNDARIES. This should be done a week or earlier before the con. Remember, people drop out of panels all the time for one reason or another, so you want to be sure that the group you meet is the closest to the actual day-of panel cast as possible.

  6. BE AT YOUR PANEL. And be there on time. And be prepared. And don’t forget, if it’s awkward - no big deal. You learned a lot! And you can always do a different character in a different panel at the next con!

The “My Friends and I wanna do this together” Method:

  1. Rally your squad!

  2. Argue for months about what group/show the panel should be for.

  3. Settle on something, acknowledge that some of them will probably bail, and that’s ok.

  4. PLAN. Just because you’re all close and have good banter does NOT mean you can get away without having a general agenda.

  5. Oh, and DON’T FORGET TO SUBMIT YOUR PANEL ON TIME.

  6. SHOW UP TO YOUR PANEL. And don’t be to personal with your friends out-of-character. You’ll alienate the audience.