Otakon, the largest American anime convention on the east coast, is in trouble. Due to the ongoing pandemic stifling last year’s event and the nonprofit nature of its parent organization, Otakon is at risk of shutting down for good. In order to fight off this unfortunate possibility, Otakorp is now, for the first time ever, accepting donations online.
I make no effort to hide the fact that Otakon is by far my favorite anime convention. I’ve been an attendee since before I started Ogiue Maniax all the way back in 2007, and I’ve gone as press (and occasionally even a panelist) every year since. Writing con reports and conducting interviews with great Otakon guests have become staples of this blog and my experience as an anime fan. Donating to Otakon has been one of the easiest decisions I ever made.
What I love so much about Otakon is that it never feels as commercialized compared to some of the professionally run anime conventions that are so common these days. I can expect interesting guests from Japan, including those who might not be as well known to the mainstream anime fan, and it’s always a pleasure to pick their brains for industry insight. I also love the fan panel culture that has grown out of Otakon, where every year is full of genuinely enthusiastic presenters, both new and seasoned, who encourage their audience to explore a little further and think a little deeper about anime, manga, and fandom. And it’s also been a great place to connect to many of the fellow fans I’ve met online.
In honor of Otakon and in hopes of it continuing on, I’ve decided to list some of the great interviews I’ve done at the convention over the years. I hope they can at least show you why it’s a cultural touchstone worth saving.
Whether it was in Baltimore or DC, part of the Otakon experience for me has always been the trip there and back, for better or worse. It could be smooth sailing, or a train could break down and leave the passengers stuck for hours (this really happened). That’s why this year’s Otakon was such a pleasant surprise. Rather than the three-plus hours it would normally take, the total travel time from bed to convention was approximately 20 seconds. From the start, I could tell there was something very different about this 2020 version of Otakon.
Unlike previous years, Otakon this year was a Saturday-only event on August 1st, which had its ups and downs. For one, while I do like immersing myself in the con environment for an extended weekend, I didn’t have to take time off to attend. And although the food in DC has been great, it usually was a bit of a trek to get anything to eat (even inside the Walter E. Washington convention center). This time, amazing home-cooked meals were just a few steps away.
Panels and Workshops
Unfortunately, I did not have any panels accepted, so I was purely a spectator. This year, panels were significantly shorter, clocking in at 30 minutes per panel as opposed to the traditional one hour, but I saw it as a way to fit more presenters into the one-day event, making it a net benefit. Notably, the audience for every panel I saw was quite impressive, not only because they often numbered in the hundreds, but also because there was no trouble in getting into the panels despite such large attendance numbers. While there were some audio and video hiccups in some of the panels, they were fairly quick to resolve.
30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990
The first panel of the day I saw Daryl Surat’s “30 Years Ago: Anime in 1990,” which went through some of the highlights of anime from that time. It gave the sense of being a really transitional year, and I appreciated his highlighting of Brave Exkaiser, the first entry in the Brave franchise. He ended the panel with loving praise of the infamous Mad Bull 34, and tied its story of a rule-breaking, trigger-happy cop to current events in a manner humorous yet critical.
Carole and Tuesday
From there, I stepped into the Carole & Tuesday panel. The panel was already in progress, having started with a viewing of the first episode, but because I’d already seen the entire series, I thought it safe to skip. Amazingly, the travel time between Daryl’s presentation and this one was near-instantaneous, so I didn’t miss much. The panel started off with a beautiful musical performance by Celeina Ann (the singing voice of Tuesday Simmons), and led into an interview with her, director Watanabe Shinichirou, and (I believe) producer Makoto Nishibe. One thing I learned was that Alba City, the main setting of the show, is also a city in Cowboy Bebop. They also showed a vide of the recording and animation process, and seeing the amount of effort and collaboration that went into the show gave me a very positive impression.
Chibi Chibi Drawing Time
I normally don’t attend workshops at Otakon, but with things being so convenient this year, I decided to check out Chibi Chibi Drawing Time, which taught people how to draw super-deformed characters. It’s been a while since I scratched my art itch, and I used this opportunity to follow along with the spirit (though not always the letter) of the presenter’s guides. You can see the results below:
Into Another World: A History of Isekai
It’s the big genre that’s been sweeping the anime industry for a while, and thanks to this panel, I got to learn a little more about isekai. My main takeaways are that the introduction of gaming-oriented isekai helped to bring forth non-isekai anime in gaming-heavy settings (think Goblin Slayer and Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?), and that the number of shows seem to multiply exponentially. 2019 looked to have about three times as many isekai anime as in previous years, and I have to wonder when the juggernaut will finally slow down.
Godzilla, Kaiju Eiga and the Amazing Toho Studios
This was perhaps the best panel I saw of the entire convention, as it was meticulously researched and gave a lot of insight into the making of Godzilla as well as the kaiju movies that propelled Toho to additional fame. I was intrigued to learn about all of the different players of this time, including Godzilla director Honda Ichiro and Ultraman creator Tsuburaya Eiji. If you have the chance to see this panel, either in person or via recording, I highly recommend it.
Bootleg Anime from South Korea
I’ve attended this panel by Mike Toole before, but I always welcome an opportunity to see more “creatively appropriated” giant robots. It reminds me that, around the world, you really can’t decouple animation fandom from bootleg products, and it results in interesting products and cultural output nevertheless. I’m still waiting for that Soul of Chogokin Taekwon V.
I appreciated how different Otakon was for 2020, and the heavy focus on panels appealed to me a lot (I truly think they’ve always been the best part of the con). At the same time, I think I’m still a bigger fan of the regular version. The unusual format meant there were no autograph signings or big live concerts this year, and I didn’t really get to spot any unique or unusual cosplay. I also miss doing interviews.
I wouldn’t another Otakon like this, but I’m hoping 2021 provides a return to the tried and true classic.
Kio Shimoku has historically been a very private person, not even revealing his face until 2018. Shockingly, the Genshiken author had his very first audio interview, and it was by a Virtual Youtuber to boot! Luis Cammy is apparently a big fan of Kio’s work, and talked with him for a whopping 80+ minutes.
Translating the whole thing would be a whole endeavor in itself, but you’ll find all the notes I’ve taken from the interview. There’s a lot of it that’s all-new information and insight into Kio’s creative history.
Note that Kio has a remarkably deep voice. Personally, he reminds me a bit of Kugayama from Genshiken.
Also, as a final disclaimer, it’s possible I misunderstood some of the things spoken about. If anyone has corrections, feel free to leave comments!
Introduction and Miscellaneous
Luis has been a fan of his work since Gonensei (“The Fifth Year”), an early Kio manga and dark sequel to his prior work, Yonensei (“The Fourth Year”).
As part of their collaboration, Luis sang a cover of the Kujibiki Unbalance opening, and Kio provided drawings of Luis cosplaying as Ritsuko Kübel Kettenkrad for a music video. The video
It’s meant to resemble late 1990s to early 2000s galge/dating sim intros. Luis looks like Saki from Genshiken/Ritsuko already, so it was a challenge to differentiate her.
Kio learned about VTubers from manga author gatherings. He doesn’t watch YouTubers much, let alone VTubers.
When asked if he knew how popular his work was at the time, Kio said he didn’t really look at comments online, but felt he rode the wave of the era.
The very beginning of Genshiken was Kio wanting to draw otaku as normal people. He want to madk what he himself wanted to read.
Luis mentions that otaku and their status have changed drastically since the days of Genshiken (when otaku were picked on and persecuted), like how there are light otaku now. Kio says his daughter is in middle school right now, and to her, she doesn’t get the whole otaku-as-negative thing. A group of popular kids in her class have Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba merch. Kio responds, “Times have changed, huh?”
Luis talks about how even regular folks say they like her, and it’s like the wall between normies and otaku isn’t there. Madarame has become a popular representative of otaku (to the extent that he’s Kio’s visual stand-in for this interview).
Kio talks about how, in the very earliest planning stages, the first idea he sent to editorial was about the relationship between Madarame, Kousaka, and Saki. The love triangle was inspired by Ping-Pong Club, the nose-hair chapter in particular. That scene was thought up very early on, back when Genshiken was a mere chick. In a sense, Madarame and his romantic relationships were a part of Genshiken from the start.
Luis talks about her mahjong teacher, Saito Go (a professional player and mahjong VTuber), likes Genshiken. He especially remembers that scene with Madarame and Saki eating sushi together, and then not talking afterward on the train ride home.
Luis points out that Kio likes to use silent panels, which Kio agrees with. However, he thinks overdoing it with those types of panels isn’t good either. The nose-hair chapter ends in silence too. Luis says a lot of information can be conveyed in such panels. Kio says it can convey a sense of realism.
Luis points out that the recording was the day of Saki’s birthday!
When creating character profiles for the compiled manga volumes, Kio had to come up with birthdays. He actually used Gundam Horoscopes to think them up. [This has been mentioned in other sources before, like the Japan-only Genshiken Official Data Book.] Actually, it was sort of like a backwards horoscope, in that he picked a mobile suit that would fit Saki well, and decided the birthday based on that. Sasahara is a Ball.
Personal Questions and Family Life
Kio is into Gunpla. He got into it when he was a 6 thanks to his bigger brother. Plamo-Kyoshiro (the 1980s precursor to Gundam Build Fighters) was his “bible.” He would categorize himself as a plastic model otaku above all else. He still wants to continue it as a hobby, but he’s busy. In Plamo-Kyoshiro, the way they used cardboard boxes in the manga really sparked his imagination as a kid.
Luis asks if Kio’s daughter ever says, “Why is our home filling up with more [otaku] stuff?” Kio says that his workplace is different from his home, so it’s his workplace that gets filled up instead. Doesn’t think his daughter is an otaku, but can’t say for sure. Luis jokes about Kio’s daughter showing up on the live recording and telling him not to say so much. Kio mentions that she doesn’t know about this, so Luis responds that she could come in saying, “It sounds like you’re doing a broadcast with someone from Nijisanji.” Kio comments that she might actually know what VTubers are.
Kio’s daughter has always walked in while he’s drawing manga, so she’s been reading manga for a long time. Kio still reads current manga. Luis says that manga has become like a “communication tool” these days, like, “What? Do you know this title?” as a conversation starter.
Genshiken More In-Depth
Luis describes the first Genshiken as being about ancient otaku. She asks Kio, if there was a Genshiken Third Generation, would it have VTubers and stuff in it? What kinds of characters and what sort of content would it include?
Kio concurs that they’re ancient otaku. His thinking was, “If I try to draw something totally new, it’ll quickly date itself. But if I make them feel older, than it’ll age better.” He doesn’t consider himself to be on the cutting edge. Genshiken came from whatt he personally wanted to draw. As it continued, it progressed into fujoshi stuff.
As for VTubers, once they become old, maybe then they’d show up in Genshiken. Kio says that plenty of current manga have VTubers in them already.
Luis asks if Kio is happy to have ended Second Generation when he did, and Kio says yes. “It felt like, ‘That’s about where it should stop.’” He explains how the sequel started out as a one-shot, but he’s not good at doing extra stories and the like, so he kept on working on it. Kodansha editorial (the publisher of Genshiken) said he should do enough to fill one volume. It was originally supposed to be a short serialization.
Kio began with the thought of “How would Ogiue and the others continue the club?” and of course, it would end up with a bunch of fujoshi. But would it be all girls? What about guys? Hence, Hato.
Kio really went back and forth about whether or not to include a character like Hato. When he was drawing the manuscript, he kept having the feeling of “Is this really okay?” Coming up with the idea of Hato purposely using a more feminine voice is when he finally thought he could make it work. Fujoshi and otoko no ko (boys who dress convincingly as girls) are the main aspects of Second Generation. Kio didn’t want to put Hato through so much hardship, but as the story progressed, he felt that’s what should happen—though he did worry over it.
The original Genshiken was supposed to be in real time, and things moved quickly. But it stopped being that way during the Ogiue story at Karuizawa. At the time, Ogiue was a “problem child” when it came to drawing the manga, as he didn’t know if he could resolve her backstory. It’d be difficult to do that and still maintain the “real-time” thing, and he would’ve selfishly wanted to end the series in the Spring if it had stuck to being in real time. But it took multiple months to get through the Ogiue story.
The series was supposed to end at Volume 8, but then there were plans for the second special official doujinshi [the first one was included with Volume 6]. Because of that, they decided to continue the series up to Volume 9. The original Genshiken features Ogiue’s turmoil, and Second Generation features Hato’s turmoil.
Luis comments how there are the Ogiue fans, and then there are Hato fans. Kio responds, “The Ogiue fans really are somethingl…” and then trails off. [Ogiue Maniax note: I feel attacked.]
There are things that were hard to put into Genshiken, like sexual stuff. That’s where Spotted Flowercomes from. From here, the two jokingly pussyfoot around Spotted Flower’s similarities to Genshiken.
Luis talks about how Spotted Flower is a different world (tongue-in-cheek), but it has kind of a crossover feel. Kio responds that they’re ostensibly different characters. Luis replies that the series is like a “what-if” universe (if-sekai in Japanese).
Kio says it’s not supposed to be them, but through it, he can do what he couldn’t in Genshiken.
Luis says, “What-If Madarame has a ‘Why youuuu!’ feeling.” Kio laments the husband as well.
Spotted Flower was supposed to be just a few short pages for Rakuen: Le Paradis magazine. The resemblance to other characters was originally not planned, but is actually something he noticed after the fact. He didn’t explain the meaning of the title to them when he submitted it [madara means “spot” and saki means “bloom”], so they probably didn’t realize at first. So he figured, “Why not keep going?” and it developed along the way.
“And now there are four volumes,” says Luis..
Kio’s feelings: “It’s not a book that comes out often, but if it interests you, I’m grateful.”
It was one thing when it was just the husband and wife, but then he added the Hato-like character, and the Kousaka-like character, and so on. He still can’t really say for sure that it’s them.
Hashikko Ensemble and Kio’s Overall Career
Luis finds the Hashikko Ensemblemain character Akira cute. Kio says that he began with the idea that Akira would have that gap between his very deep voice and his shy personality.
Volume 5 of Hashikko Ensemble should be coming in September.
Kio says he’s been in the manga business for 25 years. Luis thinks all his works are great, in terms of information provided, emotion, and atmosphere all being wrapped up in them. “It’s no small stuff.” To Kio, he sees all the things she mentioned as his shortcomings Luis comments that she enjoys seeing Kio reflect on his work.
Kio is the type to regret not saying this or doing that. Luis remarks that this is a live broadcast—is Kio okay?
Kio doesn’t recognize his own voice when recording. Luis said she never thought of her voice as anything special but the fans would say it’s cute. Luis compares Akira’s voice to Kio’s. Kio never had any experience with singing or choruses, but figured, why not give Akira a deep voice like himself?
He thinks people who can come up with characters purely from imagination are amazing.
Hashikko Ensemble a story of the passion of youth, but Kio didn’t originally plan it that way. Like Genshiken, he wanted the story to be something ridiculous and fun, and landed on “chorus club high schoolers.”
Luis loves stories about the passion of youth (seishun), like Yowamushi Pedal and Big Windup. Kio replies that he’s never drawn manga in that vein—like Chihayafuru—but thought, “If I put all I had into it, could I draw one?” The characters in Genshiken are all pretty mellow. He wasn’t that good at drawing the kind of youthfulness that appears in Hashikko Ensemble, at first.
Luis makes the argument that the original Genshiken is a “passion of youth” story, because it’about figuring out what club to join and what to do? Like, Kugayama’s waffling on whether or not to draw, or Ogiue’s decision to go, “I guess I’m gonna draw.”
The kinds of “passion of youth” stories Kio enjoys are a little strange—not so much “hot-blooded stuff.” Luis describes Madarame as a hot-blooded otaku. As for being a passion of youth story, what about that story with Saki mentioning Madarame looks good in his new glasses?
Originally, Genshiken was supposed to be a club that doesn’t put anything out. One of the things that made Ogiue tricky is that she wanted to draw herself, so Kio had no choice but to make a story about her trying to get into Comic Festival [the Genshiken in-universe equivalent of Comic Market].
Luis says Genshiken is what made her want to attend Comic Market as part of a circle. She asks Kio if he ever participated as an artist. Kio says yes!
Kio released a doujinshi at Comic Market in 2003 (Luis points out that 2004 was the year of the first Genshiken anime, which Kio totally forgot about).
Kio did not use the name “Kio Shimoku” for Comic Market. He sold 200 books, which impresses Luis. For reference, Luis says that 100 is considered a lot, and she herself sold 50 copies of her own doujinshi at a Comitia [a major doujin event primarily dedicated to original, non-fan works].
The doujinshi was indeed pornographic, and an original work. It bears resemblance to Kujibiki Unbalance and Genshiken.
Luis talks about how big sister loves Kujibiki Unbalance, to the extent that she put out a pornographic doujinshi starring Ritsuko. Luis helped her a lot with it, including stapling it together.
“Putting out a Kujibiki Unbalance-esque doujinshi yourself is like actually being in Genshiken,” says Luis.
Kio also participated at Comic Market a second time—in 2010. It was a doujinshi based on a “certain space opera that uses Episodes,” flipping around the genders of the character roles involved. The inspiration was that with some wordplay, the title resembled the phrase “Sister Wars.” He drew what was supposed to just be a manuscript based on Episode 1, but it ended up being 350 pages. Kio wanted to draw up to six.
“Please complete it!” Luis says.
“But I wouldn’t be able to sell it!” Kio replies.
[Ogiue Maniax note: One of Ogiue’s characteristics is prolific output, just like Kio here.]
Luis asks if there’s anything he’s watched lately, old anime or new anime. Kio doesn’t have anything, and Luis says his free time to just sit down and watch without moving must have decreased. Kio agrees.
Kio wants to absorb more shows, but just doesn’t have the time.
Questions from Kio for Nijisanji
As future reference for manga, Kio asks if VTubers wear sensors to track movement. Luis responds that it uses 3D tracking. She quickly “corrects” that the animated figure you see is the real her.
Luis says that Kio’s participation in Comic Market makes his manga feel more real.
The two talk more about the Kujibiki Unbalance music video they collaborated on. Kio says it’s like a doujin-style fan work. Luis talks about how she has Genshiken and Kujibiki Unbalance merch. Luis has the Kujibiki Unbalance Ritsuko school swimsuit clear file drawn by the light novel artist, Yagumo Kengou. Kio mentions that the image was a request from him [Ogiue Maniax note: Not 100% sure about this last sentence].
Kio mentions that he gets some harsh comments, but others will say “That’s the kind of author he was all along!” But he doesn’t want to remember himself from the Gonensei era.
What an Interview!
There’s a lot to unpack in this interview. I hope to follow up with an analysis.
Also, I can’t believe there’s a Virtual Youtuber who’s into Genshiken, Kio Shimoku, and mahjong! It’s like someone designed a VTuber especially for me.
Anime Expo: Canceled. Otakon: Canceled. EVO: Canceled. But it’s all for the best as we try to keep one another safe in these strange times. I’m thankful to all the organizers for making the right choice, and I hope to see you all at conventions eventually. In the meantime, I find myself trying to make the most of my time spent at home.
Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon again this month, especially these fine folks below.
I’m nobody special when it comes to giving advice, but I hope everyone can enrich themselves and stay sane in these crazy times. As for me, I’m finding great joy in AI-generated memes (like the one you saw at the top of this post), and incredibly dumb and hilarious #partyparrot memes. (The joke is dicks.)
For the third year straight, Anime NYC 2019 has continued to fill a much-needed void as a New York Metropolitan-centric major anime and manga convention that is run by experienced professionals.
More of the Javits Center was taken up by the con compared to previous years, implying continued growth. While it’s not as large as New York Comic Con, and there’s a bit of an upper limit as to how many dedicated otaku are in the NYC area versus how many comics fans there are, I don’t mind the current balance. One of the strengths and weaknesses of NYCC is that it’s extremely broad and seems more like a general nerd multimedia convention than one dedicated to its core concept of comics and comics-related things. With Anime NYC, however, it still feels like an event dedicated to anime and manga fans fire and foremost. That alone is much appreciated.
The guests this year were pretty much straight out of my dream list. Sadly, due to both personal obligations and just the sheer amount of overlapping content, I couldn’t even see everything I wanted to. On the fortunate side, however, I got to attend both the premiere of the first Gundam Reconguista in G film and a press Q&A with the tsundere master herself, Kugimiya Rie. You can check out Ogiue Maniax’s dedicated entries to both of those in the accompanying links.
Anime NYC 2019 went with a pre-show lottery system for getting autograph tickets as a way to prevent people from trying to line up at 3am in the morning and to give a fair chance to those who are coming from far away or don’t have the means or ability to get to the convention extra-early. Despite the fact that I didn’t get any autographs, I didn’t mind this system because it seems to be about as fair as it gets.
Alternately, some autographs could be obtained through purchasing specific products at the start of each day. There were also the $125 Kugimiya autographs that sold out in literally about five minutes, but Anime NYC 2019 was her first US appearance, so that was more or less expected.
That said, I’m not especially fond of the trend I’m seeing at Anime NYC where guests will only sign things from the shows they’re at the convention to promote. I understand why it happens, given that the guests coming want to make sure that the works they’re being advertised for get top billing, but these industry names often have such long CVs that it’s a shame when fans aren’t be able to express love for the particular things they feel closest to. For example, wanted to get autographs from Yukana and Kimura Takahiro, one of my favorite voice actors and character designers, respectively. But rather than being able to have my Pretty Cure and Gaogaigar signed, their autographs were tied to Code Geass—a series I don’t have quite as much affection for. Limiting what can be signed (aside from obvious things like “no bootleg merchandise”) is a direction I’d like to see conventions move away from in general, even more than paid autographs.
Exhibitor’s Hall and Artist Alley
I did not end up buying much at the convention—a t-shirt here, a manga there—but from what I could tell, it was not especially difficult to navigate in terms of foot traffic. At times, it could be difficult to tell which row corresponded to what designated section, but it was manageable. They also placed the Artist Alley in the same space as the Exhibitor’s Hall this year, which meant the loss of the third-floor space but maybe more reliable crossover traffic for both the big companies and the small artists.
One new feature was a special food area in addition to the food trucks outside and the food court down in the bottom level. It was a great idea in principle, but the prices seemed a bit ridiculous even for convention standards. Go Go Curry (aka my favorite Japanese curry chain ever) was the star of the show, but the line was so constantly massive that I never had time to try their convention-exclusive fried-egg-on-gyudon curry. Here’s to hoping that it becomes a standard item on the Go Go Curry menu!
I was incredibly pumped to attend Lantis Matsuri at Anime NYC this year, as it had an impressive lineup of musical guests: JAM Project, Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!!, TRUE, and Zaq. Months prior, I swooped in on a ticket as soon as they became available, and I’m glad that they eventually opened up more tickets for those who couldn’t get the initial ones. I wonder if they were hedging their bets, and trying to see if the demand would be there for more.
When it comes to attending anime music concerts, part of the fun is song familiarity and being able to enjoy your favorite themes live. But even for the less familiar tunes, Lantis Matsuri hit it out of the park. All the singers were fantastic, and really felt like they belonged on that stage. Guilty Kiss clearly had the largest fanbase there, and their hype was well deserved. I still have “New Romantic Sailors” stuck in my head. TRUE and Zaq ended with their best-known hits, “Dream Solister” from Sound! Euphonium and “Sparkling Daydream” from Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. It was not lost on the audience that these were both Kyoto Animation series themes.
Despite the stiff competition, however, JAM Project showed they they know how to steal a show There’s something about their energy that draws you in that outshines even the brightest stars. I have to wonder how someone completely unfamiliar with them felt about their performance. They led with One Punch Man to get the crowd to realize just exactly who they are, but they also made sure to include songs less widely known by the general audience. Of particular note is their blend of GONG and SKILL, which combined two of their best Super Robot Wars themes.
There were multiple collaborations throughout the concert, and one sticks out to me above all: JAM Project with Guilty Kiss doing the second opening from GARO. Before the concert began, someone near me was expressing their love of GARO, and seeing him scream wide-eyed as JAM Project announced that the next song was “Savior in the Dark” was a real highlight of the con.
My only complaint about the concert was that the audio was a little too loud. I was not sitting especially close to the speakers, but I could feel my ears ringing the next day. I also had this problem at the Gundam Reconguista in G showing, so I have to wonder if it was a convention-wide issue.
I thought Anime NYC 2019 was great, and I’m looking forward to next year. As the convention gets bigger, though, I hope it continues to properly straddle the line between big professional expo and intimate-feeling fan-oriented gathering. It might be an impossible task, but I still want that dream nevertheless.
Japanese voice actor Kugimiya Rie, known for roles such as Alphonse Elric (Full Metal Alchemist) and Aisaka Taiga (Toradora!), was a featured guest at Anime NYC 2019. I had the opportunity to submit questions to her, a couple of which were accepted and then made part of a group interview of sorts.
Because the format was different from a typical convention guest interview, this post is going to be less about transcribing the exact words and more about summarizing and exploring some of the more interesting answers.
The first question of mine approved was how do you think you’ve improved over the years as a voice actor?
Kugimiya responded that when she first started out, she only landed little kid parts due to her high voice. As she’s gotten older, however, she has started to play other character types such as boys, teens, older teens, and even some adult women. So in terms of improvement, the expansion of her range is the biggest one. Later, she expressed that she’d like to do more sexy female roles.
Later still, she answered the question of what role has had the greatest influence on you?. She talked about Alphonse making her known around the world over, and went into how she landed that role in the first place. Essentially, she had voiced her very first boy character for the anime Twelve Kingdoms, and FMA director Mizushima Seiji asked her to play Al based on that performance. It was a big turning point for her career, growing her repertoire.
I found this interesting because her FMA counterpart, Park Romi, expressed a similar sentiment at a press conference at Otakon 2015 concerning her lead role as Loran Cehack in Turn A Gundam. Someday, I’d like to see an interview with both together, perhaps just discussing the craft of voicing male characters.
The second question I was able to ask was how does playing animal roles differ from playing human roles?
In that regard, Kugimiya expressed two main points. First, she takes into account the size of the animal. Often, they have different head to body ratios as well as smaller hearts, as well as voices that are higher than human kids’. Second, these animals and mascots are usually partners, buddies, or companions with a closer bond to the main character than even other human characters.
I originally phrased this to include examples such as Chocotan (a talking dachshund from the manga of the same name), but it was sadly omitted during the Q&A. Still, if you actually listen to Chocotan, you can hear just how high Kugimiya plays to play a dog that small.
There were also a few questions about the industry. First, what are the most important skills in being a voice actor? Kugimiya answered that people skills are big, because even if you’re an amazing actor, if you’re a difficult person then no one will want to keep working with you. She didn’t name names or mention if this is based on any personal experience. Second, what advice would you give to aspiring voice actors? Kugimiya’s response: “purity of emotions.”
Elaborating on the second answer, she said that many people tend to put filters up, but voice actors should be able to bring in and keep the emotions they feel (both positive and negative) so that they can be expressed in a pure manner. I found this answer enlightening because it hints at one of the challenges of being an actor or voice actor—that you have to be willing to go places emotionally that may not be considered “okay” by society.
Third, how has the industry changed since you started? In past interviews, other voice actors (especially much older ones) have talked about the rise of voice acting schools and the transformation of voice acting from something one does with theatre experience to a specific craft. Kugimiya, perhaps due to starting in the 1990s, instead talks about how in her early days, she would be the only new voice actor among a cast of veterans but these days entire productions might only have inexperienced voice actors. When she was younger, her senpai would give her advice, but now there will be shows where that isn’t possible, so they have to figure out how to improve without more experienced hands around.
It makes me curious as to why this would be the case. My suspicion is that it either has to do with cost, or it has to do with trying to push a new set of voice actors-as-stars (or maybe even as idols) into the limelight. Maybe it’s also a way to give something to do to these voice actors coming out of schools. There’s also the simple fact that more anime are being produced than ever before, and perhaps these shows just sometimes need the numbers.
The last question, in my opinion generated the most intriguing answers: what challenges do you face when voicing characters in an anime or a video game?
For anime, she talked about the difficulties of voicing minor characters. When playing a main character, it’s expected that they’d have bigger or more prominent reactions because the troubles and events are happening with them at the center. However, for minor characters, they have to approach it differently, and they’re often saddled with long and complex lines—such as when a military officer has to come in and give some technical info.
In regards to games, Kugimiya detailed the difficulty in working for social/mobile games. Sometimes there are only one or two drawings and a couple of lines for reference. As a result, she sometimes uses things like what colors are in the image to try and get a better idea of the character. It reminds me of older topics on anime character trends, such as Ito Go’s distinction of character vs. kyara, i.e. the degree to which a given character can be excised from their story and still maintain their identity. It reminds me a lot of listening to the early clips of the Love Live! Sunshine!! characters when they just didn’t have much more than a basic backstory to go on, versus seeing them with some CD dramas and an anime to work off of instead. Most of the time, the whole kyara thing is thought of in regards to how consumers might approach a given work, but the fact that voice actors also have to grapple with it when trying to bring a role to life is something I hadn’t thought about previously. It’s also something that would make a great topic for a future essay.
That’s all for this press Q&A summary! If you like this pseudo-annotated format with comments from me, let me know, and I’ll think about doing more of this in the future.
The newest Aikatsu! series is a crossover of all previous seasons. How does it look?
Because of Anime NYC and so much more, November has generally been a very hectic month for both me and the blog. I’m hoping I have time next month to write some decade in review posts like I did ten years ago!
Anime NYC 2019 is only two days away, and I want to use this opportunity to talk about how amazing the guests are this year. I promise that this is not a paid or sponsored endorsement in any way—these are my genuine feelings, and my feeling is that the guest list this year is just virtually perfect.
Then there’s Kimura Takahiro, animator and character designer on Gaogaigar, Godannar, Betterman, Brigadoon, and Code Geass. He is one of my favorite character designers ever, and I’m so, so stoked for him to be in New York.
Speaking of Code Geass, the voice actor Yukana will be making her New York City debut. In addition to playing C.C. in Code Geass (aka the best character in that series), she’s also Teletha Testarossa in Full Metal Panic!, Li Meiling in Cardcaptor Sakura, and Cure White in Futari wa Pretty Cure!
But Yukana is not the only Cure who will be there, as Ise Mariya (Cure Lemonade from Yes! Pretty Cure 5) is coming to promote The Promised Neverland, where she plays Ray. The director of The Promised Neverland, Kanbe Mamoru, will also be at Anime NYC 2019. He’s also the director for one of my favorite anime ever, Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san.
Megalo Box is an amazing anime and reinterpretation of Ashita no Joe, Moriyama Yo, and both the director and producer, Fujiyoshi Minako, will be attending.
And the Lantis Matsuri concert Friday night will feature both JAM Project and Guilty Kiss from Love Live! Sunshine!! Having now attended concerts for both groups, I’m pumped to see them again (and again and again in the future, hopefully). Nothing is as fantastic as JAM Project performing “SKILL,” and a part of me is sincerely hoping all the groups involved will join in for a rousing “WHOHhhHHoooHHHooOoooH.”
So see you all at Anime NYC, and I hope these guests get the star treatment they deserve.
It’s extremely rare that a convention’s exhibitor’s hall, or any particular part of it, would be the highlight of my con experience. But at New York Comic Con 2019, few things brought me as much excitement as seeing a booth for Gary Larson’s The Far Side.
As far as one-panel newspaper comics go, nothing could match up to The Far Side. Its unorthodox, absurd, and at times dark humor was an incredible influence on me in ways that can’t be underestimated. Perhaps the only reason why it was a “childhood” favorite instead of a perennial one, is that it ended in 1997, in what feels like a bygone era. Before things like high-speed internet and cellphones (let alone smartphones) became commonplace, before print newspapers started folding in droves, The Far Side had already sung its swansong. Seeing it prominent in the year 2019 made me feel like my young and older selves collided—a reminder of how I came to love comics and the things I’ve discovered and accomplished because of that passion.
The actual booth for The Far Side at NYCC 2019 was clever. At the top were various recurring character archetypes from the comic’s run—cows, beehive hairdo ladies, etc.—all stretching out their cheeks and sticking out their tongues. On a wall were four displays, each cycling through different Far Side greatest hits. One of those comics, in which a child at “Midvale School for the Gifted” is trying to push open a door with a giant sign above that says “PULL,” was faithfully replicated at a life-size scale so attendees could reproduce the panel.
This display came on the heels of an announcement that The Far Side is coming back in some form, but what exactly that means is still unknown. Gary Larson famously didn’t like putting his work on the internet, so it might just be him finally catching up to the world and having some kind of singular online resource. If it’s actually new The Far Side comics, well that’ll just make my year.
Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.
With that said, on to the rest of the con report!
I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.
As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.
Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.
Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.
Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.
Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.
In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.
Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.
Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.
I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.
For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!
Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.
I would see Bradio again, no doubt.
As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.
I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.
Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!