New York Comic Con 2018 and Thoughts on the Asian-American Experience

New York Comic Con is the only non-explicitly Japan-focused convention I typically attend. In that respect, it gives me an opportunity to explore in greater detail the aspects of comics and media fandom that I normally prioritize less. This year, while I did my fair share of anime and manga-related activities—namely see Son Goku’s esteemed voice actress Nozawa Masako—my main takeaway from NYCC 2018 was that the shifting cultural landscape beneath the United States at this moment is of the utmost importance in comics and entertainment.

I went to many events during the convention, but the main stand-out was Super Asian America. A Q&A and discussion about Asian-Americans in comics, animation, and related media, the panel featured a bevy of guests: comics writer Marjorie Liu (Monstress), actor Ryan Potter (Hiro in Big Hero 6), comics writer Greg Pak (creator of Amadeus Cho), Kickstarter publishing’s Camilla Zhang, comics creator Nidhi Chanani, and host Mike Le. Much of the discussion was about the surprisingly good year that Asian-Americans have experienced in the entertainment industry between the successes of Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Ever Loved, and Searching. The main takeaway was that this is a good step, but that convincing the Hollywood machine that falling back on its old racist and conservative mindset for “safety” reasons is going to take a lot more. Moreover, the United States as it currently stands is a troubling place for non-white ethnic groups, and this fight extends to more than just movies and TV shows.

I’ve long struggled with an unfortunate truth: many Asians, especially from older generations, are extremely racist. Readers might be wondering what this has to do with New York Comic Con, but my view of my fellow Asian-Americans is not always charitable. It always saddens me to see a kind of “we Asians need to get ahead” mindset that seems to come at the expense of others, the kind of attitude that encourages ingratiating ourselves to white people and avoiding association with other ethnic groups. So for years, I’ve seen those struggles for better representation in Hollywood and such, and felt myself being a bit skeptical. “How many of these people are really thinking about equality and opportunities for all?” Now I realize I’ve been conflating more than a few things that should be considered separate yet loosely related.

It is true that many Asians living in the US have been racist, and have tried to emulate “white success” to some degree. It’s also true that the Asian communities often focus on themselves to almost a deleterious degree, ignoring the reality of the politics surrounding us. However, the fight for better representation of Asians and Asian-Americans on screens and pages big and small is itself a fight against the racism that lingers within our communities among fellow Asians. There are generations of stereotypes that Asians have to fight against, like being weak and ineffectual compared to rugged European folk (unless we’re doing martial arts), and the sooner we remove the seeming need to graft the problematic elements of white privilege onto our own identities, the sooner we can make all Asian-Americans feel like they don’t have to conform to others’ ideas of who we can be.

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Mecca of Mecha: Otakon 2018

2018 marked the second year of Otakon in Washington, DC, as well as a year that posed some unique challenges. Scheduled for the same weekend as a nearby white nationalist ally, the potential danger cast an uneasy cloud over both a multicultural city and an anime con that typically attracts people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Fortunately, the rally amounted to nothing more than a fart in the wind, totaling around 30 people and far outnumbered by counter-protesters. What was left was an enjoyable Otakon that accomplished what the convention is meant for: celebrating Japanese culture and the people who make, enjoy, and are inspired by it.

Panels

Where there might have been three to five panels on giant robots in a typical Otakon, this year’s programming was rife with robot content thanks to the theme of Otakon 2018 being “mecha and science fiction.” As a huge fan of all things anime and robotic, this was right up my alley. I made it something of a mission to check out as many panels as I could, whether they were by fans, companies, or special guests.

I was even on a panel myself! “Mecha Fight Club” with Patz, Tom Aznable, Doug, and myself was an hour of debate and discussion on various topics concerning giant robots and giant robot fandom. If you came to our panel, thanks for waking up at 9am on a Saturday. I hope we gave you some food for thought.

Fan Panels

Transformers: The Birds and the Bumblebees

This panel, from the group “Manly Battleships,” looked at the early history of the Transformers. Impressively, it started not at the release of the toys in the US or even the Japanese Diaclone toys from which Transformers took many designs, but with the advent of GI Joe in America and is exporting over to Japan. It was quite an informative panel, and while I thought the “nerd humor” fell flat at times, it was a solid presentation overall.

NoS Anime

I attended two panels from a group called NoS Anime: one a Gundam Wing retrospective, and the other a look at mecha in the 1960s and 70s. Both panels were well researched, and made efforts to explain the social and economic climates of their times. I had only a few criticisms, and even those are more about what I’d prioritize, rather than what I think would make the panels absolutely better.

First, for the Gundam Wing panel, I would have preferred a greater look into the Japanese fandom, as it was mostly a nostalgia panel from the US side. Also, the comments about the first opening theme, “Just Communication,” having odd lyrics seemed off to me, as plenty of robot shows and Gundam anime feature similar music.

Second, for the 60s and 70s panel, I think more explicit mention of Nagahama Tadao and Tomino Yoshiyuki being directors on Reideen before working on the Robot Romance Trilogy and Gundam respectively should have been explicitly emphasized.

Overall, NoS Anime showed they were a deft hand in presenting.

Outsourced Anime

I try to attend at least one Anime World Order panel at conventions because they’re usually quite entertaining. This panel focused on American cartoons which actually had as lot of the animation work done in Japan. One of the major points of their talk was the impressive flourish that Japan would give these shows—and that their best efforts became the most memorable parts of these cartoons for young minds.

Gattai! Giant Robots from 198X

Essentially a 1980s robot anime recommendation panel, the hosts Patz, Tom Aznable, and Hazukari went over why their favorite mecha shows of the era deserve a look. While there was some trouble with keeping on time, and I feel like they didn’t sell certain shows as well as they probably intended, what worked for me is that each of the presenters clearly valued different things and you could get a more balanced view as a result.

Industry/Guest Panels

Kawamori Shoji

Out of all the guests at Otakon this year, Kawamori was arguably the most significant. Because there’s so much content from him, I’ve spun it off into two separate posts: a recap of his “History of Macross” panel, and my personal interview with him.

Ebikawa Kanetake

A mecha designer on series such as Full Metal Panic!, Gundam 00, and Gundam Build Fighters, Ebikawa’s panel was fairly restrained, and his answers short. One of the main things I learned is that while fans mostly remember the glamorous parts of being a “mechanical designer,” it also includes more mundane items such as coffee mugs and utensils.

Nagai Tatsuyuki

The director of The Anthem of the Heart, Anohana, Toradora!, Iron-Blooded Orphans, and more went over his history in the anime industry. We learned that he first found an anime production assistant job while unemployed and needing work. It was a position that required driving around to pick up and deliver things, and when he lost his license, it forced him to try his hand at other roles such as storyboarding. This eventually took him on his path to episode director and director.

I had the opportunity to present him a question, so I asked about the reasoning behind the unorthodox romances in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, which includes an actual harem. Nagai responded that it was to show that many different forms of love exist in the world, and that he did indeed meet resistance at first from the staff when he told he wanted to put this in. I also told him the true story of my friends and I walking through a blizzard just to see The Anthem of the Heart. By the way, everyone should go see that film.

Another person asked how he feels that Okada Mari (writer on Iron-Blooded OrphansAnohana, and Anthem of the Heart) seems to get all the attention and credit. It felt like a question tinged with bitterness toward Okada, but I might have been mistaken. Nagai answered that he actually liked it because it meant he could sort of hide in secret, perhaps a defense of Okada without getting too aggressive.

One interesting takeaway came when Nagai talked about how he often worked with the same core staff, and that because they’re around the same age, they can talk to each other more candidly when working. Kyoda Tomoki expressed something similar in my interview with him at Otakon 2017, which makes me wonder if studio hierarchy is often a thorn in young creators’ sides in the anime industry.

Discotek Media

During the weekend, friends and acquaintances informed me of one anime company planning a licensing bonanza: whereas most publishers tend to announce maybe five or six new titles, Discotek was going to reveal new shows totaling in the double digits! I had waffled on going to their panel, but now I had to attend. And as it turns out, for fans like me, their announcements pretty much won Otakon.

  • Area 88
  • Message from Space: Galactic Wars
  • Space Wolf Juspion
  • Space Warrior Baldios TV
  • Voltes V
  • God Mars
  • Psycho Armor Govarian
  • Galaxy Express 999 TV
  • Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo
  • Lupin III: Blood Seal of the Eternal Mermaid
  • Kimagure Orange Road
  • Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still

To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement. Voltes V is one of the greatest mecha anime ever to not get a proper US release, and is one third of the famed Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy (which means I hope Discotek is looking at Combattler V and Daimos next). Baldios and God Mars are classic 80s robot action, with the latter actually being a fujoshi favorite of its time. Giant Robo is one of director Imagawa Yasuhiro’s finest works. Psycho Armor Govarian is an obscure Nagai Go robot series animated that is said to be Studio Knack’s best work—faint praise, perhaps, for the studio behind Chargeman Ken. Kimagure Orange Road is one of those 80s classics I’ve always wanted to watch but never did. Galaxy Express 999 holds a special place in my heart, and the additional update on the 999 films getting a Blu-ray box set makes me want to pump my fist in the air and high-five the clouds.

Hiccups and Missteps

Not all was smooth sailing. One of the more significant problems I ran into was subpar management of the autograph line on Friday.

To start off, the autographs section was in the Dealers’ Hall, so that anyone who wanted to get anything signed had to wait on the same massive line as those wishing to make purchases. This in itself would not be so bad, except that there were autograph sessions close to the opening time, and having both aforementioned groups plus those waiting for the nearby Artist Alley to open meant that the line size inevitably became a fire hazard. This issue was compounded with the fact that telling people to go away and come back later never works because it punishes those who decide to follow the rules, and rewards those who skirt/defy them. This would become a recurring theme with the autograph area.

Upon getting in line for the actual autographs, I ran into another problem. The way the area was set up, the idea was that a small group at the front of the line would break off and go into a section where all the guests were waiting. From there, attendees would get their autographs, and then the next group would have their turn. In practice, however, only the first group ever got the chance to get autographs and the rest of the line was stuck waiting the entire time, with not even a single person having an opportunity to move from that second line. In other words, even accounting for the fact that not everyone who wants an autograph is going to get one, many people were denied autographs when they shouldn’t have been.

In my eyes, the underlying issue was that the volunteers in charge of the main autograph area did not communicate properly with the volunteers managing the line, and so the former never seemed to realize there were additional attendees waiting in the first place. Those who went first, or had guests with smaller lines, could easily ping pong between all the guests, while those who (again) followed the rules and waited patiently were done a disservice. My hope is that this changes for next year, including finding a better place for autographs. While Otakon in Baltimore had its own issues with signings, this never happened as far as I can remember.

Another non-autograph-related problem was that at one point on Saturday, the tunnel between the Marriott and the convention center was closed off, forcing everyone to go in through the convention center’s main entrance in the sweltering, 90+ degree heat. This was apparently another miscommunication, but the fact that the weather played a role was a concern.

Con Food

Eating out on Otakon weekend is always a potential hassle, given the amount of attendees. Because of the prospect of both protesters and counter-protesters, my friends and I avoided restaurants and decided to (for once) stick to supermarket and convention-center food. The latter was overpriced (as these things usually go), but the quality was surprisingly decent, and many of the food stands had Japanese cuisine to along with the general theme of Japanese culture. At the same time, $15 for not much food can hurt the wallet a bit. My advice is that if you can’t get out anywhere to eat, and you didn’t bring anything, the Caribbean food is only $12 a dish by comparison, and still plenty good. You can avoid the “anime fan” tax and still get a hot, delicious meal.

Events

Concert

Otakon attendees had the rare opportunity to attend a performance of the “Distant Worlds” Final Fantasy orchestral concert series. With legendary Final Fantasy composer Uematsu Nobuo in the audience, it was a pleasant experience that took the audience through songs from throughout the franchise. I definitely enjoyed the concert, though I felt there was a distinct lack of battle music. I was selfishly hoping for some personal favorites, like Zeromus theme from Final Fantasy IV and the Four Fiends theme from Final Fantasy I remakes, but alas.

Hi-Score Girl

Another special event was the US premiere of the Hi-Score Girl anime, which is adapted from a fantastic manga about romance and growing up in 1990s Japan arcade culture. The show is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the manga, albeit with CG that can feel awkward at times. It’s coming out on Netflix in the coming months, so I recommend everyone check it out when they have the time.

One odd thing about the Otakon showing was that it included a panel beforehand that kind of spoiled a lot of what the first episode was about—pointless if we were going to watch it right afterwards. Also, unfortunately, the interpreter didn’t seem well-versed in fighting games, so she ended up missing a few points here and there. One omission that stood out to me was that the producer mentioned the manga’s author, Oshikiri Rensuke, having participated in Vampire Savior tournaments, but the interpreter translated it as having experience with games in general. Because Vampire Savior holds a certain significance for the history of fighting games and the fighting game community, a bit was (as the cliché goes) lost in translation.

Overall

The final number put Otakon 2018 at over 29,000 attendees, but even so, moving around the Walter E. Washington Convention Center was never a burden—especially compared to some of the most sardine-esque years of Baltimore. Between the quality of the guests and the convenience of Washington, DC (aside from the notoriously terrible traffic), I solidly believe now that Otakon moving to DC was the right choice. There’s so much more room to grow! I’m looking forward to seeing how things will change in 2019 and beyond.

Otakon 2018 Panel: Kawamori Shoji’s History of Macross

In my estimation, the biggest guest of Otakon 2018 was Kawamori Shoji, creator of Macross, Aquarion, AKB0048, Escaflowne, and even early Transformers designs such as Optimus Prime and Starscream.

Unlike other guests whose panels are generally moderated Q&A sessions, Kawamori actually gave two presentations at Otakon. The first was based on his TEDx Talk on originality and design, though I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend it. The second was a history of the Macross franchise from the perspective of its own father, which I’ll be detailing in this post. For more Kawamori content, check out my interview with him!

From Megaload to Macross

Kawamori spoke of his early days competing with his senpai Miyatake Kazutaka (of Space Battleship Yamato fame) on who could design a non-humanoid hero mecha first, only to get rejected by the toy company because humanoid robots were what sold. He told us the origin of Macross (originally Battle City Megaload in the early design phases) and how it was actually meant to be a joke on the sponsors—a bait-and-switch tactic for Kawamori and his friends to do what they really wanted—only for those same sponsors to get so onboard with the concept that it became a reality. Suddenly, all of the ridiculous things they threw in to mess with the concept of humanoid mecha (being the size of a city, transforming from a carrier, having a literal town inside, facing a giant enemy so that a robot that ridiculously big would be practical) were to be an actual part of the show. Naturally, he and his friends/fellow staff concluded the following: if you have a city, you need a singer. Thus, Lynn Mynmay.

While the combination of pop music and mecha is practically taken for granted today, Kawamori described how back when Super Dimensional Fortress Macross first aired, the fans were divided between those who loved Mynmay’s songs during combat, and those who thought the whole idea was nonsense. However, Kawamori embraced the idea of having music, not weapons, win the war. He mentioned how Director Ishiguro, despite liking the concept, thought it would be too unrealistic, but Kawamori pushed through with it anyway out of a sense of youthful bravado.

The story of Battle City Megaload was already somewhat familiar to me, so it surprised me that there was an even earlier prototype of sorts for Macross: a manga he made in high school along with his friends called Saishuu Senshi (“The Last Warrior”). This amateur manga featured a world where war had become so expensive that opposing sides would each send out one representative warrior in a powered suit to engage in a duel that would determine victory and failure. The enemy side’s scheme was that they started using unmanned weapons, going against the deal. His friends at the time would end up in college with him, and would become part of the staff for Macross, including defining 1980s character designer Mikimoto Haruhiko.

Designing the Valkyrie

Kawamori also elaborated on another major part of Macross: the VF-1 Valkyrie. According to him, that famous design actually came out of a long struggle with trying to make a transforming plane robot that didn’t have issues with maintaining good proportions in both robot and plane forms. The key breakthrough was when Kawamori looked at the F-14 Tomcat, and how the jet engines could become the arms (he previously thought the nose of the plane would have to be the arms).

From there, other aesthetic decisions, like having a simple and functional-looking head (unlike the popular designs of the past) as well as “feet” for the robot that each came in two sections, completed the look. Once he had the inspiration thanks to the F-14, actually designing the Valkyrie took about a week. Kawamori then pulled out not just an original-style Takatoku VF-1 Valkyrie toy to demonstrate its transformation, but also a pre-final prototype for a new 1:48 scale version of the same design due later this year, demonstrating its improved flexibility.

The Success of Macross Leads to New Perspectives

Macross was a hit, which led to Kawamori having his directorial debut at age 24 for the film Macross: Do You Remember Love? Kawamori mentioned how he came up with a lot of ideas for the film, like holograms during concerts, a vacuum-cleaning miniature robot, and clothes that change color. He expressed his surprise over the years seeing these farfetched concepts come to life.

Another result of Macross’s success was that Kawamori got to travel abroad, and the resulting trips actually dramatically changed his views on technology and culture. First, he spent time in the United States, where he more or less experienced the extremes of Macross’s aesthetic themes. He visited military bases and NASA space centers to watch shuttles launch, and he would go to Broadway musicals, sometimes even seeing as many as three plays in one day. He would often be up from 6am to 3am.

However, he started to feel the need to get away from that environment, which led to him traveling to China. With modern technology being sparse in areas such as Inner Mongolia, Kawamori recounted how he would see the children’s eyes light up whenever the television stopped working, and how their expressions while playing outside were like none he had ever seen. He then visited Nepal, where he encountered people who literally saw differently from him. Kawamori prides himself on having 20/10 vision, but even he could not see what his Nepalese guides could. They would wave at each other from enormous distances, holding conversations with each other while recognizing facial expressions that to him looked like mere specks.

While he still loves technology today, these experiences made him rethink his stance on technological progress being inherently good.

Macross 7, Macross Plus

Kawamori emphasized his desire to never do the same thing over and over, which is why 1987’s Macross: Flashback 2012 was an OVA, and not a TV series or a film. He kept getting requests to make another TV Macross, but he would refuse. The person who convinced him was a college underclassman who had got into the industry, the late producer Takanashi Minoru. Takanashi told him, “It’s been 10 years. You can go back to TV,” a reference to the statute of limitations for crimes in Japan.

Kawamori had one week to come up with a concept, and so he first thought of a singing pilot. But in order to add an extra twist, he turned the main character into a singing, non-fighting pilot. Thus, Nekki Basara was born.

Basara is a favorite character of Kawamori’s, but he thought that the old Macross fans would hate him for it, and he still had a love for mecha and planes himself. To appease his fans, he made Macross Plus. (It should be noted that according to Macross expert Renato, Kawamori refused to make Macross Plus if he couldn’t make Macross 7 as well).

As part of his research for Macross Plus, Kawamori and Itano Ichiro (of the famed “Itano circus”) flew real jets (with guidance) and had a dogfight with each other. The instructors sat next to them, but they got to use the controls. Itano is a rebel, so he ended up Itano doing everything the instructor told him not to, and kept blacking out from the g-forces. Itano said that every time he blacked out, he would hear voices from the distance saying his name. Kawamori asked him to recreate his blackout scene for Isamu’s.

Sharon Apple, the virtual idol from Macross Plus, is based on idea that making an anime is to some extent about emotional manipulation. The funniest thing was that, at the time, the staff said no one would go crazy for a virtual idol. Kawamori expressed that he never thought the concept would be embraced this quickly. It was also during this time that he was introduced to Yoko Kanno.

Macross, CG Graphics, and the Future

One of the dramas of real-life planes is when jet fuel runs out, but in the world of Macross, reaction engines means infinite power. That’s why Macross Zero is set in a time before that technology came to be. More generally, Macross Zero was about combining technology with the things he saw in China.

This was the start of his use of 3DCG in animation, which he started to use because he felt that 2D animation was limited in its ability to capture the proper camera angles for flying scenes. Macross Zero had a mix of 2D and 3D for action, and it was in Genesis of Aquarion that he tested out full 3DCG for combat. From there, Macross Frontier was to prove that the workload of a show could be divided between 3D for battles and 2D for characters. The Macross Frontier movies were where Kawamori finally figured out the ideal way to blend 3D and 2D together for scenes. Kawamori overall gave the impression that he sees new shows as opportunities to experiment.

One of the big changes in Macross Frontier was the use of two idols instead of one. Another decision was to make a male hero who’s even more beautiful than the idols. The Macross Frontier two-idol setup was popular and successful, but when the sponsors asked him to repeat the formula, he doubled down and made Walküre a team of idols as a separate division from the Windermere forces and the Delta Platoon.

Toward the end of the panel, Kawamori showed a lego prototype model for a transforming robot. Instead of two jet engines forming the legs, as has been the case with Valkyries, this robot has a single jet engine that turns into two legs. For Kawamori, it was the first new transformation system in quite a while. He then ended the panel by showing a trailer for Pandora, which comes out on Netflix this year.

Otakon 2018 Interview: Kawamori Shoji

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2018 in Washington, DC.

In your anime, you often visit the theme of love as power, or the power of love, even in your mecha and science fiction settings such as Macross, Escaflowne, and Aquarion. What draws you to this subject?

I always wanted to be original, and not like others. In previous science fiction anime, having love in the main theme was unheard of. You’d have love among the sub-characters, but not with the principle ones. So it’s something I always wanted to incorporate.

My next question is about Macross 7. I find the characters of Basara and Sivil have a unique relationship or a special connection. How would you describe their relationship in the story?

If you look at the character of Nekki Basara himself, he is unique in all of the Macross series. I thought it would not be fitting for him to be engaged in just a normal love affair, and he should have something that transcends love—like a resonance or clash of souls. The director of Macross 7, Amino Tetsurou, is someone who values the idea of passion, over any sort of details. It would just be a story of souls clashing.

I noticed in your credits that you worked on Toushou Daimos as a mechanical designer. Did you have an opportunity to work with Director Nagahama directly, and if so, do you have any memories of him?

I didn’t have much opportunity to speak to Director Nagahama on Daimos. Of course, I met him, but most of the interaction was through reading and looking at the storyboards that he draw. I did the designs through that. I really got to talk to him more on Ulysses 31. He was quite the gentleman, and he had a real passion for incorporating and valuing drama in his stories.

You’ve designed many mecha for decades—for toy lines, for kids, for adults, and even for video games. What changes in your design process and thought process according to the type of project?

This is something I value so much that I would take an hour or two to talk about it in detail. I look at the worldview of the work, the setting, and the target audience—for example, if it’s a toy, what would be the age range? Those are all the important considerations: market, target, theme, and the worldview. Those are the principle elements that go into the design, and after I have that down, the rest comes more easily.

To pick a specific example, I really enjoy your designs in Eureka Seven. What particular concerns did you take into account for that project?

When I first received the order for Eureka Seven mecha design, the initial order was to have a transforming mecha from automobile form to humanoid. But since that was something I’ve done so many times, I didn’t think I could do anything new.

I held the world-building meeting with Director Kyoda and the principle writer, Sato Dai, and they told me that in the Eureka Seven world, they’re in a world saturated by trapar particles that allow ships to float, and that’s how travel is done. And I thought, if these particles allow large ships to float, I can easily envision them as waves, so you can have mecha that use the waves to float. Director Kyoda liked the idea, and once the concept of surfing was in, the actual design was easy.

While you’re better known for your accomplishments in science fiction and mecha, you also worked on a show called Anyamaru Tantei Kiruminzoo. It’s quite outside of your usual genres or wheelhouse. How did you come around to being on this project?

For me, since I’m known as a mecha designer, most clients tend to bring me that kind of work. But I always want to try out something new, and communication with animals is something I’ve always been interested in. So, in Anyamaru Tantei Kiruminzoo, we have a girl who would transform and communicate with animals. But in normal magical girl series, when you have a girl transform into a magical girl, she would become invincible. I didn’t want that. I wanted someone who would be more different from a human with human abilities. So I pitched the idea and fortunately, that’s how we got the show.

This is my last question. Traditionally, it hasn’t been common for non-Japanese artists to work on anime aside from the outsourcing done in South Korea, but Satelight has hired artists such as Thomas Romain and Stanislas Brunet. How did Satelight bring them aboard, and what is it like working with foreign artists?

That goes back to me and Macross with the concept of “deculture.” I’m very fond of the differences in cultures, because we all grew up in different backgrounds. We might be fond of the same things, but we might have different ideas and concepts about those same things. That’s great inspiration for myself, and it’s very enjoyable working with foreign artists at Satelight.

Satelight’s parent company is an IT company. As such, it’s always had a corporate culture that’s open to working with foreign employees. So, our current president, Sato Michiaki, never had any issues employing non-Japanese artists.

Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax Discusses Anime NYC on the Speakeasy Podcast


In addition to my con report of Anime NYC, I also sat down with Kate and Al from the Reverse Thieves to discuss New York’s latest anime convention

Teikoku State of Mind: Anime NYC 2017

When a brand-new convention decides to call itself “Anime NYC,” it’s practically asking to have the deck stacked against it. Running a first-year convention is no small task, doubly so if it’s in the heart of Manhattan. And with no reputation to go by, potential attendees may feel reluctant to try things out. Small attendance numbers can mean a lack of overall interest and the inability to justify the high costs of NYC, while large numbers means a greater chance of disaster striking if mismanaged. As a longtime resident of New York City, I’ve seen cons come and go, but somehow, someway, Anime NYC went so swimmingly that I almost can’t believe it was real.

General Impressions and Exhibitor’s Hall

Those who attended New York Anime Festival and the first few New York Comic Cons might recall what it was like to go through the Jacob Javits Center without feeling like sardines. Walking through Anime NYC felt reminiscent of that environment, as the con was fairly heavily populated but with plenty of elbow room to spare. Panel rooms were right next to the Exhibitor’s Hall, making transitions between checking out the goods and listening in on industry and fan talks. Special events were held in a Main Event Hall that was a fair distance away, though nowhere near as disorienting as, say, the Baltimore Convention Center where Otakon used to take place.

Because it was so easy to navigate (without the space feeling overly empty), I came out of the three-day con feeling satisfied yet unstressed. Usually one comes with the other due to the hustle and bustle of trying to get everything done, or because there’s so little to do at the event itself that boredom and lethargy set in. Anime NYC struck a Goldilocks-type balance with a schedule that thrilled but did not overwhelm body and mind.

A major contrast between Anime NYC and NYCC is that the latter is focused on being a general comics pop culture event, with a film and television presence that all but overshadows the “comic” in comic con. Anime NYC, on the other hand, is first and foremost concerned with anime and manga. A few features branched out from that core, such as the presence of Overwatch voice actors who were there to meet the fans and sell autographs, but this was certainly no “anime ghetto,” as fans took to calling New York Anime Fest when it began to be dissolved into NYCC.  For those who love anime and love a big convention feel but think New York Comic Con’s a bit too much, Anime NYC has potential to be a gathering point for anime fans in the tri-state area.

Concerts

Anime NYC featured two concerts that shone in different ways. The first was Anime Diva Night, while the second was the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert.

At Anime Diva Night, three Japanese musical guests performed as part of the Anisong World Matsuri. Two of the singers, Ishida Yoko and TRUE, are amazing vocalists in their own right, but the third, Yonekura Chihiro, was the reason I wanted to attend. She’s the voice of so many amazing anime themes over the years that it almost doesn’t compare. Notably, she sang the opening and ending themes to Mobile Suit Gundam 08th MS Team.

While having Yonekura alone would’ve sufficed in my case, all three did a wonderful job. Some singers sound significantly better in the recording booth than they do onstage, but this was not the case for the Anime Diva trio, who sounded incredible even though the makeshift Main Events Hall did not have ideal acoustics.

The concert had a somewhat unusual format. Rather than move from one act to the next, each performer would do a few songs, perform a duet with another, and then the newer singer would take over before the next duet. There were two rotations in total, with all three singers performing together at the start and end of the show. All of the group performances were cover songs of popular anime themes—”Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” “Moonlight Densetsu,” “God Knows,” etc.—while the solo acts were their signature songs. Yonekura did indeed sing the Gundam 08th MS Team opening, but also an old favorite of mine in “Will” from the anime Hoshin Engi (aka Soul Hunter). Highlights from the other two singers included TRUE performing the first Sound!! Euphonium opening and Ishida doing arguably her most famous song, “Otome no Policy” from Sailor Moon R.

There were a couple of songs that didn’t make the concert that I was hoping for: Yonekura’s “Yakusoku no Basho e” from Kaleido Star and Ishida’s “White Destiny” from Pretear, but it was a small loss for an otherwise amazing concert.

The Gundam Thunderbolt Concert was highly unusual compared to what typically happens at an anime con performances. Generally, they’re closer to Anime Diva Night, sounding like the j-pop or j-rock one expects out of anime. To have the Gundam Thunderbolt composer Kikuchi Naruyoshi lead a jazz band himself on saxophone was a truly rare treat, and it’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve had at an anime con. The closest equivalent I could think of was Kanno Yoko’s concert at Otakon 2013.

I am no jazz aficionado, but thanks to the concert, I felt as if I began to understand the almost primal appeal that jazz holds for listeners. As I listened, an analogy popped into my head: jazz is like constructing a human being from music. They can be loud one moment and quiet the next. They can be a mess of contradictions, yet still function. I’m unsure if this will send me towards checking out more jazz in the future, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.

I’ve been more or less referring to the Gundam Thunderbolt Concert as a “jazz performance,” but that’s not entirely accurate. To everyone’s surprise, the concert also included performances by the singers of some of the 50s/60s-style pop songs from the Gundam Thunderbolt anime. In the context of the series, the two main characters, Io and Daryl, are two soldiers on opposite sides of a war who each listen to music as they battle. Io is an intense man who loves equally powerful jazz, while the handicapped Daryl prefers softer ballads.

At the Gundam Thunderbolt panel, Kikuchi mentioned that these are basically his two favorite genres of music, and he thought both fit the characters well. Interestingly, while the Gundam Thunderbolt manga included jazz already, Kikuchi composed entirely new songs that he felt fit Io’s character better.

One funny coincidence of sorts when it comes to Kikuchi’s choice to add a golden oldies aspect to the Gundam Thunderbolt score is that one of the biggest names in classic mid-20th-century American pop, Neil Sedaka, once composed the theme songs to Mobile Suit Z Gundam in the 1980s. I’d be curious to know what Kikuchi would think about this.

Artist Alley

More than Exhibitors’ Halls, Artist Alleys at cons can be affected heavily by the space they occupy. Regardless of the artists’ skills, or the amount of people in the alley, a bad space can make an attendee want to leave as quickly as possible, while a good space encourages more browsing and exploring.

Anime NYC’s is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Held on the top floor of the Jacob Javits Center, natural light shined down on the entire Artist Alley from an entirely windowed roof. At times, it almost felt like an outdoor European boutique, which made it just a pleasant place to peruse.

I purchased a few items at the Artist Alley, mainly from Japanese artists (something of a rarity even at anime cons). One booth was ran by the wife and assistant (pictured above) of manga artist Ohno Junji, creator behind the manga for obscure titles Mobile Suit Gundam: Missing Link and Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin MSD: Cucuruz Doan’s Island. Unfortunately, the artist couldn’t attend himself. They were selling art packages from Ohno himself and his assistant, Ally Suwabe:

Ohno Junji

Ally Suwabe

Axel Rex is Ohno’s original web comic he drew for Kodanasha/Yahoo!! Comics from 2008 to 2009.

The other Japanese artist attending was Tatsuyuki “Mikey” Maeda, who’s worked for the past 10 years as a manga assistant. In a way, while manga artists themselves only attend cons sparingly, their assistants are even rarer. Maeda was selling a short guide called “Secrets of Manga: Basics of the Tools & Trade.” In it, he gives various technical tips to aspiring manga creators, the kinds of things that often get glossed over in favor of “character design” and “how to draw mecha.” The guide talks about differences in pen nibs (such as what you should use if you have a light touch vs. a heavy hand), how to effectively use white-out, and more. I highly recommend it.

Panels

Gundam Thunderbolt Panel

Panels are an important part of the con experience for me, though due to my schedule I could not attend as many as I would have liked. Still, the Gundam Thunderbolt panel was highly informative, as were the Inifini-T Force and LeSean Thomas panels.

Infini-T Force is a current 3DCG anime series crossing over the classic heroes of Tatsunoko Production—Gatchaman, Casshan/Casshern, Hurricane Polymar, and Tekkaman. The fact that Tatsunoko, one of the most influential anime studios ever, had a con presence at all was the main reason I decided to attend their panel. Overall, it was a fairly basic introduction to Tatsunoko, but I like that they conveyed a bit of the studio’s historical significance. They’re one of the most influential studios ever, pushing the limits of animation in Japan since their inception in the 1960s. They were also willing to discuss a bit of the reception Infini-T Force has received in Japan, such as the fact that the primary female character is a little contentious to Japanese audiences. This is also somewhat unusual for Japanese companies, and was somewhat refreshing.

The LeSean Thomas panel was a general Q&A, but was one of the highlights of Anime NYC. It was inspiring to see attendee after attendee express how Thomas inspired them to keep working at their art, and how his success as a creator of color gave them the courage to never give up. I previously interviewed him at Otakon 2016, and he does make for an excellent role model.

Cosplay

In this case, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

In Conclusion

Given how much I’ve praised Anime NYC, it might seem like I’m a paid shill, but I assure my readers that this is not the case. The con was actually executed so smoothly that there’s little I can complain about that would be the fault of the convention itself. While I attended for free as press, even the weekend ticket was affordable, especially compared to New York Comic Con ($60 vs. over $200 to buy four 1-day NYCC passes).

At approximately 20,000 attendees, Anime NYC has already become one of the larger anime cons in the US. The convention appears to have done a sound job of attracting locals, and I’m curious to see how much more it can grow. If the convention keeps up this level of quality, I’d be happy and proud to call Anime NYC “home.”

 

Otakon 2017 Interview: Tomoki Kyoda (EUREKA SEVEN)

At Otakon 2017, I had the opportunity to interview Tomoki Kyoda—director of one of my favorite anime series ever, Eureka Seven. He was at the convention to promote the world premiere of the film EUREKA SEVEN HI-EVOLUTION, and I spoke to him the day before the showing.

Eureka Seven was originally created as a media mix project with video games and manga telling side stories or different, alternative narratives from the anime. How much of a say did you have in the spin offs?

With the spin offs, we would say, “We want so-and-so” for a concept. The various directors and mangaka we were working with would present their spin offs to us, and we would check over them.

My next question concerns Eureka herself. Her appearance changes throughout the series, especially when she gets covered in scars. It’s a very bold decision, I think—especially for anime. What was the thinking behind changing her appearance?

When we were doing the original story, Mr. Kenichi Yoshida and I were talking about what we could do to provide lots of inspiration and different paths the story could take. One of the inspirations that someone came up with was, “What about drastically changing her appearance?” So we actually took that and went with it.

What is it like working with creators Dai Sato, Shoji Kawamori, and Kenichi Yoshida? Do you have any interesting production stories to tell?

With regards to Mr. Sato and Mr. Yoshida, we were actually all born in the same year, so we all have an understanding of our pros and cons; what each of us do well and what each of us do not so well. But with regards to Mr. Kawamori, he is a person we look up to. He is a very interesting person, and his works are also very interesting. But then if you meet him in person… whoa. You’re going to notice that he’s more interesting than anything he’s actually done. So, if we start talking about Mr. Kawamori, we’re going to go past two hours like it was nothing, so let’s just leave it at that.

In revisiting Eureka Seven with the new movies, what feelings are you hoping to evoke in old fans and those who have never seen the series?

First of all, I’d like to say that, for old fans coming back to us, thank you very much. I hope they will actually be very accepting of this, since, even if we use some old footage, it doesn’t mean that we could do something just like the old version. In that sense, it’s in many ways a new movie. I hope they will be very accepting of it. With that being said, for new fans I hope they take it for what it is, and accept it for what it is, and that they will see what Renton and Eureka and Anemone have to do in order to live through that world. So the greater idea I have for everyone is acceptance, really. I hope everyone will accept EUREKA SEVEN HI-EVOLUTION for what it is.

Thank you very much!