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For this year’s New York Comic Con, I’m doing something a bit different with my coverage. Instead of doing a standard con report, with overviews and opinions on panels, artist alley, etc., I’m going to be writing a series of essays based on things I saw at NYCC 2016. Think of it like extended thought exercises and musings inspired by the con.
As someone who loves giant robots, one of the highlights of New York Comic Con 2016 had to be the dual displays of Soul of Chogokin Voltron and Megazord. Created as high-end poseable figures with plenty of metal, show-accurate proportions and transformations, and as much articulation as their designs can allow, when something joins the Soul of Chogokin line it is like a rite of passage. It’s the pinnacle of mecha toys, and any fans of either robot likely already has them on their radars. Seeing them together, however, made me think about their significance to both American fans and the people responsible for the Soul of Chogokin line. These figures represent not only the fulfillment of childhood dreams, but are indicative of the complex interactions between nostalgia and specific cultural contexts.
Although I personally do not view Voltron or Megazord with the kind of near-religious fervor that grips so many other fans (granted Voltron was the show that introduced me to giant robots), I couldn’t help but be impressed by their designs. They’re both large, clearly very hefty, and capture well the particular quirks of both robots, perhaps even to the point that it would be jarring. For example, Voltron can look a little too squat, until you realize that it actually reflects the original design well, and the main reason we see it as being perhaps slightly lankier in proportions is because the iconic images of Voltron tend to be upward perspective shots.
Above each of the displays was a painting of the robot below, with a little information card on the side to provide some extra insight on the artist who provided them, Nonaka Tsuyoshi. Reading these, what caught my attention was that not only was Nonaka responsible for the original Megazord design, but he was also the man responsible for starting the Soul of Chogokin line in the first place! In a way, the birth of the Soul of Chogokin Megazord can be viewed as Nonaka’s homecoming.
There was another detail that I found even more notable. When describing Nonaka’s founding of the Soul of Chogokin line, the card stated that the toys were born out of his desire to celebrate the giant robots of his own youth, such as Mazinger Z. They were what inspired him, and so he in turn has given them the star treatment. Extending this line of thought, one can view Voltron and the Megazord as essentially the “Mazinger Z’s of America.” Many countries are introduced to super robots differently, and in the case of the US these two in particular are deeply woven into the fabric of pop culture. Remember, the original Japanese version of Voltron, King of Beasts Golion, isn’t a particularly notable show. Zyuranger, the show that would become Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, is beloved among Super Sentai fans, but is considered one of many good iterations. In the United States, however, these robots are integral to introducing generations of kids to the wide world of mecha. Thus, the Soul of Chogokin line is doing what it was originally meant to, only in another cultural context.
Thinking further about the iconic aspect of Voltron and the Megazord, it’s fascinating just how lasting their presence is relative to the shows they came from. For example, because Voltron has that cool look and that place in American broadcast history, it can be remade again and again, most notably in the surprise hit Voltron: Legendary Defender. What’s even more striking about its presence, however, is that Vehicle Voltron is as absent from pop culture memory as Lion Voltron is enduring. In fact, notice how I’ve only said “Voltron” throughout this essay. I bet that, for many readers, they didn’t even notice that something was odd. There are a number of possible reasons why Lion Voltron is remembered whereas Vehicle Voltron largely is not: Lion Voltron came first, it aired on TV more often, and its colorful characters and overall design are more memorable (mouths for hands and feet!). Whatever the reason, what stands out to me is how fickle and unforgiving mass-nostalgia can be, even if there’s no real “blame” to go around.
Soul of Chogokin Voltron and Megazord are squarely aimed at the US market in a way that I’m not sure previous internationally beloved robots such as Grendizer (for much of Europe) and Voltes V (for the Philippines) previously were. In that respect, I predict this to be the start of a new relationship between Bandai and its potential consumers around the world. Given this potential, I’m rather curious as to what might come next. Perhaps we might someday see Soul of Chogokin representation for a robot that doesn’t even have its origins in Japan.
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Every year I’m amazed that the people who run New York Comic Con manage to make it work. New York City is a notoriously difficult place to hold a convention, but it keeps growing. I hope that the recently announced Anime NYC will have similar success.
I’ll be heading to New York Comic Con this year for a couple of days, though given how gigantic the crowd is it’s likely I’ll end up never bumping into anyone I know. In terms of what I plan to attend I’m playing it sort of by ear this time around, but you’re likely to catch me at some European comics panels.
As mentioned last month, I’ll be seeing Kizumonogatari Part II in theaters! I happened to pick up the book recently, but I’m going to wait until the movies finish before I read it. I also updated Love Live! School Idol Festival to the newest version which its fancy overhaul and Aqours additions. One thing I like about it is that I can use my stickers to Idolize, instead of hoping in vain for duplicates. I finally got around to upgrading one of my Hanayo cards. Did you know that I’m quite fond of argyle patterns?
As always, I’d like to thank to all those who support me via Patreon:
Sasahara Keiko fans:
Yoshitake Rika fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
It’s been a review-heavy month for me, partially because a number of series are ending, but also because I’ve finally gotten around to finishing a bunch of shows I had on the back burner. I’m aware that series which are more than a season or two old tend to fade from people’s memories, but I think it’s important to not get too distracted trying to keep up with the Anime Joneses, as it were.
Ojamajo Doremi (final season + retrospective)
Kimi Nakare didn’t get a new chapter in August, which is why there was no review. It’s back, though, so expect to see something for October.
I also want to draw attention to this month’s sponsored Patreon post, where I discuss my favorite RPGs of all time. As someone who is fairly familiar but not neck-deep in the world of Role Playing Games, the list might seem a bit sparse. If you want to see me write about a particular topic, consider sponsoring me on Patreon. I have a reward tier specifically for guaranteed requests.I want to end off on a question for my readers: What do you think of the balance between talking about older series and newer series? What about manga vs. anime? I was mostly anime-heavy this month, and I’m curious as to how many of my readers are more on the anime side, and who favors manga more.So with that, a poll!I don’t know how much this’ll change things, but I wanted to see for myself what is favorite among readers of Ogiue Maniax.
September is the start of a new, post-Genshiken world.
Though the loss is great, I know I have my patrons to back me up. Thanks to all of you who continue to support me on Patreon:
Sasahara Keiko fans:
Yoshitake Rika fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
In terms of blog content from this past month, first and foremost is my final chapter review of Genshiken Nidaime. I hope it’s been a great ride for you.
According to last month’s poll, a lot of you would like me to go back and take a look at the original Genshiken as well. I’m eager to oblige, but I probably won’t start for a little while, at least a month or two. In the meantime, I guess I can get my Kio fix with some Spotted Flower.
Other post highlights include an Otakon 2016 convention report, as well as interviews with artist LeSean Thomas and anime studio P.A. Works. The LeSean Thomas interview has been doing extremely well for the blog, and it makes me very aware of how niche the anime audience in comparison to even other nerd subcultures in the US. The last time that happened was when I reported on the Nostalgia Critic and Angry Video Game Nerd appearing in an anime, which got me the most hits in a single day ever.
I also wrote about Yukitheater, sort of. Sadly I couldn’t get the program to work, but if you want a kind of trip back to early 2000s anime fandom but in a modern lens, this virtual theater program might be worth something to you.
The last post I want to mention is one that had been ruminating in my mind for a long time, which is about how characters are rendered attractive or charismatic. Basically, I think that, through visual design and personality and a bunch of other small factors, there are two primary ways by which people become drawn to characters: a magnetic “pull” and a forceful “push.” Am I on the right track? Tell me what you think.
Following up on another point from the previous status update, I’ve begun watching Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross in order to finally update Gattai Girls. Are there any other series you’d like to see me tackle?
Until next time! The second Kizumonogatari movie is showing in October, which is also the month of New York Comic Con. Exciting times.
Otakon, the east coast’s largest anime convention, has been a mainstay of Baltimore summers since 1999. With the 2017 move to Washington DC, however, 2016 may very well be the last Otakon Baltimore ever sees. The awareness of this turning point among attendees felt almost palpable, and not just because the blazing heat and heavy humidity made everything feel ten pounds heavier. Watching con-goers on Sunday discuss the end of Otakon in Baltimore with an air of finality made it feel like it really was the end, even if it’s more of a new beginning.
Music and the Matsuri
Every year, I try to attend at least one Otakon concert, usually that of an artist I’m interested in from hearing their music in anime. This time, it was MICHI, who sang the opening to one of my favorite shows of the year, Dagashi Kashi. Unfortunately, both of the panels I was involved with ran during her concert time, so I unfortunately could not go. What’s more, her concert was the half-time show at the Masquerade, which is an event I generally avoid. The upside of all this is that I got to meet her in person at the autograph session.
I did check out the Otakon Matsuri, a first for me. Taking place every year on the Thursdays before Otakon weekend, in the past I simply had neither the time nor the energy to go. This time, however, they had as music guests Lotus Juice and Hirata Shihoko from the Persona game series. Because a friend of mine loves Persona and made it a mission to attend their performance, I tagged along and was treated to a lively concert. Despite a number of technical difficulties likely owing to the severe heat not playing nice with Lotus Juice’s Macbook, they really made it a memorable experience. Lotus Juice, who was born in Japan but actually grew up in New Jersey, actually performed not only Persona and anime-related music, but even threw in a Japanese version of a Tupac song. Unfortunately, I don’t know Tupac well enough to recognize it, so if anyone in the comments knows, feel free to chime in!
Guests and Industry Panels
This year’s guest list was sparser compared to previous Otakons, possibly because of next year’s move to DC. Notably, Otakon mainstay Maruyama Masao (founder of anime studios MADHouse and MAPPA) was not able to appear, and it felt like Otakon was missing his insight. The guests that did come, however, were able to provide a great deal of insight into the anime industry and their creative processes.
Akane Kazuki and Escaflowne
Akane Kazuki, director of Escaflowne, Heat Guy J, and Code Geass: Akito the Exiled, was in attendance because of the new Blu-ray release of Escaflowne and the English premiere of Akito the Exiled. Akane is a Studio Sunrise man, so just like Takamatsu Shinji and Park Romi last year, so at a press conference I had to ask him what this experience was like working with Gundam creator Tomino Yoshiyuki. Akane mentioned that he actually went to Sunrise straight out of college because it was where Tomino was working. However, the very first time he arrived at Sunrise for work, he found Tomino was scolding his staff. Akane also described Tomino as someone who thought about anime from morning to night, and that he gave the impression that such a devotion was necessary to succeed in the world of Japanese animation.
He also talked about his work on Escaflowne, how it was his first work where he had full directorial control, and about the changes he made to the heroine, Kanzaki Hitomi. When Akane first came onto the project, Hitomi was going to be a quiet, long-haired girl, but he and character designer Teru Nobuyuki pushed to have her become the strong-willed, short-haired girl we know her as now. Later on in the conference, he described that period as one where a lot of female characters were the same, and he worked on Hitomi with the idea of, is this the kind of character that actual girls themselves can get behind?
The Japanese industry panels I attended included P.A. Works of Shirobako and Hanasaku Iroha fame’s, as well as Under the Dog producer Morimoto Koji’s. At the P.A. Works panel, they didn’t really take questions from the audience, but they went through why they decided to make their new series, a robot anime called Kuromukuro, because it was uncharted territory for their studio. They also asked the audience themselves about the idea that Americans prefer action-oriented anime with strong heroes, but I found that an audience predisposed to coming to a P.A. Works industry panel likely wouldn’t have the same tastes.
As for Morimoto, I asked him questions related to his involvement with giant robot anime. First, I asked him about whether or not he has any input on how series are represented story-wise in the Super Robot Wars video games, to which he responded that they mostly leave it up to the game studio Banpresto. Second, I asked him about what goes into adapting or reviving old mecha franchises. Here, the answer was that it really depends on the series, and how much they’re trying to draw in the old, nostalgic audience, or create a new one.
As for the American side of things, I attended the Discotek panel and the tail end of the Vertical Inc panel. The main takeaways (at least for me) is that the glorious anime Charge Man Ken is now licensed by Discotek, and that two of Vertical’s best-selling titles are two of my favorites, Nichijou and Mysterious Girlfriend X. As someone who kept putting Mysterious Girlfriend X on their surveys every year, this fills me with pride and joy.
One of Otakon’s claims to fame is its strong collection of fan panels. Presenting a diverse range of topics, it’s one of my personal highlights every year. This time around, however, I felt that a lot of the panels I attended weren’t quite as strong, though I don’t think this is really the fault of the con itself or even the presenters. There will be some panelists who are stronger than others, and I, as someone who did a couple of panels, have plenty of areas where I need to improve.
It’s also good that Otakon occasionally goes for untested presenters, because if they stick with only the ones they know, it gives less of a chance for newer panelists to show what they’re capable of. In many cases, there appeared to be a lack of preparation and oversight on actually planning and researching the presentations. That doesn’t mean that any presenter who didn’t bring their A-game doesn’t deserve to come back, but I hope that we all look to the next time with the hopes of being even better.
Anime of Green Gables
Featured Panelist Viga’s panel all about the popularity of Anne of Green Gables in Japan was quite informative. As someone who’s watched both the 1970s Anne of Green Gables anime and the 2000s Before Green Gables prequel, I learned a lot, especially in regards to how it got to Japan. I didn’t know, for example, that Japanese fans take pilgrimages to Prince Edward Island fairly regularly. I thought the panel had a generally good structure, but felt a bit disorganized in places. While I at first wondered who the panel was for, I think it turned out to be existing fans of Anne of Green Gables who might not be as familiar with the anime.
Gen Urobuchi: Magical Girls, Riders, and Puppets, Oh My!
Because the title of this panel mentioned puppets, I was hoping to see some Thunderbolt Fantasy action. Unfortunately, it got cut out of the presentation, which I find a bit strange because plenty of episodes had been out by then. On top of that, there was an entire special about the making of the show, which would have given them plenty of material to work with.
The Bravest Robots: Sunrise’s Brave Series
An overview of the Yuusha giant robot franchise of the 1990s, this panel was run by Patz Prime from Space Opera Satellite, with whom I’d previously done a podcast review of Brave Police J-Decker. As someone who’s more familiar with Brave Robots than most, even I learned quite a bit from it. I was particularly fascinated by the transition by the sponsoring company Takara from Transformers to Brave Exkaiser, the first series, and how the panel wove a narrative of the continuous fight between the animators, Sunrise, and Takara. Maybe next time the panel might have time to mention Baan Gaan.
1999: The Otaku Time Machine
George from Land of Obscusion ran this panel, which went over some of the major and minor anime and video games to come out in the year 1999. For me, it was in many ways a review of my adolescence, but I’m also well aware that many anime fans in attendance likely would have been born before 1999. It’s still kind of crazy for me to think about. All I’ll say to this is thumbs up for showing the Japanese Medabots opening, thumbs down for not showing the Japanese Digimon opening.
This year, I presented at two panels: “Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow” with Kate from Reverse Thieves, and “Greater Uglier Manga.” The former was a panel about dogs across anime, including popular series such as Naruto, genre legends such as Ginga Nagareboshi Gin, and old historical works such as Norakuro. If you came to the panel, I’d like to thank you for being such a great audience, and I hope to get better at communicating for next year.
Greater Uglier Manga was the sequel to last year’s Great Ugly Manga, with the twist that it was now 18+. The point wasn’t to fill the panel with pornography, but to extend the range of images that could be shown. Unfortunately, the panel began with a serious hiccup due to technical difficulties, and we spent the first 15 minutes troubleshooting. Ultimately, thanks to Daryl Surat from Anime World Order, we figured out that it had to do with the switchers they were using for the panel room and were able to start. Unfortunately, I ended up speeding through the presentation and finishing early, which means I have to work on my pacing better. My co-panelist had a better handle on time, I think. Lesson learned!
By the way, I really do like Kurosaki Rendou‘s work, and I hope that, if you attended the panel, that you might find them fascinating too.
Shopping and Sites
This will be the last time we see this incarnation of the Otakon Dealer’s Room for a long time. That being said, I do want to point out that they once again allowed attendees to travel between the buildings of the Baltimore Convention Center by cutting across Liberty Street. In recent years, this was restricted, and in my opinion it really hurt the accessibility of the Dealer’s Room and Artist’s Alley.
My two biggest purchases of the convention at the Dealer’s Room were finding all of Brigadoon: Marin & Melan (a great series that deserves more love) and getting the Nozomi from Rolling Girls Nendoroid. As shown in the photo below, I posed her the best way I know how: drinking [soda] and driving.
(Don’t try this at home, kids).
If you were wondering, the sidecar can hold another Nendoroid, and I have just the right riding partner in mind.
The real highlight of the Dealer’s Room for me this year, however, had to bee the Good Smile Booth. While I did not obtain the aforementioned Nendoroid there, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they were selling blank Nendoroid faces for $1 each, along with tables where you could sit down to decorate them. Apparently those faces are a convention exclusive, so I bought a bunch and turned one into a potential Ogiue for the future.
Some day…some day….
One of the strongest titles at Otakon 2016’s Artist’s Alley had to be Pokemon Go and Overwatch. While Pokemon in general tends to be pretty beloved among Otakon artists and attendees, the three factions of Pokemon Go, Team Valor, Team Mystic, and Team Instinct, made for easy ammo for creators. As for Overwatch, I believe its popularity among artists to be a testament to its highly appealing and charismatic character designs. However, overall the artwork was quite diverse, and hardly anything was truly dominant.
Relevant to me personally, I bought an amazing image of Rice Goddess Hanayo from Love Live! wearing glasses. The Demeter outfit or the specs alone would have been enough, but together the combination was unbeatable.
The real highlight of the Artist’s Alley, however, had to be the P.A. Works 15th Anniversary exhibit. Showing detailed character design sheets, background art, and more from P.A. Works shows, it made me even more conscious of the two arms of P.A. Works: the attractive girls who engage in adolescent drama and discovery, and the exploration of beautiful scenery and environments.
Food & Drink
Seeing as this was likely our last time in Baltimore for years to come, my friends and I decided to hit up many of our favorite places and turn Otakon weekend into a feeding frenzy. We went back to Abbey Burger Bistro, where I tried their Australian Red Deer burger. We stopped by Piedigrotta Bakery, the original home of tiramisu. We had to sample the luscious crab cakes from Flash Crab Cake Co. For the return trip home, fried chicken from Royal Farms was a must.
Two places I had never tried were Portuguese chicken chain Nando’s and a local Afghan restaurant Maiwand Grill. Though not exclusive to Baltimore, Nando’s was truly a highlight. Having sample a whole variety of their dishes, including their default chicken, chicken liver, macho peas, Portuguese rice, and natas (egg custards that were the predecessor to Hong Kong’s famous dan tahts), everything was a home run. Maiwand Grill had great portions at really affordable prices, and both their yogurt drink and Afghan ice cream were amazing. The yogurt drink was no-nonsense pure yogurt flavor, and the ice cream had both dates and figs in it (two of my favorite fruits).
Otakon 2016 was fairly low-key by the standards set by previous conventions, and for that reason it really did feel like a transition into something new and exciting. A part of me wants to come back to Baltimore someday, but another part of me looks forward to seeing what Washington DC has to offer.
Also, I hope no one pulls an Eden of the East near the White House.
As with every year, I leave off with a selection of cosplay photos.
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This interview is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage of Otakon 2016. While the interview was with multiple staff members at P.A. Works, only the producer, Horikawa Kenji, gave responses. I’ve reflected this in the answers.
It’s a pleasure to have this interview with you. My first question has to do with True Tears. It was your first work as a studio, and from what I’ve heard the anime is quite different from the visual novel. What led to you choosing to adapt this series for your first project, and what led to it changing from the source material?
Horikawa: So the producer at that time, Mr. Nagatani, had said, “Let’s work on a few projects together!” And out of those choices was True Tears. We thought that it was perfect for what we could do at that time. We also thought it granted us lots of freedom, too, because as long as the theme was “tears,” we could do what we wanted.
Hanasaku Iroha is a series that shows the charm of the countryside and Japanese tradition. It seems that more and more anime are focused on the promotion of tourism to regions of Japan. You created the Bonbori Festival in Hanasaku Iroha, but was the promotion of a region of Japan a part of production from the very beginning?
Horikawa: When we made Hanasaku Iroha at first, we didn’t intend for it to empower tourism, quite the opposite, actually. Recently, there are many cases where anime fans go to the locations where their favorite anime take place. Some people call it going to “holy sites” or “investigating the show.” But while it can be a good thing, the act of fans going to these sites might not always be positive. When the fans gather, they might take pictures of, say, average houses and it might be very troublesome and disruptive. When I make select a location for a work, I think about how to have it so that even if fans visit it’ll be okay.
So when we were making Hanasaku Iroha, it was part of our thoughts that we would base it in a hot spring city that would be okay with having some volumes of fans coming. We also took care that the residents of that city would be notified when a large number of fans would come.
In regards to the Bonbori Festival, it originally wasn’t there, but it came up during the making of Hanasaku Iroha. We thought that, if it was a festival that the people could continue—not in the anime sense but that of a legitimate festival—that would have a much bigger, long-lasting, and positive impact. While an anime might be forgotten in a few years, a festival is part of Japanese culture and won’t be forgotten.
In Hanasaku Iroha, the grandmother is a very important character. In Shirobako, most of the characters are career women or out of high school. Tari Tari has one of my favorite characters, which is Takakura Naoko. Do you feel that there is a better market for series starring older characters, perhaps similar to the series you make now, but with people in their 20s and 30s?
Horikawa: As much as I would like to make something centered around older characters, there is such a thing as monetary value associated with characters. In Hanasaku Iroha, the characters were supposed to be out of school already and working, but due to those complications they became high school girls.
Since Shirobako, however, we took that step towards making the characters people who are actually out of school and working. That was a great adventure for us. Since we found out that Shirobako was indeed a success, we have shown that the girls don’t have to be in high school for fans to be interested. So, it was great to find out that fans like mature women as much as high school.
There are a number of characters in Shirobako based on real creators, for example Maruayma Masao and Anno Hideaki. Did you consult them in your portrayals, and did they have anything to say afterwards?
In terms of the people connected with those characters, we did ask them for their acknowledgement. The director knew Maruyama-san, so he probably asked Maruyama-san, while I asked people I know. But some seem to say that they never received the requests for acknowledgement.
Horikawa: Thank you very much.
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I had the pleasure of interviewing LeSean Thomas at Otakon 2016, where he was debuting his new animated short, Cannon Busters. Though we didn’t talk much about Cannon Busters itself, I was pleased to find out about his life as an artist, his philosophy on art and anime, and even his family.
Ogiue Maniax: So you grew up in the Bronx, and I assume that you had some sort of arts education. Could you describe what it was like to grow up as an artist?
LeSean Thomas: It was fairly okay. I stayed indoors quite a lot. I used to sketch a lot, sketch in school. You know, I grew up when hip-hop was growing up, and so a lot of stuff happened in the 80s in New York City. I thought it was cool. I had a lot of colleagues, a lot of friends in my apartment building, who I’d sketch with from time to time. I had a lot of friends in class who I could sketch with. I was into video games and sketching.
I think I decided to make it a career when I became a teenager. I moved to upstate NY for a period of time, to Middletown, and when I came back to the Bronx I decided to become an illustrator. I enrolled in a school that focused on the arts.
OM: Which high school?
LT: Julia Richmond High School. It was in Midtown Manhattan.
That was sort of my circle, and by the time I got back after I graduated high school I decided I wanted to become a comic book artist. But it was tough because there was a lot of competition in New York City—Marvel and DC. But I was also really influenced by animation, Japanese animation.
I landed a couple of opportunities that led me to work in animation production, and one thing led to another. I got onto a couple of big shows, and I was able to use that to build up momentum to work on more shows and create opportunities for myself.
OM: More and more young kids, teenagers, college students, are embracing anime and manga as part of how they get into art. I also know there’s concern that anime and manga are teaching the wrong lessons.
LT: What kind of wrong lessons?
OM: Like it’s teaching people to draw the wrong way or look at art the wrong way. And I’m sure already from your question to me you probably don’t agree with me.
LT: Yeah, I don’t.
OM: So I’m wondering, what would you think is the best way to use anime and manga in an arts education?
LT: I think you should do whatever you want. I haven’t ever heard anyone say to me that copying Picasso or Michelangelo, or Italian or French artists perfectly, is wrong. We get into this really weird, shaky territory where we start becoming ethnocentric towards specific countries and their art history. I think a lot of that is based off the fact that the US was a European colony, and our history is based off of European history, and our art history is European. What’s wrong with India? What’s wrong with Mumbai? What’s wrong with China. I think that, respectfully, it’s just the way it is, but I don’t think that a lot of thought is given into how we judge children who copy the styles of other countries, as opposed to what our curriculum forces us to teach, which is European art history.
I know a lot of graphic designers who are brilliant who don’t study European stuff, they study Japanese art. When you’re in a school, you’re programmed and taught to be an employee and not an auteur, and I think that plays a big role in how teachers choose to enforce their ideals onto students, who are very impressionable at a young age. I’ve also noticed, in my experience, that a lot of teachers are graduates who couldn’t find jobs themselves. You have this cyclical dynamic happening where teachers who don’t have a lot of experience are telling kids what they should and shouldn’t draw.
How did Murakami learn how to draw? When you’re telling kids how to draw, you’re telling them how to interpret art. It’s not right. When you’re telling them how to respond to art, you’re robbing them of the privilege of interpreting art themselves, and interpreting how they learn. So I respectfully disagree with the logic that a child shouldn’t learn how to draw anime because of the historic implications behind that.
OM: You worked on The Boondocks, and it’s clear from the comic strip that Aaron McGruder is also very influenced by anime and manga. Is your mutual interest in how you came onto the show?
LT: Certainly my drawing style played a big role in choosing me to help him develop the early designs with the crew.
OM: The Boondocks as a comic strip was pretty forward thinking, advanced, and progressive, but the comic strip medium is a pretty conservative place. So when moving the series over to Adult Swim and an animated setting, was it a very conscious decision on your part and the staff’s part to push the envelope much further?
LT: No, that was actually Aaron’s mandate. I may be wrong, but I remember a rumor from around 2004, 2005—from someone in our circle—that Mike Lazzo, the head of Adult Swim, played a role in having Aaron push the envelope. So when I came on board, that was already a demand that came from on high. I was pretty detached from that. I was more focused on the visuals. A lot of that envelope pushing was in the writing. That was the stat quo on the production; we knew what we were getting into.
But as far as the decision from Aaron going from the conservative comic strip to the extreme in the animated form, I’m not privy to that. But there is a rumor that Adult Swim was encouraging that as well.
OM: You worked on Cannon Busters, and you mentioned previously about your friendship with Thomas Romain. You come from different cultural backgrounds, but you seem to have a lot in common. So what’s it like working with him?
LT: Well, Thomas is a westerner, whether we want to admit it or not. He speaks English, and while there are some things he doesn’t get about American culture, he’s still a westerner. That’s part of our common bond, as is our need to collaborate internationally. I think we’re kindred spirits. I told him that that, because of him leaving France to go to Japan and me leaving America to go to Korea for pretty much the same reason.
I like to use Thomas’s phrase, “world animation.” It’s not anime, and it’s not American animation. It’s world animation because of the nature of how it’s put together. I really respect Thomas. I like him a lot. I think he’s one of the most talented guys. He’s an incredible draftsman, and one of the most incredible thinkers. I’m going to see him next month when I go to Tokyo. He’s one of my favorite people.
OM: You worked in Korea, you’ve worked with the Japanese studio Satelight [on Cannon Busters], and you’ve worked with American companies. What’s it like working with different studios in different countries?
LT: In America, it’s pre-production and post-production, and that’s it for most shows. There are a lot of shows that are being animated in Flash in America, but most daytime animated shows are done in Korea.
Korea doesn’t do pre-production or post-production, so they’re just main production, largely. And Japan does all of it. And that’s the difference, at least in my personal experience. I could be wrong, but that’s the gist of what I got.
OM: You spent time in South Korea in the animation business. I know that Korea doesn’t create a lot of animation in pre-production or post-production, but I know there is a desire by South Korea, by the government and the animation business, to be known as an animation powerhouse.
LT: It’s mostly service work.
OM: Do you think there is a strong potential for them to break out and become their own thing?
LT: I think so. I don’t know if the problems that were there when I was in Korea are the same as the ones now, but I know the trick is to find venture capitalists who are interested in and see value in animation production beyond government funding and subsidization. I’m not sure if that’s something they’re risk-averse towards. When I was there back in 2009, 2010, there was a massive aversion towards taking a risk on animation over video games. And I’m not sure if that’s still an issue, but I definitely think they have the potential to stand out. I mean, why not? They animate most of our shows, and I think a lot of it has to do with just finding alternative revenue streams to finance original properties and projects.
It seems like there’s a slow coming back at the feature level, but it seems like everything sort of fizzled out once Wonderful Days aka Sky Blue died. I think that scared the industry in general, made everyone say, “Well, we’re not going to take this risk anymore.” I’m just waiting for a resurgence.
There are a few animated feature films that have come out in the past one or two years, like King of Pigs. It’s like, wow, they’re doing features now. They’re in film festivals.
Overall, do I think they have the potential? Of course. If they can do Sky Blue, they can do anything. I just think they have to figure out internally within the industry, within their government and culture, how to create a platform for creating original content. And they also need to motivate young kids. A lot of kids are going into game design instead of animation because of work labor and pay and all that.
OM: My last question is this: Your little brother is Sanford Kelly, the fighting game pro. Growing up, did you notice that he had a talent for fighting games?
LT: Yeah, he learned all his gaming from me [laughs].
Me, him, my older brother Kelby, and my two sisters Valtvaia and Shavon, we all lived in the same apartment with my mom and my grandmother. So we all came up, and video gaming was one of our major bonding aspects. We gamed hard. We played everything, PlayStation, Dreamcast, Turbo Grafx-16, Super Nintendo. That’s all we did. So by the time Sanford turned 18, we were so hardcore into it, we would go to the local arcade shops—back before there was only Chinatown Fair, in the mid-90s—and hit the sticks.
He just got really good, and he built up a circle in Chinatown Fair, in that area. I kind of moved on to animation and left the city to move to LA. I used to get on him about it. “You need to focus on other stuff.” But then when I started seeing him winning money and awards and stuff like that…
Gaming culture’s still relatively brand new. Talking about the early 2000s, where there were legit funded tournaments, he came up in that circuit where the Justin Wong and Daigo era was pretty much coming up. Now it’s a big thing. It’s on ESPN.
When he was coming up, I was a bit nervous about it, but then when I saw how well he was doing, and how he was creating a name for himself, I embraced it.
I get that quite often. “Oh my god, you’re brothers with Sanford Kelly, that’s so cool.”
OM: It’s kind of unlikely—well maybe not unlikely, but it’s interesting to have two different, talented brothers in two very different fields.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been forced over the years respect the game circuit. Because, like many people, if it’s not sponsored or it’s not on TV, then it’s still a subculture. And now it’s a major thing, so now it’s common for kids that I run into to say that they love Street Fighter and that they know who Sanford Kelly is. It’s still kind of weird, but it’s still really cool.
It’s time for another year at the east coast’s largest anime convention! It’ll be Otakon’s final year in Baltimore for the foreseeable future, so I’m hoping to make it a memorable one.
I’ve also got a couple of panels this year, and I hope that you can attend.
Saturday, August 11, 8:15 – 9:15pm
Panel Room 5
“Such Dog. Much Anime. Wow.”
Saturday, August 11, 11:45pm – 12:45pm
Panel Room 1
“Greater Uglier Manga.” [18+]
The sequel to last year’s “Great Ugly Manga” panel. Once again, my co-presenter and I will be showing manga that’s great not in spite of how ugly they are, but because of how ugly they are. As a warning, this year’s iteration is 18+, but keep in mind that this is not just some pornography/hentai panel. Most of the content will still be all-ages.
See you there!
In my most recent trip to Japan, I attended two different Love Live! events in one day. The first was “Bokura no Love Live! 12,” a doujin event. The second was “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016″ (School Idol Festival Thanksgiving 2016) in Ikebukuro, an official event held in celebration of the School Idol Festival game. The contrast between an event that revels in fan expression and one that presents everything in an official capacity is interesting to me, because I think it shows both the strengths and weaknesses of each approach to fandom.
Though I had the opportunity to take a look at both, a question occurred to me as I was traveling from one to the other: if I could only go to one, which one would I choose? I took this from the perspective of a Koizumi Hanayo fan. At the doujin event, I could buy Hanayo-dedicated fan comics from people I knew were fans of Hanayo as much as I am (if not more!). I found a bunch of amazing comics and parody works, and I even got a couple of amazing tote bags that might be my favorite purchases of my entire Japan trip. There’s sort of an interesting magic to buying things in person that get lose with just ordering online, and it’s enhanced when you know the person behind the table put their heart and soul into it. Overall, it was one of the best highlights of my trip to Japan.
However, doujinshi are, of course, not official portrayals of the characters. This is in many ways the advantage of fanart, fanfiction, etc., but what’s also clear is that the fan material feeds off of the official presentation. Much for the art at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” was clearly inspired by the images found in magazines, the mobile game, and everywhere else. There is a kind of power to official merchandise because it presents the characters at their best, but it’s also limiting because they can’t stray too far off from what is deemed “okay.”
For example, the shirts being sold at “Thanksgiving 2016” were all prints of existing art that could be found in lots of places, while the merchandise sold at “Bokura no Love Live! 12” felt a little more unique because they weren’t officially sanctioned images slapped onto clothing. That’s not to say official Love Live! merchandise has to look blunt and straightforward (I actually also got a swank Love Live! polo shirt just the day before these events), but they seem to lean in that direction.
Another instance of the difference between events has to do with yuri and pairings. Love Live! encourages yuri to a certain degree, but has to keep it implicit because it’s supposed to appeal to all sorts of people (and indeed I saw everything from little girls to businessmen at Thanksgiving 2016). A doujin event, on the other hand, can go as explicit as possible in more ways than one, and can even merge the innocent with the racy and have them all exist in one place. Characters can be drawn to fit the whims of the artists to a greater degree with the doujinshi, but they necessarily must feed off the source material at least to a certain extent. Nico/Maki doujinshi can go the distance, but the dynamic between them is rendered through the anime, the game, and other canon resources.
Official events also have resources on their side. One of the highlights of “Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016” was a live School Idol Festival game where nine different people played simultaneously, each one commanding one of the buttons by stepping on them. The cards being used where all nine of the μ’s girls, but with special outfits for the event, and they were surrounded in a mall by throngs of fans dancing and singing along. A doujin event really couldn’t pull that off to the same capacity, nor could they be the place to get official Love Live! Final μ’s Concert shirts, which were a popular item at both events that granted legitimacy to the wearer’s fandom.
The division between official and unofficial events can be rather gray because of how the two feed into each other. The output of fans, albeit more often in the form of monetary purchases, informs the official companies responsible for Love Live! just what the fans are into. The fans, as mentioned, take inspiration from the official material, and convert it, thus spreading the joy of Love Live! further.
It’s hard to choose between the two when both have so much merit, but ultimately I think I would have gone for the doujin event just so I could have that experience of walking around and buying fan-made works. It’s sort of the difference between attending fan panels and official panels at conventions. The official panels are where you can meet the creators, but many times they’re curated and micromanaged heavily, whereas doujinshi and fan panels can stray from the “company line” so to speak. This makes them, in my opinion, overall more interesting, but I’m well aware that all of the Hanayo rice memes required the source material to emphasize it in the most amusing ways.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is actually a little card found in the bag of freebies from Thanksgiving 2016 which is a drawing of some of the School Idol Festival-original girls. Unlike The iDOLM@STER, there is a clear stratification between the main girls (be they μ’s or their successors, the new group Aqours), who are considered “Rare Cards,” as opposed to the “Normal Card” girls that are basically fodder for the former. Here, even at this official event was a small token of appreciation for the lesser idols, and a part of me wishes that someone, be they official creators or doujinshi creators, would take the next step and flesh them out. The result would be different on either side, but both would provide value in their own ways.
PS: I mentioned a freebie bag for “Love Live! Sukufesu Kanshasai 2016,” and I happen to have an extra one. I’ll be holding a contest soon to determine the winner, so stay tuned!
Coinciding with Anime Boston, this weekend, March 25-27, 2016, coincides with the first ever Love Live! School Idol Festival tournament, titled “School Idol Festival Score Challenge & Thanksgiving 2016. Given this occasion, a few questions come to mind. First, how sound is LLSIF as a competitive game (are we indeed “esports”)? Second, how many people will show up? Third, are people actually viewing this more as a tournament, or more of a gathering of like-minded fans?
Rhythm game tournaments have over the years been a staple of arcades and anime cons alike. Right beside the fighting games of Chinatown Fair were the sounds of stomping and eurobeat from Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania, and other games of their genre. One big difference between LLSIF is that luck is a heavy component of the game, and this potentially hampers its competitive depth.
Not to say that luck automatically precludes or is counter to skill (because it doesn’t), but between being a free-to-play mobile game that encourages you to funnel money into what is essentially a gashapon machine (or a blind booster pack, to take a term from trading cards), and the fact that given cards have effects that trigger at random, a lot is left up to probability.
Compounding the issues of luck, actually, are things that involve no element of chance whatsoever. There is an upper limit to how skilled one can be in School Idol Festival, in the sense that perfect play is simply hitting all of the notes, well, perfectly, and this can be accomplished even with a randomized note distribution. If there are theoretically perfect teams (different for each tournament song, I’d imagine), then it actually all comes down to how often those card effects will trigger for individual players.
Does all of that matter, though? While I have not asked those who are personally attending Score Challenge & Thanksgiving 2016, I have to wonder how many are actually motivated by the desire to win. Perhaps in the backs of their mind they realize that the perfect game is at the same time all but obtainable yet shackled at the feet by that specter of probability. In that case, it becomes more about displaying one’s skills, to show that one has the fingers or thumbs to impress and astound.
In the world of competitive games, “waifu devotion,” that is to say an inclination towards beautiful female characters is very real. Whether the ladies are the best characters in the game or the bottom rung, players will stand by their girls. Love Live!, with its all-female cast of charmingly unique characters, is waifu central, and many who play LLSIF are empowered by this mentality. This does not even fall along heteronormative lines, either. Female Love Livers have their waifus just as male fans do, and the range of their affection goes anywhere from empathic to platonic to lecherous. On some level, I don’t think that hunger for victory is the sole motivating factor behind even LLSIF’s most competitive players.
Indeed, if I were going, I would not hesitate to use a team of nothing but my favorite character, Hanayo. Did you know that she’s good at origami?
That last question I asked, about whether this will be more of an actual tournament or more of a gathering in the eyes of attendees, is something of a trick question. Aside from a few exceptions, pretty much all game tournaments, big or small, esports or otherwise, inevitably carry with them some degree of a festival-like atmosphere. The larger the total attendance, the more likely this is to happen, because people know that they are in the company of comrades, at least on some level.
In other words, I hope all of you attending have the times of your lives.