AnimeNEXT 2017 Interview: Yuri!!! on ICE Staff

This interview was conducted at AnimeNEXT with guests Tatenaka Junpei (co-lead figure skating animation supervisor), Ito Noriko (animator), Ogawa Takahiro (production desk manager), Hirose Izumi (color designer).

Creating animation, especially for television, is a very time-sensitive endeavor. You have to work hard to get things on time. So when you were working on Yuri!!! On ICE and you were running low on time, what did you prioritize? What is most important?

Tatenaka: When creating animation, the difficult thing is that you can’t skip any parts. You can’t skip the voice, you can’t skip the music, you can’t skip the art. You have to prioritize everything.

What about terms of style, say, going for better movement or more detailed artwork during figure skating scenes?

Tatenaka: I animated the figuring skating scenes. For the first episode with Victor’s free skating, we had three chances for trial and error to fix it up. And when time is sensitive, we do one check and send it out. Most of it is just, draw it and then it’s out for production.

Maruyama Masao has been a guest at cons in America for a number of years, so there have been plenty of opportunities to get his impression of animation. What is it like working under Maruyama-san, and does he resemble the character that’s based on in Shirobako [Marukawa Masato]?

Tatenaka: Maruyama is very unique. He gives us a lot of control. The most unique thing about him is that, instead of picking what’s going to be the winning formula, he picks unusual combinations and tries them out. It’s like the chemistry of two items, two characters, two of anything that might not work—he likes to experiment with that sort of thing. So it’s either a very big win or a very big loss.

Yuri!!! on ICE has received praise from a lot of pro figure skaters. Is there anything that went into animating Yuri!!! On ICE that differs from other sports series?

Tatenaka: The most difficult and challenging part of animating Yuri!!! is that there are no pauses in movements. In baseball, there’s usually a pause, but in figure skating the characters are constantly on the move, so you have to keep drawing each sequence. All of the poses and the movements are things I haven’t drawn before.

During the skating scenes, the characters have thoughts running through their heads. Did you do research into what real figure skaters are thinking about as they perform?

Ogawa: It’s probably something Director Yamamoto came up with. Because she loves figure skating.

Hirose: She actually did interview some real figure skaters to ask, “What do you think about while you’re skating?”

This next question is about the film In This Corner of the World. In between the chapters of the manga, there are a number of quirky little guides, like how to make your rice last as long as possible by adding as much water as possible and mashing it. Are these funny little moments also in the movie?

Ito: Not all of them because there are a lot of those handwritten notes, but for most of them the characters will have a line explaining why they’re doing something. In the movie, the animated sequence about cooking in the kitchen is done very meticulously. You can see what’s being done while she’s explaining.

This is a question for the female guests here: are there any unique challenges to being women in the animation industry?

Hirose: I have a child. Being a mom and doing production in a tight schedule is very hard for me.

Ito: Not being able to go home. Not being able to shower. I don’t take naps at work because I don’t want people to see me sleeping at the office. But a lot of the male workers don’t care. They’ll sleep on the chairs and on the floors. But I can’t.

Thank you for the interview. I wish you the best of luck on your future projects!

Save

Save

Save

Less Slots, More Anime Plots: AnimeNEXT 2017

In 2016, New Jersey’s largest anime con left its long-time home of Somerset. Having already struggled with limited space for an ever-growing population of attendees, AnimeNEXT moved to Atlantic City and a nice, spacious convention center. I personally did not attend AnimeNEXT 2016, which is why my con experience this time around was as much a learning experience about Atlantic City itself as it was another opportunity to see what the con itself had to offer.

I found AnimeNEXT 2017 to be a success in spite of some pitfalls. Contributing to this overall positive yet mixed reaction is how Atlantic City both contributed to and hindered how welcoming the con felt.

Getting to AnimeNEXT

It all starts with the trip to Atlantic City itself. Having come from New York City (and having spoken to other attendees from New Jersey and elsewhere), the transportation options are rather limited. No trains go there—only buses. The ride itself is only two and a half hours on a good day, but buses in general can be unreliable compared to trains or planes. The closest airport is Philadelphia.

There’s a NJ PATH stop right at the Atlantic City Convention Center where AnimeNEXT is held, but few lines actually go to it. For many residents of New Jersey, their only choice is ground transportation, and even in that scenario the road leading into and out of Atlantic City encourages traffic congestion. In other words, be prepared.

Convention Center and Surrounding Area

In contrast to all that inconvenience, the Atlantic City Convention Center is great. Located within walking distance of multiple hotels, I never had any significant trouble getting where I needed to both heading towards the con and at the con itself. The convention space is a great size for the amount of attendees, and there are few bottlenecks to slow people down.

There were some logistics issues I noticed throughout the convention, like the different parts of the con crew’s chain of command didn’t quite communicate as it should. Because a lot of the staff is likely volunteers this is understandable, though I’d still like to see it improved upon in the years to come. It was also a step down from previous years in this regard, but this can always be corrected.

Food can be hit-or-miss. One issue is a lack of convenience stores, so getting quick snacks requires going well beyond the safety of the touristy areas. However, there are a number of restaurant establishments that provide a decent bang for your buck. Wingcraft has excellent burgers, Cavo Crepe Cafe features a variety of crepes, and White House Subs with its two-foot long sandwiches (pictured above) is an American institution that quickly became my favorite place to eat.

Atlantic City can feel like a sad place, as if joy has been gradually drained from it over the course of years. The hotel I stayed at, Bally’s Hotel/Casino, would emit this odd smell whenever I entered it. Aside from gambling, there isn’t all that much to do outside of the con, which can be both a blessing and a curse. While it limits the number of people who will go to AnimeNEXT as part of an overall sightseeing trip, it means the people there are much more active at the con itself. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do within that context.

I did play the slots a bit. I won four whole dollars, and made sure to shout, “HELLOOOOOO” every time.

Fan Panels

AnimeNEXT has always had a decent focus on panels, especially fan panels. Because it’s not as difficult to get a chance at AnimeNEXT compared to larger cons such as Otakon (while also being located on the panel-friendly east coast), aspiring newbies and veterans alike can try their hand at presenting in front of audiences. That was still the case this year, but there seemed to be an even greater desire to pack the panel schedule to the brim.

The result was plenty of interesting content, but with some hiccups along the way. The actual events schedule came incredibly late, making it difficult to plan in advance. Panel slots were shuffled almost to the last second. Some panelists actually had panels scheduled against themselves. The organization of previous years seemed to falter in 2017.

Nevertheless, the fan panels themselves generally overshadowed those issues. Not only that, but most audiences were decently sized from what I saw, which isn’t always the case with AnimeNEXT.

Gattai! Giant Robots of Yesteryear was a giant robot anime recommendation panel. Run by the crew over at the Cockpit, it was helpful even for a big mecha fan like myself with many shows under his belt. I’m intrigued by F.L.A.G., for one thing.

Let’s Dive! The History of Cyberpunk Anime was quite informative, including giving a good understanding of what “cyberpunk” means. There was an issue with his laptop partway through the presenter’s panel, but it was clear he knew the material well, as he kept rolling without any visual aids. My only complaints were that I didn’t recall a definition for “biopunk” (which the guy categorized as different from cyberpunk), and a lack of the anime Real Drive—a cyberpunk anime with an actual diving theme.

Anime Burger Time, from the mind of former Crunchycast host Evan Minto, is a celebration of all things burger in Japanese cartoons. As someone who loves food and also once ran an equally ridiculous panel about dogs in anime, I hold my respect and admiration for Evan’s endeavors. The most fun part of this was that attendees were encouraged to bring and eat burgers during the panel.

Criticism of Popular Anime was my least favorite panel I attended. The presenter’s intent seemed to be to take down those who flaunt their tastes as superior by saying everyone’s favorite anime are bad, but it mostly came across as a lesson in negativity. If anything, I’d like to see the opposite panel, one that can argue in favor of any show, no matter how dire.

I happened to run two fan panels myself, The Art of Stock Footage with Patz from the Cockpit, and Sports, Robots, and Romance: The Works of Tadao Nagahama. If you came to either of them, thank you very much. I’d like to give a shout-out to the two folks who came to the Nagahama panel half an hour early.

 

Industry Panels

If the fan panels are good at AnimeNEXT, then the industry panels are fantastic. The con brings some stellar guests and seems to encourage panels that go beyond the typical Q&A or simplistic presentation one might find at other conventions.

Studio Trigger, creators of Little Witch Academia, are no stranger to New Jersey. Returning for their fourth year, the sense of fun they bring to their panels, Trigger is arguably the staple highlight of AnimeNEXT. One of my favorite aspects of Trigger’s interactions with their American fans is their continued surprise over Inferno Cop‘s popularity, They even brought another exclusive episode of Inferno Cop to their panel, featuring a certain wall-loving president opposing our flaming-skull hero. The fact that they don’t show these outside of AnimeNEXT makes them feel that much more special, and it was of course the perfect place to announce a second season.

Due to scheduling conflicts of my own I was unable to attend their dedicated panel on Little Witch Academia. From what I was told, however, it was extremely informative and painted a surprisingly dark image of LWA lurking underneath its surface. Apparently, many of the girls in that series have tragic pasts that simply aren’t highlighted in the show itself.

As an aside, it’s funny how people think of Trigger as one of the premiere studios for animation quality (a reputation they well deserve), but that they’re also known for a work that is blatantly anti-animation in Inferno Cop.

Studio MAPPA, creators of Yuri!!! on ICE, gave a close look at what went into one of the biggest anime hits of 2017. The biggest takeaway from the panels was that the attention to detail among the staff bordered on the absurd. Whether it was hiring a professional figure skater clothing company to design the characters’ outfits, specifying which screws on their skates are present (real figure skaters adjust this based on personal preference), or animator Tatenaka Junpei showing a rough animation of the episode 1 performance from a different angle, it’s clear that no one slacked. While director Yamamoto Sayo was not present, it was clear from the staff that she was obsessed with figure skating.

They also showed a blu-ray bonus feature: an exhibition by character Yuri “Yurio” Plisetsky. Thanks to a scintillating appearance by Otabek during the special, the fangirls roared to life on a level almost akin to a Beatles live performance.

I’d also like to point out that their panels actually got substantial attendance, something that usually does not happen for Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors. I have hope that the fans’ love for the characters of Yuri!!! on ICE is so strong that they can branch into appreciating other aspects of anime and anime production.

TMS, the studio behind ReLIFE, held a panel similar to MAPPA’s focused on the animation process. One thing that was different from MAPPA was that they did have a voice actor: Ueda Reina. One thing I had not known prior to AnimeNEXT was that she’s also something of a popular idol. At the front of the panel room was a group of dedicated idol fans, adorned in merchandise from various idol franchises, hanging on to Ueda’s every word. While I thought it took a bit too much attention away from the TMS animators (who talked extensively on framing a certain scene in ReLIFE to emphasize its scandalous qualities), it did ultimately get more people to attend the panel.

I also had the opportunity to interview TMS, Trigger, and Mappa. Those transcripts will be showing up on the blog over the next few weeks.

Autograph Adventures

I actually did not learn of Ueda Reina’s popularity with idol fans at one of the TMS panels but rather while waiting in line for her autograph. I knew her as the voice of Mobuko, the Nurse Joy-esque background characters from the anime Tesagure! Bukatsumono. However, when I looked at my fellow attendees waiting for the TMS signing, I saw that most of them were obviously into idols. In fact, the three guys in front of me were cosplaying as Aikatsu! characters. Idol enthusiast supreme Omo informed me that Ueda has actually made appearances in The iDOLM@STER, Aikatsu Stars!, and is an idol in her own right. One fan even brought a life-sized cutout of Ueda’s iDOLM@STER character.

The rest of the TMS crew there, animators Kosaka Tomochi and Yamanaka Junko, were no slouch either, even if they did not have the drawing power of a voice actress/idol. Because both had a lot of experience working on Detective Conan, I brought something from the popular series for them to sign.

Overall, the TMS autograph session went off without a hitch. The same could not be said of Studio Trigger’s.

At this point, Trigger is pretty much a marquee guest for AnimeNEXT, and people will come to the con specifically to see them. As a result, while lines are not “supposed” to form until closer to the designated time, a loose mob began to form. The staff remarked that this was a fire hazard, so people were told to disperse. However, the staff continued to tell people not to line up even though it was actually getting close to the time on the schedule, and an argument ensued between the staff and some of the attendees.

In the end, due to the confusion over lining up, many people who had waited for two or more hours could not get autographs, and due to the fact that the Trigger staff likes to really take their time on sketches, only 30 people out of a significantly larger line managed to get their autographs. In comparison, twice as many got the opportunity with TMS. To me, the saddest thing was that some had clearly wasted their entire day trying to get a Trigger autograph only to fail. I managed to get some myself, but this was mostly due to good fortune and an understanding of how con lines and con staff work. This shouldn’t be necessary.

I’m considering not going to their signing at all the next time I attend AnimeNEXT, just so that others can get the opportunity. The bright side of all this is that the disappointed fans are proof that Japanese guests who aren’t voice actors can garner a sizable crowd. Often times, when it comes to Japanese staff at anime cons, their lines are short that you can practically stroll in and get one.

I should also point out that I did not even try for the Yuri!!! on ICE autographs, knowing the power and ferocity of its fanbase. I heard it ran into some problems, but I did not experience it firsthand.

Concerts, or Rather “Concert”

I attended only one musical performance this year, which was for the official Capcom Music Tour. It was decent, but also kind of underwhelming. It was clear that they only had a limited time to perform, but I was surprised that they only managed to fit in one Mega Man song, especially because that series is praised for its music. Moreover, a video preview at the beginning showed tunes from various old classics, such as BIonic Commando, which made the fact that those songs didn’t appear in the concert proper sting that much more.

In Conclusion, AnimeNEXT is Good, Atlantic City Ehhhh

The con is actually great. It’s spacious, there’s plenty to do, and they bring great guests. Atlantic City is not so exciting, and even a city like Baltimore (where Otakon used to take place) whose crime rate is kind of notorious makes the touristy area feel welcome. In Atlantic City, the tourism section is geared towards gambling, and that atmosphere definitely does not work for me. In spite of this, I think AnimeNEXT is definitely worth attending because it more than makes up for the faults of its location.

On a final aside, AnimeNEXT took place during a Hanayo event in Love Live: School Idol Festival, which meant that I could be found feverishly playing the game at random times during the convention. While there, I happened to photograph a couple of cosplayers of Hanayo and Rin, and one of them asked to exchange School Idol Festival info. It was the very first time anyone ever asked to friend me for LLSiF in real life, so to that Rin cosplayer, I’d like to say thanks.

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Ogiue Maniax Panels at AnimeNext 2017!

*Panel info has changed from the original post! Check out the new times!

I’ll be returning to AnimeNext this year as a panelist! It’ll be my first Atlantic City AnimeNext as well.

So if you’re interested in learning a thing or two about anime, check me out at the following panels:

The Art of Stock Footage
Friday, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Panel 301

This panel is all about checking out how animation is used and reused in anime! See magical girls, giant robots, and check out some of the best stock sequences Japanese animation has to offer.

Sports, Robots, and Romance: The Works of Tadao Nagahama
Saturday, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Panel 320

Tadao Nagahama is a revered anime director, but a lot of fans in the US have no idea who he is! Come see what makes him one of the greatest

I hope to see you at AnimeNext!

Save

Sunset on Somerset: AnimeNext 2015

Intro

Six years ago, I attended my very first AnimeNext and had a hell of an experience. Six years later I returned to the Somerset, NJ convention, only to find out that it’s the very last AnimeNext before it moves to Atlantic City in 2016. I feel glad that I could see it one last time before the big move!

Overview

AnimeNext in 2009 was well-populated, but it’s amazing how much it’s grown since then. Last time I went, I stayed at the Somerset Bridgewater Hotel in order to be close to the convention. This time around, it was part of the convention. As expressed to me by both my friends with whom I traveled and by AnimeNext staff, the convention had simply outgrown its space, necessitating the move to a more spacious location. Thankfully, aside from a terribly hot and humid first day, the weather was surprisingly manageable, which made the outdoor space between the three locations (Bridgewater, Double Tree, Garden State Exhibit Center) a nice reprieve between events.

Events

This year I helped out Waku Waku +NYC, an upcoming New York anime con this August 29-30, which made it so that I couldn’t attend quite as many panels and events as I normally would. However, the ones I did see where all quite interesting. The Penguindrum panel by the Reverse Thieves showed how the train imagery of the series incorporated both classic Japanese children’s literature and traumatic real world events. Land of Obscusion‘s “Greatest Anime We Never Got” told fans to find Sexy Commando, which I’m all for. The FLOW concert was fantastic, and I found myself singing along to the first Eureka Seven opening, even though I swore I didn’t know the lyrics. I even got them to autograph my anime DVD box set, alongside the Satou Dai signature I obtained back in 2009, not long after I attended AnimeNext.

Studio Trigger

Speaking of autographs, the highlight of the convention had to be Studio Trigger, creators of Inferno CopNinja Slayer, and Kill la Kill. I had heard how fantastic they were as guests last year, and so I had to speak with them. In addition to getting their autographs (Koyama Shigeto’s on Eureka Seven with a little Nirvash Spec3 sketch), most of the rest of the staff’s on Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, I also joined in on their press conference and attended their 2-hour panel on Saturday evening. One thing that was clear from the press conference and the autograph session was that the people at trigger loved Panty & Stocking and sincerely wish they could make more.

The press conference itself was brief but amazing. At one point, Koyama introduced himself in Japanese as the designer on Inferno Cop, to which the translator “assisted” him by interpreting his line as “designer on Big Hero 6” (which is true). They explained how Inferno Cop actually came out of a commission by Google of all things, which is made all the more surprising by how much money Google is known to have and how little money and effort was placed into Inferno Cop. This isn’t a knock at Trigger, as they themselves mentioned that they set a rule that they could only spend two hours a week on Inferno Cop, which, according to Koyama again is a very original series about a hero of justice with a flaming skull that is 100% original in every original way, really and truly. They also mentioned how their original idea was the story of an ordinary guy in a superhero academy, which they would’ve called Superson, except that it was a “crappy anime,” in their words.

As a final question at the press conference, I asked Studio Trigger about one of their more obscure works, Turning Girls, or more specifically how it came to be. The story of its creation turns out to be one of the greatest tales ever brought forth by humankind.

Turning Girls, which is named so because it’s about girls who are about to turn 30 and have hit a transitional point in their lives, is created and produced by the non-animator female staff of Studo Trigger. Essentially, they wanted to see how people with no experience in animation would make an anime. Though the series did not attract much of an audience abroad, the sponsor who asked them to do it in the first place keeps asking for more, against their expectations. During the Q&A session at their panel, I casually commented that they should produce more Turning Girls as well, to which they responded with “NO” in English. Also, it’s important to note that all of the girls are apparently based on the staff members themselves, and that one of them indeed carries shades of Kaerun, the highly abrasive aspiring idol from Turning Girls.

If there’s one major highlight of the entirety of AnimeNext, however, it has to be the return of Inferno Cop. This wasn’t just any episode of Inferno Cop, though. It was, in fact, an Inferno Cop x Little Witch Academia crossover. Sucy Manbavaran made an appearance in the episode while drawn (and voiced!) in the signature Inferno Cop style. While they showed a number of animated shorts created by the staff, this had to take the cake.

Thanks to Ani-Gamers and All Fiction for asking good questions at the press conference, and to Ani-Gamers in particular for providing the audio.

My Panels

I ran two panels at AnimeNext alongside my friend Alain from the Reverse Thieves. These were “Precure Party” and “Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha.” The first covered the history of the immensely successful Precure franchise, which we might rename if we ever bring it back to make sure that people know that Precure is a mahou shoujo series. The second was about giant robot anime that focused heavily on romance and romantic relationships, taking us through a strange path from Toushou Daimos all the way to today.

If you attended either panel, thank you. The turn-out was somewhat small though I suspect that the inconvenience of getting to the Somerset Bridgewater where the panels were both held played a role. I definitely enjoyed running the panels, including the extra time we had to show fun clips for the audience at the end of the robot panel. I feel glad to be able to talk about two of my great loves, magical girls and giant robots, all in the same weekend.

Criticism

Aside from the location issues, which AnimeNext has been well aware of for years now, my only real complaint was that often the staff and volunteers weren’t much help. This isn’t painting all of the volunteers with the same brush, but on multiple occasions I had asked questions (best way to get to a location, where to line up for FLOW autographs), only to receive the response of “I don’t know.” Sometimes it was “I don’t know, let me check,” only for the volunteer to disappear into the aether never to return. Of course, a volunteer is a non-paid position, and I’m sure many of them were new, but after the 5th time it started to grate on my nerves. We all have to start somewhere, though!

Food

As my friends last year came back from AnimeNext, all I heard about was the gloriousness of the hot dogs at Destination Dogs. Seeing as AnimeNext was leaving the area after this year, it was a must-try place for me. I ordered the Boston (beef frank, baked beans, cole slaw), the Swede-Dreams (bratwurst, mashed potatoes, gravy), and the Charles Dog Gaulle (duck sausage, duck confit, foie gras). It’s tough for me to decide which one I like more, the Swedish dog or the French one, but the redundant duck action and the delicious yet controversial foie gras (which I had for the first time!) makes the latter feel more special. Will there be an adequate replacement for Destination Dogs in Atlantic City, or will we be doomed to always pine after it?

Cosplay

I usually leave cosplay for last in these con reports just so I can segue into a large cosplay image dump, but this time around I think it’s important. For one thing, this is literally the first time I’ve seen Precure cosplay on the East Coast! For a series that is over 11 years old and outperforms things like Sailor Moon, it is a shock that more people don’t know Precure. That’s why we threw the panel.

Other big trends were Kill la Kill, due in no small part to the presence of Studio Trigger, and Love Live!  As a fan of the Love Lives, it was a pleasant surprise to see so many μ’s copsplayers around. Quite intelligently, many of them wore summer-centric costumes to fight the heat. The most popular by far was Kotori, followed by Nico. Sadly there was only one Hanayo cosplayer I could find, but I’m grateful that she had the wisdom and unbeatable sense of taste to pick the best one.

So, see you in Atlantic City?

See Ogiue Maniax Panels at AnimeNext 2015!

After a five year hiatus due mostly to not be in the United States, I am making my triumphant return to AnimeNext in Somerset, NJ from June 12-14. I also have two panels I’ll be running alongside the Reverse Thieves’ Alain.

Precure Party

Friday 2:15pm -3:15pm BW Panel 6

We’ll be talking about the crazy enormous Precure franchise that’s now 11 years old and even more popular than Sailor Moon ever was in Japan. Whether you’ve never heard of Precure or you’re a die-hard fan, we think you’ll have a great time seeing magical girls punch monsters in the face.

 

Giant Robot Romance: Boy Meets Girl Meets Mecha

Sunday 11:15-12:15pm BW Panel 6

Love triangles and star-crossed lovers are a common trope of giant robot anime, but this panel focuses on the series where romance is of central importance to the story. See how love has evolved over time in the world of mecha. We’ll be featuring shows such as Macross, Aquarion, and more!

 

Also, I’ll definitely be at this panel if you want to chat in person

 

Kill la Kill, Inferno Cop, and [Redacted] with Studio TRIGGER

Saturday 9pm-11pm Panel 1

 

See you there! I hope we can all sing the Inferno Cop theme together. Also, if you’re cosplaying Fight Club Mako, I’ll give you a high-five.

I Didn’t Go to AnimeNEXT 2014 But I Have Some Thoughts on the Studio Trigger Panels

I was unable to go to AnimeNEXT this year, but thanks to the Reverse Thieves and their con report, I’ve learned that the Studio Trigger panels were fantastic and I’m totally jealous of them for being there. Obviously I can’t write about the experience, but there are two points in their post on Trigger that I find interesting to look further into.

The first aspect I want to talk about is in regards to them having an initial version of Kill la Kill with five episodes already planned out in full, but decided to scrap it and start over again with something they felt was stronger. Back when I wrote my review of Kill la Kill I got some comments from a particular poster that criticized Kill la Kill‘s writer for making numerous revisions to the script, as if it had hacked together haphazardly, but with this clarification it’s now obvious that the drastic changes came from the planning stage and were less about cobbling together a frankenstory and more about trying to find the right direction no matter what.

The second little factoid that caught my attention is the fact that the staff at Studio Trigger is really into American superhero comics, which is sort of obvious if you’ve watched all of Inferno Cop. What I find funny about this is the fact that for American comics, superheroes are increasingly seen as this bland, boring, mainstream yet niche thing that we need to move past, while Studio Trigger has this reputation for being a new and cutting-edge anime studio, and they take inspiration from superhero comics.

Somerset Somersault: AnimeNEXT 2009

This past weekend I attended AnimeNEXT in New Jersey. While held this year in Somerset at the Garden State Exhibit Center and conjoined Somerset Doubletree Hotel, in years prior the convention was held at the Meadowlands Arena in Secaucus. However, seeing as this was my first ever AnimeNEXT this did not have much of an effect on me beyond the fact that I was basically required to stay at a hotel, an experience which turned it from a commuter convention to a hotel convention, and perhaps turned out better because of it.

AnimeNEXT is a fairly small con whose guest list is comprised mostly of locals. There are no big name Japanese guests at AnimeNEXT but the convention doesn’t really pretend to be an Anime Expo or an Otakon. It’s in this environment that I was able to do my first two official con panels ever (I was a last-minute panelist on the Comic Market panel at Otakon 2006), and I managed to learn a lot despite attending relatively few panels myself. At a convention like this, fan-run panels really are the order of the day so that was the majority of my activity at AnimeNEXT.

Friday, June 12

Friday I arrived in Somerset accompanied by kransom from welcome datacomp and the Reverse Thieves. After finding out that my site was apparenty called “Ugiue Maniax” I went to the panels. Getting there too late to see the mecha panel or others that might have been of interest to me, I ended up going to the “Anime Through the Generations” panel, curious as to who would be giving such a panel with such a name. It turned out to be a group of girls who were fairly young but also fairly diverse in their approach to the fandom, and with the help of Rob Fenelon and other (seriously) old school fans it turned into an interesting discussion about how otaku relate to each other across age gaps.

Next was a panel about Anime Pirates, whose name was fairly confusing because I was unsure of whether or not it was a panel about Pirates in Anime or about Anime Piracy. It turned out to be the former…sort of. Apparently Gurren-Lagann totally counts as pirate anime because it makes Captain Harlock references.

Probably the highlight panel of Friday was Anime Princesses, or as the full title goes, “Anime Princesses Rule, Disney Princesses Drool,” run by the aforementioned Old Guard Anime Fans, which talked about female royalty in recent anime and how their portrayals as figures essential to the governance of their respective kingdoms contrasts heavily with the traditional portrayal of the damsel-in-distress Disney Princess. I noticed a lot of girls leaving once they realized that the panel was essentially about politics in anime rather than talking about princesses per se, but for those who stayed it was an informative hour. My only complaint with the panel really was that too much time was spent on too few princesses and there was a glut of video clips. Points that could have been illustrated with one or two videos were expanded to four or five.  Still, a fun panel.

At this point I’d like to talk about the game rooms set up for AnimeNEXT and how pleasant it turned out to be. They had six separate rooms dedicated to different genres with the most popular ones getting their own rooms out of consideration for said popularity. Most importantly, they never really smelled too badly. It was a well-run game room overall.

Saturday, June 13

Saturday began with the panel run by the Reverse Thieves and I, titled “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Seen This!” Though it was among the first panels of the day, running from 9am-10am, we still managed to get a fairly large crowd and for that I am thankful to you our panel attendees, whoever and wherever you are. It’s our hope that we could expand your selection of possible anime to watch and to go beyond what you know already, and people came away ready to look at the titles we recommended, among them being Kaiba, Rose of Versailles, and Kekkaishi. Again, thank you to everyone there.

Vertical Press also had their panel Saturday, led by Marketing Director Ed Chavez. In it, he tried to clear up misconceptions about Vertical Press, which is often touted as a provider of manga classics but should more accurately be seen as a provider of the widest range of material indicative of Japanese popular culture. Ranging from cook books to light novels to non-fiction memoirs and of course manga, no topic is taboo for Vertical Press. Having spoken to Ed on multiple occasions now, I have to recommend anyone who has an interest in manga or Japanese pop culture who has the opportunity to listen to Ed speak should take that opportunity. While a Marketing Director, he does not speak like a stereotypical spin doctor, and will fast convince you that Vertical Press is trying to sell you something worth your time. I know I felt that way at least.

The panel immediately following the Vertical Press one was a dub voice actor panel featuring Michele Knotz and Bill Rogers. The crowd was significantly larger than the Vertical Panel, which came as no surprise once it was revealed that both Knotz and Rogers are voice actors for Pokemon. Both are talented individuals, though the main reason I was there is because Knotz is the English voice actor for Ogiue. So naturally I had to ask Knotz for her opinion on Ogiue. Michele called Ogiue a “very interesting” character, and a type whom she had never played prior to landing the role of Ogiue. Recalling difficulty in achieving the right voice for Ogiue, Michele mentioned that the voice director told her to do a voice akin to “Wednesday Addams.” While I don’t think Ogiue is quite like Wednesday Addams (a more accurate description would be to imitate a girl imitating Wednesday Addams), it was interesting to see how she approached this most important and defining of roles in anime. Both of them also talked about how much they’re looking forward to Genshiken 2’s US release. There were other questions but as far as Ogiue-related topics were concerned this was it.

One of the panels that caught my eye on the programming schedule was “Restricted Rock Paper Scissors.” Anyone who’s seen Kaiji should be familiar with this concept, though interestingly only half of the people at the panel had even seen Kaiji. After a few hiccups and the panelists warning the half who didn’t see Kaiji to say away from the half who did, the game was afoot. I managed to be a finalist in both of the games I played, remembering that there’s no such thing as Honor in the ultimate gamble and to avoid the mental trap of “balance.” My prizes were candy and a tiny deck of Uno cards. Truly I was at the very least a Penultimate Survivor.

The highlight of Saturday by far was dinner, as I and other bloggers converged on the local Ruby Tuesday and chatted it up. Many of the bloggers were ones I met for the first time at AnimeNEXT and it’s always enjoyable to see new faces. Among them were the Reverse Thieves and kransom, my fellow Sunday panelists Omo, Super Rats, and Moy, as well as Anime Almanac’s Scott and Japanator’s Brad. I got the dry-rub Memphis ribs with mashed potatos and steamed broccoli, and followed it up with a decked-out baked potato.

After dinner I arrived just in time for the “Bad Anime, Bad!” panel, where we watched select clips from an old Toei animation called “Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned,” an entertaining movie which plays fast and loose with the story of Vlad Tepes and whose plot involves Dracula pretending to be Satan so he can trick Satan’s bride into marrying him. The movie managed to continually top itself in ways that few could imagine. It was also apparently based on a comic by Marv Wolfman, writer of the most famous Teen Titans run as well as many other comics.

Hisui from Reverse Thieves joined us halfway through Dracula, the other half having been spent at the “As the Otaku Grows” panel, which he informed us was a very misleading title as it turned out just to be a guy with a serious hard-on for 90s anime. He would declare that everything made before and after the 90s was worse by comparison, and would apparently give inane evidence to support his claims. I guess if we have so many people calling the 80s the greatest anime decade it’s inevitable we’d get one for the following decade. I look forward in 15 years when someone declares this decade of Zaizen Jotaro and Slap-Up Party Arad Senki to be the greatest period of anime ever.

Sunday, June 14

Due to rearrangements in the AnimeNEXT schedule, I essentially had my entire Sunday convention experience in the same room. Starting off with the History of Manga in the US panel, I learned a lot about not only manga translations in the US, but also the many attempts to either take existing manga properties and get American artists to draw comics based on them, or to draw a comic in a deliberately “manga-esque” style. It’s a side of the manga industry that isn’t really explored much and I learned a good deal, particularly in regards to how the companies constantly try to adapt to the shifting environment. My only regret was that I had to leave the panel a little early so I was unable to ask him about anything he knew in regards to Marvel’s Shogun Warriors comics. For those who don’t know, Shogun Warriors was a toy and comic line where popular Japanese super robots were brought to America with their stories entirely changed so they could fit in the same universe, somewhat similar to Super Robot Wars but not at all like Super Robot Wars.

US Manga History was followed up immediately by “Otaku Perceptions & Misconceptions,” and it turned out to be a panel by the same people who ran the Friday Anime Through the Generations panel. The conversation revolved around how not only others see otaku but also how otaku see themselves, and it eventually boiled down to how otaku could and should work to fight misconceptions, a topic I contributed to based on my own beliefs.

And then after that was the moment of truth, the “Anime Blogging Basics” panel. As expected from a 1:30pm panel on the last day of a con, barely anyone we did not know showed up, but again that was hardly a surprise. We talked mainly about the “Why” of anime blogging, which turned out to be quite interesting because of the level of variation between our blogs and our styles. Omo enjoys focusing on the fandom (he mentions that his feed contains over 400 anime blogs), Super Rats concerns himself primarily with anime figures and photographs of, Moy’s blog has gone through many variations until it settled into something more personal, and my own blog is defined by the description you see at the very top of Ogiue Maniax. Omo described my blog as the evolution of those old character shrines from 90s online fandom, a description I can’t quite disagree with. In the end, I think we managed to lay down some solid thoughts and opinions on blogging and perhaps helped the two or three guys we didn’t know to engage in their own blogging adventures.

With the con over, I and the others had lunch at Marita’s Cantina, which turned out to be a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant, and one that I would recommend if you are ever in New Brunswick. After eating to our content, we took the train back to New York.

Final Thoughts

AnimeNEXT as mentioned in the beginning is not a widely attended convention, but it still managed to attract a lot of dedicated anime fans. While I did not focus much on cosplay, I did notice a lot of dedicated cosplayers, and to those of you who dressed as Eureka Seven characters I salute you. I do not know if I will attend again based on circumstances beyond my control, but I would recommend it if you live in the area. It’s not the most exciting convention but it’s certainly not a nightmare. AnimeNEXT is the type of convention where being around good people and great friends can magnify your enjoyment of the con tremendously.

Oh, and if you’re taking the train to New Brunswick to get to the con, watch out for bums. Just a warning.