This is looking to be one of the most competitive anime seasons in recent memory. I don’t think you need me to tell you all of the highly anticipated shows hitting this month, but the ones I’m really going to be watching out for are Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, Golden Kamuy Season 4, Chainsaw Man, Spy x Family Season 2, and Pop Team Epic 2. There’s a good chance I simply won’t be able to watch everything I want.
On top of that, New York is hitting its big con season with New York Comic Con this month and Anime NYC the next! I have some concerns that NYCC is becoming too expensive and unwelcome for many, but we’ll see how it turns out.
Speaking of events, I’ve gotten my Omicron booster, which has prompted me to start watching anime in theaters again—masked and as safely distanced as possible, of course. You can check out one of my reviews in the highlights this month, with the next on the way in the coming weeks.
Thank you to my Patreon subscribers for October 2022!
My criticism of entertainment that ties to monopolize your attention in the worst ways possible.
On Twitter, Kio Shimoku has some issues with his arm lately.
I’m entertaining ideas to better replace the $15 Patreon reward, which basically has only ever been used once. If anyone has suggestions for things they’d like to see out of the Patreon, I’m all ears. I’m not sure what concrete bonuses I can offer at this point, but I’d like to at least have something that might interest supporters.
The summer of 2022 is starting to wind down, and it feels somehow different from even recent years. Maybe it’s that Japan hit a milestone with Comic Market 100 this past month. Maybe it’s the prospect of COVID-19 Omicron-centric booster shots potentially making me feel safer and more comfortable with traveling—including to Japan itself at some point. Or maybe it’s the passage of the largest climate bill in US history, as well as the announcement of a massive student loan forgiveness plan, that gives the vague sense that humanity can do something.
I hope this is a positive turning point, and that we’ll all be in a better position to do the things we love and plan for the future we want to see.
Thank you to my September 2022 Patreon subscribers, notably the following:
The rare portrayal of an Asian mom as action protagonist touches on so many aspects of the Asian diaspora.
Kio Shimoku talks on Twitter about how he’s bad at doing panty shots.
And here’s a look at the Spotted Flower version of Angela Burton.
An early review of Love Live! Superstar!! Season 2, focusing on the concept of the senpai.
As the seasons change and cooler weather (hopefully) arrives, I also want to think about revisiting some old projects. I keep meaning to do more Gattai Girls, but a lack of time and to some extent motivation has hampered that. I also wonder about continuing the Fujoshi FIles after many years of inactivity, but have to consider the possibility that it’s not my place to discuss how “rotten” fujoshi characters are. I’m not that BL and saw the characters with fascination, and am still wondering if I should let those closer to the fandom take over this sort of endeavor. I’m still entertaining the notion of a fan wiki, but who knows where it’ll end up.
Out of all fan conventions, I consider Otakon the one can’t-miss event. There’s certainly a sentimental component, as I’ve been attending for about 15 years at this point, but I think their approach to the concept of the anime con is vitally important: a celebration of anime fandom that’s not for profit and also gives respect to both the creators of the works and the fans themselves. This year, Otakon 2022 shattered its attendance record with a whopping 40,000+ (roughly 6,000 more than the previous record), and I’m glad to see it thrive after a combination of a risky move to Washington DC saw an attendance drop and the arrival of a global pandemic threatened its very existence.
Anyone who follows Ogiue Maniax knows that I do not take COVID-19 lightly. I’m a firm believer in the science that says vaccinations provide significant protection against severe disease and death, and that good-quality masks are an important tool for mitigating spread. I’m also not so naive as to think COVID couldn’t possibly be at the convention. So why did I still decide to attend, especially with the Omicron variants being so infectious? There are multiple reasons.
First, above all else, is that Otakon’s COVID-19 policy reassured me that they take the pandemic seriously. Much of the US has been opening up in rather unsafe ways (if they had ever closed down at all), and some other notable conventions had tried to roll back their masking and vaccination policies despite the prevalence of the Omicron variants. However, Otakon maintained that attendees must either be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test result, and that masks are mandatory. A few more things could have been done, like requiring vaccinations and boosters, period, but it’s understandable that some people still can’t get vaccinated for reasons other than hesitancy. In my view, Otakon cared more about people than attendance numbers.
Second, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is quite spacious and has tall ceilings that can help keep air circulating—it’s being in stagnant air in small, enclosed spaces that is especially high-risk, and I could do what I can to avoid those situations and/or make sure I didn’t take my mask off under any circumstances.
Third, I trusted my own risk management. In situations that are too crowded around me or where the mask usage rate is clearly lacking, I could make the decision to change plans or abandon ship and head back to my hotel. Although it might mean not getting to see something or someone I was looking forward to, it was something I was willing to accept. You can’t do everything at Otakon anyway. I did eat out with friends once, but it was on a Sunday when the majority of attendees had already left DC.
Of course, COVID safety only goes as far as whether people actually follow them. In that regard, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of people wore masks of some kind and wore them over their noses like you’re supposed to. It wasn’t perfect, and there were plenty of ineffective cloth masks still being worn, but I think having the firm requirements come from the con itself might have encouraged attendees to follow their example. I also literally saw security go after someone with no vaccination/COVID-negative wristband in a reassuring sign of vigilance. Score one for mandates.
That’s not to say the con ran 100% smoothly, however.
I enjoy getting autographs from creators, and Otakon is often good at inviting a variety of interesting guests from Japan. However, ever since the move from Baltimore, the autograph area has been in the same space as the Dealer’s Room, resulting in a less-than-ideal situation. Attendees wanting to get their stuff signed have to deal with the massive crowd trying to get into the Dealer’s Room to shop, and I thought about giving up on more than one occasion because I was worried about being surrounded by people and increasing the chances of infection.
Exacerbating this was the fact that there was a major pedestrian traffic jam in the underground tunnel connecting the Marriott to the convention center on Saturday. Normally, this is the ideal way to get to the con if you’re staying at the hotel (as I was), but the huge delays meant I couldn’t return to my room and retrieve something I hoped to get autographed until it was too late. However, that was fairly small potatoes compared with the fact that those trying to make their way through the tunnel could be stuck in there an hour or even longer. There were also lines snaking out from the Marriot and at the convention center, and on a hot summer day too. It seems like the culprit is a confluence of factors, including the gigantic boost in attendance numbers, some confusion over COVID-19 protocols, and some mechanical failures that meant inaccessible escalators. Whatever the case may be, I hope Otakon is prepared to deal with this next year
Fortunately, I actually did manage to get a couple of things signed in the end: an old family copy of NES Bionic Commando from back in the 1980s, as well as a special edition of a My Youth Romantic Comedy novel from the author and staff (not pictured).
After my hiatus from interviewing last year, I managed to speak with some guests for 2022. Check out the following interviews:
If you ever want to hear from voice actors who love their craft and want to prepare the next generation, it has to be these two industry veterans. Furukawa is famously the voice of Piccolo, Moroboshi Ataru, and Portgas D. Ace. His wife is probably best known as Naru (Molly) from Sailor Moon. Together, this husband-wife voice team provided insight on how they train talents at their school, the ways they introduce emotion to their roles, and how to sound like you’re moving around without actually doing so (because the mic won’t pick everything up). One insightful thing I learned is that COVID-19 has upended the tradition of having everyone in the same room to record a scene (which made for better recordings, in my opinion), though important dialogues might still result in a two-person session.
I actually interviewed them back in 2017, but forgot to ask them about one of my favorite works: Zambot 3, where Furukawa played Shingo. This time, I got the chance to make up for that omission, and Furukawa answered that Tomino had very meticulous instructions and planning for voice actors, and he’d talk with each voice actor one by one. Furukawa said it was a very theatrical experience compared to other roles, though I don’t know if “theatrical” is a euphemism for something else.
Studio Trigger’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners
While it wasn’t my first choice for aTrigger anime screening, I was still curious to see what they had in store for the first episode of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners. I’ve never played Cyberpunk in any form, but I was glad to see that the studio’s approach emphasized the dystopian qualities of its, well, cyberpunk setting over the “cool factor.” The stark class differences and crushing hand of capitalism make the hero’s anger all the more poignant.
After the screening, the staff showed some of their early character design sketches. The two things that stood out to me were the degree to which they had to revise to match the Cyberpunk video game creator’s vision, as well as the fact that they straight-up said the main girl character (who barely shows up in episode 1) was inspired by Motoko from Ghost in the Shell as they explained the big influence that cyberpunk as a genre had on them as artists.
At the end, they teased the SSSS.Gridman + SSSS.Dynazenon movie, which I’m eagerly awaiting.
Bigwest’s Macross Panel
When I found out there was going to be an official Macross panel at Otakon, I felt it was my duty to attend. After all, official Macross panels have never really existed in the US prior to 2022, with the closest being whenever Kawamori Shoji is a guest. One of the biggest moments of the panel was when they showed a video of the various Macross anime (narrated by “Maximillian Jenius” Hayami Sho), and a loud cheer erupted around Macross 7. The panelists mentioned that the title would have induced silence not so long ago—a sign of the changing times. Personally, I think that similar to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure,anime fandom had to catch up to Nekki Basara instead of the other way around.
This panel has since garnered a bit of controversy due to the fact that Otakon announced that there would be something special. To Macross fans, that can mean all sorts of things because of its unusual history when it comes to licensing and the legal issues with Harmony Gold/Robotech. Speculation ran rampant: Could it be Do You Remember Love? A new Macross? Something completely out of left field?
It turned out to be the very first US screening of Macross Frontier Short Film: The Labyrinth of Time, which was originally shown before the Macross Delta Zettai Live film. It was a treat to see and it was downright gorgeous, though not quite the first thing to come to mind as a special surprise.
If ever there was a US anime company with a catalog made for me, it would be Discotek. Even when they’re not licensing titles off my wishlist, they’re giving others similar dreams. While Machine Robo: Battle Hackers is not everyone’s first choice for long-sought-after anime, their willingness to put out such obscure works is appreciated.
By far, the two big titles announced here are Space Sheriff Gavan and the complete Urusei Yatsura TV series. Neither hit me on that deep level, but the audience went bananas for both. I’m well aware of the significance both shows have to tokusatsu and anime fandom, and I’m looking forward to checking both out.
At a dinner with friends, I learned that Gavan is such a big deal in Malaysia that it’s become a part of the language itself. Using the word “Gaban” there means to describe something as epic or to evoke an image of bravery. I have to wonder how many works of television and film can make similar claims to fame.
I’ve done plenty of panels at Otakons past, but this year is the first time I’ve had to do two back-to-back. I had considered asking for one of them to be moved, but the prospect of getting them both out of the way in one fell swoop was appealing as well. Thankfully, the vast majority of the panel rooms were in close proximity to one another this year, making the transition a relative breeze.
The first panel was “Hong Kong in Anime and Manga.” The idea was to explore different ways in which Hong Kong’s people, culture, and environment are portrayed in anime and manga. There was a technical hiccup at the beginning that delayed the start by five minutes, there were no real issues otherwise. I was surprised that there were very few Cantonese speakers in the audience, but that just meant I had underestimated the need to explain the language aspect of Hong Kong, and could adjust on the fly. I also noticed how big a reaction a clip of Cantonese-speaking VTuber Selen Tatsuki received, which gave me an idea of her extensive reach.
I hope people enjoyed the panel. I managed to briefly talk to a couple of folks who enjoyed the panel (including a longtime reader!) before I had to hoof it out of there. I was also informed that I might have made more than a few people interested in checking out G Gundam—mission accomplished.
The second panel was “Mahjong Club: RIICHI! Ten Years Later.” It was the revival of a panel I last presented in 2012 alongside Kawaiikochans creator Dave, adjusted to take into account the many opportunities English-speaking anime fans have to play Japanese mahjong compared to a decade ago. One big adjustment we made was to deemphasize some of the nitty-gritty of the rules and to better convey the excitement and tension of a game of mahjong. For the most part, the audience was new to the panel (but not necessarily new to mahjong), so I hope we were able to give something for everyone who watched us.
There was an issue with text on our slides getting cut off; it’s something we can fix when we do this again in another 10 years (?).
A History of Isekai
Isekai is the elephant in the room when it comes to modern anime, and a panel about its history could easily strike a shallow cord. Luckily, this one focused primarily on the works leading up to Sword Art Online, mentioning the mecha isekai of the 1980s, the shoujo isekai of the 1990s, and the outsized influence of The Familiar of Zero. It’s debatable whether something like Urashima Tarou can count, though if it does, then it’d be amusing to show the anime Urashiman. Of course, not every title can be mentioned in an hour, even if it means missing out on the fantastic opening to Mashin Hero Wataru.
Digital Anime Fansubs: 2000 to Now
This panel was about the rise of digital subs around the turn of the millennium, and it focused mainly on the changing formats+file sizes, the brand-new frontier of getting anime straight from Japan within days (as opposed to months or even years), as well as the ways that fansubbers tried to establish their identities through practices like fancy karaoke effects. It was probably a fun introduction to this era for people unfamiliar with it, though I wonder if there would be a way to establish a more detailed history. It wouldn’t be easy by any means, due to the fact that this sort of subject isn’t really recorded, but maybe collecting anecdotes from fellow fans (or fansubbers themselves, if possible) could be cool.
A Sophisticatedly Unsophisticated Look at Fanservice
This was a panel by Gerald from the Anime World Order podcast, and I actually saw a fledgling incarnation of it ten years ago at Otakon. It was interesting to see him tackle the topic again, and there were definitely shows I remembered—namely the infamous Manyuu Hikenchou. This time, the panel had a more concrete idea of what it wanted to show, which is fanservice in terms of being things that are gratuitously superfluous. In that regard, the panel did take things to the next level, though I thought it still didn’t quite hit the mark on what would be considered traditionally “fanservice for girls,” which I think is more rooted in context and relationship dynamics than jiggling bits and crotch shots.
Otakon 1994 AMVs
One of the pleasant surprises this year was that the con decided to screen the original Anime Music Video Contest from the very first Otakon 28 years ago. It was a window into the past, particularly in terms of the shows that were being used (Riding Bean, Bubblegum Crisis, Detonator Orgun, and so on), and it’s even more impressive when you realize that digital video editing was still in its infancy back then.
There was a particular video that was considered “non-competing” that seemed to grossly revel in detailed depictions of violence against women. While I could see the argument against showing it at all, I do think having it available as a sign of what the fandom was like, warts and all, has at least historical merit. I would say I hope this isn’t a thing anymore, but I don’t typically watch AMVs anyway.
Wada Kaoru and Hayashi Yuki Sunday Concert
Despite the prominence of K-pop at Otakon this year (enough to have Hangul on the front cover of the physical guidebook for the first (?) time!), the only concert I attended was for the music of composers Wada Kaoru (Inuyasha, Yashahime) and Hayashi Yuki (Haikyu!, My Hero Academia). I wasn’t familiar with a good chunk of the songs, but the contrasting styles between the two made for an interesting experience you usually don’t get when the focus is on a single act. The real treat was during the encore, when they played along with the combination orchestra+rock band.
So that was Otakon 2022! It had some hiccups that made me remember that attending a convention is a conscious choice that requires risk assessment, but I definitely had a great time overall. I’ll leave off with a gallery of cosplay photos I took throughout the event. Cheers to another fine year, and I hope all my fellow attendees made it out healthy in the end.
This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington DC. Gugenka, Inc. is a company that describes itself as “Sales of digital goods and technical research on Japanese animation using advanced contents such as VR/AR/MR.” Mikami Masafumi is the CEO, and Kiral Poon is the CTO.
How did you get into the business of 3D, VR, AR—these sorts of subjects?
Poon: Do you mean academic side, or…?
Anything, really. If there’s an academic element, then definitely talk about it. If it’s sort of an amateur hobby, or…just what inspired you to take this up…
Mikami: We were originally making AR stuff for movie promotions, and we slowly moved that content into VR. That became for VR anime promotion, where we promote anime with our VR abilities.
Poon: One of the examples would be the Sailor Moon VR that we built. That is also, like, a movie for Sailor Moon Crystal promotion, and then we did the VR game for the event. And in the end now it’s on VIVEPORT for free, but it was originally promotional content.
I first became familiar with Gugenka through the HoloModels app.
Yeah. I found out about it from a reader, actually.
Poon: When did you hear about it?
A couple of years ago, I think?
So what was the origin of the decision to make virtual AR models? Was the plan from the start to work with established properties?
Mikami: The way it started off was, you know how we have anime figures in real life, right? What if we could make digital versions of anime figures?
In physical figures, it’s probably not a real surprise to see on your figure rack a Dragon Ball character and a Re:ZERO characters side by side. But then in VR contents, it was an uphill battle to get the understanding to have two characters of different IPs sitting on the same app.
Poon: I’d like to actually convey my two cents on that. Japanese companies are really, really, really restrictive on the IP stuff. The more I work with them, the more I think that’s so crazy about it. Masafumi back in the day, he tried very hard. One problem is, how can you line up two different IPs together without any problem with the IP company. Cause they usually want to have their own world, right? When it’s in the real world, it’s just figures, so they don’t care about it. But in digital, they usually have control with their applications. So Masafumi was actually the producer. He is the one who actually produced it and persuaded those companies to do it together. The reason he can do that is because this company has a long history with these companies and these movies. He already knew these people, and that’s why he did it. It is not easy at all, in my opinion.
I’ve heard similar things about the game Super Smash Bros. When it comes to the director, Sakurai, it’s only because he has such a strong reputation in his industry that he’s able to convince all these different…
Poon: Yeah, exactly. In Japan, when you work, it’s not only about ability, but also about how people trust you. So that’s the case.
I also want to point out why this app exists, which is that there’s limited space around the world. We usually line up a lot of figures—I buy my own figures too—they take up a lot of space. In AR applications, you stick them into the space, and you can display them anytime. It’s just like an RPG item box, where you just bring it up anytime—exactly like that. That’s really convenient, and you can do more than with actual figures. You can move the pose and change the face. With real figures, you have to change the parts, and there’ll be lines on the face you don’t want. But with digital figures, you don’t have that problem. So that’s one of the main reason I can tell you why we created them.
You actually anticipated my next question!
So moving on, Gugenka has collaborated with virtual stars of all kinds. You have Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. You have Virtual Youtubers like Kizuna A.I., Tokino Sora—and I remember that when I got the Gugenka HoloModels app, there was Shinonome Megu.
Poon: You did a good job. People don’t even know that one.
So what do you think about the fact that people are embracing virtual characters, and have you noticed any changes in the degree to which people are embracing them?
Mikami: Right now, everyone has their own different characteristics, and everyone would probably be able to express themselves differently in different bodies. I believe that our app would enable everyone to express themselves in their own body of their choice.
Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the concept of virtual spaces to the forefront, as friends, families, and businesses try to gather online through various chat programs but also in creating virtual space. How has the pandemic affected your approach to virtual spaces? Has it cast a new light on them?
Poon: So with virtual space, during the pandemic, we have actually been trying to increase our opportunities with all these restrictive companies. In my point of view, usually Japanese companies tend not to do remote work and exhibitions lots online. But because of the pandemic, they start thinking about it, and they approach us. Of course, sometimes we approach those companies—“Hey, do you want to do it?” Usually, it’s the case that they will ask us about doing online exhibitions. Before, there were, like, no exhibitions, but because of the pandemic, we have those events hosted by Gugenka.
For example, the closest one would be the MF Bunko J one that we just did with Kadokawa—the light novel one. It’s a really popular real-world event in Japan. And there’s live concerts, like the Sanrio Virtual Fes. We tried to make it realistic, and we have a very good reputation on that event with VRChat. And of course, we also connect with all these partners from Japan—VRCast and other platforms. And I connect with all others across the world and have partnerships with them, like VRChat. After that, people started realizing what we’re trying to do to make people closer in distance, and display things in HoloModels, and also create your character through MakeAvatar.
You’ve worked on many events, and I know it’s hard to pick a favorite, I guess, but I’ll ask anyway: Do have any events you’re surprised that you managed to work on?
Poon: I guess I’ll let Masafumi answer first, and then I’ll answer.
Makami: I would say Kitty-chan’s Sanrio Virtual Fes is probably my favorite. I can take pride that I participated in it. The reason is that the people who are enjoying the real stuff Sanrio produces, as well as the artists and VTubers—they all come together in one event, so I thought it was a good event.
Poon: I’ll add two cents about the Sanrio virtual event because there’s not many people who know about the event in the US. After I did the panel, people were all surprised. This is a real diverse event that includes actual artists like AKB48—famous, real artists like HoneyWorks. There were also virtual artists like Kizuna A.I. and other VTuber characters. And then there’s also the system that we created so that we can bring this all in, and with synchronization with the timing we can make it feel like a live event.
What that means is, what if you join late but your friends have been in for five minutes? In a usual game, well, you start from zero, and you play it, right? But in real life, you’ll be seeing things five minutes late. What you’re seeing with friends is the same thing, and when you wave, and when you sing, you’re doing the same thing. This is what makes a huge difference with the Sanrio Virtual Fes event. We created a synchronization system to make sure everyone had the same experience, same timing to all these artists. And it’s a huge event because there’s more than a hundred songs. I didn’t sleep for two to three days just to check the songs, and it was crazy. I wish one day we could join us for the second one. So that’s the Sanrio Virtual Fes.
That actually makes me think: Sometimes, due to the pandemic and the increasing use of online spaces, people want to get together for a karaoke session, right? But due to the differences in synchronization, it can cause problems for people who want to sing together. Is there a possibility of creating a space like that for regular users?
Poon: So there’s a lot of problems in terms of people’s preferences. During the event, there’s a separate instance we created to adapt for each person. For example, if your computer is weak, but you still want to enjoy the event, there’s something called shitei [appointed] instance, which means you are pointed to that instance, and we make sure you can have the best experience in that instance. But because it’s a social VR, if you want to see the group, there’s something called jiyuu [free] instance. But if it crashes, or you just want to enjoy the experience with your weak computer, you can still go to the appointed instance.
But also, furthermore, for the paid content, there’s outfits using the MakeAvatar app. It’s like when you dress up as Mickey—or Marvel characters because Disney owns Marvel—and you go to Disneyland. So it’s the same thing as when you go to Sanrio Puroland; you dress as Mochipoly, as they call it. It’s really cute, and you can buy the hat from Kitty, or Keroppi.
There are two reasons for that. First, is because of the story. It’s best delivered that way. It feels like part of them, and it’s real good. When you look at pictures, it’s really nice. Second, is the performance. We want weak computers to also get in easily. So we think about all that and plan the event that way.
I know a lot of people around my age became anime fans in part or in whole due to Slayers.
So I was pleasantly surprised to see both a HoloModel of Lina Inverse—I saw the author, Kanzaki, constantly promoting it—
Poon: Man, I’m surprised you know Slayers, and that we did that?
And you created the Slayers 3D Live event. Were there any fun, creative challenges involved with working with this property?
Poon: Actually, Masafumi was talking about Sanrio, but my favorite event was Slayers. The reason for that is the equal system that I was trying to build. I’m actually the director of the concert for the live event in Tokorozawa Sakura Town.
So we actually have the live event, and then the sequences. We have HoloModels of Slayers, and usually it would be a waste that you can’t use them on other games. It’s really expensive to build a really high-quality CG model. We have the models, we have the live event in Sakura Town in real life, so it feels like Lina Inverse is there, and she does the song. Then, we host this event online in NeoChat so everyone can join. And then in the end, it’s sold on blu-ray. So this whole flow is the equal system that we try to tell those IP companies that we can balance promotion and also maybe earning a little money for the company. That’s why it was my favorite event, because all the systems of the Sanrio event are based on the Slayers event.
I’m surprised. Even though I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it, I’m surprised that you and—actually, one more person at the panel, he said he knew it, and he actually joined the event. I’m actually touched because I want North America—like myself from Canada, and there’s also the US—I want them to join us. But there’s limited resources, and there’s a problem that we didn’t have enough English translation at the time. So in the future, I’m trying to push everyone to do more English support. Good question. I want to talk more about Slayers!
Kiral, one of your interests, as written in the Otakon guidebook, is creating technology to help make life easier for animators. There’s an ongoing issue about animators being overworked and underpaid? Do you think your work can help deal with this issue?
Poon: Do you know Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero? That is one of the good examples of using good 3DCG in movies that doesn’t feel weird. Because sometimes it feels weird in 3DCG. There’s one good example, that you can have an efficient way of moving, and then you can have more stories to deliver to people.
So that is great, and it’s efficient, but to your question, can it solve the overtime and overwork problem? In some ways, but it comes down to the culture in Japan. Let’s say you need less people for the same project, right? Well, you just hire less people for the same work—there’s a chance like that. But it depends on the company. They could be, like, “Oh, there’s less work now, so now everyone doesn’t have to be doing overtime, and they can go home, right? So there’s two approaches, and it comes down to culture, I think, partially. But the reason I want to focus on technology and I keep improving that, like with Slayers, is to try io make it more toon-like with cel shaders—to make it more efficient. But can that solve the core problem is the question.
Are there any Gugenka products or services that get less attention that you think people should know more about?
Mikami: In regards to what I want people to know more about, it’s basically everything: HoloModels, MakeAvatar, virtual events. But I kind of believe there are two major points that I think we need to focus on to have a wider number of people know about us and these events.
One is that there is a time difference between Japan and the US. While we were able to get past the problem of distance because we could bring people together from vastly different parts of the world, we can’t really get past the problem of time at the moment. So, I believe what we want to do in the future is maybe have different events for different time zones to address the time issue.
The other thing I want to focus on is basically localization of the English versions for these apps that we have. We need to be able to disseminate this information about the apps and events, and it’s not as easy as Google or word-for-word translation because sometimes they miss the mark or have different words we would like to use. Also, the thing about media is basically that over here in the US, it’s not like we have a strong understanding of where the media pipelines are. So I believe what would be best is if we could get to know the media people here, and how to best communicate with our fans so that we could disseminate the information to everyone interested in an effective manner.
Poon: I actually have the same feeling. When we do the panels, people actually come to me and say, “I didn’t know Gugenka before—MakeAvatar, HoloModels—but now I’m going be a core fan and support it.” So I’m touched, and also really happy that people enjoy our service.
Like, with MakeAvatar—I don’t think you even know this much yet—but this allows us to use different parameters. The tech part is really hard—I tried so hard on this tech from January—and finally, you can use different kinds of morphs to different kinds of faces. The idea is, usually anime characters are a little bit more the shounen youngtype, but I want elderly people to also be cool. Even if you’re old, you should be really handsome because you do your own thing. You could be chubby, you could be muscular—allowing the diversity is human, and it should be possible in your own character. That’s why we have all these features.
Of course, we have the SD character, that is, the small one. The main reason we built this one is because we support Quest, cell phone, and browser, so we want the workload to be lower. But we have new, high-quality MakeAvatar that allows you to change clothing and stuff. And the business model would be to buy the cosplay—the costume—and the IP company gets paid, and the user is happy. So you can export to VRChat, VirtualCast, to see online on Vroid Hub, or browser games.
We think in the future maybe we can do more promotion in the US and more people could take advantage of this. You could become a VTuber easily. I could host a panel and just teach you to use the app, and you could be a VTuber for free. And we have the face-tracking support in this, which means it can detect your muscles and move. In normal characters, it only supports simple expressions like A-I-U-E-O and smlle, angry, crying—that’s it. But we support really detailed motions on this.
This interview was conducted at Otakon 2022 in Washington, DC.
My first question is about a role you had in the Precure series, Cure Lemonade. Precure is a very big and popular franchise in Japan, but at the time you played the character, it was still a young series. Was it like to play the character back then, and how does it feel to return to the character for crossover movies and other material?
Ise: I was in the third generation from the start of the series, and right around the time I was voicing the character, it was starting to pick up popularity in Japan.
So as you know, it’s about to approach its 20th anniversary, and I had no idea back when I first started that it would be this popular. Part of that is due to the fact that, yes, this is a children’s anime, but it also gives dreams and hopes to adults as well, and that’s probably what has led to it being so popular.
My next question has to do with the series Panty & Stocking. It’s quite popular with American fans—even more than I’d expected—and a lot of people are happy to see the series come back after 10 years. What was it like voicing Stocking, such an unusual and foulmouthed character?
Ise: I still don’t know if I’m in it, but if they reach out to me to play the character of Stocking again, I’d look forward to it.
I thought it was an interesting series. Panty and Stocking are angels in training, and they take off their panties and stocking and turn them into weapons to defeat demons.The vocabulary they use is rather…tricky?
Ise’s Manager (via webcam): Crazy!
Another character you’ve returned to in recent times is Dragon Kid in Tiger & Bunny, after a decade. Has your approach to playing her changed from how you first played her?
Ise: Tiger & Bunny 2 is 10 years after the original, but it actually hasn’t been 10 years since I’ve played Dragon Kid. Within that period, I’ve done drama CDs and movies, so it doesn’t feel like there was a 10-year gap. But even though Dragon Kid hasn’t aged after a decade, I have, and my voice has deepened and become more adult, so it adds another dimension to the role.
Watching Tiger & Bunny 2, she comes across as more of a senpai—which she is. I think the deeper voice lends itself to that role.
What was it like to play such a bizarrely inhuman character as Foo Fighters in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? How do you perform when the character is in no way, shape, or form a human?
Ise: Let’s see. When Jolyne and the others first meet her, Foo Fighters is a plankton-like lifeform. At the time, she’s like “Uju! Uju, uju!” in a low voice when she’s just a stand. She isn’t quite human, but she’s intelligent and clever, so I didn’t feel that much difficulty playing the character. After she borrows Atroe’s body, Foo Fighters has a childishness about her and a sense of growth she shows alongside Jolyne and Hermes, so I was conscious of conveying that innocence.
I really enjoy your role as Ray in The Promised Neverland. It’s maybe a somewhat different character from what you normally play, as well as a heavy work. What was it like to voice Ray, especially because he does age over the course of the series?
Ise: In the first season, Ray is willing to sacrifice everything in order to save Emma and Norman—to help them escape. He lives for that, but there’s a darkness about him, and he hides his true thoughts and feelings. He planned things with all this in mind, but when he’s able to confide his secret to the other two and speak those true feelings, it lifts a weight off his shoulders. In the first season, he’s full of heavy and dark feelings. But his position changes in the second season, and he becomes more cheerful.
A less prominent character you’ve played is Akagi Sena the fujoshi from OreImo. Were you familiar with fujoshi and BL culture before the role?
Ise: In Japan, when girls who love anime and manga reach middle school, they’ll—well, I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed—they’ll start to develop some interest in BL. So I can really understand the feelings of those we call fujoshi, and I myself read BL in middle school. It didn’t feel difficult to relate to Sena.
From what I’ve heard, you put a lot of thought into your roles—it’s very clear from your answers. My last question is, what are some lessons you’ve learned that you think would help new or aspiring voice actors?
Ise: In America or in Japan?
It’s a pretty open question.
Ise: Tough question. Being a voice actor involves using your unique voice, but it’s actually not a job that’s only about your voice. Just like a live-action actor, one of the best ways to inform your acting is to gain a lot of lived experience as the foundation for your performance, and it’s good to want as many experiences as possible. When you’re in your teens, you should do the things you can only do at that age—school, friends, falling in love, doing everything someone in their teens does. This will help to inform whatever it is you’re performing as a voice actor.
Otakon 2022 is this weekend, July 29–31, and I’ll be heading back to my favorite anime convention of all. This year, I’m running two panels: one by myself, and one with an old partner in crime.
Hong Kong in Anime and Manga
Friday 4:30 PM – 5:30 PM / Panel 2
I was motivated to do this panel because I wanted to celebrate the culture of Hong Kong but also critically investigate how it is used in anime and manga. Those who’ve been to my panels will know that I tend to take a more scholarly (yet still fun) approach, and this is no exception, I hope
Mahjong Club (aka Riichi! Ten Years Later)
Friday 5:45 PM – 6:45 PM / Panel 5
It’s been ten years, the Japanese mahjong panel is back! Once again, it’ll feature myself along with Kawaiikochans creator Dave. There are more riichi mahjong players outside of Japan than ever before, and more easy ways to play too! Whether you’re an experienced hand or someone who only knows mahjong by name, this panel has something for you.
The past month has been quite a ride for me as an anime fan. I attended my first live convention in ages, I watched the finale of one of my favorite franchises ever, and I stumbled into my most popular tweet in a very, very long time.
I’ll definitely be watching the second G-Reco movie next month, so watch out for that review!
Meanwhile, I’d also like to thank the following Patreon sponsors for their continued support:
Sue Hopkins fans:
Hato Kenjirou fans:
Yajima Mirei fans:
Blog highlights from August:
I actually think I posted some of my best work in a while, so I recommend readers check out everything this month, but if you only have a little time, these are probably the best.
In terms of setup and interesting storytelling, I thinkLove Live! Superstar!! might be the best the franchise has to offer.
Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve noticed a funny thing with my blog stats.
Throughout 2020, I received many more hits than I have over recent years. This trend started to subside around spring this year (when the vaccine rollout started getting some steam), but now over the past couple months as the delta variant ravages the US (where most of my visitors come from), I’m seeing an uptick in blog views again. As much as I like having more people read my stuff, I’d rather everyone be alive.
Go get vaccinated and wear a mask in public and when around others. Stay safe, and I wish you all good health.
2021 was the first year where I questioned whether going to Otakon was a good idea. It’s long been my favorite anime convention, but the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the frightening rise of the delta variant in the United States made me anxious about attending an event that regularly brings close to 30,000 people into a single indoor venue. Ultimately, I decided to make the trip to Washington DC—partly because I wanted to support the fan-run con that has provided so many excellent moments. But it was also because I wanted to try to do something “normal” while taking every precaution I possibly could in order to avoid straight-up tempting fate.
Personal COVID-19 Precautions
I traveled to DC fully vaccinated and wearing the best facemasks I could obtain. I decided not to do any interviews with guests this year (though the lack of Japanese industry guests helped that). I largely steered clear of the dealer room and gaming room. And I greatly reduced my normal frantic pace of checking out every panel imaginable to eat and take respite in my hotel room, where everyone else was a familiar face who was fully vaccinated.
Otakon COVID-19 Precautions
Prior to Otakon weekend, attendees would receive emails about the numerous precautions being taken to try to ensure everyone’s safety. Masks would be mandated, the convention center would be well ventilated, and temperature checks would be included. Vaccinations were not required, which I hope can change for next year.
In terms of masks, the vast majority of people I saw wore masks and wore them properly, and even those whose mask etiquette was questionable would at least try to fix it eventually. This was only my limited perspective, so I can’t say if there were pockets of people resistant to doing so, but it gave me at least a bit of faith that most attendees wanted this event to work. However, trying to enforce a mask mandate on 23,000 people is no easy feat, and I’m not sure if a greater amount of staff/security would do the trick.
The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is a very spacious venue with high ceilings, and was even used as a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients in previous months. In a more cramped space, I would have been much more alarmed, but walking past people on the way to a panel felt no busier than a New York City sidewalk, albeit indoors—at least on Friday and Sunday. Saturday had more attendees (an inevitability for any weekend convention), and that had me feeling more apprehensive. I took particular care not to remove my mask for any reason on Saturday.
The panel rooms themselves could have used better social distancing, as there was no incentive presented to steer clear of others outside of one’s own desire to do so. In some cases, volunteers encouraged us to pack in for the more heavily attended panels, and I found myself (perhaps against better judgment) staying and hoping my mask and vaccinations (as well as the masks of those around me) would be enough. I feel there should have been more done to encourage social distancing in rooms, even though I understand the disappointment it would inevitably cause for those who wouldn’t be able to enter a panel or event they could have in previous years. I myself presented a panel this year with the best attendance I’ve ever seen for one of my presentations, and I feel conflicted about it because of these circumstances.
As for the temperature checks, I did not see any, and I’m not sure how they were supposed to work or if anyone was indeed caught having a fever. If anyone spotted the temperature checks in action or have more information, I would like to know more.
As mentioned in the introduction, there’s a lot I typically look forward to at Otakon—interviews with Japanese guests, especially—that simply didn’t happen this year. The ability to get interesting industry guests who are willing to share greater insight into the world of anime and manga beyond just pitching their latest projects has been one of the most valuable parts of the Otakon experience up to now. In their absence, I had to wonder if the other appealing aspects of the con could carry the event.
While guests are great, I think the real lifeblood of Otakon is the robust fan panel programming, and I was happy to see it out in full force. A combination of veteran presenters and (I assume) new blood kept things entertaining and informative. While not every panel was an absolute winner, the energy that comes from seeing people onstage sharing topics they find fascinating or encouraging others to expand their scopes is always encouraging.
Thirty Years Ago: Anime in 1991
Daryl Surat from Anime World Order is always a solid presenter. He picked a nice and diverse set of works and made good cases for why they’re still memorable today. As I expected, he made reference to Brave of the Sun Fighbird, the super robot anime that gave birth to the “Is this a pigeon?” meme.
The Best Openings for Shows You (Probably) Didn’t See
This had the Anime World Order crew in full force. As advertised, there were some I didn’t see, and I liked that it had a real mix of genres. The fact that it started off with the opening to Goshogun earns it plenty of points.
Japonisme: A History of the First Japanese Culture Craze in the 19th Century
This panel looked at the weebs of the 1800s, particularly in terms of the great artists of the century. The presenter (an art history teacher) did a solid job of showing how names like Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and more were influenced by the woodblock prints and other forms of art coming out of Japan—as well as the problematic Orientalism surrounding the whole thing.
Manga Masters: Kentaro Miura
Patrick (The Cockpit) and manga expert Ed Chavez did a retrospective on the life and career of the late, great Miura Kentaro. Some of the big takeaways were that 1) Miura was not just a skilled artist, he was a nurturing and supportive figure to his friends and fellow artists 2) he single handedly put seinen on the map for the predominantly shoujo-oriented publisher Hakusensha 3) he changed the landscape when it came to manga and fantasy titles. Overall, it was an informative and insightful panel.
Samus vs. Ridley: A Metroid Historia
Not just a video game history panel, this one looked at how the disparate scraps of lore and storytelling gradually came together to form the Metroid we know today. It was fascinating how seemingly everything, even the Nintendo Power comic from the 1990s, somehow has found its way into the mythos in part or in whole.
Bad Anime, Bad…The 20th Anniversary!!
One of the enduring highlights of Otakon is back to celebrate twenty years of awful animation, and I think it’s important to note how much this panel acts as a predecessor of sorts for the current Youtube anime review scene. Not just limited to Japanese animation, it was good to see this still going strong—and Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned is evergreen terrible.
The Wonderful World of Yas
Another creator retrospective, this time it was for Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the character designer of Gundam and one of the finest artists to ever grace the industry. Finding out that he was dissatisfied with his work in the 1980s makes a lot of things click together in terms of my understanding of him. I wish this panel was better attended, as I think plenty of fans would love seeing not just Yaz’s mecha stuff but also his love of history. However, it was literally up against a different Gundam-related panel.
When Anime Companies Knew Nothing About ANIME FAN WANTS
Run by George Horvath, this panel was a series of painful lessons in industry hubris. However, perhaps it had the opposite effect on me, and I kind of want to start my own anime company…
Ogiue Maniax Presents: Saturday Morning MILFs
A few years ago, I decided to turn an idle observation about anime into a panel where I introduce fans to the surprisingly wide variety of interesting and attractive mom characters cropping up in works for kids. Amid the perennial love of high school characters in anime, I thought MILFs was a worthwhile subject. Unfortunately, my initial attempts to present it were met with rejections and waitlists.
But this year, I decided to swing for the fences and apply for it as my sole panel submission…and actually got the okay! While I was out of practice when it came to public speaking, I actually had most of the panel prepared from previous years’ attempts, and felt comfortable that I could deliver something at least decent.
What I didn’t expect was to be in Panel 1 (one of the two biggest panel rooms at Otakon), and for my silly little project to have the largest convention audience I’ve ever dealt with on a personal basis. It was packed (though that was perhaps not a good thing, given COVID and all).
The funny thing about me is that I often feel a lot more pressure presenting in a vacuum than I do to an actual audience. In front of a gathering of otaku eager to see some MILFs, I worked to educate and inform, while also throwing some red meat out there (because at the end of the day, it was an 18+ panel). Afterwards, a few longtime friends complimented me on the panel, saying I successfully threaded the needle and balanced learning with pleasing the horny audience.
Industry Panels and Screenings
Despite a lack of Japanese guests, the industry panels I did attend were all worthwhile in their own way. The DENPA panel was run by Ed Chavez, and he’s always your best bet for getting an inside look at the manga industry. AnimEigo has the benefit of CEO Robert Woodhead’s many decades in the industry, and I was impressed by his company’s dedication to preserving art and design material for anime projects. Discotek panels are always a blast, but the announcement of blu-ray releases for both Aim for the Top! Gunbusterand Machine Robo: Revenge of Chronos practically stole the whole show at Otakon. I’d been waiting years for the former, and the latter never got a full release—it was actually licensed by accident!
I also decided to check one off the bucket list and finally watched Project A-ko, or rather, Discotek’s remastered blu-ray edition.
In addition, there was a screening for a 3DCG short called HOME! by the animation studio Orange. It was a brief but sweet story about an astronaut and a ghost inhabiting a space colony, and it showed why Orange’s CG work is a cut above its competitors in Japan. A short panel afterwards elaborated on Orange’s approach to 3D work, and it’s easy to see the care that goes into shows like Beastars and Land of the Lustrous.
Artist Alley is usually not one of my priorities, but it sort of took the place of the Dealers Room for me this year. Below are all my purchases at Otakon. It’s not much, but I think it all looks great.
The places I went to this year for finer eating were Farmers & Distillers, SUNdeVICH, and Bantam King. There was also a newly opened Ben’s ChilI Bowl in the convention center (and the old dining area near the underground entrance to the Marriott was closed for renovations).
Farmers & Distillers’ claim to fame is that they get everything directly from local farms. It’s more expensive than your standard restaurants and requires a reservation, but the food is amazing. I got the Yankee pot roast and the vanilla bean cheesecake with strawberries and cream—a combination that was as delicious as I’d hoped but left me regretting the heaviness of the overall dinnerl. the next day. Take a lesson from me and try to balance your meal out better.
SUNdeVICH is a sandwich shop with a variety of solid choices with an international flair. I tried the Shiraz (Persian beef tongue) over salad and the Rome (Italian cold-cut combo) on a sandwich, and both were top notch.
Bantam King I’d been to on my first trip to DC for Otakon, but this time I went for the curry snow fried chicken plate instead of the chilled ramen. The onions and white sauce on top reminded me a lot of coleslaw and fried chicken, and the flavor profile worked well. However, the simplicity and sheer deliciousness of the chicken drippings over white rice was the real winner.
Ben’s Chili Bowl at the convention center suffered from being short staffed (a common problem caused by the pandemic), but once I got my chili half-smoke (chili over a beef-and-pork sausage on a bun), it was amazingly solid.
This year’s cosplay had the inevitable addition of masks. Some of the cosplayers would temporarily remove their masks for photos but kept them on otherwise.
The overall Otakon 2021 experience, for better or worse, was surprisingly normal. In any other year, it would’ve felt par for the course, but the surrounding circumstances at times made things awkward. There were moments where it was easy to almost lose myself in the moment, but had to get snapped back to the reality of an escalating pandemic. I’m still not sure if going was the right idea, and as the delta variant escalates, I worry about 2022. In the meantime, though, I made it back with plenty of good memories. I hope everyone else can say the same thing.
Project A-ko is an indelible part of my anime fandom. As a young nerd in the 1990s eager for more information about this newfangled “Japanese animation,” I ran into it everywhere. The super strong A-ko, the technologically savvy B-ko, and the crybaby C-ko defined anime itself, and their antics were the stuff of legends. What fan didn’t recognize them?
But while I “knew” Project A-ko, I never actually watched it. Less a secret shame and more an ongoing omission, this representative gateway anime of those early days just never crossed my path–that is, until Otakon 2021.
A Brief History of Restoration
In 2019, Discotek Media announced that they were releasing a blu ray edition of Project A–ko, and what began as a state-of-the-art transfer from laser disc eventually gave way to the discovery of an original 35mm film master long thought most to the aether. Fast forward a couple years and a pandemic, and Discotek brought the first showing of the remastered Project A-ko to Otakon attendees. What better way to experience this missing piece of my history?
And so I sat in among a crowded audience, a near-even split of longtime ProjectA-ko fans and newcomers. Because of my exposure and cultural osmosis, I knew too much to pretend like I was viewing it in a vacuum or with a blank slate. I had read the fanfics, I had seen the websites on Anime Web Turnpike. Now, it was my time to bridge that gap between hearing everyone else’s opinions on Project A-ko and establishing my own.
Transfer students A-ko and C-ko are best of friends (or something more). Graviton High’s queen, B-ko, wants C-ko for herself, and she’ll do anything to tear the two friends apart. However, A-ko is superhumanly strong, and neither deception nor giant robots can stop her. Though not immediately obvious, the film was originally meant to be part of the Cream Lemon erotic OVA series before spinning off into its own thing.
The premise of Project A-ko is less a central driving narrative and more of an excuse. It’s a canvas upon which the creators display all manner of gorgeous and lovingly rendered animation ranging from slapstick to tense hand-to-hand combat to fanservice nudity to science fiction set pieces that could impress Moebius. In terms of technical and artistic perspectives, Project A-ko stands the test of time. In terms of artistic indulgence, it stands near the top.
I think how much you like Project A-ko truly boils down to how much you love animation for animation’s sake, how much the excitement and titillation of its myriad spectacles draws you in, and how much you can tolerate a paper-thin plot. I found myself somewhere in the middle, blown away by the sheer beauty of it all, but feeling the drag of nothing to truly anchor it, my attention started to drift halfway through. Yet, now knowing what Project A-ko is like now, it shines a whole new light on the fandom I remember from over 20 years ago.
Hindsight Is Hilarious
Project A-ko is comedy and satire, and I think that much is obvious if you’ve been exposed to plenty of anime. But while watching the interactions between the three core characters, I couldn’t help but recall the kinds of series-related discussions I would see as a young anime fan. Chief among them was the recurring hate lobbed at C-ko, with viewers frustrated that both the cute and feisty A-ko and the beautiful and elegant B-ko would devote so much attention to a loud, whiny, blond gremlin who seems like the worst kind of shoujo heroine. But in the wise words of McBain doing stand-up: that’s the joke.
C-ko is supposed to be obnoxiously innocent, from her shrill voice to her garbage-dump lunches she eagerly makes for A-ko. The way the haughty B-ko stares longingly at C-ko when the latter is at her loudest adds to the absurdity of their interactions. And unlike Mineta in My Hero Academia, who some fans find so annoying that the fanfiction site Archive of Our Own has a tag to indicate the removal of Mineta (and any traces of his history) from MHA, C-ko isn’t just some comedic side character. C-ko is essential to Project A-ko.
But I’m aware of the fact that Project A-ko hit the Western anime audience at a very particular time when there just wasn’t much anime available. Fans at the time took Project A-ko at face value, and it took the discourse around the movie in a certain direction that’s fascinating in hindsight. It’s possible I would have fallen into this trap myself—If I had watched Project A-ko back in the 1990s, I most definitely would not have understood that their class teacher is literally Creamy Mami, for example. In other words, “If a work of satire comes out in an environment where the target of satire does not exist, is it still satire?”
Generational Differences…in Spaaaace
In the anime Darling in the Franxx, the characters eventually take to space to fight a greater threat. I often welcome this familiar trope, having grown up on it as a matter of course, and the studio behind Franxx, Trigger, is often known for this particular kind of escalation. But to a number of viewers, this is the point at which the show jumps the shark. To them, the move to space battles makes little sense, and nothing about what came prior sets up this little twist. In contrast, I think Franxx is at its strongest after this point, and it’s because I’m of the A-ko generation without having previously seen A-ko.
That fandom generation gap is evident in the constant presence of that Star Wars–esque science fiction/space fantasy aesthetic in Project A-ko. Spaceships, aliens, and beam weapons are mixed into the setting and the narrative, and while technically there’s a twist, the plot revelation component is less important than the pretense it allows for more fantastic animation. And of course, there really isn’t any science fiction in the thematic or philosophical sense—it’s all about the explosions. “Why wouldn’t you have a space battle?” asks the 1980s/1990s anime fan, and Project A-ko is designed to be a collage of all the things that anime fans of the era adored.
A Worthwhile Experience
While I know all too well the period in Western anime fandom when Project A-ko was a definitive anime—from the obsession with chibis to the limited reference material that shaped the perception of anime in a certain direction—I also know that I can never truly return to that time. I can only look at Project A-ko from a point where it’s not the mind-blowing, life-altering experience that introduced me to all of the possibilities of animation. But that’s okay: Project A-ko still has a certain charm that’s hard to deny. The lack of inhibition it conveys and the loving care put into every second of it still stand the test of time, at least in terms of spectacle.