Amuro and Aina’s Excellent Adventures: Otakon 2019

Otakon has long been the anime convention I look forward to most every year. I like how it’s always had an great balance between fan and industry where neither side feels neglected, as well as a panel track that encourages in-depth exploration of topics. This year was no exception, with both great guests and a variety of interesting fan panels. Otakon has also settled into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center quite comfortably at this point, and I have few if any complaints about the logistics of the actual location. The only gaffe I will point out is that there’s still a good deal of miscommunication when it comes to autograph lines, but other than that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

With that said, on to the rest of the con report!

Interviews

I conducted interviews with two voice actors at Otakon: industry veteran Inoue Kikuko (Belldandy, Aina Sahalin, Kazami Mizuho) and legend Furuya Toru (Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, Pegasus Seiya). They’ve been getting some traction on Japanese Twitter, which I find thrilling.

As an aside, I love the press area at Otakon in DC. Not only is it a prime cosplay photography space, making it a lively aspect of the con, but it’s so much more convenient than the old one, and makes it significantly easier to schedule activities.

Panels

Frequent Otakon guest and anime industry super veteran Maruyama Masao had a couple of panels where he went through pretty much every anime he’s ever produced. Most of it was fairly mainstream work from his three studios—Madhouse, Mappa, and M2—but there were a few rare gems like a short by Rintaro and Otomo about them bicycle racing each other. He also mentioned at what point he first started working with various directors and creators. Another thing I came away with was how the sex-and-violence-laden Kawajiri Yoshiaki OVAs of the 80s and 90s had hilarious trailers that would abruptly shift from non-stop action to claiming a beautiful love story was in there, complete with cheesy romantic pop.

Anime in Non-Anime was a fun and entertaining panel from Anime World Order‘s Gerald. Not only was it full of laughs, especially when it came to the news coverage of the Naruto run for the Storming Area 51 Facebook group, but it put into perspective how deceptively large the anime industry really is in terms of reach.

Am I Too Old for This? was a pleasant surprise. Rather than being nostalgic commiseration or an empty pep talk, the panel was an informed look at how the concept of adulthood can coexist with the seeming childishness of fandom. The main takeaway was that managing responsibility, whether that’s taking care of yourself or others (or acknowledging when you need help from others), is the contemporary benchmark of adulthood, and that fandom is compatible with this. There was also an important point about not revealing your power level immediately to uninitiated acquaintances, because you have to deal with the reality of how anime fans are perceived in general society.

Animation in Anime by Evan Minto and Nate A.M. was a varied look at both the history and implementation of conveying the illusion of movement in Japanese animation. I think the panel did a good job of dispelling the notion that there is only one good way to animate, and detailing how the particular challenges of animating in Japan (primarily budget and labor issues) resulted in creators having to do more with less. I wonder how many people came out of it eager to learn about legendary animator Kanada Yoshinori, whose distinct style lives on in the likes of Obari Masami, Studio Trigger, and others.

In 20 Years Ago: Anime in 1999 Daryl Surat of Anime World Order looked back on the year 1999, and the fact that it’s been twenty years alarms and frightens me. Regardless of my own insecurity over the passage of time, it was an effective panel at putting anime’s history into perspective. Some tech hiccups interfered with the panel somewhat, but it didn’t impact the overall enjoyment. He also showed a willingness to not put creators on an unnecessary pedestal, as he called out a famous director who likely exploited one of his voice actors.

My Panels

Nine years ago, I did a panel about this blog’s namesake, Ogiue from Genshiken, and since then, I hadn’t touched my favorite manga as a panel topic prior to Otakon 2019. But thanks to a series of rereleases of Kio Shimoku’s older manga, I was inspired to do a panel that didn’t just cover Kio’s most famous title but his entire manga career. Thus was born Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku.

Creator spotlights are not the most popular panels, so there wasn’t a large audience at first, and the next panel being JoJo’s meant those seated at the end weren’t necessarily there to see me, but I think I accomplished what I wanted in going over Kio’s varied and daring manga works. To my pleasant surprise, I even won over a harsh critic on the Otakon feedback forums.

I had a second panel as well, Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots! with Patz from The Cockpit and Alain from Reverse Thieves. It was a more relaxed panel than my Kio one, and was built around looking at various robot anime that highlight romance amid conflict. My hope is that the panel got people thinking, even a little.

For those who attended my panels, thank you, and I hope to see you next year. I’ve got some ideas in the works…!

Bradio Concert

Having watched the anime Death Parade and enjoyed its high-energy opening theme, I was looking forward to Bradio’s live performance at Otakon, and it delivered in spades. Their attitude and presentation drew me in, and their unique jazz/funk/disco-fusion style is hard not to enjoy. I loved the hell out of every song, and it’s clear the crowd did too, as I could see people practically compelled to dance to the groove. Bradio’s irresistible music is made all the better by the singer’s excellent vocals and sheer range—he pretty much did one song entirely in falsetto without losing any power.

I would see Bradio again, no doubt.

As an aside, I stopped in briefly for the Nujabes Tribute Concert, but wasn’t able to stay long enough to get a good idea of it overall.

Other Notes

I briefly stopped by the Saturday Morning Cartoons subtitled video room. Along with the dubbed video room, the idea was to replicat watching anime from the 90s with commercials. I watched Sailor Moon in Japanese, and like with so many other shows with a merchandise engine behind them, there were tons of Sailor Moon commercials during the actual show. I also got to see a commercial starring the best video game mascot ever: Segata Sanshiro. If I had more time, I would’ve liked to stay there a bit more.

Also, shout-outs to the dealer’s room booth that was selling Precure, Doremi, and classic magical girl stuff I got this fine piece of Princess Comet/Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san merchandise, and I was definitely tempted to get more. A rare find!

And lastly, some cosplay.

Otakon 2019 Interview: Inoue Kikuko

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019. I had the opportunity to sit down with voice actor Inoue Kikuko for an extended period, so this is a longer interview than usual. Inoue is known for many roles, such as Belldandy in Oh My Goddess! and Aina Sahalin in Gundam: 08th MS Team.

Ogiue Maniax: Hello, Inoue-san, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I have many questions, as you have an illustrious career, and I’m looking forward to this interview.

Inoue: I’m pleased to hear that! Thank you!

Ogiue Maniax: First, I’d like to ask you about one of your most recent roles, as Tachibana Mayumi, the mother character in Mix. What is it like working on the series and how familiar were you with Adachi Mitsuru’s manga prior to working on the show?

Inoue: With regards to the manga artist Adachi Mitsuru, you could almost make his work a genre—the Adachi Mitsuru genre of manga. They’re very close to my heart, and I don’t think it’s just me who thinks so. Most of the Japanese people I know who read manga might feel the same as me. I believe that in a way, you can say it’s almost nationwide, his manga. So when I got the role for Tachibana Mayumi in Mix, I was very happy that I was able to become the mother of the main characters.

This is because I believe that Adachi Mitsuru manga are very unique—very docile, very gentle. This is something we are seeing less and less of these days, with the very fast-paced and exciting styles of anime these days, but Adachi Mitsuru has a style that’s more slow-paced and gentle, but very deep in thought. So I believe these are distinct and very unique values too that are very important in this day and age, and I am very happy to take part in such a great work.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is about the character Aina Sahalin in Gundam 08th MS Team. It was a series that ended up with two directors due to the unfortunate passing of Director Kanda. How would you compare working with Director Iida to working with Director Kanda on 08th MS Team?


Inoue: With regards to Aina, back when I got the role for her, I was a relatively new voice actor, and I believed that Gundam was far beyond what I was able to do back then. I was auditioning for many things but not all auditions would go great, and Gundam was a very big franchise even back then, so being able to get the role of Aina was a special moment for me.

The director Kanda-san wasn’t someone I was able to talk to often, as I was a very new voice actor at the time, and I couldn’t really muster up the courage to go and talk to him as much as I would have liked to. In that sense, I regret not being able to get the courage back then because when Kanda-san passed away, I had very sad thoughts because I wasn’t able to talk to him anymore.

When Iida-san took over the project, I believe that the 08th MS Team story had been passed on in terms of the theme still being there, and I do believe we—Kanda-san, Iida-san, and I—were all on the same page in terms of saying that in war, you have these things happen. There’s an anti-war message in there, and in that sense, I believe we were all on the same page, and Iida-san took on the torch after Kanda-san very nicely.

Ogiue Maniax: You’re generally known for playing very gentle and kind characters, but one character you’re also known for is I-No in the Guilty Gear series is famously extremely rude and aggressive. What do you focus on differently when playing a character like I-No, as opposed to your other more famous roles?

Inoue: In terms of characters I’ve played, I-No is a very unique character because she’s very foul-mouthed, one might say. So when I got the lines for I-No in the studio, I was actually going, “I can’t say this out loud! But I’m a voice actor, so I have to overcome this, right?” So I went in there and shouted horrible things, and I didn’t know how to feel. But now, when I look back, I really feel that I grew as a voice actor then, and now I love the character very much.

At first, I felt kind of bad for saying her lines, and I didn’t really comfortable saying them, but after a while it actually became pleasurable.

Ogiue Maniax: More recently, you’ve been playing characters who are not just motherly and kind but literally mothers. I noticed that, often-times, even though they’re small parts, they are quite memorable, and people remember your characters even though they appear for only one or two characters. Two examples I can think of are Ban Kenji’s mom in Heartcatch Precure and Nishikino Maki’s mom in Love Live! How do you enjoy these roles, and do you bring your own ever bring your own experiences as a mother to your performance?

Inoue: When I was still a new voice actor, the very first role I ever got as a regular role was as a mother character. That was when I was in my 20s, when I wasn’t a mother, but I still got a mother character. And after that, another mother character. And after that, another mother character. All of these characters I had were mothers, so I actually thought, “What is it like to be a mother?” I referred to my mother, as she’s the kindest person I know of, and I actually think she’s the kindest mother in this world, so I would channel her into myself and make myself act like her. But after becoming a mother, I noticed that I was taking these roles very naturally, and I didn’t have to refer back to my mother on all these literal mother roles. It might have become second nature

Ogiue Maniax: Your daughter, Inoue Honoka, is also in voice acting. Has there been any advice you gave her about working in the industry?

Inoue: At first, when Honoka said she wanted to become a voice actor, I actually felt a bit uneasy because in this day and age, when the market has very talented people at such young ages, and it’s a very difficult place to succeed in. But I found out that she’s very studious and really wanted to become a voice actor, so I looked at her scripts, and at home, we would practice together. I’m not sure if this would count as advice, but what I said to her was, “When you speak, you’re not speaking with your mouth—you’re speaking with your heart. All these lines that you say, they’re from your heart, and your mouth is only where they come out. It’s really from the heart, so don’t let the mouth get to you.”

Ogiue Maniax: There’s a character you play in Fate/Grand Order named Scheherazade who has a growing friendship with a character named Nitocris. What do you think of that relationship, especially through the summer event?

Inoue: At first, I thought Scheherazade was very docile and didn’t have her emotions show on the surface, so I was very happy when these lines hinting at their friendship came up. Scheherazade felt lonely at first, so having a friend who comes up in her lines makes me feel happy for her now.

Ogiue Maniax: Another role that I think a lot of people remember you for is Kazami Mizuho in Please Teacher! How did you feel playing the role, and somewhat related, what was it like in your brief appearance in the anime Waiting in the Summer?

Inoue: As I referred to earlier, at the time of Please Teacher!, many of my roles were mother or big sister-type roles, and I still kept getting those roles. But Mizuho was a character who was a proper heroine in the sense of being a main female character. At the time, I was much older than when I first started out, so I thought I might not get the role, that it might be impossible for me. But when I auditioned, I got the role, so as a voice actor, getting the role of Mizuho was very significant. I actually thought that, after I had played Mizuho, I felt I had lived a good life, and that I didn’t have any regrets from then on.

In regards to my appearance in Waiting in the Summer, let’s just say that I can’t comment too much about the voice due to difficult reasons, so let’s just keep that a secret.

Ogiue Maniax: I’ve actually read that you voiced the character Princess Vespa in the Japanese dub of the American movie Spaceballs. It’s kind of a cult favorite in the US—did you know what it was before you played the part, and do you know how the movie was received in Japan?

Inoue: I actually had no idea that it had such a cult following in the US! It was such a long time ago, so I can’t remember what it felt back then, but I’m sure that one of the things I was thinking was, “Wow, what a movie! Are you even allowed to do this?” That’s one thing I’m certain I felt.

Ogiue Maniax: Going back to the fighting game genre, you played a character named Lily McGuire in the Fatal Fury OVAs and movie. What was it like working on that series, and what was it like acting opposite Terry Bogard’s voice actor, Nishikiori Kazukiyo, especially because he appears to have more experience in live-action than voice acting?

Inoue: Fatal Fury was a very memorable franchise because the director was Obari [Masami]-san, who was relatively young back then. When I think about directors, I always imagine someone relatively older than me, but he was very young, and it was a very fun project too. So I kind of thought that it was interesting how someone this young could have such an interesting project going.

As for Kazukiyo-san, is he from Johnny’s?

Ogiue Maniax: Yes.

Inoue: Oh, right! I couldn’t really talk to Kazukiyo-san much, so I can’t comment too much on him. Sorry about that!

Ogiue Maniax: This is my last question, to follow up on the previous one. Do you have any interesting stories about working with Obari-san on Fatal Fury?

Inoue: As I said earlier, for the question about 08th MS Team, back then, voice actors didn’t really talk too much with the directors directly. There was a big wall of people between the director and voice actors. We couldn’t talk too much to many of the directors, but Obari-san was actually a bit different. He was very friendly, and we were able to talk to him very openly. In that sense, he was a very kind character.

These days, I don’t work as often as I did back then, but being in the industry, being around a similar age when we were doing Fatal Fury, and having matured in the same time in the same industry, I feel proud every time I see his name in the credits of an anime. I am very pleased to have worked with him back then.

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you!

 

 

Otakon 2019 Interview: Furuya Toru

This interview was conducted at Otakon 2019 in Washington, DC. Furuya Toru is the voice behind famous anime characters such as Amuro Ray (Gundam), Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon), and Seiya (Saint Seiya).

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Furuya. I have a few questions I’d like to get the answers to. First, you’re known for many famous roles, but one of your early major ones was Hoshi Hyuuma in Star of the Giants. What was it like working on the show with director Nagahama?

Furuya: That was an anime from almost fifty years ago, and back then I was a middle schooler, and back then, Nagahama-san wasn’t there at the recordings. So I actually don’t have too many memories with him, unfortunately.

Ogiue Maniax: I have another question about Star of the Giants. I’ve heard before that there is a famous episode where a pitch–a single pitch–takes the entire episode. I’ve had trouble finding out more about it. Do you recall this episode, and if so, do you remember what it was like to work on it?

Furuya: There wasn’t an episode where a single throw was one episode, but there was an episode where a single inning was one episode. The anime always did this thing where it would end at a really good place–the camera would stop at the ball right in the air, and many people would want to know what happened next. So I think that went on to be talked about as only one throw in that episode

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask about one of your recent roles. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is Casshern in Casshern Sins.

Furuya: With regards to Casshern, back then, I was at a point in time where I was thinking that I’ve gotten old and there’s lots of new people in the industry, and I’m not gonna have many main character roles like before. But then, Casshern from Casshern Sins was an offer I got directly from the director of Casshern Sins, director Yamauchi, who I had worked with previously on Saint Seiya. I was very honored at the fact that I was able to do the main character, and it was a while since I played a main character for a TV series. Unfortunately, maybe it was the overall theme being a bit dark and heavy, but it did not receive as good a reception as we hoped for, but I really like Casshern Sins.

Ogiue Maniax: It’s a really excellent show.

Furuya: [In English] Thank you so much!

Ogiue Maniax: I want to ask you about another main character, one that’s more obscure: the main hero from the anime Groizer X. Did you know that the show is actually apparently quite beloved in Brazil?

Furuya: [In English] Really?! [in Japanese] I didn’t know at all. I’ve been to Brazil three times, and I  knew Saint Seiya was popular, but I never heard anything about Groizer X.

Ogiue Maniax: I read online that it was one of the first mecha shows to come to Brazil, so it influenced Brazil in terms of giant robot anime.

Furuya: I think the people there might not realize I did both Kaisaka Joe from Groizer X and Seiya from Saint Seiya.

Ogiue Maniax: My next question is going back to your experience with directors. Director Tomino is known for being a very interesting person. As someone who has worked with him a lot, do you have any favorite stories or memorable experiences with Director Tomino?

Furuya: This is going back to Gundam, but back then, Gundam was a very new and novel concept for a show. As the person who came up with it, I thought he was a genius. I also thought he was a very scary person, but he actually came to all of the recordings we had, and he didn’t give too many directions. But back then, I remember that there were a lot of new female voice actors in the field, and lots of them were having a hard time doing their roles. So Director Tomino would actually be very caring to explain exactly how he wanted some acts to be done. So that was memorable.

Ogiue Maniax: Speaking of female voice actors in Gundam, I was recently watching an anime with Inoue You [the voice of Sayla Mass], and to me, you and Inoue both are fantastic voice actors. Sadly, she passed away, so I wanted to know if you have any lasting impressions or memories of her.

Furuya: You-san was in the business since childhood, so I really looked up to her. She was also a really good cook. Back in the Gundam days, after recording, we would go over to her place to have curry that she cooked.

Ogiue Maniax: That’s wonderful. 

When I think about your performances, you’re very good at playing characters of all ages–young, old, different personalities. Do you have any advice for, say, new voice actors who are trying to achieve that versatility?

Furuya: For new people in the voice acting field, I would actually say they should want to experience many things because my personal experience when I get new roles to play is that I go back and do some research on what kind of role this is, what kind of world this is, and what character I’m doing. I would think long and hard about what kind of voice that character would have. I would go as far as to act the same movements as the characters would be making. So I’d actually do it kind of like a play, where I would actually move the same way and give a thought as to what the character would move like, or what the world is like. In that sense, my approach towards those roles is the versatility I have, and to new voice actors, I would suggest them to get many new experiences so they can give more educated thought on how a character may sound like.

Ogiue Maniax: If there’s one message you’d want people to take away from Gundam, what would it be?

Furuya:

Ogiue Maniax: Thank you very much!

Pre-Otakon 2019 Hype Courtesy of the Speakeasy Podcast

Otakon 2019 is this weekend, and I recently appeared on the Reverse Thieve’s Pre-Otakon Speakeasy Podcast. We go into what panels we’re doing and what panels we’re looking forward to, so have a listen if you’re inclined and share your thoughts and expectations.

As for Ogiue Maniax’s panels, I have two this year.

Genshiken & Beyond: The Works of Kio Shimoku

Saturday, 7pm-8pm in Panel 7 (Room 146C)

Artist Kio Shimoku is best known for the manga Genshiken, but his career is filled with plenty of other fun, daring, and thought-provoking titles. Come and learn about Kio’s life, works, and artistic evolution!

Star-Crossed Alien Lovers…in Robots!

Sunday, 1245pm-145pm in Panel 5 (Room 151B)

When giant robots and romantic relationships collide, there’s bound to be chaos, drama, and more than a few messages about peace between peoples. See how some of the most iconic and fantastic mecha anime approach the perennial trope of star-crossed lovers!

See you in Washington DC!

VOTE NOVEMBER 6!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2018

The blog is doing just swell, and I’m grateful as always for my supporters on Patreon and ko-fi, who are below:

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

But the more important thing, namely for any United States citizen 18 and up, is to vote. People might think their votes don’t matter, but over and over we see how apathy lets those with more extreme agendas weasel their way. We have literal killers who feel motivated by our current political climate to emerge out of whatever sewers they crawled out of. I will be at the polls, and I hope you’ll decided to go too.

My favorite posts from October:

Can-Do Candy: Dagashi Kashi Full Manga Review

At long last, a full look at everyone’s favorite candy comic.

Beyond Expectations: Planet With

A review of a fantastic anime from the past season.

The Significance of the Classic Anime Devilman in Devilman Crybaby

How does the uniquely insightful, uniquely horny Galko-chan handle one of the classic romance tropes?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 9 finally starts to pull the veil back on the life of Orihara.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu Friends! Choreography Has Won Me Over

The dancing has improved in Aikatsu! and notably so.

Closing

See you next month. I’m hopeful for a better tomorrow. Remember: November 6.

Darling in the NYCCs: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for October 2018

New York Comic Con is this week. I’m hoping to see Nozawa Masako (the legendary voice of Goku) at the Dragon Ball Super: Broly film showing. I wish she had a signing—she plays Tetsurou in my favorite anime ever, Galaxy Express 999—but alas.

Thank you as always to my supporters on Patreon and Ko-fi, especially the following!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

My favorite posts from September:

On Loli Vampires, Fiction, and Morality

A complicated topic I’d been wanting to write about for a while: the complexities of morality when it comes to large age gaps in fiction.

Akira Yuki (Virtua Fighter) for Super Smash Bros.

My interpretation of how Akira would work in Smash!

Please Tell Me! Galko-chan and Portrayals of the Nerd/Bombshell Romance

How does the uniquely insightful, uniquely horny Galko-chan handle one of the classic romance tropes?

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 8 puts the spotlight on Koizumi Himari, a childhood friend who’s more than meets the eye.

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu Friends! Choreography Has Won Me Over

The dancing has improved in Aikatsu! and notably so.

Closing

This month is actually my first ever wedding anniversary! It’s crazy to think that I’ll have been married for one whole year. Here’s to love.

Gangplank Galleon All Day Every Day: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for September 2018

The summer is coming to an end, but here I am still feeling jitters from the August Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Direct. I was stoked when they announced King K. Rool, especially because the official version matches my fan concept version pretty closely!

As for my Patreon and Ko-fi, I’m thankful to all those who continue to support Ogiue Maniax. Thanks to the following!

Thank you to…

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

The past month has been quite comfortable overall for Ogiue Maniax; even the strange Patreon non-payment issue didn’t affect me too much. Instead, what I’m struggling with (though “struggle” is a bit over-exaggerating) is trying to strike the right balance between how much I write about anime and manga and how much I actually engage with the stuff. I’ve been spending a lot of time recently watching and reading more than blogging, and it’s helped to refresh my mind and inspire new ideas. However, if I write less than I usually do in a given week, I can feel myself getting a bit lazier, and wanting to put things off more and more. It’s as if there’s a groove that I can ride to putting out lots of good content, but staying with it for too long can wear me down.

That said, here are my favorite posts from August.

Kio Shimoku’s Kagerowic Diary and Its Influence on Genshiken and Spotted Flower

Some of Kio’s old manga is getting new special-edition releases! Here’s a look at an early work of his, and the footprints it has in his more recent titles.

Otakon 2018 Interview: Kawamori Shoji

My one-on-one interview with the creator of Macross, Aquarion, and more!

Tatanga for Super Smash Bros.

After about a two-year hiatus, I’ve gotten back to drawing Smash Bros. character concepts in celebration of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate! So far, I’ve done Tatanga and Turrican.

Hashikko Ensemble

Chapter 7 of Kio’s new manga has some introducing new characters. Among them, one awesome mom. 

Patreon-Sponsored

The Big O and Loving Robots

A look at artificial intelligence, love, and agency.

Closing

I of course am also stoked for Castlevania being in Smash. Let us celebrate with some fine tunes:

Mecca of Mecha: Otakon 2018

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

Panels

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

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

Fan Panels

Transformers: The Birds and the Bumblebees

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

NoS Anime

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

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

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

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

Outsourced Anime

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

Gattai! Giant Robots from 198X

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

Industry/Guest Panels

Kawamori Shoji

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

Ebikawa Kanetake

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

Nagai Tatsuyuki

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

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

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

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

Discotek Media

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

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

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

Hiccups and Missteps

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

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

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

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

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

Con Food

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

Events

Concert

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

Hi-Score Girl

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

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

Overall

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

Otakon 2018 Panel: Kawamori Shoji’s History of Macross

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

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

From Megaload to Macross

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

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

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

Designing the Valkyrie

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

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

The Success of Macross Leads to New Perspectives

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

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

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

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

Macross 7, Macross Plus

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

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

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

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

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

Macross, CG Graphics, and the Future

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

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

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

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

Otakon 2018 Interview: Kawamori Shoji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!