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Though I doubt he needs introduction, Seki Tomokazu is a well-known and highly celebrated Japanese voice actor, who has performed roles such as Domon Kasshu in G Gundam, Tanaka Souichirou in Genshiken, and Takahashi Keisuke in Initial D, among many, many others.

Hello, welcome to Otakon! Actually, a few years ago when you were a guest at Otakon I actually asked you a question about Hiyama Nobuyuki, but now I’d like to ask you about your recent work.

So the first question I’d like to ask is your role in Gyrozetter as “Mic Man Seki,” because I’m wondering, as you share the same name, if you were the inspiration for the character, or is it merely coincidence?

So originally the character was called a different name, and his profile was different, but the staff said, “It’s Seki doing it, so we should probably change this around.” So they decided to change the name, change the profile, and now the character is me.

I’d like to ask you about another recent role you had, your voice work in Gokaiger. How is voice acting for a live-action show different from anime, and how do you feel about your voice coming out of children’s toys?

So when I was small, I was also playing with tokusatsu toys, and to think that children nowadays play with those toys and that my voice comes out of it, I feel very honored and very happy that children are playing with those toys.

Regarding acting, I don’t really differentiate anime acting from live-action. It would be the same, but then the only thing I would really care about is to say it very heroically and courageously, as the word “goukai” in Gokaiger implies.

My next question is actually about Genshiken, of which I’m a fan, because you play Tanaka, a character very different from your other roles. What was it like playing Tanaka, and because of the recent cast change, although I know this may be a difficult question, if you know the reasons for the change?

So regarding the character Tanaka, he really likes figures and plamos and such, and I personally really like models, and although this character is very different from the ones I’ve been doing, his inside, as a person who likes models, is something I could relate to very much. I feel that the casting and such were matched up for that purpose.

As for the cast change in Genshiken, it does sort of happen at times when the sequel of a series goes on with a different company or production, and I thought I would love to do it again, but since I took on other roles after other people in similar ways, I would just need to term it as an “adult world.” I don’t have much to say.

I would also like to ask you about working with Mizuhashi Kaori, especially in Genshiken.

Mizuhashi Kaori is small but very energetic. She’s a very nice girl, but I don’t get to see her much these days. She’s about this big. *Seki puts his hands about a forearm’s length apart, to which I do the same*

*Laughs* You don’t believe me.

You’re known for voicing a lot of powerful characters, but your strangest role may be Mepple in Pretty Cure. How did you get that role, and how was it playing the character? Was it a challenge?

About Mepple, this offer came in to me, and they told me to do it as I like it, so I thought I should just do it in my regular voice. That day, on my very first recording on Mepple, I was feeling really good, and I decided to do it with a sort of high voice. They told me, if you can do that for an entire year, please do it. So, the only really good day I had was just that one day, and afterwards I was having a really hard time doing that one voice. Now that I think about it, it was a year of really hard work.

My final question has to do with voice acting. A few years ago, Mitsuya Yuji was a guest at Otakon, and he talked about how in the old days voice acting was a side job for theatre and drama actors. Nozawa Masako has also mentioned outside experience is also valuable, as opposed to acting exclusively in anime or voice acting. What do you think of this advice, and do you think it’s possible to be a strong voice actor without that outside background?

I think both opinions are correct. Whether you have influence or not, it’s all about how hard you work yourself. But, I am in the generation where Ms. Masako was my teacher, my sensei, and I learned from her that to be a good voice actor you have to be very powerful without just the voice actor part, that you need to be very good at using your body to act and such. From how she raised me, I think that’s very true, and outside experience helps very much, but the recent generation don’t really follow that example, so it really is up to the person.

This is an interview with Tachikawa Yuzuru and Suwa Michihiko, both of whom are involved with the Anime Mirai project, an annual Japanese government-funded program to help teach young animators the skills they need to improve Japan’s animation industry. Tachikawa is the director of one such Anime Mirai-funded work, Death Billiards. Suwa is better known as the producer for works including Detective ConanMagic Knight Rayearth, and City Hunter, and is part of the Anime Mirai selection committee.

So the first thing I want to ask you pertaining to Anime Mirai is, because the project developed from wanting to help young animators, what is your opinion of the current state of anime for young animators in Japan? Would you like to see a future perhaps where the AnimeMirai project is no longer necessary because there are so many opportunities for young animators?

Tachikawa: So the reality is that when it comes to the number of animators versus the number of projects, the projects are greatly outnumbering the animators. The upper staff (senpai) is supposed to teach the younger (kouhai), but that’s not really happening these days. To speak bluntly, the studio doesn’t have much time or money, so it’s sort of centered around making the project. So since Anime Mirai is being funded by the country, I hope that it will be a starter for raising new hopes for the anime industry.

In the end, what would be best is if the upper staff at the studio would be able to teach the younger staff and that way Anime Mirai would no longer be needed. That would be the best future we could see.

You said the Anime Mirai project is funded by the Japanese government. What unique advantage does this provide, the fact that it is state funded?

Suwa: So the country funds Anime Mirai with I think 38 million yen, check back with me for the numbers. Sfter Anime Mirai makes a project, throughout the year the project will be shown as a movie. But after that, the movie/show will be in the hands of the companies, and it will then be a new project for the companies to get a profit out of Anime Mirai, so I think it will be a new way of doing things.

This question is about Death Billiards because it uses a lot of 3DCG in its animation of billiards. I know 3DCG has been seen in a variety of ways, such as a shortcut, a new form of animation unto itself, and as a cost-saving measure. What is your opinion of using 3D computer graphics in anime?

Tachikawa: Personally I don’t like anime becoming all 3DCG, it has to be a balance of both. The importance would be using 3DCG in the right place at the right time. The balls in Death Billiards are 3DCG, but the project had plans to teach the younger ones how to draw the more human parts, so we left the billiard balls and such to 3DCG.

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This year’s Otakon was its 20th anniversary, and as expected of the staff they brought out the big guns, with names such as Watanabe Shinichirou, Kanno Yohko, and Seki Tomokazu. As with every year, one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Otakon is that there’s too much to do, and it leaves me feeling both satisfied and a bit disappointed.

For one thing, I didn’t get to see the Space Dandy trailer.

Industry

Watanabe Shinichirou (Cowboy Bebop)

Possibly the biggest news to come out of Otakon was the announcement of Watanabe’s new anime, the aforementioned Space Dandy. Described by Watanabe as “80% comedy, 20% serious” in contrast to Cowboy Bebop‘s “80% serious, 20% comedy,” the series sounds just plain interesting when you hear how much they’re putting into it. In terms of music, for example, Watanabe stated that they would have over 20 artists contributing to the soundtrack, and in terms of production every episode would have different episode directors and different designs for the aliens inhabiting their planets.

I managed to ask Watanabe about having Thomas Romain (Basquash!, Oban Star Racers) on staff for ship design, and Watanabe mentioned that he had been impressed with Romain’s work for a while. Also, while Romain is Satelight staff and normally wouldn’t be able to work at Bones for Watanabe, Romain turned out to be a huge fan of Cowboy Bebop which gave Watanabe the leverage to get him on board for this one project.

I do wonder how it’ll be received among American fans, because there was some disappointment from the fanbase over Watanabe’s previous work, Kids on the Slope. While Space Dandy is closer to his action-ey works, the “80% comedy” part might be unwelcome by those fans looking for drama and grit. That said, I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Kurosaki Kaoru on Watsuki Nobuhiro (Rurouni Kenshin)

One of the more unique guests this time around was Kurosaku Kaoru, a novelist in her own right, but also more relevant to the otaku audience as the wife of Watsuki Nobuhiro, author of Rurouni Kenshin. Originally Watsuki himself was supposed to come as well, but he was unable to due to working on Embalming. Kaoru also held a panel all about Watsuki, but because of the way she went about it the crowd also learned a lot about some of the most famous Shounen Jump manga artists, as well as the workings of Jump in general.

There was also a gallery of Watsuki’s works, the first of its kind, but sadly even though we could take photos we are not allowed to share them online. (I’m sure somebody has though.)

Watsuki we learned is a big fan of American media, as one of his biggest regrets about not being able to attend Otakon was not being able to visit a Toys “R” Us and look at the Pacific Rim merchandise. He’s also a big fan of American comics, and his favorite superheroes are the X-Men. We also got to see his daily work schedule, which is mind-bogglingly arduous but also par for the course. According to the breakdown, Watsuki works from 10am to 6pm, from 7pm to late, and midnight to 4am. Sleep is 4am-9am, and the other gaps are for meals. That’s 5 hours of sleep versus about 15 hours for work. If he keeps on schedule, he gets four days of rest at the end of each month.

Kurosaki also provided a monthly breakdown of his schedule, and while inking comprised the majority of it, it was especially fascinating to see that the “name,” an extremely rough preliminary version of the manga which is mainly about panel and page layout and narrative flow, takes four days to comple. Kurosaki mentioned that the “name” is so simple as to use stick figures, but the attention paid to this part of the manga-creating process does emphasize how important panel flow is in manga.

Kaoru also took us through the process by which Watsuki makes color images, which involves drawing a thumbnail and then going over it with a Japanese calligraphy brush and copic markers for color. Watsuki apparently thinks that It’s good for one shot illustrations but not the manga itself, as it requires more concentration but the lines become more dynamic, and it acts as a time-saving measure for color images. The traditional feel that the brush art gives off also matches the theme and feel of Kenshin. Related to that, when someone asked about the setting of Rurouni Kenshin, the answer was that Watsuki wanted to draw a period piece with sword fights but didn’t want to draw topknots (they were strange-looking to a modern Japanese audience as well as an international one), so the Meiji period was the only point in history where you could have the former without the latter.

I wish I could’ve asked more about copics, as I find it interesting that they’re such an industry standard.

In terms of former assistants, Watsuki’s lineup is near-Olympian, counting among them Oda Eiichirou (One Piece), Murata Yuusuke (Eyeshield 21), Shimabukuro Mitsutotshi (Toriko), Mikio Itoo (Normandy Secret Club), and Takei Hiroyuki (Shaman King), all of whom consider Watsuki a friend. From Kaoru we learned that there are three breaks a year for Jump artists, and that during those breaks everyone either gathers at Watsuki’s or Oda’s house. Shimabukuro is a current neighbor of theirs, while Takei is a former neighbor. Murata, now known for his exquisite artwork on One Punch Man, used to be an assistant on Gun Blaze West, though at the time Watsuki thought his drawings were “no good.”

Mikio Itoo is known as the “cameo king,” appearing multiple times in One Piece, Shaman King, and even Kenshin in background posters and crowds and such.

Another major name who worked with Watsuki on Kenshin was former editor-in-chief of Shounen Jump, Sasaki Hisashi, who worked with Watsuki from his first submission all the way to the end of Kenshin. The basis for a certain character in Bakuman (he even uses the fictionalized version of himself as a Twitter avatar), Sasaki is often asked about the accuracy of Bakuman, to which the official reply is, “Things depicted in Bakuman are neither true nor false.” We also learned that Jump employees are not supposed to give comments outside the office using their real faces.

Not limited to people who have worked directly with, over, or under Watsuki, we also saw comments from Kishimoto Masashi (Naruto), Inugaki Riichirou (also Eyeshield 21), Matsui Katsunori (La Sommelière), and Suzuki Shinya (Mr. Fullswing). Did you know the last chapter of Kenshin ran in the same magazine as the first chapter of Naruto? Kishimoto saw this as a kind of passing of the baton, and credits Kishimoto for making Japanese culture popular in manga again (but also believes that now it’s become too much). For this reason, Kishimoto calls Watsuki the leader of a generation.

Inugaki’s comment was that Watsuki taught him techniques to speed up the manga-creating process, namely giving rhythm to the use of detail and not trying to draw every little thing. We then learned from Kurosaki that both she and Watsuki play German board games often with Inugaki and his wife, and are especially fans of Dominion. As someone who hasn’t played it but has played games like it and has heard much about it, the intrigue continues to build for me.

Suzuki’s message talked about Watsuki’s fandom, as he once found an entire box full of fan letters for Watsuki. Matsui, whom Kurosaki commented that he’s especially good at drawing cute girls (I would agree), actually did not send any comments, except to promote him in the US. As much as I’d like to see that, I know Drops of God didn’t knock the manga community off its socks, so I don’t know how well the less adventurous La Sommelière would do.

What was maybe the most interesting bit of trivia of all, however, was that a lot of the Jump artists use the instant messaging service LINE to talk to each other and joke around. Watsuki doesn’t use it because he’s bad with computers, so his wife has to tell him what’s going on.

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Sentai Filmworks

The only American industry panel I attended was Sentai Filmworks’, where they were very excited over their recent Girls und Panzer announcement. I also ran into an unfortunate bit of luck, discovering that they had license rescued Betterman, a show which I had just recently scoured Amazon for in other to get the complete release of the original Bandai DVDs. It’s a shame, because it definitely would have been a show I would’ve bought and supported, mainly because it’s such an unusual piece of work.

I asked Sentai Filmworks about the translation issues in their release of Mawaru Penguindrum but the answer given was ignorance, claiming that they had not been aware of the criticisms brought out against their translation choices. Oh well.

Maruyama Masao

While many of the industry guests and panels are excellent, every year the most stand-out guest is Maruyama Masao, founder and former producer at MADHouse, currently founder and producer of MAPPA (Kids on the Slope). Even though he’s been at one Otakon after the other, his Q&A panels are consistently informative and interesting. To give you an idea of how great his answers are, when asked about production delays for Redline (which took 7 years to complete), Maruyama answered that Redline was not late, it took as long as it should have, which was a lot of time due to the amount of work required for it. Maruyama then said that he left MADHouse to take responsibility for the debt that Redline put them into but then said in English, “IT’S A JOKE.”

In one of my favorite moments of Otakon, I asked Maruyama to share some stories about the recently departed Dezaki Osamu (director of works such as The Rose of Versailles, Aim for the Ace, Black Jack OVAs, and even Dear Brother), to which he replied with what was about a 10-minute long answer. Maruyama stated two significant events responsible for his long career in anime: working with two Osamus. First, he worked for Tezuka Osamu at Mushi Pro, and then formed MADHouse with Dezaki. Their first non-Tezuka work was Ashita no Joe. Eventually when the Ashita no Joe 2 film was in planning, they had creative differences where Maruyama believed it was unnecessary and Dezaki wanted to work on it, so he left and formed a studio called Anapple. They would not work with each other for many years, though they were still friends and still played mahjong with each other.

During the time they were apart, Maruyama produced directors such as Hosoda, Kon, Kawajiri, and had no time to work with Dezaki. Eventually, as they both reached old age, they decided to work together once more, and their final project together was, of all things, Ultraviolet. Dezaki wasn’t sure if it was the right work, but it was the only one in the pipeline at the time and the only chance they had to work together. Maruyama said they were happy to make it, though said nothing of the quality of the show. Maruyama then mentioned that Dezaki’s final work, Genji, had Dezaki tryingg to put in everything he couldn’t put into Ultraviolet. Then Maruyama said that with the time he has left on Earth, he would try to bring Dezaki and Kon’s remaining works to the world.

The panel also included a special showing of a short titled Hana wa Saku (Flowers Bloom), directed by Katabuchi Sunao (Mai Mai Miracle) with music by Kanno Yohko, whose purpose was to encourage the people affected by the earthquake. I hear in his other panel he also showed a video directed by Rintaro which was a funeral tribute to Kon Satoshi.

Interviews

I managed to get interviews with both acclaimed voice actor Seki Tomokazu, as well as Tachikawa Yuzuru and Suwa Michihiko, who are involved with the Anime Mirai project. Keep checking Ogiue Maniax for those.

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Fan Panels

In terms of fan-run panels, this year was a mix of new and interesting subjects as well as a few “greatest hits” to celebrate the 20th anniversary. Mike Toole’s panel on “Outsider Anime,” his take on the Henry Darger-esque idea of “Outsider Art” looked at a number of creative and off-the-wall artists who, while for the most part not totally “outsiders” still push the boundaries. Names such as Shinkai and Yuasa are somewhat familiary to anime fans at this point, but I hadn’t heard of Tomioka Satoshi and his bizarre toilet humor rabbit animation Usavich for instance, and only recently learned about Mizue Mirai and his abstract animations. I was especially glad though to see him mention Iseda Katsuyuki, a man infamous for creating anime pretty much on his own with… unique results.

I attended the “45 Years of Shounen Jump” panel (while also singing along with the anime openings). Run by landofobscusion, it was a short “greatest hits” breakdown of the magazine. I learned quite a few things. For example, I did not know Sexy Commando was a top 3 title at one point, nor did I know that the end of Dragonball lost the magazine 500,000 readers while Slam Dunk’s finish lost them 2 million. What was even more interesting was hearing the crowd react to all of the titles mentioned. Yu Yu Hakusho for instance got a gigantic pop that I wasn’t quite expecting, as I knew people liked the show but didn’t know it was nestled that fondly in the hearts of fans who watched it on Cartoon Network.

Because of this panel the second City Hunter opening is stuck in my head now.

Speaking of surprising fan reactions, I am pleased to see the mecha fandom’s opinion of Gundam SEED turn around tremendously. Traditionally, when you go to a giant robot or Gundam-themed panel, there is a valuing of the Universal Century timeline over the alternate universe counterparts not named G Gundam. (The Seki Tomokazu panel I attended taught me just how many people love G Gundam, to the extent that more than one attendee exclaimed Domon Kasshu as a role model for how to live as a man.)

In the past Gundam SEED was seen as a black spot on giant robot anime, “the beginning of the end,” and all it took was a panelist to go “Gundam SEED! BOOOO!” to get the crowd to follow along. This time, though, when I attended the Mechapocalypse panel, Gundam SEED received largely applause rather than jeers, and it just warms my heart to see a mecha fandom which accepts what SEED brings to the table. We all agree though that SEED Destiny is still terrible.

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Actually, the Mechapocalypse panel in general was a good deal of fun. Generally mecha panels are all about going through the history of giant robots and having everyone cheer for their favorites, and while this one retained some of that, it also mixed it up heavily with roundtable discussions of specific themes and characteristics of robot anime, all while keeping it light-hearted. While I’m already familiar with the Japanese Spider-Man, it’s inevitably a crowd pleaser whether you’ve seen it or not.

The other mecha panel (of sorts) I attended was Al’s presentation of the directorial works of Tomino Yoshiyuki, creator of Gundam. Neither full of blind praise for the man nor unfairly critical of his body of work, the panel laid out the various aspects of Tomino’s reputation, particularly his tendency for works to be either fairy light-hearted or particularly violent and morbid, and how both make up Tomino’s overall ouevre into something special. While I know a decent amount about Tomino anime, I also learned a good deal from the panel. I also realized based on audience reaction that Gundam has this strange memetic power which actually exceeds the content of the actual shows. This might be commonplace for anime fans nowadays as a lot of current anime operates actively under such influence, but I recall seeing the shouts of “Char is a lolicon!” back in the late 90s, and I think it’s what fuels some of the odder aspects of most Gundam panels, whether the panelist plans it or not.

The last panel I want to mention is “Anime Mystery Science Theatre 3000.” Although it was my first time seeing it, I learned from others that it was an extremely popular and well-regarded Otakon panel back in the day. Coming out of retirement for Otakon’s 20th anniversary , the Anime MST3K crew took down the GONZO film Origins: Spirits of the Past (aka Gin-iro no Kami no Agito), pointing out the hamfisted environmentalism message alongside the sudden and strange character/romance development points which result in the deformed child of Appleseed and Nausicaa. In addition to being hilarious, I noted that they had indeed kept up with anime over the years, spotting multiple Girls und Panzer references.

Concerts

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This year, Otakon decided to hold two double concerts for its four guests, which resulted in Home Made Kazoku starting for TM Revolution and Ishikawa Chiaki preceded Kanno Yohko. I saw Home Made Kazoku back in 2010 at Otakon and TM Revolution back in 2008 at the first New York Comic Con. In both cases they’re among my favorite concerts I’ve attended, and to see them together was quite a treat. One notable thing about the Kazoku/Revolution concert was that it was held in the Mariner Arena, which made lining up in advance almost entirely pointless as you could get a decent seat even at the last minute. It was a pleasant change-up compared to previous years, and unlike the time with JAM Project I was glad to see the arena fill up a decent amount. I heard that at the end the two groups had a superhero teamup and did a song together, but I sadly had to leave before that.

The Ishikawa/Kanno concert was an anomaly before it even began. Unlike every other concert at Otakon, this concert required tickets due to “unforeseen demand,” and tickets could only be picked up at specific times of the day. While I know Kanno is probably the most popular anime composer out there, it seemed to be an intentional choice to up the value of each seat, marketing at its finest. In order to keep up with demand, Otakon actually created an overflow room so that people could watch the live feed from elsewhere within the Baltimore Convention Center.  The concert itself was also quite fantastic, as Ishikawa’s haunting melodies (“Uninstall” is a perennial favorite) led well into Kanno’s part, which was unlike any convention concert I’ve attended. Kanno was alone on stage with a piano, playing a number of her best hits, including of course “Tank!” and “The Real Folk Blues” from Cowboy Bebop. As the concert went on the white covering laid over the piano became a kind of projection screen which displayed graphic animations to accompany her music. It was a full-on aural/visual combination, as much an artistic performance as it was a musical concert. It was definitely another highlight of Otakon 2013.

The title of this con report comes from Kanno’s introduction by her producer, which I found quite memorable.

Baltimore and Friends

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The most surprising news to come out of Otakon had to do with the convention itself, as the staff announced that Otakon would be moving out of Baltimore into Washington, DC in 2017. Citing capacity issues, I experienced firsthand the fact that the Baltimore Convention Center is increasingly unable to handle the growing attendance rate of Otakon. Friday afternoon saw for whatever reason extreme, extreme congestion on the third floor that made it so it literally took me 15 minutes to walk what should be a 3-5 minute trip, tops. I do feel pretty bad for Baltimore, as I know that Otakon provides them a good deal of money every year. On a personal level, my friends found a great hotel and great places to eat, and to leave them with the possibility of never returning does fill me with a bit of sadness. That said, I still have three years to chow down and go wild.

By the way, if you ever are in Baltimore and decide to go to Abbey Burger Bistro, I’ll tell you about my custom burger I ordered this year because it was fantastic. Duck meat burger (it’s a meat of the month so it might not be available) cooked medium rare, with brie, grilled onions, mushrooms, pineapple, and red pepper paste on thick toast. Do it.

I didn’t hang with or meet people as much as I had in previous years, but I still enjoyed seeing everyone. In terms of group activities, the highlight of the convention was watching Salty Bet in the hotel room. We happened upon a great night which pitted all of the famous overpowered characters against each other, and the unstoppable force vs. immoveable object that was Berserk vs. Rare Akuma made for an unforgettable evening.

Cosplay

I’ll end off with the semi-standard cosplay photo bonanza. I was not quite as trigger happy with the camera this year, but I did find some definite gems. Special shout out to the Sasha cosplayer who actually handed me a potato afterward.

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Once again I’ll be attending Otakon this year, from August 9th to the 11th. This time it’s their 20th Anniversary, and they’ve pulled out all the stops with amazing guests such as Watanabe Shinichirou (director of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Kids on the Slope) and Kanno Yohko (composer for Turn A Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope, Aquarion, and many many other shows).

I won’t be doing any panels this year but I’ll be wearing the above image in my badgeholder. If you know me or recognize me, I’m always open to talking Genshiken.

I’ve also posted a tentative list of things I’ll do below. The contradictions in the schedule are because things happen and I’m also notoriously indecisive.

FRIDAY

11:00am: Anime vs. Hollywood (Panel 4)
11:00am: We Con, Therefore We Are (Panel 7)
12:30pm: Opening Ceremonies (Panel 2)
12:30pm: Anime and Manga Studies (Panel 3)
1:45pm: Ozaki Q&A (Panel 1)
1:45pm: West to East: Anime Adaptations of Western Literature (Panel 4)
3:00pm: A Study of Heroines: Compassion and Courage in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Madoka Magica (Panel 4)
3:00pm: Tomokazu Seki Q&A (Panel 5)
4:15pm: Maruyama Q&A (Panel 6)
4:15pm: Suwa, Tachikawa Q&A (Panel 3)
5:00pm: Otakon Game Show: Qualification Quiz! (Workshop 1)
5:00pm: Tomokazu Seki Autograph
5:00pm: Shinichiro Watanabe Autograph
5:30pm: The Worst Anime of All Time (Panel 2)
6:45pm: Anime Amazons (Panel 1)
8:00pm: Mystery Anime Theater 3000 (Panel 2)
8:00pm: Awesome Women in Anime (Panel 3)
9:00pm: Otakon Game Show (Panel 5

SATURDAY

10:45pm: Crunchyroll (Panel 1)
10:45pm: Aniplex Industry Panel (Panel 2)
1:15pm: Vertical Panel (Panel 2)
3:45pm: World War Two in Anime (Panel 3)
4:00pm: Saturday Concert (Mariner Arena)
4:45pm: Anime Mythology: Giant Robots & Superheroes (Panel 5)
5:00pm: Daisuki Industry Panel (Panel 6)
6:15pm: Girls und Panel (Panel 4)
7:30pm: 45 Years of Shonen Jump: A Visual History (Panel 1)
7:30pm: Otaku Hotspots in Tokyo (Panel 4)
8:45pm: Kill ‘em All and Let Sunrise Sort ‘em Out: A Yoshiyuki Tomino Panel (Panel 1)
10:30pm: Anime’s Craziest Deaths (Panel 7)
10:45pm: Bad Anime, Bad!! (Panel 5)

SUNDAY

11:00am: Shinichiro Watanbe Q&A (Panel 2)
11:00am: Anime After the Quake (Panel 5)
1:00pm: Sunday Concert (Main Events)
3:00pm: Con Feedback Session (Panel 2)

The past two years, I’ve attended the Dutch anime con, “Anime Con,” but this year I decided to mix it up a bit and go primarily to the Dutch Starcraft League Finals, which was happening as a part of the Anime Con. It was a fun event, and I got to meet such great personalities as Madals, Kaelaris, and even German champion Hasuobs, who was actually there not for the tournament but for the anime con. Also of course congratulations to the winner Harstem, who managed to upset in the finals with strong Dark Templar play.

One weird thing about the event was that the cameras broadcasting the event had a tendency to fixate on cute girls (especially if they were in cosplay), as if to say, “Hey, girls watch this too! Isn’t that amazing?!” The funniest thing to come out of this was the fact that the camera would focus on one female cosplayer so much that it failed to actually notice that the guy she was with was Hasuobs.

As it was a Starcraft tournament at an anime con, I thought it only appropriate that I quickly make some cheerfuls combining both hobbies together.

When it comes to comics, the Netherlands is an interesting country. Situated close to Belgium and France, the Dutch have had close ties with that bande dessinée (Franco-Belgian comics) culture, particularly when it comes to the Flemish comics, but they’ve also developed a comics culture all their own. While I’d learned about this a fair deal before, when I went to the Dutch comics festival “Stripfestival Breda” this past month, I was able to see it much more clearly.

Taking place in the city of Breda and spread across different locations near the center of town, Stripfestival Breda is a two-day event to celebrate comics. There, you could buy comics from a variety of venders, get your picture taken with your favorite characters (whether that means cosplay by fans or actual people hired to dress up), and even meet the artists responsible for all of these comics. Each location specialized in a certain area, such as one for events and awards, though I didn’t attend all of them due to time constraints and other inconveniences such as my lack of Dutch fluency. Instead, I primarily looked at the industry area, located in a theater, and the self-published area, located in the city’s Great Church (every Dutch city seems to have one).

The industry locale was the epicenter of the festival, and companies from both inside and outside of the Netherlands were there. They had plenty of books to sell, but what I found to be most impressive is that in a lot of cases, not only were the artists themselves there, but they were offering free sketches. The biggest booth was the Eppo booth, home of a variety of Dutch comics both classic and new (and in some cases the comics have run long enough to be both), which housed about 8-10 artists each with their own lines. With big names in Dutch comics such as Martin Lodewijk of Agent 327, as well as Jorg de Vos and Roman Molenaar, the artists behind Storm (which is available in English), it was a collection of heavy hitters, but amazingly the lines were short enough that I could get multiple sketches in well under an hour.

Martin Lodewijk

In fact, by my estimation, the combined lines between all of the Eppo artists was about as long as a line for Fred Gallagher (Megatokyo) at Otakon. This isn’t to say knock either Fred or the Dutch artists, but just to say that I was amazed by how accessible these artists were.

Interestingly, the most popular comic among young Dutch kids is an Italian series called Geronimo Stilton. I don’t know much about it other than the fact that it features an anthropomorphic journalist mouse who goes on adventures, or whether it’s doing well in the US, but its success was clear as kids line up to take photos with a real Geronimo Stilton, Disneyland-style.

There was definitely a French/Belgian presence as well, though I didn’t spend much time with them, and there were vendors selling a huge variety of comics, including (what I assumed to be) old, hard-to-find items. Many of the vendors sold comics with some erotic content, but there didn’t seem to be any particular separation or shame in it. In some cases they were shrink-wrapped, in some cases they weren’t.

There was some presence for manga and American comics, especially the life-sized Iron Man statue, the anime fan artists who I’ve seen at the Dutch anime cons, and the requisite maid cafe, though they definitely weren’t the main focus. Asking one vendor of superhero comics about the status of American comics in the Netherlands, he told me that The Walking Dead is quite popular.

The independent/alternative comics area was quite a different experience from the hustle and bustle of the industry location, though I think that may have had to do with the fact that it was held in an old-fashioned gothic-style church and featured many art pieces which I might call not very church-like at all. Featured here were many comics which strayed from convention, featuring really erratic character designs and strange subject matter, the artists were not just comics makers but sometimes contemporary art scene artists as well. Items were generally more expensive for the alternative comics than they were for the industry items, but often times not by much.

I spoke to one artist, who told me that his favorite comic was the one that had the sold the least because it wasn’t really to Dutch tastes. Intrigued, I asked him what he meant by Dutch tastes, because I don’t have anywhere near as keen a sense for European comics as I do for American and Japanese, he mentioned that it had to do with round, cartoonish characters with big feet and so on. It’s something I’ll have to do more research on.

In the end, what probably stood out to me most was the fact that gender and age distributions seemed very even. I saw people from five-years-old to fifty-year-sold both male and female lined up at booths, whether it was to buy comics or to meet the artists or their favorite characters, often times for the same series. It made me realize how much comics is a thing for all ages in the Netherlands.

Introduction: Kakihara Tetsuya is a voice actor known for roles such as Simon in Gurren-Lagann, Natsu in Fairy Tail, Angelo Sauper in Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) and Jin in BlazBlue. I had the opportunity to sit down for a group interview, which proved to be very informative, particularly in regards to his German background, as Kakihara was born and raised in Germany until 18.

Note that the Japanese names are last name first to maintain consistency with the blog. Also, if any of the other interviewers wish to be known, please tell me.

Interviewer A: What’s it like growing up in one country and going back to Japan? What were the hardships and adjustments you faced?

[Kakihara gives a long, serious response]

Translator: Where were the pauses so I could translate?

Kakihara: It was such a serious topic that it was hard to not…

In Germany there’s a school system you’re into until your teens, but by the time you’re in 4th grade you have to decide your career path. 5th grade is when you go into technical schools or pursue further education, and that’s the point you gotta make it. And once you make that decision… I chose to go to university, I chose the educational path. But once you start this new school you’re there for 9 years until Grade 13 with the same amount of people. But during those years I would go to Japan every summer vacation, see anime on TV, see all of the things in the culture and subculture I fell in love with.

But every year you’re in the same school with the same classmates year after year and mostly people don’t change. But there are a number of dropouts who fall out each year, and even though 150 people started the same grade as me, by the time I graduated there were 40 people left. So it was a very strict school. But, seeing that I had such an interest in Japan I decided to move there and pursue a career in the cultures I was interested in, which includes voice work and acting. So that’s how I came to Japan to pursue an acting career.

Interviewer A: Most people who want to go into something can’t always succeed. What made it possible for you?

I ran way when I was 18. I haven’t seen my parents in over 10 years. When I went to Japan after I graduated, I had no other choice but to succeed. I couldn’t drop out of this. It was a driving goal, and it had to happen, and I made it happen. And now that I look back on it, I think that I’m very happy with what I’ve done.

Translator: Pretty gutsy!

Interviewer B: Well you mentioned being part of the subculture at least over vacations before you became a producer in the subculture, a creator, an actor in the subculture. Since becoming involved in the creation of works, have you had any fanboy moments, working with someone where you felt “Oh my God, I don’t believe this is happening?”

Translator: [discussing with Kakihara whether or not he needs to translate] He understands English, he just pretends not to.

Kakihara: Of course. Famous people, when I go to work, they’re to my left and to my right.

Was there anyone in particular who was a hero?

Kakihara: No one specific comes to mind…

I find the people who’ve been doing voice work since I was a child still working… I’m going to be 30 this year and to see them still working is pretty amazing. Our seniors are amazing. There are no other words than that.

But if I need to name someone in particular, Takayama Minami, the voice of [Detective] Conan. So, seeing someone who’s had so many starring roles for decades is someone who I’d respect, but I’ve never really been the kind of person who looks at another and goes, “Boy I’d like to be that person one day!” That’s not the kind of person I am.

Having been working myself for a decade now, when I work with these people, I still feel, boy I still have a lot further to go. Like, working on a show like Saint Seiya Omega where Mr. Midorikawa [Hikaru] is in there, or from the previous versions of the show Furuya Tohru from Gundam, boy, they still got the same voices they did decades ago. There are so many of these greats around me, so even though these are people who should be admired, I am on the same stage as them. If anything, I’m in competition with them to be just as good, so I respect them but I don’t exactly admire them. I’m going to defeat them.

Interviewer B: This is entirely off-topic and somewhat irreverent but I’ve gotten good responses from all of the other guests. Do you have a favorite swear word, and what language do you swear in?

Kakihara: It used to be German in the past. Can I say this word?

Interviewer B: Go ahead.

Kakihara: Arschloch! Arschloch.

Interviewer B: [laughs] The blacksmith in the Dealer’s Room also said that it’s his favorite food.

Translator: What’s the word?

Kakihara: [in English] Asshole.

Interviewer B: That’s the third time I’ve gotten it this weekend! In German!

Kakihara: Leck mich am Arsch [Kiss my ass]. I recall saying this a lot in German.

I’ve begun to think in Japanese these days. I can’t say I really use a lot of swear words in Japanese. To myself or to someone else? It depends on what you’re saying it about and who you’re saying it to. “I hope you burn.”

Translator: Do you say it to them or do you think it?

Kakihara: I say it to them, if they do something idiotic.

Interviewer C: You do a lot of work outside of anime, so what do you think of Otome Games in America, since there a lot of gamers out there? You’ve done voice work in Amnesia, Ren’ai Banchou, Grim the Bounty Hunter…

Kakihara: The relationship simulation games? Love sims? One of the things that attracted me to voice acting was Tokimeki Memorial. That’s a love simulation game for boys. It’s definitely the founder, the one that really started the boom of the love sim games. It was one of the first that was voiced by voice actors. I felt amazement in the Japanese culture, to create a game that allows you to pursue a simulated romance. Of course, it started out being directed towards boys, but these days it seems to be concentrated a lot towards girls playing these games.

I think it’s a very interesting part of what I do in my career. I have to spout lines I would NEVER say in real life, or go to a date location that I would never choose myself, but being able to experience it through these voice roles is very entertaining.

[Asking the interviewer] Are dating sims really popular here?

Interviewer C: I play a lot. All of my friends play a lot also.

Kakihara: [in English] Thank you very much.

Just learning that people are fans of your work even in the United States is always a pleasing thing to learn.

Ogiue Maniax: Given your native fluency in German, I’m wondering if it’s had any influence in the roles you’ve taken as a voice actor. For example, I know that in Nanoha you voice various weapons which speak in German.

Kakihara: So like you said, in Lyrical Nanoha I do speak German, but when a Japanese person imagines a German, they imagine someone who’s burly, wearing a military uniform with a very low voice. My voice tends to be very young-sounding, so I’ve been to recording sessions so that I can direct others on their German because the actors have the voices the producers wanted. But as an actor I would have liked to perform those lines myself.

I have to say, my German has not been a help in my career in most cases. But in cases like this where I come to some place in the United States, having spoken German in my life I can actually listen to English and comprehend a lot of it, so it’s been a great help in this trip.

Ogiue Maniax: I think one of your most famous roles is Simon in Gurren-Lagann, so I was just wondering what giant robot anime you watched growing up, and if any of these shows influenced you portraying the role.

Kakihara: I didn’t really watch a whole lot of robot anime, but there are a lot of shows when I was growing up with hot-blooded main heroes, so seeing leads in these action shows or sport shows did give me some influence in portraying Simon. It’s not just anime you learn from. From manga and everything else you can just get inspiration to portray a character.

Interviewer B: If you could work on a character in any IP, anywhere, do you have a dream voice you want to do?

Kakihara: [in Japanese] What kind of program?

Translator: [in Japanese] Anime or manga, or…

Kakihara: [In Japanese] An anime currently running?

Translator: [in Japanese] That, or even an anime that hasn’t been made yet.

Interviewer B: If they decide to make an anime version of Batman, that’s fine too.

Kakihara: There’s a comic called Bachi Bachi, I really like this title. Do you like sumo in the United States?

Interviewer B: There’s not much chance to see it but when it’s on.

Kakihara: I think it would be a hit anime show if it would ever be made. I’d love to play the lead in that show.

Translator: I don’t think a sumo anime would succeed in the United States. No cute girls in sumo.

Ogiue Maniax: The image of sumo is very foreign, also.

Translator: E. Honda is what people think of.

Interviewer B: Wasn’t there an American champion a few years ago?

Translator: A Hawaiian.

Ogiue Maniax: Akebono.

Translator: But there’s no popularity here. [In Japanese] The only image of sumo here is E. Honda.

Kakihara: Edmond Honda.

Translator: Only Honda.

Kakihara: I think it could be a foothold to make sumo popular here.

Otakon is an event I look forward to every year, and to give you an idea of just how much, I actually plan my time in the US to coincide with it. I went in with the intent of getting some autographs (but not too many as I felt a bit autographed-out from my Anime Expo experience), but ironically I pretty much got everyone but the three I was looking to get the most: Hirano Aya, Nanri Yuuka, and Kakihara Tetsuya. Though a bit disappointed as a result, I realized that this is Otakon and it’s always impossible to accomplish everything you want to do. The scheduling is so jam-packed with events that time is always against you, but then you look back and see all of the fun you had.

This year, as seems to be the case over the past few Otakons, Baltimore was hot. Given that most of it is spent inside an air-conditioned space this isn’t so bad, but there always came a time where people had to brave the heat. Taking Megabus to Baltimore, for example, requires one to walk quite a distance to catch the local city bus. It’s a trek I’m accustomed to at this point, but still one I have to brace for. As for the people in elaborate cosplay, you have my pity to an extent, but seriously you guys must have been dying, especially the full-on fur suit wearers.

Industry Panels

Urobuchi Gen

When it comes to industry guests, my main priority is generally the Q&A sessions followed by autographs, and the reason is that I love to see people pick their brains, especially the creators. I always try to think of a good, solid question or two to ask them, and over time I think I’ve become pretty good at it, because the responses I receive are generally great, though actual credit for the answers of course goes to the guests themselves.

The first industry panel I attended was that of Urobuchi Gen, writer of Fate/Zero and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, two shows which are the new hotness, and by extension make the man himself the new hotness as well. Surprisingly, there was only one question nitpicking continuity, and the rest were about his work, and even some “what if” questions. From it, we learned that Urobuchi is inherently suspicious and so would never sign a magical girl contract, considers Itano Ichirou (of Itano Circus fame) to be his mentor, that he would never pick Gilgamesh as his servant, that the main reason Kajiura Yuki did the music was because of SHAFT Producer Iwakami’s magic, and that working with both UFO Table and Shaft is like being aboard the USS Enterprise and meeting different alien species. In addition, it turns out that Madoka Magica wasn’t influenced by any magical girl series in particular, and the closest lineage it has is with Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (atypical magical girl show with striking and violent imagery) and Le Portrait de Petit Cossette (a gothic-style show by Shinbo). Given my recent post about this topic, I have a few words in response to that, but I’ll save it for another post.

As for my question, I asked Urobuchi how he felt about influencing such an enormous industry veteran in Koike Kazuo (who is in the middle of creating his own magical girl series), to which he answered that he considers it something he’s most proud of. Though the two have not talked since that interview, he still follows Koike on Twitter. Later, I would get a Madoka poster signed by him.

Satelight

I also attended the Satelight (Aquarion, Macross Frontier) panel, attended by Tenjin Hidetaka (who technically isn’t a Satelight employee), which was just a fun introduction to their studio. They explored their history, from making the first full-CG television anime (Bit the Cupid), the creation of some of their less-regarded shows (KissDum, Basquash!), and into the modern age. Given the small attendance it actually felt a bit personal, and in this time we had some pretty interesting facts dropped on us. A studio which prefers to do original animation instead of adapations, we learned that they sometimes just like to animate things because they can. Case in point, they showed us Basquash! footage they animated just because they liked the characters and world so much, with no additional TV series planned for it. About director and mecha designer Kawamori Shouji, we learned that he likes to work on 3-5 projects simultaneously despite his somewhat old age (52), that Kawamori is devoted to making anime look good, sometimes at the expense of his budget.

They also showed us some CG-animated clips of concerts by Ranka Lee and Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier, which were really nice and elaborate. Originally they were meant to be used in commercials for a Macross Frontier pachinko machine, but the 3/11 earthquake prevented the commercial from going on air. Another Satelight anime they showed was the anime AKB0048, which actually looks amazing, and from all reports by even the most cynical of reviewers, actually is. Kawamori even graced us with his recorded presence, giving an interview where he briefly discussed topics such as attending Otakon years ago and making the second season of AKB0048.

Given the flow of conversation, when it came to the Q&A portion there was one question I just had to ask: Why did Kawamori end up directing a show like Anyamaru Detectives Kiruminzoo, a show about girls who turn into animal mascot characters and solve mysteries, an anime seemingly far-removed from his usual mecha and idol work? The Satelight representative’s response was, Kawamori is known for working on anime with transforming robots, and when you think about it, transforming animals are not that different from transforming robots. Hearing this, I actually had to hold back my laughter.

One last thing to mention about the Satelight panel was that the laptop they were using was on battery power, and when it started to run out of steam, rather than finding an AC adapter to plug into a wall, they actually just gave the industry speaker another laptop entirely, also on battery power. An amusing hiccup in an otherwise great panel.

Maruyama Masao

Maruyama Masao is a frequent guest of Otakon. One of the founders of Studio Madhouse, he’s been to Baltimore for many, many Otakons, and it had gotten to the point where I began to feel that I could skip his panels to see other guests. This year was different, though. First, with the unfortunate death of Ishiguro Noboru, the director of Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes who had died just this past year, it made me realize that the 70+ Maruyama won’t be around forever. Second, this year Maruyama actually left Madhouse to form a new studio, MAPPA, an unthinkable move for someone in as good a position as he was. The studio was created in order to obtain funding for Kon Satoshi’s final project, The Dream Machine, but in the mean-time it also released its first television anime, Kids on the Slope. Even if Hirano Aya’s autograph session was originally scheduled for that time (it got moved), I felt I had to attend Maruyama’s Q&A. In fact, if you are ever at Otakon, I highly suggest anyone, even people who think they might not be interested in the creative side of anime, to attend one of his panels. His answers are always so rich with detail and history given his 40-year experience that you’re bound to learn something and then thirst for more knowledge.

Some of the highlights include the fact that he’d very much like to make an anime based on Urasawa Naoki’s Pluto but thinks the right format, eight hour-long episodes, would be difficult to fund (the manga itself is eight volumes), that half of the animation budget of Kids on the Slope went to animating the music performances, and that he is looking to try and get funding for Kon’s film in the next five years. I find it personally amazing that he would think of the format best-suited for Pluto first, instead of thinking how the series would fit the typical half-hour TV format. In addition, Maruyama pointed out that a lot of work was done in Kids on the Slope to blend and hide the CG, and I think it shows.

In any case, while I would normally be content to just give a summary of the panel, I’m going to link to a transcript just so that you can read the entire thing. The question I asked is as follows:

How did director Watanabe Shinichirou (director of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo) become involved with Kids on the Slope?

“I was working with Watanabe from back in the MADHOUSE days. Unfortunately there were about three years where nobody got to see his work — his projects always got stopped at the planning stages. So when I got Kids on the Slope, I handed him the manga and said, ‘here. You’re doing this.’ At MADHOUSE we had developed a feature — it was already scripted and ready to go, but then I left the company and the project fell through, so I gave him this as something to do. I really think he’s one of the top directors in Japan, one of the top 5. That’s why I wanted to create a theatrical animation with him. Up until this project, he’d only worked on original projects, so this was his first adaptation from a manga, and as a result, he didn’t really know how faithful he had to be, or if he had room to adapt, so he put up a lot of resistance at first.

“Mr. Watanabe loves music, and has a lot of deep thoughts on the music. So I told him that it was a jazz anime, and that he was likely the only director that could pull it off. That convinced him. Then Yoko Kanno said, ‘if Watanabe is working on this, I’d like to work on it too,’ and so that’s how that show came to be.”

Also note that in the photo above, Maruyama is wearing a shirt drawn by CLAMP to celebrate his 70th birthday, showing him to be a wise hermit.

Hirano Aya Concert

Partly because of scheduling conflicts, I attended the Hirano Aya concert knowing that it would be my only experience getting to see her. As expected, it was quite a good concert, and I had to get up despite my con fatigue for “God Knows,” but there wasn’t quite this process where I felt won over like I had with LiSA at Anime Expo. Thinking about it, it’s probably because I’m already familiar with Hirano Aya’s work.

I did wonder if her cute outfit was designed to kind of draw some of the controversy away from her, the large bow tie on her head possibly trying to restore her image in the eyes of certain fans. At the same time, given her songs and given her vocal range, I had to wonder if she would benefit from being presented as less of an “idol” and more of a “singer.”

Getting to the concert 15 minutes late on account of 1) the Baltimore Convention Center not being entirely clear as to what can lead to where, and 2) my own forgetfulness from not having done this for a year, I sadly missed the announcement that she would be signing autographs at the end, and ducked out after the encore was over. Alas, I’ll have to wait a while before I get the chance to have my volume of Zettai Karen Children signed.

Other

Apparently Opening ceremonies was ushered in by the Ice Cold Water Guy. Unfortunately I wasn’t there, but I heard it got quite a reaction.

I also attended (the last half of) the Vertical Inc. panel, whose big, big license is Gundam: The Origin. Honestly, I’d never expected to actually see it released in the US, seeing as Gundam is practically seen as poisonous in the States, and I doubly didn’t expect it from Vertical. In addition, though I didn’t attend, some friends went to the Kodansha Comics panel and got me a Genshiken poster! Would you believe that I’ve never owned a Genshiken poster? This one even has Ogiue on it! Granted, I can’t put it up just yet, but it’s basically a copy of the English cover to Volume 10.

Also, while I didn’t attend some of the guest Q&As, I did conduct personal interviews with some of them.

Hidetaka Tenjin

Nonaka Ai

Tetsuya Kakihara

Fan Panels

New Anime for Older Fans

A panel run by the Reverse Thieves, I was happy to see that the room was so packed that people were starting to get turned away at the door. The goal of the panel is exactly in the name: the two panelists pointed out anime that have come out within the past five years that they felt older anime watchers, even the kind who have children of their own, could enjoy. By far the most popular show was The Daily Lives of High School Boys, which just got endless laughs. What I found to be really interesting though is that I could tell the panel was working because I heard more than one baby crying throughout the whole thing. Assuming that the babies did not magically crawl in on there own, I could only assume one or more parent was there with them, also learning about New Anime. I even had a couple of old college friends attending Otakon tell me how much they wanted to watch some of these shows.

Genshiken: The Next Generation

If anyone thought this was my panel, my apologies! It was actually run by my old Ogiue co-panelist, Viga, and offered an introduction for existing fans of Genshiken to its sequel, Genshiken Nidaime aka Genshiken: Second Season. Overall, I thought it was a fine panel, though at points I felt like Viga couldn’t quite decide who the panel should be for, explaining some things while omitting other details entirely. Should it assume that people had read the current chapters or not? If the panel could have a tighter focus with a clearer idea of where it wants to go, I think it would be much better.

Fandom & Criticism

This panel was dedicated to introducing and exploring the concept of “active viewing” to a convention audience, which is to say the idea of distancing oneself from one’s own emotions while watching something in order to more accurately gauge what the work is saying. Hosted by Clarissa from Anime World Order, as well as Evan and Andrew from Ani-Gamers, I took interest in the panel partly because I know the panelists, but also because as an academic myself the concept comes into play with my own studies. The discussion was quite fruitful I think, though one thing I do want to say is that I feel the concept of distancing and dividing between the rational mind and how one’s emotions operate while consuming media can make it difficult to see how other people might view a certain show, and that it is important, I feel, to consider emotions and “passive feelings” while watching a show, as they can shape one’s experience in a way that “active viewing” may tend to break down like a puzzle.

Anime’s Craziest Deaths

It was my second time seeing Daryl Surat’s violence smorgasboard of a panel, and probably what impressed me the most wasn’t any single clip, but the fact that the footage was (as far as I remember) 100% new compared to last year’s Otakon, and that a lot of it came from newer shows. The panel is a treat to watch, and that the craziness of a death doesn’t necessarily have to do with its violence level, but it certainly helps. The panel was a full two hours, so the middle felt like it started to drag, but I think it has to do with the basic idea that people’s attentions will slowly fade over time, so it’s somewhat necessary to up the ante as it goes along. I’ll finish this part by letting Daryl himself offer some sage advice.

The Art of Fanservice

The last fan panel I attended was hosted by the third host of Anime World Order, Gerald, and it was a brief look through the history of fanservice, as well as some of the general differences between fanservice for men and fanservice for women. Defining the art of fanservice as titillation which is not just outright pornography, Gerald’s theory, which seemed confirmed by the audience’s reaction, was that fanservice for guys is typically very visual, very isolated, while women usually require some kind of context. A pair of bare breasts, no matter what situation the woman is in, can be enough for a guy, but a girl usually wants some backstory. Possibly for this reason, the clips of women’s fanservice tended to be a little longer. Also of interest was the Cutie Honey Flash opening, which was a Cutie Honey show targeted towards girls, and though Honey is still leggy and busty, I noted that the way the shots are framed is a far cry from its most immediate predecessor, New Cutie Honey.

I think the idea of “context” does definitely ring true to an extent, but I have to wonder about the degree to which people, especially otaku, defy those gendered conventions. For example, there is definitely “context-less” fanservice in Saki, but there are also moments which are meant to thrill based on the exact circumstances of the characters’ relationships, like when Yumi tries to recruit Stealth Momo for the mahjong club and shouts, “I need you!

Speaking of Saki, why I had a panel to present this year as well.

Mahjong

It was likely thanks to Saki: Episode of Side A that Dave and I got the chance to once again present”Riichi! Mahjong, Anime, and You.” The format was essentially the same as our panel from 2010, where we try to help the attendees learn not so much how to play mahjong (an endeavor which requires hours and hours of workshop time), but how to watch mahjong anime. New to 2012 though were the fact that we had two years of additional playing experience, which meant we knew what we were talking about a bit more, as well as a number of new video clips to thrill the audience, including one that Dave was so excited about he was almost willing to skip the order of presentation just to reveal it).

It was held in a larger room than last time, and though there were still some empty seats, the fact that we were able to mostly fill a room at 10 in the morning on Friday pleased me so.

After the panel, I was waiting on line for the Urobuchi panel, when the people in front of me not only recognized me from the panel, but also let me join in a game of card-based mahjong, where instead of tiles playing cards with the images of tiles are used. From this I learned that mahjong cards don’t work terribly well because it becomes extremely difficult to see your entire hand, but I have to thank those folks anyway for giving me the chance to play, and though the cards are less than ideal, they’re still handy in a pinch, especially because carrying tiles takes so much more effort.

Thanks to Dave’s effort, however, we actually brought tiles with us to play, and on Friday and Saturday, Dave and I managed to find time to sit down and play for a few hours against not only opponents we already knew but also  people we’d never seen before. The tables at the conference weren’t particularly suited for this, and we had to find a table edge and play the game with the mahjong mat angled diagonally. I ended up doing pretty well overall, including an amazing game where I never won or lost a hand and maintained a default score of 25,000, but what really stood out to me is the realization that we had all improved since we started playing mahjong. I know I said it before in discussing the panel part, but playing live against other people made it so that even my mistakes were the mistakes of a more experienced person who could learn from them.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones doing this, as we saw a second mahjong group as well. I couldn’t stay long enough to assess their ability, but as long as they were having fun it’s all good.

Other Photos (mostly cosplay)

Despite a number of good costumes out there, I actually didn’t take too many photos this year. I blame the amount of times I had to hurry to get to the next thing on the schedule. Also, I saw absolutely no Eureka Seven AO cosplay. Promise me for next year!

This was actually the first Fuura Kafuka cosplayer I had ever seen, and I’m amazed (and grateful) that someone would remember her. A funny story came out of this, as the cosplayer had not been aware that Nonaka Ai (Kafuka’s voice actor) was at the event. I told her about the autograph-signing on Sunday, and I hoped she was able to make it. Now, onto the next.

Overall

While at the convention I would notice little things here and there that I thought could use some improvement, the sheer amount of content at Otakon means that with even a few days of post-con recovery the bad mostly recedes away and all that I’m left with is fond memories. One complaint I do have, however, is that because the convention is set up to have some entrances and pathways usable and some off-limits, it is extremely difficult to tell just based on the map given in the con guide how to get from location to location. As an Otakon veteran at this point, I mostly have no issue with it, but even I ran into problems while trying to find the Hirano Aya concert. A combination of better signage to point people to the right locations alongside a clearer map would do wonders.

Even though Otakon had a “cooking” theme this year, I didn’t really feel it, pretty much because I didn’t attend any of those related events. At this point, every Otakon is starting to feel similar, but I can never hold that against it. After all, with a convention this big and with this much to do, I feel that we as fans of anime and manga make of the convention what we want. This isn’t to say that the way the convention is run doesn’t matter, of course, but that it is run smoothly enough that it becomes almost unnoticeable.

Truth be told, I used to take the sheer variety of panel programming and activities at Otakon for granted, but when I attended AX for the first time this year, I realized how limited that event is by comparison. Not only are there a good amount of industry panels with all of the guests they’ve flown over from Japan (or elsewhere), but the fan panels are a nice combination of workshops, introductions, and even philosophical explorations of topics concerning fans. Seeing Otakon once more in person, I knew this was indeed the con I waited for all year.

Introduction: This is my interview with Japanese voice actor Nonaka Ai, who was a guest at Otakon 2012. Nonaka is known for roles such as Kafuka in Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei and Fuuko in Clannad.

Nonaka: [in English] Pleased to meet you. My name is Ai Nonaka.

OM: You played a character in Saki: Episode of Side A. What did you think of the role, and have you played any mahjong yourself?

Nonaka: [in English] I never played mahjong.

OM: Personally speaking, I know you best as Fuura Kafuka from Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei, but you also play Ichijou in Pani Poni Dash, and those are both interesting, quirky, and even bizarre characters. How is it playing those roles, and how is it working with SHAFT in general?

Nonaka: So, I may act very strange roles, and though they are all quirky and weird, they all have a policy in the way that they act so I want to respect the policy that the character has and do the character to the best of my extent.

OM: Another quirky character is Ibuki Fuuko from Clannad, who you first played in a game and returned to a few years later. Returning to that role, what lessons had you learned in those years between playing the same role again?

Nonaka: I didn’t feel that much of a time lag when the game came out and when I started recording for the anime, so there wasn’t really that time in between.

So the first season of the anime had the same story as the game, but then the second season of the anime was illustrating a world where Fuuko was already gone and the child was already born. So, it was a very strange sort of experience for me, especially in the anime.

OM: I think that when it comes to voice acting, it seems that there are two traits that are sought after. One is having a unique, distinguishable voice, a voice that people can recognize, and the other is having versatility, the ability to play many different roles and change your voice. Which one do you think you’re stronger at, and how important do you think each individual one is in terms of being a voice actor?

Nonaka: I personally think I’m one with a unique voice, and the real strength of having a unique is having people remember you by that really unique voice, so I think I’m really benefitting from that unique voice. Although I have a unique voice, because I can’t change my voice too much I can’t do things like two roles in one anime.

OM: Do you have any favorite actors to work with, or actors you’d like to work with?

Nonaka: Although she’s not a voice actor, Kuze Seika. She used to be part of the Takaraza Kagekidan [Revue].

[in English] Do you know?

OM: I know.

Nonaka: Aahh!!

OM: Putting aside voice questions, what are your hobbies and what do you do when you’re not working?

Nonaka: [in English] I like… run!

So, I’m going to run at the Kobe Marathon after i get back.

OM: How long is it?

Nonaka: Since it’s a full marathon, it will be the full 42.195 kilometers.

OM: Is this your first marathon?

Nonaka: It’s my first full marathon. I’ve done other marathons in the past.

OM: Are you doing any sort of training or diet preparation for the marathon?

Nonaka: [in English] I run three a week.

OM: Three times a week?

Nonaka: [in English] Three TIMES! a week.

OM: Do you change your food? Because I know for instance that a lot of marathon runners will eat a lot of pasta or grains.

Nonaka: Keeping slim is my diet. Lighter is better.

OM: Do you have any favorite foods?

Nonaka: [in English] My favorite food is osushi!

OM: What’s your favorite sushi?

Nonaka: Egg, fatty tuna, and nattou-maki.

OM: Wow!

Nonaka: Have you eaten nattou before?

OM: I actually like nattou a lot.

Nonaka: [in Japanese] REALLY?!

OM: I lived in Japan briefly. Nattou-maki is something I can’t get anywhere else so I miss it a lot.

Nonaka: Ehh?! Wasn’t it a bit odorous?

OM: I realized that I like fermented foods, like nattou and stinky tofu.

Nonaka: [laughs]

OM: One last question. Going back to the role of Kafuka in Zetsubou Sensei, is there anything you really keep in mind while playing the role?

Nonaka: I try to make it positive. A bit off, and maybe crazy-sounding, but positive to that extent.

OM: Thank you very much!

Nonaka: [in English] You’re welcome!

Introduction: I attended Otakon this year and got the chance to interview mechanical illustrator and designer Tenjin Hidetaka. Responsible for box art from various series including Gundam and Macross, his latest work can be found in Aquarion Evol. His official website can be found at http://www.studio-tenjin.com and his Twitter is @TENJIN_hidetaka.

For the sake of consistency with the rest of this blog, Japanese names are last name first.

OM: How did you get started working in the anime and toy industries?

Tenjin: My very first anime work was Macross Zero from Satelight. I can’t remember what year it was, either 2002 or 2003, but my first anime was Macross Zero.

OM: How is it like working with Kawamori Shouji? How did you meet?

Tenjin: I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji because I had been illustrating for a Macross fansite. I was drinking with a few friends of mine I had met through the fansite and Mr. Kawamori Shouji also attended the event.

But even before I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji I had been working as a professional illustrator, so when I had a chance to meet him I showed him my portfolio, and he gave me the chance to start working with him.

OM: Does the fansite still exist?

Tenjin: The fansite no longer exists. I deleted it right away. But I think some archive of it still exists. Some very hardcore fans from the past still hold onto their precious archives of the past.

OM: I can understand that. So you work both in fantastic designs such as robots as well as more realistic designs such as planes and other vehicles. As an illustrator, do you use the same philosophies and concepts in drawing the realistic vehicles and the more fantastic ones, or are there more significant differences you have to keep in mind while drawing them?

Tenjin: I think about the practical purpose of the vehicle, how it’s used. For instance, with a Gundam it’s a weapon, an instrument of war. So I picture what a tank would be like, and I take the heavy texture of paint and use it for the Gundam. But on the other hand, for something like a Valkyrie, it’s basically a plane so I try to use lighter textures and try to focus on thinner silhouettes.

OM: I actually have a question related to that as well. When it comes to robots, we mainly hear about mechanical designers such as Katoki, Okawara, and Kawamori, who are all about designing the robot from various angles, but we rarely get to hear from someone who’s a mechanical illustrator. What are some of the unique advantages and some of the things you have to consider while drawing mecha without necessarily having “design” in mind?

Tenjin: The difference is, when there’s already a design, I need to think about what the designer had in mind. Even with something as simple as a single line, I have to think about what its purpose is. I need to focus not just on the design in front of me, but other designs that the designer has created because what I am trying to portray through my illustrations is not just the mechanical design or that one item, but the worldview of the designer, the fantastic world that the designer is trying to communicate.

For example, for classic model art for the package or box art, something I focus on is the background. By putting a lot of details in the background, I try to express the storyline of the world behind the design.

OM: You worked on Aquarion as well as its sequel Aquarion Evol. It’s been a few years between those projects. What do you feel you’ve learned between Aquarion and Evol in returning to the franchise?

Tenjin: Something I improved in is weathering texture, introducing weathering to express just how old a vehicle is within the world of Aquarion and Aquarion Evol. But with Aquarion, there are two time periods, the present and 12,000 years ago. I don’t think I was successful in depicting how things would change in 12,000 years.

OM: Related to Aquarion, it seems like 3D modeling is increasingly used to animate mechanical designs, and figures such as Mamoru Oshii have talked about how there are fewer and fewer people who know how to work with 2D designs without going to 3D models. As an illustrator, what do you see as the potential for 3D modeling for mechanical designs in anime?

Tenjin: When I first entered this industry, 3D animation was just at its start. You were seeing the very first examples of 3D animation and, to be honest, the quality was very low. But these days 3D is used very frequently in Japanese animation and very naturally and so the techniques have improved enough that you don’t really notice the differences between 2D and 3D animation. So, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in that respect.

OM: I just have one more question. I noticed that there quite a few works in that slide show [Tenjin had in front of him an iPad displaying various examples of his box art] from VOTOMS. Do you have a particular fondness for VOTOMS?

Tenjin: [in English, without the need for a translator to explain my words] Of course!

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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