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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
As promised in my con report, here are the doodles I did while in the drawing room at Anime 2012. My favorite one is the creepy cult leader hitting on the lady.
Otakon 2012′s right around the corner, and that means frantically trying to figure out which panels and such to attend! Compared to other conventions, Otakon has more panel programming than anything else, so it’s always a matter of having too much desire and not enough time in the day for it. I’ve posted a tentative schedule below for things I’m interested in, but as you might notice a lot of the times conflict, so I’m basically going to be playing it by ear once I get there. I got a ton of autographs at Anime Expo, so I feel less inclined to get them this time around, but I’m going to aim for at least a couple.
Of particular note is the return of the Japanese Mahjong Panel, “Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You,” run by myself and Dave. It’s one of the first things you can do on Friday, so if you’re there that early I highly recommend you come in and check it out!
No fancy badge this year, but I’ll try to label myself accordingly.
See you there!
Riichi: Japanese Mahjong, Anime, and You, 10am-11am,Panel 4 (I’m on this panel!)
Hidetaka Tenjin Q&A – 11:15am-12:15pm, Panel 1
Gen Urobuchi Q&A (Panel 3) OR The Chubby Characters of Anime and Manga (Panel 4) – 12:30pm-1:30pm, Panel 4
Opening Ceremonies – 1:45pm-2:45pm, Panel 3
Tetsuya Kakihara Q&A – 3pm-4pm, Panel 1
Gen Urobuchi Autograph – 3:30pm-4:30pm, Autograph 3
Tetsuya Kakihara Autograph – 4:30pm-5:30pm, Autograph 1
New Anime for Older Fans – 5:30pm-6:30pm, Panel 2
Sports Manga: Olympics Edition – 8:30pm-9:30pm, Panel 2
Genshiken: The Next Generation – 10pm-11pm, Panel 2 (Required)
Anime’s Craziest Deaths – 12:30am-1:30am, Panel 3
Fandom & Criticism – 9am-10am, Panel 5
Ai Nonaka Q*A – 10:15am-11:15am, Panel 1
Anime and Manga Studies: Three Decades In – 10:30am-11:30am, Panel 6
Yuuka Nanri Q&A – 11am-12pm, Panel 1
Gen Urobuchi Autograph – 12pm-1pm, Autograph 3
Yuuka Nanri Autograph – 1pm-2pm, Autograph 2
Sexism in Anime – 1:45pm-2:45pm, Panel 4
Aya Hirano Q&A – 2pm-3pm, Panel 3
Hidetaka Tenjin Autograph – 2pm-3pm, Autograph 1
Maruyama & MAPPA Q&A – 3:15pm-4:15pm, Panel 4
Gundam Official Panel – 4:30pm-5:30pm, Panel 1
Unusual Manga Genres – 4:45pm-5:45pm, Panel 4
Dead Like Us: Death Lore and Japanese Media – 9pm-10pm, Panel 5
The “Art” of Fanservice – 11:30pm-12:30am, Panel 6
Navigating LGBT/Queer Identities within Japanese Media -1m-2am, Panel 1
Type Moon: Unlimited Panel Works – 1am-2am, Panel 2
Ai Nonaka Autograph, 10:30am-11:30am, Autograph 2
Masao Maruyama, 10:30am-11:30am, Autograph 3
Sentai Filmworks Industry panel, 10:45am-11:45am, Panel 1
Kodansha Comics, 11:45am-12:45pm, Panel 5
Vertical 2012, 1pm-2pm, Panel 4
Otakon 2012 marks the return of the Japanese Mahjong panel, run by myself and Kawaiikochans creator Dave. It was a surprise hit back in 2010, and we’re so looking forward to bringing it back. What I’m about to talk about is related to some of the challenges we’ve faced in updating the panel.
Mahjong is a rather complicated (some might even say convoluted) game, and when we originally set out to do the mahjong panel we tried to make it as simple as we could while still covering just what makes mahjong (and by extension mahjong anime) fun. Naturally feeling a bit rusty with the material, we devoted some time to practicing the panel only to realize that there was a significant problem we did not have to deal with two years ago: we have both gotten significantly better at mahjong.
Mahjong is a game where subtle changes to the rules and even to the character and level of your opponents can impact the game tremendously. Playing multiple games to improve ladder ranking is a different beast from playing one or two significant games. When I attended the United States Professional Mahjong League in June, I had not played against flesh-and-blood opponents in over a year. Not only did I have to get used to the tiles again, but while I had definitely improved through playing online on Tenhou continuously (a process which forced me to constantly re-evaluate my play), I had become accustomed to that ruleset. So, for example, when I went into a game expecting it to last a full 8 round and began playing for the long term) I was sidelined by the fact that the UPSML games had a (necessary) time limit such that any round you were playing could be your last.
Though I was certainly thrown off by these unfamiliar rules, I was able to adapt reasonably well. It is the ability to recognize how those changes can potentially affect strategy that, at least for me, is an indicator of personal improvement. However, it is that very same ability which can trip up an introductory mahjong panel.
When we were relatively inexperienced, we could deliver ideas with simplicity because the exceptions did not immediately spring to mind. Now, the danger was that our heads were too full of minutia. We knew where our statements fell short, and in an effort to correct them we continued to give explanations, but much like how the USPML’s time limit necessitates a different strategy, so too does the hour time limit for the panel.
The pursuit and refinement of knowledge in a given topic is actually what trips up so many intellectual presentations, whether the audience consists of professors or anime fans. The presenter has spent so much time exploring the limits of ideas and where their exceptions lie that it becomes difficult to “lie” to your audience, especially when improvement in your area (such as mahjong) is your main focus.
I think that the lesson to take away here is that we were so caught up in trying to teach strategy we’d learned that we had forgotten that before you learn how to play well, you have to teach how to play, period. And because our panel isn’t even about learning how to play, per se, we have to take that one notch down.