When it comes to guests, it is amazing just how many Otakon is able to pull out every year. Just when you think they’ve finished the list, the roster gets bigger. This year’s theme of music brought a lot of people including performers and composers. But not to be out done by their musically inclined peers (or younger) a number of talented people that make anime come to life where on Otakon’s already full to bursting guest list. From directors to voice actors and everything in between there was more than enough talent to fill every day. The Japanese guests always draw us the most for their unique perspectives on the industry and fandom plus of course their insights into the making of our favorite shows is second to none.
I consider the guest section the main entree of our conventions. It is where you get the meatiest information and experiences that can usually only be obtained at a con. Otakon staple Masao Maruyama brought a selection of guests from Madhouse including Hiroshi Koujina and Aniplex brought along the creators of Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW. These guests alone would make Otakon a guaranteed must see event on the east coast but we also got Yuji Mitsuya who was the hidden gem of the convention and sorely overlooked by most of the attendees. Takamasa Sakurai (our interview with him will be up at a later date) was a wild card guest but I was interested to see what he had to say if for nothing else he is not your normal guest. And those were just the guests I saw. There were over two dozen great talents I did not get to see and while Narutaki saw several guests I did not, we would have needed a team to cover all the people at Otakon this year.
With a panel name like Michael Sinterniklaas Explains Everything About The Industry I had to take a peek. Mr. Sinterniklaas has been a voice actor for many years and also spends a good portion of his time directing voice work for dubs in the U.S. He really did succeed in moving all over the place from how licensing works to stories about his early voicing days. He was talkative, friendly, knowledgeable, and very funny to boot. Some of the more silly highlights included him describing watching anime as a child as able to “get your imagination exploding” and him regaling the crowd about people cosplaying the “guy who got stabbed with a pen” at SDCC. On the more serious side, Mr. Sinterniklaas mentioned that some Japanese companies don’t want to send their creators to U.S. conventions promoting their works because they feel American fans just pirate all their properties. In a similar vein, he talked about how big directors are leaving the anime industry because they aren’t making any money. In other news, he hinted at an upcoming anime OVA from a studio that doesn’t normally work in animation. As a final thought, even though I don’t like dubs Mr. Sinterniklaas’s talk about how closely the Japanese worked with him on Gundam Unicorn made me want to check out that dub track!
I went to both the Madhouse panels which is was a chance to see what is coming down the pipe for a solid studio. Plus Mr. Maruyama has a bit of the old respected man of anime title so he can be more honest in his answers. The first thing that caught my eye was their Tibetan Dog. This story is based on a Chinese novel with Naoki Urasawa doing the initial character designs and most of the staff from the Monster anime working on it. I was interested to hear that the Chinese government is co-producing the project. I’m not sure how that is going to have an affect on the film but I am curious to see how it turns out. They also mentioned that they did not show Redline at Otakon because the cut of the film they showed in England was technically unfinished. They also mentioned changes to the music. I know that Tim Maughan’s review on ANN praised the music for being prefect so I wonder if the changes will effect how people look at the film. They also dropped the fact that they were working on a secret project with a cross-dressing guy with a sword who fights ninjas. I felt they were hinting like Trigun it was based on a popular franchise but I could not figure out what it was. During the Press Q&A Mr. Maruyama was asked about Dai Sato’s recent comments about his pessimism with the anime industry. He seemed to acknowledge that while there were problems in the industry that need to be fixed and that most companies could be doing more to foster new talent, he was still optimistic about the future. I was curious to see if Dai Sato was being overly pessimistic or Mr. Maruyama was overly optimistic. If you were curious Mr. Maruyama said that Hanada Shonen-shi was one of his favorite works from Madhouse despite not being that popular in the U.S.
After Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW’s well attended premiere (which I will be talking about in an upcoming post) there was a creators panel featuring some of the talents behind the film. Aniplex hosted the panel plus Q&A session with Koji Masunari (Director), Masashi Ishihama (Character Designer and Art Director), and Tomonori Ochikoshi (Producer). It started with a brief introduction to what each had worked on in the past as well as an overview of Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW. For each this was really their first foray into doing a full-length feature. The question section started with some from Aniplex and then opened up to the audience. Most questions centered around SPACE SHOW for obvious reasons. Mr. Ishihama discussed his freedom with the character designs for the project citing very little direction for him which was both fun but also a little difficult. And when asked if he thought simplified character designs were becoming a trend he responded by saying yes however there was also a counter-trend of being extremely detailed. As for Mr. Masunari, he told the audience about how he put everything he knew into this film and cited his biggest anime influences on his work as things like Ideon and Gundam just to name a couple. I was able to ask about the Kamichu! episode that parodied Fight Club but was told it was all screenwriter Hideyuki Kurata’s doing. The session wrapped up with a twist as Mr. Ochikoshi asked the audience about simulcasting and pirating of anime to which he got some good and measured responses.
I was very disappointed that not many people attended the panels for Yuji Mitsuya as he was an excellent guest. Mr Mitsuya was extremely open, honest, and most importantly, talkative. Most Japanese guests will talk for maybe 30 seconds to 2 minutes to answer a question whereas Mr. Mitsuya took 20 minutes to answer 1 question at points. And when he answered a question it was filled with information. He talked about how he got into voice acting from his time as a stage performer, getting his first part as Hyouma Aoi in Combattler V, his shift from playing pretty boys to silly characters as he grew older, how the perception of seiyuu has changed in Japan, and how seiyuu have changed all in one question. He also had some great stories about how he went for the role of the younger brother in Godmars because he has an inside tip that the older brother would die half way through the series. But he wound up with the role of the older brother anyway and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the older brother was so popular they brought him back to life and gave him his own sequel movie! We also learned that Mr. Mitsuya was instrumental in getting Mayo Suzukaze the part as Kenshin Himura which also jump started his career in voice and sound direction. He was generally upbeat with all his answers but he was not afraid to tell it like it is. He mentioned what he liked and disliked about the voice acting business over the years and how ruthless the business can be. Once again proving that the best answers often come from the old timers who can get away with being honest. By the way he confirmed the stories of women fainting after meeting Saint Seiya voice actors and he once had two women come from China just to hand deliver a letter thanking him for his role as Virgo Shaka.
At first I thought this guest list would be easy to handle. And admittedly I wasn’t overly excited about any one person. However, that lack of hype quickly dissipated thanks to opening ceremonies and having the wherewithal to just peek in on guests only to find them completely fascinating. Each time I sat down to hear the discussions and questions being bandied about, I learned something new and at some points a fan was born from me. So a weekend that once seemed manageable quickly turned into difficult choice after difficult choice. Otakon always seems to surprise me and each year I walk away with a great impression of their abilities to bring brilliant talent our way.
Over all I learned quite a bit from the guests I saw this weekend. Japanese guests are often such a critical insight into the industry that makes the anime and manga we all love. I know that Otakon has to work extremely hard in getting Japanese guests especially when getting an American guest can be twice as easy and draw in double the crowd. So as always my hats goes off the the Otakon staff for getting this line up. All I can do is hope that next years is just as good. (P.S. I will love Otakon forever if they can get Kinoko Nasu and Takeshi Takeuchi next year.)
More Otakon 2010 posts: