I was blown away by the amount of premieres and showings announced for NYAF. This was the first convention I have been to in a long time where I spent a good deal of my days actually watching anime. And it was not from a lack of having other things to do. There were things here that literally couldn’t be seen anywhere else not even in Japan yet, like Mardock Scramble, or things that only recently hit Japanese theaters, like Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer, plus all manner of things in between. These were the biggest draws for me this year, and from the crowds that packed in for most of these showings it seems I wasn’t the only one.
NYAF was the Cannes Film Festival for anime films this year. I saw part of three anime films you cannot see in English even with less that legitimate means. I have been to some awesome premieres but there were three major coups this year. The Gundam 00 movie and the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya were being shown before they made it to DVD in Japan and we got to see Mardock Scramble before audiences in Japan. Any one of the three would have been amazing but all three in one place was simply breathtaking. Being able to see the first episode of Star Driver and talk to the producer was merely icing on the cake.
Star Driver was already show I was waiting for in the fall 2010 season, so being able to grab a look at the first episode with producer Masahiko Minami of Studio Bones couldn’t have been a richer experience. I was happy to see a full room and Mr. Minami was upbeat and welcoming to the crowd. He ended his quick intro with a pose and a shout of “Kiraboshi!” which everyone quickly picked up from Star Driver and ended up greeting each other with for the rest of the con. The show is high energy, over-the-top, and quite quirky; all of this makes it endearing almost immediately. There is an elegance to the unique robot designs, particularly Takuto’s mech which moves like a fencer. This plus the secret society in a strange school with a mysterious cast and a more mysterious plot gives the series an Utena quality, happily. The audience laughed and cheered and clapped, which was quite pleasing because I enjoyed it immensely as well. Once it ended, Mr. Minami spoke very tongue-in-cheek about their goals of combining school and robots. He also answered a number of questions about the non-translated parts of the show most notably the hilarious “Ginga Bishonen” which he called “Galactic Prettyboy,” and everyone laughed. But this went on to prove the show would benefit from full subtitling. There was a query about seeing more Heroman, Mr. Minami (who was wearing a Heroman shirt) answered very melancholic that he would like more but there are no plans. I was sad to not hear any plans for a simulcast of Star Driver which had an incredibly promising first episode.
Without a doubt the premier I was looking forward to most was Star Driver. It is a mecha show written by Yoji Enokido so I had to check it out. The fact that Yoji Enokido also wrote Revolutionary Girl Utena is obvious by every bit of structure, style, and dialog. From the very understated but strong sexual themes, the comedic timing, and the way people enter their robots sparked within me a feeling like when I watched Utena. When George Honda is defeated in the first episode I said, ” What is up Saionji?” They fact that they both have green hair sealed the deal. But Star Driver still feels a fresh concept and not just Utena with a mecha paint job. The robot fights are clearly inspired by Gurren Lagann but I don’t think most people watching this show will be anything less than thrilled by that prospect. Yoji Enokido also seems to have an obsession with people being saved from drowning as it is a major plot point in the Utena TV show, the Utena movie, and now Star Driver. As for the show itself, it is spectacular. It is just a lively anime bursting with fun while containing a darker and more serious plot underneath. Twitter has nothing but good things to say about the show so you have to check it out. Kiraboshi!
It wasn’t done up big like some of the others, but Katsuhiro Otomo’s animated adaption of his Hipira, a children’s manga about a little vampire who has big trouble follow him, played in a small viewing room on Sunday. The series looks like stop motion animation, but of course reproduced with CG, and you see the influence of Tim Burton in its combination of the macabre with humor and children’s imagination. At just 5-minute running times for each episode, they are quick and funny snapshots of Hipira’s life, follies, and friends. The only real downside was for the many children in the audience the series was a little less accessible due to it being in Japanese.
Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer aka GaoGaiGar: King of Innovators. I must say that I could have had worse seats but it would have been hard. First of all I was next to two people who seemed to think that bathing was strictly optional and both of them had their own special order. Second the guy in front of me was rather tall as to make sure I could only read the subtitles half the time. And lastly they tried to end the movie prematurely so they could do a signing. The crowd was about ready to revolt when they said that. But despite this I was just thrilled to be able to see the Gundam oo movie with a crowd that was full of energy and love for Gundam. I think the most jarring thing about the movie is that is that is as different in tone from the TV series as the two seasons are from each other. This change in tone is not going to win it fans with the hardcore fans but I think the casual fans will enjoy Gundams vs aliens. The ending is a bit odd. When I sat down and thought about it I realized that oddly enough it brings together all the themes of the TV series but in a way that is going to leave people scratching their heads. I wont go into spoilers but there are just as many glaring flaws as reason to enjoy this movie (if not more flaws than positives) . I will buy the DVD when it comes out as I enjoyed it but you have to watch it in the right frame of mind. This is Gundam 00 in an over the top action movie fashion. Anyone wanting the social commentary and political allegory of the first season is going to be SORELY disappointed.
Mardock Scramble was one of the most exciting premieres of the convention. The first part of three films, it hasn’t even hit Japanese theaters yet, was presented to us by the multi-talented Tow Ubukata who wrote the novels for this series first and then went on to help create the anime version. The screening was only about half full, one of the most disappointing aspects of NYAF not being hyped enough, but there was a collective feeling of suspense from the audience as the screening began. Lush animation and a science-fiction cityscape hit you immediately as the story of a young girl who has had a hard life beings to emerge from her past as a victim to hopefully take control and possibly revenge. There is a quietness to the series but also great action scenes and drama. The film ends on a huge cliffhanger which was kind of devastating since it is unknown when we will ever see the follow-up films. Mr. Ubukata talked a bit about the film and was asked a few questions by the audience. A great topic that came up was how using a young girl was giving power to the victim, the weak, or the small. We were also told that the books on which the films are based have been licensed by VIZ so perhaps those will tide us over till we can see the subsequent parts.
Someone obviously realized while DVDs of the second season of Haruhi have sold for some inexplicable reason in Japan that they would need a GOOD iteration to keep the series viable. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is a return to form in a spectacular fashion. It is almost a 3 hour movie so you better be in for a long ride but an immensely engrossing experience. The story is a very faithful adaption of the 4th book in the Haruhi Suzumiya light novel series. The series has a distinctly Yuki based focus (Yuki X Kyon shippers will be in heaven) but everyone else gets a good amount of screen time. The animation is fantastic but I do notice they cheat quite a bit and use some flashy but noticeable CG during some less essential scenes to cut down on costs. The story is a nice return to the comedy/drama/philosophy formula that made people love the original series. If anything will remove the bad taste of the Endless Eight from fandom’s mouths it will be this movie.
I attended Marvel’s anime panel and was surprised to find them showing the full first episode of Iron Man. It was a packed house and I suspect it was more comic fans than anime ones. There were laughs and cheers throughout, despite that I really couldn’t get into the show. The pacing is very odd as well as the constant fades and cuts. The ending fight is okay, but nothing to write home about. I think it will do fine though. Jeph Loeb now head of Marvels television initiative was also in attendance as well as a couple of people from G4 where the Marvel anime adaptions will find a home. We also saw a trailer for the upcoming Wolverine adaption. Not a lot was said at the panel beyond the odd and disappointing news that Iron Man would not hit U.S. television until Summer 2011. This seems like a huge mistake since it is only 14 episodes long and already hit Japanese airwaves this fall.
I was very sad that the room playing Mardock Scramble was only half full. I only watched the first third but it seemed the perfect film for the casual anime fan. I think putting it up against the Haruhi movie is a colossal blunder as it stripped a good deal of the audience for the film. Despite that I was very happy seeing all these premier films at an anime con. It has been so long since I actually watched anime at an anime convention. I hope that next year continues the tradition but having several exclusive premieres and I look forward to what I will see.
The screenings I found the best were the ones with creators along side and a small discussion afterward. I think it really solidified the shows in your mind and it wasn’t an experience you were likely to forget. NYAF made me excited about screenings again and hey maybe they have found the magic formula for getting fans to go see creators!
More NY Anime Festival and Comic Con 2010 posts:
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Tweets
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: General Impressions
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Anime and Manga Industry
NY Anime Festival 2010: Artist Alley – Making it Big!
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Exhibitors Hall
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Panels
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Minori Chihara