Otakon 2011: Industry

The presence of industry at events such as Otakon has been evolving and changing over the last couple of years. Instead of focusing on what is coming out now, which is still done, there is a shift to talking about streaming or the next big thing. This was driven home by Sunrise running their own panel this year. While there were no huge announcements from Otakon (which we’ve come to expect with Anime Expo and San Diego Comic Con in the same month), there was still much to talk about.

I have mostly decided to follows Patz’s philosophy and avoid going to industry panels unless I have a burning question that needs to be asked. With so many bloggers and news sources reporting and commentating on industry panels as they happen there is little need for me to show up. The nitty-gritty will be available for everyone to see as soon as it is announced. This lets me sit back and pick what I want to comment on. I like that approach.

Vertical, Inc. is really good about making the rounds at conventions. That being said, you should always attend a panel with Ed Chavez because it is impossible to not learn something. The panel started with the usual presentation of current and upcoming titles. There were big cheers from the crowd for the beautiful job on Princess Knight. When GTO: Shonan 14 Days and The Early Years came up, Ed mentioned that TokyoPop was still around when they made this deal so the first 10 books of The Early Years weren’t an option. Ed also showed the first cover design for Drops of God which was wine labels but the creator wanted more character art. As a designer I actually like the new covers better. The series is available for preview on the New York Times website of all places (this was way too hard to find). I wasn’t excited at first, but now I’m really looking forward to the release. The floor opened up to questions, biggest on minds was digital releases of manga which Ed said they are negotiating, but it is hard and things like Tezuka aren’t an option for them since Tezuka’s estate is doing that on their own. I was curious about flipping/not flipping in their upcoming titles; No Longer Human was actually made in left-to-right format; GTO will remain unflipped; and Drops of God while they hope to be an international success was too difficult to flip due to the wine labels, etc. You could also catch Vertical, Inc. in the dealer’s room where they did very good business over the weekend.

With all that said, I still went to the VIZ panel on Sunday mostly because it was a bit of an unusual event. For the last few years VIZ had not come out to the East Coast so I was curious to see the new and improved VIZ. Thanks to a recent ANNCast with Jim Vowles we learned that VIZ is trying to get back in touch with its core audience and this is part of that plan. Of course they had Naruto news. They mentioned a contest with the new movie and a possible speed-up with the digital manga. Even if there is more fan backlash against the manga it is still the title to beat in many respects. They talked a bit about their digital initiatives and their plans for the future. I think it is proof that while no one is fully taking the plunge, manga publishers still know they have to do something about the digital frontier before it is too late. They also mentioned some new titles in the Haikasoru line which I am pleasantly surprised is still alive. VIZ is releasing some new art books including the second Color Walk and also more omnibus lines. When it came to Q&A the rep only gave a half answer to why Rin-ne is no longer being translated. The earthquake was brought up but that does not seem to be the whole answer in my opinion. Overall, I am glad to see VIZ back in the game giving out prizes and opening communication a bit more with fans all over the country.

The most surprising industry guest this year was, as I mentioned previous, Sunrise hosted by Executive Producer Masayuki Ozaki. Some familiar faces from Bandai’s U.S. branch could be seen on the panel too as they traditional distribute Sunrise works for the states. This panel was part celebration and part special preview. Mr. Ozaki started the panel by asking the crowd, which was fairly sizable, to shout out their favorite works from Sunrise; I, of course, yelled Gundam. As if on cue we were then shown a short film entitled World of Gundam which introduces the franchise. Rounds of applause burst from the fans throughout which gave the impression that G Gundam is the most popular series in the history, that probably threw Mr. Ozaki! There was also a spoiler-filled Tiger and Bunny promo video which I closed my eyes and ears for and a trailer for Gundam AGE that looked promising. I was surprised to then see previews for totally new shows, ones I’d never heard of, including a shonen series Phi Brain Puzzle of God and a booby-laden, warring states title Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere. It hit me then that this is what Japanese companies should be doing: showing us the new product in a big way! Simulcasting is full under way, we are a known market now. That can be said less for the European market which Eeeper asked about during the Q&A session and which Mr. Ozaki seemed to be stumped over. You really got the feeling that Mr. Ozaki wanted to gauge fans and hopefully he took plenty of notes back with him.

Directly after Sunrise was Bandai’s After Dark panel where they let down their hair a little and all manner of guests showed up for a few minutes here and there. This is also a popular panel because they tend to give away a lot of goodies. There was a lot of music going on this night with an impromptu jam session with Johnny Young Bosch. This was followed by the very talented Hiro Yura talking about his work on the The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzimiya film which he finished up by playing the ending song on violin. I wasn’t familiar with the movie, but his string solo was very moving and received quite an ovation from the audience. Then came a sing-a-long with some of the dub cast for K-ON! I wasn’t overly impressed, but then it is me. However, when one brave audience member got up to sing I had to laugh and applaud. Nearing the end of the panel we got a few announcements like Star Driver streaming in August (too little, too late?) but no news about the DVD release format which interests me most. Bandai has also decided Nichijou and Gosick (yay!) are worth releasing on DVD as well.

Hey people, why has no one picked up Mawaru Penguindrum? I so want to watch that legally but it is the only show I crave that is still not been given a legitimate streaming option. I better hear some good news at NYAF. Survival Strategy!

This year’s industry panels held little gems that made seeing them worthwhile. A lot of companies are shying away from a very corporate/marketing presentation and instead going toe to toe with fans. Free stuff also helps pack those seats!

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