It is so nice to be able to have a whole section on guests for AnimeNEXT again. I missed being able to see people like Kenji Kamiyama or Harold Sakuishi and not have to go several states over and spend lots of money I don’t have. This year Sayo Yamamoto and Hiroshi Shimizu were a special treat. Sayo Yamamoto’s two major directorial credits are Michiko to Hatchin and Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine which are both extremely nice bullet points to have on your CV. She has also storyboarded some extremely visually inventive animation like both openings to Arakawa Under the Bridge and the Attack on Titan ending. Hiroshi Shimizu on the other hand has been a key animator on more anime than some fans have ever seen in their lives.
At the same time on the American front I am sure several people I know were super sad that they were not able to attend a convention where Mike Toole was a guest. Lets put it this way: As people are getting their panels rejected left and right for Otakon more often than a case of Near Beer at Oktoberfest it seems that Mike Toole had his panels auto-accepted as soon as they were submitted. I think that fairly well sums up his status as a respected commentator on anime.
I saw two of Mike Toole’s panels. I would have seen Dubs that Time Forgot but I cemented my dojikko status by forgetting my laptop after my Tomino panel and got locked out of the area. But Anime Cult Classics and Bad Anime By Great Creators were all fairly strong representations of his work so I can’t feel too bad.
While Anime Cult Classics is a fairly deceptive title it will always be trumped by Vincenzo Averello’s PONIES! panel from Anime Boston (a panel that came up several times during the weekend). While you might think it is a panel about shows with a small but fervent following it is actually about anime that was funded by cults. Of course that means lots of Happy Science movie clips. By law the clip where Hitler summons his Infernal Elephant Avatar™ as is contractually and morally obligated whenever anyone mentions Happy Science movies. Also Aum Shinrikyo has to come up despite how reprehensible they are. Or maybe because they are so horrible it would be irresponsible not to talk about them. Always a bizarre if enlightening panel.
Actually considering how much Ko Ransom is obsessed with the insanity of Happy Science I guess the panel was a bit of both meanings of Cult Classics.
Whereas I had previously seen an older version of the Anime Cult Classic panel the Bad Anime By Great Creators was all new to me. It was 12 anime from people who we know can do good work but prove that even the best of us can produce some real stinkers. As many as greats people such a Tezuka may have created that will forever influence the genre they also had a hand in a few things like Cleopatra: Queen of Sex. Of course Tomino had to appear on the list with a double feature of Garzey’s Wing and The Wings of Rean. Narutaki was a little surprised he did not go with Brain Powerd when I mentioned the panel to her but I think Garzey’s Wing has gained an almost The Room like fandom on parts of the Internet.
I went to two Q&A panels and one press interview with Yamamoto and Shimizu. So I think I got a decent broad understanding of their styles. I find it interesting that Sayo Yamamoto seems to have gained a reputation as the woman you bring in when you need someone to direct sexy female characters. Although she was brought in do one episode of Panty and Stocking when she mentioned she never got along well with her sister. Shimizu thought that character design and movement was his greatest strength. Both of them said that their biggest weakness was they both did not really do sci-fi and mecha well.
By the way when asked what anime influenced them the most as children said Dokonjō Gaeru and Ms. Yamamoto picked The Rose of Versailles and Urusei Yatsura. Clearly Ms. Yamamoto is a woman of refined and elegant tastes. It also proves how insanely influential The Rose of Versailles was when it came out. It is probably harder to find women in the anime industry who were NOT influenced by it as a child if it was on TV when they were growing up.
Most of the questions over the weekend were about The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. I myself learned two valuable tidbits of information. When I asked her what the Japanese reaction was to the show’s unique take on Inspector Zenigata. I felt like in America the reaction to Zenigata was highly divided but Ms. Yamamoto said the character was well received in Japan. It also seems that the New Wuthering Heights opening song was an already existing song that was modified to be the opening of The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. The song’s title never made a good deal of sense to me how it fit in thematically so the song not being written for the show itself made much more sense.
I will say that once one person asked a High School of the Dead question the door was opened that door never full stayed shut. She mentioned that the director asked that all storyboards for the episode she worked on either should have an emphasis on either being sexy or comedic. (Which explains that show to a T). But after that it was just questions about when season two was coming or the lack of realization of minor characters from the series. All things a storyboarder for one episode would not know. I guess it shows that American fans are still interested in that anime if nothing else.
Random but important information. Mr. Shimizu really likes the American TV shows Burn Notice and House. His favorite characters are Michael Westen and Gregory House respectively. He loves House because the main character is such a compelling eccentric and the show touches on medical issues the go unaddressed in Japan. Apparently he loves watching Burn Notice because Michael Westen’s Japanese dubbed voice actor is Kanichi Kurita. Seiyu fans might realize that he is the current voice of Lupin which is a fact that tied everything together nicely. He is clearly a man with tastes compatible with the Reverse Thieves.
My greatest regret is simple: I totally forgot to ask Sayo Yamamoto about her time working on the Galaxy Angel anime. Clearly I not only failed myself but my readership as well. I can only ask your forgiveness.
I think one of the biggest problem with drumming up interest in Japanese guests is the language barrier. Guests like American voice actors can easily be large and in charge and connect to an audience without the artificiality of a translator. Also there is the fact that the American voice actors are well … actors and therefore almost always have a generous amount of charisma and panache whereas artist tend to a more introspective nature. That last part is hardly a hard and fast rule but stereotypes rooted in some amount of truth tend to color our expectations despite the truth of the matter.
So the question is how can artists entertain an audience at a Q&A panel while answering questions in a way that is not as dry as melba toast in the middle of the Sahara. The answer is they should do what they do best: ART! At both panels Sayo Yamamoto and Hiroshi Shimizu did a bit of drawing to entertain the audience while they answered questions from the audience.
On the panel on Saturday Mr. Shimizu first drew Fujiko turning and drawing a gun. On Sunday he drew Lupin and Jigen running being hit by the AnimeNEXT sign. The thing is that he did not draw them as single pictures. He drew them both as a series of rough key frames so they could be animated in a flip book format. Not to be totally outdone Sayo Yamamoto demonstrated how she would create storyboards as she answered questions. While she was clearly not on the same level as Mr. Shimizu it did add and engaging visual element to her presence on stage and give a bit of insight into her works as storyboarder and director. It was also the quickest and easiest visual way of see something as abstract as directing and storyboarding without a detailed analysis of a scene in a film school analysis format.
I don’t think that dynamism alone will make Japanese guests have lines as long as the Nile I do think they add a layer of interest and flair to their panels. I’m hoping that a little more showmanship and creativity will drum up more interest in these sorely underappreciated artists. I’m not expecting them to be the most popular events at the convention but I hope they stop being some of the least attended part of the con as well.
One of the comic highlights was when they had one of the staff members pick up the camcorder and use it to show the audience Ms. Yamamoto’s quick storyboards. While the staffer quickly moved from panel to panel when he got to the one panel with naked breasts his tourist on a schedule attitude was quickly interrupted. That panel was not only paused on but got the only loving zoom in. It was a bit awkward for everyone in the audience.
I’m so very glad to see the guest line up we saw this year from AnimeNEXT. If nothing else the comments by staff on the previous parts of the con report give me a good amount of confidence that next year will be just as good if not even better in that regard.
Other AnimeNEXT 2013 Coverage: