When I was at AnimeNEXT this year I noticed that the Japanese guests were doing more to engage with the American guests during their panels and this Otakon continued that trend. I did not go to a panel were the guest did not have some amazingly wonderful tidbit to share with the audience that would make anyone who did not attend the panel green with envy. The guest brought with them everything from exclusive trailers and never seen before videos to original art that was on display for the attendees. That was a wonderful set of treats that went above and beyond. It made the already special panels extremely memorable.
I don’t know how many more Otakon introductions I can write where I say they pulled out all the stops for the guest list this year. But here I am once again because it can’t be stated enough. My hat is off and has been off ever since they started their announcements and I couldn’t put it back on again until now.
We’ve covered many of the Japanese guests in other posts. In this one we call out new additions to the Otakon line-up Kaoru Kurosaki and Yuzuru Tachikawa; returning vets Michihiko Suwa and Tomokazu Seki; and Masao Maruyama old friend to Otakon now.
My quick comment about the Nobuhiro Watsuki art exhibit. It was interesting to see how much Makimachi Misao has changed from when she was originally drawn in Kenshin to how she looks in any of the updated material. All the other characters clearly have been updated to his current style but I don’t think anyone else looked anywhere nearly as different. But Misao is my favorite character so I notice that perhaps more than other people.
The Kenshin panel was like a magical rainbow unicorn. As much as promise I saw it people do not believe me. But I swear it is true. There was a Japanese guest panel were they had to turn people away because the room was packed. And the panel did not even have Nobuhiro Watsuki physically present (although it was all about him.)
But sadly due to scheduling issues Nobuhiro Watsuki was not able to attend Otakon. But rather than canceling completely he sent an incredible amount of material with his wife, Kaoru Kurosaki. She has personal emails with stories from Shonen Jump editors and artists who had worked with Watsuki in the past. It was quite a line up with everyone from the current big three like Oda, Kubo, and Kishimoto to people like Shimabukuro, Inagaki, and Sasaki Hisashi.
Unknowingly or not Kaoru Kurosaki started winning over the audience with a simple statement. Her husband’s biggest regret with not being able to attend Otakon was the fact that he could not go to Toys R Us. He wanted to see how much Pacific Rim merchandise he could buy.
One: Way to have great taste. Two: I think this is a sign someone clever would set up some sort of toys exchange program with the man. He mentioned that this favorite American comic is the X-Men. Send him some primo X-men figures and get all the best Japanese toys in exchange. It is a win/win plan.
I was infinitely amused when Kaoru Kurosaki mentioned that her and her husband are into German board games and play them all the time with Inugaki and his wife. Apparently the game they are recently playing all the time is Dominion. It was another simple and clear “This guy is one of us” moments.
After the personal note section she then presented the audience with his work schedule. It was a brutal affair with 15 hour work days that are also 7 days a week with only 4 days off a month. And he only gets those days off if he was lucky and everything went smoothly. (Apparently August was not a month were everything ran smoothly.) The scariest part was that is his schedule when he is working on a “leisurely” monthly manga. Apparently his weekly schedule was a nightmare in comparison.
Interesting note: Kaoru Kurosaki said that she first met Nobuhiro Watsuki at a party celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Shonen Jump. That means that party was held sometime in 1993. The Kenshin manga started on April 11, 1994. The main female lead in that series is named Kamiya Kaoru. I think I just learned who Karou is based on.
Of course when we got to the Q&A some of the worst of fandom came out. We got the standard person who tried to get an autograph at the Q&A. You could see Kaoru Kurosaki about to cave in when her handler popped up and laid down the BUSINESS on the offending party. But that lady was a bit rude but at least it was easy to see where she was coming from.
She was nothing compared to the real creep that was the last guy in the line. When everyone was told there was only time for three more questions he stayed in line despite being the fourth person. So when he did not leave they line they were nice enough to answer his question anyway. Well he actually never asked a question. He mainly just started talking about how she had lovely eyes and delicate bone structure. I’m not sure there are too many ways to say that to a stranger without coming off as extremely awkward but the way he did it certainly made it seem like he had a collection of masks made of human skin in his basement. You could see that the more he talked the more security was closing in on him … just in case. Thankfully nothing happened other than a few cringe worthy moments.
Despite all of that it was a great panel. I really hope that Nobuhiro Watsuki can come in the future to Otakon in person. If the turn out for this panel was any indication he would get a great reception.
There was an extra treat of artistic exhibition at Otakon 2013’s Artist Alley: a gallery of original art from Nobuhiro Watsuki best known for Rurouni Kenshin. There were interior pages, concept sketches, and full-color covers and splash pages on display. Many were from Rurouni Kenshin, the original as well as the recent revival, and a few more from Embalming, Gun Blaze West, and Buso Renkin. There were also early pieces from series that never made it past concept.
It is quite rare to have a chance to see actual manga pages in person. They are larger than the printed page so you can see a lot more detail, the tone and shading, and even pasted in art corrections as well as text. I would love to see more exhibits like this; it makes you appreciate the artform more. Anyone who says that manga is easy or too simple should see some original drawings.
The gallery admitted only 10 people at a time giving this exhibit a continuous, and well-deserved, line all weekend long.
Masao Maruyama’s MAPPA was extremely personal. He did the standard amount of Q&A and discussion of previous and upcoming projects. But that part of simply the filler. The real deal was the videos that he brought specifically for Otakon. They were powerful, personal, and beautiful. If at least one of them did not move you then you have a pretty thick heart.
The first was the animation they made for Satoshi Kon’s wake directed by Rintaro. It had not been played ANYWHERE else since then. It was a touching tribute to someone clearly everyone involved respected and would miss. He simply could have played that and then walked out of the room and I would have still considered the panel 100% successful.
He then played a short film called Hana wa Saku by Katabuchi Sunao. It was specifically made to try to lift people’s spirits after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. He played it partially because the music was by Yoko Kanno and partially just because it was a touching piece of work.
He also played a third video that we promised we would not share the content of outside of the room. And I think that was a fair deal. Consider it an object lesson in why you should always attend his panels if you can. There are somethings you just have to see in person.
In many ways Masao Maruyama seemed a bit tired. He was still very enthusiastic for his work and for idea of creating and promoting great animated projects. But you could also tell that he was getting on in years and many of his old friends were disappearing one by one. His video selections alone showed that without him saying a word. If you have a chance see him at the next Otakon you attend. You might not get that chance again.
Some of my most vivid memories of Otakon are centered around Tomokazu Seki’s Q&A and autograph session the last time he graced the halls of the BCC. Needless to say it was very exciting to see him back.
Tomokazu Seki is a prolific voice actor who absolutely exudes a love for his job. His manly voices are just as excellent as his high-pitched ones; this diversity pretty much ensures that he is at least one of every fan’s favorite characters. Thus he wasted no time on introductions urging everyone to get those questions (and quote requests) going!
I’d say maybe a third of the people asked something about Domon Kasshu and most of those were requests for different lines from G Gundam. One fan told Mr. Seki that Domon was his guidance for being a man. And still another did a scene with Mr. Seki yelling lines back and forth from a conversation between Domon and Master Asia! The fan was pretty good too once he got over his stage fright. Mr. Seki admitted to liking playing Domon best of all to cheers from the crowd. And when confronted with the question of which Gundam he liked best besides G Gundam, Mr. Seki flippantly replied he didn’t know there was any Gundam besides G Gundam.
Another great line of questioning came from those asking about Gilgamesh from Type-Moon. At one point a fan asked if some of Gilgamesh’s lines everyone made Mr. Seki uncomfortable. Everyone had a good laugh when Mr. Seki said no because everything Gilgamesh says he was already thinking it anyway.
Mr. Seki even sang a bit for the audience! More good memories from Otakon were made this year though I avoided the autograph madness this time around.
The Anime Mirai panel while far less personal it was still amazingly informative. While the Q&A was going on they passed out binders filled with original storyboards, character design sheets, and reference charts for Death Billiards and Attack on Titan. The only real problem was you only tended to get to see one of the books because once one section of the audience got one of the binders it moved around very slowly because everyone wanted to see as much of each book as possible. But if nothing else that speaks to how much people loved flipping through the artwork.
The Anime Mirai panel was an interesting insight into the project. I did not know that people working on the project are forbidden from working on anything else while they participate in the project. But in return they usually get a higher salary than anything the would normally make in the industry. I do wish I could have learned a bit more about the selection process for pitches and how they decided what gets government grant money and what gets passed over. I also wish I had asked Michihiko Suwa about his podcast. But que sara, sara. We did get a sneak peek at the upcoming Lupin III vs. Detective Conan movie. I then got some promotional material from Suwa as well. That was great.
I know some people are mad that more people don’t attend Japanese guest panels. They should not be. It is a waste of time and passion. You should feel bad for them. They don’t know what they are missing out on.
More Otakon 2013 posts:
Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: General Impressions
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
Otakon 2013: Artist Alley
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Concerts
Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami
Otakon 2013: Fan Panels
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013