I’m not sure if AnimeNEXT is just getting better at coaxing their guests into showing how interesting they are, Japanese guests are learning to have a little more showmanship in front of American audiences, or if it is a combination of the two. I’m guess it is a bit of both but no matter what the cause the last two years have meant that the guests at AnimeNEXT have done a lot more than just flatly answer questions. Sayo Yamamoto and Hiroshi Shimizu did a lot to make their panels pop last year. Between drawing storyboards and sketching of Lupin live there was always something going on while they answered questions. It helped the panels seem more vibrant than a simple interview. This year while the Studio Trigger artists did not show off their artistic chops in the same way they did wow the audience just as much.
Last year I also said that I hoped that Japanese guests would be more popular than they have been in the past. I was not expecting them to have to turn people away in droves but maybe they could fill over half of the panel rooms they were placed in. It was a dream but I did not see it more than that. Low and behold this year people waited the sun to get into the Kill la Kill panel with Studio Trigger and many people just could not get in. There was not a free seat in the house. That is crazy. And it was not like Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama are huge names like Hayao Miyazaki or even Gen Urobuchi. They are talented guys but they are not names that roll off the average fan’s name alongside a resume of what they have done. But the people came and were hungry for knowledge.
The question is why. Sure Kill la Kill is megapopular. But I have seen the director of Fullmetal Alchemist at Otakon sitting in a room that was barely 1/4th filled while that show was at the pinnacle of its popularity. It is not like Fullmetal Alchemist has a smaller fanbase. Has fandom radially changed since then? It has changed but that is not the reason they had to turn people away from the Kill la Kill panel this year. It was the fact that they has the anime itself be the headliner. It was called the “Kill la Kill panel with Studio Trigger” panel and not the “Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama” panel. I’m sure that the “Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama” panel would have been in a room with only a fourth of the seats being taken up. When the title says that your going to learn the secrets of the hit show of the season from who people who worked on it the fans will climb over each other to get into the room. If you just say two Japanese guys will be answering questions in a room it is only bloggers, press, and superfans.
I mean at Otakon 2013 Kaoru Kurosaki filled a room. People were not in the panel because they were fluent in Japanese and loved her work as a novelist. I’m sure if you asked ten people who went to that panel before it started who she was maybe one would know she was the wife of the author of Rurouni Kenshin. Maybe. I don’t even think Nobuhiro Watsuki could have filled the room with his name alone. The Real Life of a Manga-ka: Behind The Scenes of Rurouni Kenshin on the other hand was a packed room. People know Rurouni Kenshin even years after its release. People know Kill la Kill. If you want attendees to go to events with the creators then sell them what they know. If you say that the panel is Naoko Takeuchi you will get a decent turn out. If you say the panel is “The Creator of Sailor Moon” you will have to hold Thunderdome to determine who gets into the room.
If you are reading this and you are staff at a convention you should take this lesson to heart. People will go to Japanese guests panels. You just have to sell them properly.
The first thing you can take away from any talk with Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama is that the staff at Studio Trigger really LOVES American comics. I think Kill la Kill shows they love animation in general but it seems like any random staff member might just be able to win a trivia contest about Marvel comics against any random attendee at San Diego Comic Con. They brought up everything from Ghost Rider (Well Inferno Cop alone should show a healthy affection for that character) to Agent Venom. I did not even know there was an Agent Venom iteration of Venom until the Inferno Cop Q&A. They explained how the second Kill la Kill ending has a secret wink and a nod to the World War Hulk story line. (BTW it is the WWH written on Mako’s kick board 32 seconds in.) They even mentioned that when they were writing up the storyboards for Inferno Cop they were given a single hour to come up with a plot each week. Despite have so little time they usually spent half that time just playing with American super hero toys and then and only then would they actually start working.
If you ever want to see the inside of Studio Trigger just bring along some convention exclusive toys from America. I’m sure that will be the price of admission for the grand tour.
The Inferno Cop panel was less attended, I know shocking, than the Kill la Kill panel but the turn out was enough for the Trigger staff to tell us how surprised they were that so many people knew the show. They stated quite frankly at the beginning that the Japanese audience just didn’t understand it at all. That set the stage for an off the cuff and amusing panel as they showed us concept art and the like.
We learned such gems as their only big decision at the beginning was that Inferno Cop must not at any time ride a motorcycle, and their studio’s cleaning lady broke the only Inferno Cop figure in existence.
One truly fantastic bit of information was the studio only allowed them one hour per week to work on Inferno Cop. According to them most of that hour was actually spent “dicking around” with toys instead of working. The storyboards similarly reflected this as they consisted of just a single sheet of paper with three hap-hazardly drawn boxes inside which were the loosest of sketches for the action.
One audience member commended them, “Thank you for saving anime.” They responded humbly, “We just did what we had to do.”
Normally these write ups give you a good sense of what happened at a Japanese guest panel. The important questions are highlighted and the lame ones are glossed over. You miss a certain amount of nuance to the answers as well and tone but unless you’re a fluent Japanese speaker you lose some of the even being in the room. You get about 80% of the experience from a well written report. With the Trigger panels your really only getting about 40% of the story. Most of their panels were visual. While they took questions at the end most of their time was spent showing the audience previously unseen production sketches, storyboards, and doodles. Of course you could not take pictures of these images. So I can say that I saw a hulked out version of Mako, the cute blond prototype of Satsuki Kiryuin, or the more robotic versions of Senketsu but they need to be seen more to be understood. Knowing that the Elite Four was originally supposed to be all female is fascinating. Seeing the female version of Gamagori is a completely different animal. It definitely made the experience something that makes you go, “You had to be there.”
If Studio Trigger wants to finance their next series they should just sell the art book for Kill La Kill so they can make more Ninja Slayer and less Inou-Battle in the Usually Daze. I think everyone in that audience was champing at the bit to have a copy of those production sketches.
I was supposed to participate in a roundtable interview with the gentlemen from Studio Trigger on Sunday but the originally scheduled time got pushed back right in the middle of my panel for that day. That was extremely frustrating but I can’t blame AnimeNEXT for that. I can’t think of an Interview with a Japanese guest that has started on time. Interviews starting late is more the rule than the exception and them being rescheduled later in the day is hardly unheard of. I’m not mad about it but I was a little sad I did not get to ask them any questions. If nothing else Ani-Gamers should have an article on the interview soon and AnimeNEXT recorded the roundtable and should also be posting that on their YouTube account.
I was a little surprised they never brought up Little Witch Academia. Now it was clear that while Inferno Cop did not really catch on in Japan it at least has a cult following in the English-speaking world and Kill la Kill’s popularity was only surpassed by Attack on Titan recently so those shows getting a spotlight makes sense. But whereas Inferno Cop has a small but vocal fanbase Little Witch Academia was popular enough that a second episode was funded via Kickstarter in 6 hours. You would think they would want to talk that show up to keep the interest alive. I have to assume they wanted to save that discussion for the bigger Trigger panel at AnimeExpo.
I was little curious to ask Shigeto Koyama about his mecha design. His work on Star Driver’s Cybodies and Captain Earth made me curious what influences his rather unique mecha designs. I also really wanted to be at the interview to ask about Ninja Slayer. Especially after seeing Wakabayashi and Koyama talk it is clear that Trigger is the perfect studio of that property. Ninja Slayer is supposedly a best-selling science fiction novel series written by two Americans that is merely being translated into Japanese because it is so popular back the states. It is clearly ridiculously over the top but plays it completely straight. It seems right up their alley.
Much like the Inferno Cop panel, the Studio Trigger staff spent a good portion of the panel showing various production sketches, storyboards, and the like. While also entertaining the crowd with funny comments.
One of my favorite pieces of production to see is early character designs. The crowd at the panel made it clear I was not alone in this desire to see the how things changed over the course of the production.
Ryuko and Mako started off much cuter, especially Ryuko with a rounder face and shorter stature. At one point they even played with the idea of Mako having twin tails. Satsuki began with super short blonde hair and wearing pants, this design had an even more masculine feel than her already masculine final design. The Elite Four were originally conceived as all women. The crowd seemed to really love the idea of this kinda-canon gender swap.
Even more significant as far as changes to the series went was that a different story all together had been storyboarded for about five episodes. In this alternate (or original if you like) scenario Ryuko was a bounty hunter with a rifle. But as the story went on they felt it was getting too serious so they started over. The scriptwriter seemed to be the person who first came up with the ideas about clothing.
One final story I’ll end with, Mr. Koyama directed Kill la Kill’s 2nd opening via facetime because had influenza!
I’m really glad AnimeNEXT were able to score Studio Trigger this year. It was probably the perfect time to bring them over. Right now they are the golden studio that most people have nothing but praise for. Both Wakabayashi and Koyama seemed really open with their answers. When they answered they seemed candid and relaxed. So often everyone other than the oldest and most respected artist seem like they are carefully making their answers as bland and middle of the road as possible. It was nice to see some people working a bit more to the ground being able to open up. I loved seeing them and I was glad to see that the hoi polloi felt the same way.
One thing that should be mentioned is how much a great translator can bring to an experience like this. The translator for Mr. Wakabayashi and Mr. Koyama was actually a staff member of Trigger and clearly knew the two of them very well. He was able to convey the sense of levity that our guests clearly had and really helped the panels feel very natural and funny from the beginning to end.
Other AnimeNEXT 2014 Coverage: