Otakon 2014: Guests

hisui_icon_4040 It is time to talk about naming Japanese Guest panels again. Otakon 2014 was a clear lesson in how to name Japanese guest panels. If you just look at the attendance for each panel it shows you everything you need to know. There were a bunch of Japanese guest panels that were filled to the brim and a bunch that were only half filled. Yusuke Kozaki and anything else to do with Under the Dog were rooms where it was hard to find a seat. Masao Maruyama and Hidenori Matsubara on the other hand did not have the same crowds. It is easy to assume that maybe it is because Yusuke Kozaki is from the video game industry that people might be more interested in him but I’m not sure that is the case. When Kate asked people who were selling Fire Emblem Awakening fan art in artist alley if they were excited to see Yusuke Kozaki most of them did not know who he was or more importantly that he was the character designer for the game. So if artist did not know that then J. Random Otaku is probably not going to know either. Everyone, except for  the most hardcore fans who look into such things, have no idea who Yusuke Kozaki is.

He drew a crowd was because he was in a panel called Drawing with Kozaki. It says that Yusuke Kozaki is an artist and that he is going to be doing a live drawing. People are sold. If it was called Kozaki draws Fire Emblem Awakening it might have been even able to fill one of the biggest panels rooms and even have to turn people away. Attendees did not really know what Under the Dog was but they saw pictures of it on banners enough to know it was an anime they were unaware of with girls and guns. And they showed up to see what that was about. People know show names but not creator names. People like activities and not lectures.

I am sure you could have gotten more people to see Masao Maruyama and Hidenori Matsubara if you played up Terror in Resonance or Rebuild of Evangelion for each artist respectively. I look these things up because I have a blog and do con reports that last three weeks. That is not the average con attendee. It is easy to assume that people don’t attend these panels because they don’t care about the guests. I think the truth of the matter is they would be more interested. You just have to sell them correctly.

I am curious to see how many Japanese guests panels will do this in the future and even more importantly much it will change things.

If you remember last year’s guest post I mentioned that last year Masao Maruyama simply came off as tired. He was still working hard but he seemed a bit … world-weary. There was a little less bounce in his step and a bit more weight in his heart due to recent deaths. I’m happy to say that this year he seemed far more energetic. Clearly he is no spring chicken. Just a look at his resume will show you that he has to be an older gentlemen because it is the only way to have that many shows under your belt. But when he was talking about the upcoming MAPPA projects he seemed much more interested in talking about the future as opposed to dwelling on the past like last year. In fact he even joked that while Hayao Miyazaki was retiring he was just getting started.

After a bit of technical difficulty we saw trailers for Garo: Honoo no Kokuin and Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis. I don’t know much about Garo other than the fact that it is based on a darker and more mature style of senati show. Maruyama wanted to bring a longer preview video but he accidentally brought an older and shorter video. It was intriguing but I would have to see more before I said anything. Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis looked really cool. It had some sharp character designs in a cool fantasy world. It really looked like it could be this generation’s Record of Lodoss War. There is only one major caveat. It is based on the online card battle game called Rage of Bahamut.

That said I wonder if it being based on an online card battle game  it actually a good thing. It would mean the production could easily have bags of micro-transaction money poured into it. The trailer look amazing and the game is regularly one of the top grossing applications on iOS and Google stores. Plus from what little I played there does not seem to be that much in the way of established lore so MAPPA can easily make its own story. It is still worth being cautious. There is a reason anime based on games have such a bad reputation. Just because Cygames could spend lots of money on the project does not mean it will. Hopefully Keiichi Sato will bring his Tiger and Bunny magic to the project.

Beyond that his Q&A was insightful as it normally is. I was very impressed that Maruyama essentially said Terror in Resonance has a story to tell and that he would not compromise that vision despite some of the more edgy content. That is not hard to say normally but I feel in Japan that sort of frank uncompromising attitude is a bit more rare to be so boldly stated. In fact most of his answers seemed to reflect the idea that he was much more interested in telling good stories and doing what pushes the boundaries rather than being coldly calculating of what would be most profitable. Although he also admits that might be what made Madhouse projects often run in the red while he was in charge.

I think the single most impressive thing about Masao Maruyama in the he can come to Otakon year after year and still have metric of new things to talk about. There is reason that most of us in continue to go to his panels whenever we can. You always leave them learning two new things you never knew before no matter how many times you have been to his panels in the past.

I have seen Hidenori Matsubara at Otakon before and he never gets a huge crowd which is a shame because when push comes to shove he has a fairly long and fascinating career under his belt. He has worn lost of hats over the year but even just being the character designer behind almost every iteration of Oh My Goddess! on TV and being the character designer for all of Sakura Wars is quite a big accomplishment but his animation director and key animation work is nothing to scoff at. I have generally found that he sometimes can be a little brief on his answers but if you get him in the right mood he can be very chatty.

He did get a lot of questions about his philosophy in character design and animation direction. I got the feeling Matsubara has a very freelancer attitude to his work. He seemed much more inclined to bring to life the general vision of the person he was working for then to be an auteur artist whose style overwhelms the project he is only doing a part of. That did lead to the knowledge that apparently Mamoru Oshii loves his heroines to have really short hair. (I think that explains his bias towards Shinobu over Lum in Urusei Yatsura.) We also learned that he gained a reputation for the guy you brought in when you needed cute girls or shower scenes to be drawn.

I will admit when Matsubara said his favorite anime was The Story of Perrine from World Masterpiece Theater all I could think of was the running gag in Hayate where whenever he is asked what anime he likes he invariably mentions a World Masterpiece Theater anime where a child has a horrible life of suffering.

It was interesting that he seems to be a bit of a Luddite when it comes to his work. He seems to have done well in avoiding using computers while doing his work while most of the industry has really switched over to that.

I of course asked him a Sakura Wars question because I am who I am. I wanted to know if he ever drew any Assault Forces for countries other than Japan, France, and America while working for Sega and if he had any preference on what country he would draw if he did. He merely mentioned that Japanese characters are always the easiest for him so those are the types he would always prefer to make.

Hidenori Matsubara in an interesting guy that is easy to overlook on the schedule. If he is ever a guest at a convention you are at you should stop by and ask him some questions. If nothing else it will prevent me from just asking him about Sakura Wars all day. We don’t want that now do we.

One last little tid bit. Jiro Ishii was not the easiest guess to see. I only got to ask him a question at the Under The Dog panel when they were stalling to set up their video equipment. Of course me being me I had to ask about his type working with Takashi Takeuchi and Kinoko Nasu on 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de. He gave a fairly generic answer about really wanting to work with Nasu if for nothing else how much Fate/Stay Night really changed the visual novel medium. That in of itself was not that remarkably exciting. What was interesting was the fact that it he was translated as saying, “She is always a writer I admired and have wanted to work with.” when talking about Nasu. Now it could be the simple fact that the translator assumed by the pen name that Nasu was that of a female author when that was not the case but it does add fuel to the fire on the conspiracy theory that the mysterious Kinoko Nasu is actually a woman.

Overall I thought that it was a good mix of Japanese creative guests this year. I will admit that I wish I had seen more of Sunao Katabuchi. I did not get to see his Q&A and was unaware he did a live commentary track for the Mai Mai Miracle screening. Apparently the commentary track made an already moving movie into an experience that did not leave with dry eyes. But I think that really sums up the Otakon experience. There are always three amazing things going on at any one time and going to going to one means you miss the two others. That said if you have to choose between the three events next year maybe try one of the Japanese guest panels if you not already inclined to do so. They can easily open your eyes to new layers in shows you already love and might just inform you about parts of the industry you never knew about.

– Alain

More Otakon 2014 posts:

Otakon 2014: Tweets
Otakon 2014: Under the Dog
Otakon 2014: General Impressions
The Speakeasy #056: X, Otakon 2014
Otakon 2014: Photoshoots
Otakon 2014: Panels
Otakon 2014: Concerts
Otakon 2014: 15-minutes with Sunao Katabuchi
Otakon 2014: Artist Alley

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