New York Comic Con 2014: Anime & Manga

hisui_icon_4040 Ever since they stopped holding the New York Anime Festival there had been two repeated complaints at the feedback panels at New York Comic Con. The first is people recounting their Walking Dead horror stories and the second is people wondering was why is there was not more anime and manga content. I admit most of the time when pressed people wanted American voice actors and ignored the few Japanese productions guests that attended the convention but at least it was an interest in seeing more anime and manga. The general anime blogging community might have written off the event but the fans still felt like they might get their slice of the pie at New York Comic Con. This year New York Comic Con came with a far better selection. Enough to make most fans take notice.

Having Takeshi Obata, the US premiere of the 25th episode of Kill La Kill, and The Kakehashi Project would be a slightly underwhelming if it were the only guests at Otakon but an amazing lineup for any medium-sized convention. In the case of New York Comic Con it shows a solid commitment to getting fans of Japanese popular culture the material they have been asking for. I for one was very happy with the lineup. It let me get a solid about of anime and manga content each day while still letting me indulge my other geeky hobbies as well. Exactly what I wanted.

narutaki_icon_4040 Last year, at the NYCC feedback panel there was a resounding plea for better anime and manga content beyond basic industry panels. I’m happy to say that NYCC listened, or maybe the anime and manga companies realized the potential again, either way us fans were reaping the benefits this year.

hisui_icon_4040 The crown jewel of the convention was undoubtedly Takeshi Obata. I am always impressed what manga artist they get at New York Comic Con. It seems like Otakon has lost interest in courting manga guests in general, smaller East coast cons can’t get them, and even when they want them they are so hard to get away from their jobs to attend a convention. The bursting of the manga bubble hardly helps matters. So when New York Comic Con gets people like Hiro Mashima, Kazuo Koike, Moyoko Anno it is no small accomplishment. Add on the fact that Takeshi Obata worked on Death Note, which has to be one of the most successful manga in recent memory, he is a great guest from something like NYCC. Death Note was a title that really took off even with nerds outside of the normal American otaku circles. You always hear rumblings about someone trying to make an American version of the story as a movie as it had a very western friendly storyline. So a multimedia convention with a broad audience filled with casual anime fans as well otaku is a great place to host him.

Our initial goal at the convention was to get tickets for his autograph. They were being given away at the Viz booth so the first part of our experience was most just camping the booth waiting for the line to officially start. We were fairly close to the start of the line when it formed so we were thankfully able to relax the rest of the convention knowing we had secured the only really limited quality item we wanted at the convention. The singing went relatively quickly. Everyone got a nice color signature board with Keiji Kiriya from All You Need Is Kill on it. Takeshi Obata also had signature events at Kinokuniya NYC and a local Barnes and Noble but apparently those were a bit crazy so oddly enough the NYCC event was a far more relaxed way to get a signature.

Takeshi Obata did two panels. Technically the Thursday panel was about the future of Shonen Jump and the Friday panel was all about the artist himself but they were both mainly just Q&As with Takeshi Obata while he drew some of his more popular characters (aka Death Note characters.) He already had the some light pencil work done for Ryuk and L before the panel. I remember some woman next to me seemed to be slightly miffed about this. That groundwork allowed him to do two sketches in the 45 minute panels. Despite this fact someone apparently thought he was nothing more than a tracer.

I sadly could only attend the Thursday panel. I arrived early for the first Obata panel because I was worried that I might not get in. This meant sitting through the last fourth of the King of the Nerds panel. Apparently, Kate sat through the whole thing which proves she is a real trooper. While the panel eventually got pretty full they never filled the whole room. That made me a little too over-confident about my chances of getting into the panel on Friday. While I showed up about a half an hour before that panel the line was cut off before I even got close to the door. Such is hubris. Kate got in and that is what is important.

I think I have been a bit spoiled by the more talkative Japanese guests I have seen recently. I had mostly forgotten how quiet some of the guests can be. I’m not sure if it was just that Obata is generally shy, he was just nervous being in America, or was just mostly focused on drawing but when he answered he did not give the most detailed answers. That can be forgiven though. The main draw of the panel was watching him draw. Everything else was just gravy.

Since the Thursday panel was a little more relaxed the first half was questions from the Internet but the second half was selected questions from index cards the audience could fill out. While the index cards did mean that no super exciting questions were asked it did prevent really rude or rambling questions from being puked up as well. I did find it odd that Viz itself probably could have taken a bit more care with their questions as they asked Obata’s current editor a question that was clearly meant for one of his old editors.

I will say it was interesting to learn that overall Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba hardly ever met in person to work on Death Note. Most of the time their editor would just ferry their work between them. This is hardly shocking but still breaks a little of the illusion of the artist and the writer slaving away in the same room together. Over all phones, email, and video conferencing just make that way of working unnecessary but it is a nice bit of romantic fiction. I mean Bakuman really makes that look like the norm even if that is not the case. Such is dramatic storytelling.

Still it was nice to see a big named manga artist and see what he has to say about his craft. I really hope Viz and maybe some of the other manga publishers will bring over more manga-ka next year.

narutaki_icon_4040 There are few manga-ka bigger than Takeshi Obata that I would personally find more exciting. His artwork is the type you pore over, soaking up all the details.

When Mr. Obata first entered the manga scene, he was a writer and artist, but always felt he was really strongest as an artist. Once he was able to leave the writing to someone else, he was able to focus his attention to every detail of the art. When asked how much he leaves to assistants, the answer was not much. Mr. Obata does all of the character work head to toe from beginning to end.

Character designs for Mr. Obata are often influenced by the text, but it goes the other way, too. Ryuk’s personality for example became informed by his off-kilter design. And with Bakuman, Mr. Obata was given free rein with the character designs.

We were lucky enough to watch Mr. Obata draw live during one panel. I am happy to find this becoming common in artist panels now.

Mr. Obata described his impression of his frequent partner, Mr. Ohba, as: “cool adult.” Death Note was their first project. Their Death Note editor Mr. Yoshida said he just had a feeling they would make a great pair. Mr. Obata admitted he didn’t have high expectations about DN becoming popular, he simply loved drawing that style.

Mr. Obata delighted the audience by going against the standard and refusing to avoid picking his favorite character. He told us very proudly that L was his absolutely favorite! The audience agreed with his choice wholeheartedly.

Mr. Obata really welcomed the challenge of adapting the All You Need is Kill novel. He had always wanted to do sci-fi with a sharper edge to the art and storytelling. He feels seinen has been great because it is so uncensored. Mr. Obata (and us!) were treated to a surprise video message from All You Need is Kill author Hiroshi Sakurazaka in which he hinted at a sequel which will obviously need a manga adaptation.

Some fun personal details Mr. Obata shared were his love of Sherlock Holmes and his practicing karate at a dojo where he said he is the weakest which drew laughs.

VIZ seemed to have a very heavy hand in the proceedings, rarely opening things up to the audience. This was more than likely for the best, it prevented too many surprises for better or worse, but at times felt artificial. Still, I am so grateful that VIZ brought Mr. Obata to NYCC as it is probably a once in a lifetime event.

hisui_icon_4040 Much like Kill la Kill itself the screening of the 25th episode was a bit of heaven and hell. I think we were all a little worried about getting into the room. First of all Kill la Kill is pretty popular. It is not to the level of being close to mainstream like Attack on Titan but among general anime fans it is a well-known quantity. But add in the fact that they were going to have American voice actors at the panel and it becomes a legitimate worry that we might not get in. So we all decided to line up to get into the Titmouse panel. That is where the trouble started.

The Titmouse panel was fine. They mostly just played clips and teasers of what they were working on. We can talk about that during the general panel post. What I am going to talk about is the people in back of us. They were clearly just there, like us, to wait for the Kill la Kil screening. The reason I know this is because they would NOT SHUT UP ABOUT IT. You don’t have to love the panel you’re at if your camping. That is your prerogative. On the other hand that does not give you the right to talk during the panel. And these jokers were loud and abrasive on top of that. If got so bad that Carl from Ogiue Maniax had to politely tell them to shut the heck up. If you know Carl than you know this is hardly his standard MO.

This only got them to lower their volume by half a decibel.

So you figure that when the Kill la Kill panel started they would quite down. Nope. They continued to talk. It was just that they were on topic now. They continued to talk the entire time. They talked during the intro, they talked during the episodes, they probably were still talking during the voice actress Q&A after we left. I know that no one in that group is going to read this but I would just like to say that I hate that little group of weasels and I really want their lives to be terrible mixtures of hardship and tragedy.

But despite that they could not ruin the 25th episode. That is a fairly strong endorsement. Even in less than ideal circumstances the quality of the episode could not be repressed.

Before they played the 25th episode they played the dubbed version of the 7th episode, A Loser I Can’t Hate. As it is the episode where we get to see Two-Star Goku Uniform Mako so it was more than a little treat before the main show rather than an opening act that we hoped would leave the stage ASAP. The dub seemed competent but Gamagori was probably the one voice most people in our little group had a problem with. His performance was good but his stylistic choices changes the nature of the character by giving him a sarcastic edge that was not present in the original. In a way that removes the earnest charm from the original that made him so popular.

Goodbye Once Again was not necessary but at the same time reenforced and enriched the themes of the original ending. I think it made a little more implicit the ideas of graduation and moving forward that were the keys to the conclusion. I was a little surprised they did not throw in any applicable amount of added fan service. For a series so famous for it the one time they could go all out they are instead very restrained. Instead it mainly focused on action, jokes, and tying up a few loose ends that were not necessary but appreciated. Despite the fact that it was not needed but it never feels like it was extraneous. It is sort of the best way to do a bonus episode.

narutaki_icon_4040 I was kinda hoping to escape this panel quickly but the screening did not being with the end. Luckily the dub episode was a favorite of everyone including myself.

I’m pretty neutral on dubs. I don’t seek them out but it isn’t as if I hate them with a fiery passion. This was the first I saw of the Kill la Kill English dub so it was all new to me. I wasn’t thrilled with Gamagori, who also happens to be my favorite, but it didn’t feel so off that I was offended. Everyone else didn’t stick out so I’ll consider them a success.

I didn’t know what to expect from ep. 25. I didn’t go in with an expectations, but somehow the episode exceeded those non-existent expectations anyway! It was bombastic, crazy, and bright. It was Kill la Kill without missing a beat.

The most important part of Kill la Kill ep. 25 was that it made the horridness of Satsuki cutting her hair actually out of her control. Thank goodness.

I felt similarly to Al about the extra episode of Kill la Kill: I didn’t need this episode, but I’m glad I got it. But at the same time I understand why this is being released as a bonus as opposed to being the final episode of the TV run.

hisui_icon_4040 I initially assumed that The Kakehashi Project panel was going to be a ghost town. It was mainly made up of Japanese guests, it was on a Sunday, and it was not that well advertised. Most people I knew who would have gone to a panel like this seemed unaware it existed. I thought like the Masters of Animanga panel this would be in a room that was at most a third filled. Fortunately the panel was packed.  Part of me wonders how many people were just there to see Natasha Allegri but that is besides the point. What matters is people were in the room and paying attention.

While there was a short Q&A at the end most of the panel was a look at the creators on the panel.  The thing is it was a smorgasbord of animation from Japan. You had Aya Suzuki and Yuzuru Tachikawa who really felt like what you think of when you think of animation from Japan. They are both a bit more on the artsy side of anime but still very much in the sphere of what you think about when it comes to the medium. Ryo Okawara, Saki Muramoto, and Saori Shiroki on the other hand felt much more like fine art film students. It is very easy to stereotype the animation output of a country by its most visible representatives. This often makes a country’s art house and underground animation even more invisible. If you showed most people these clips and then asked what country they came from most people would only guess Japan as the result of random guessing as opposed to knowing the truth. It was an eye-opening experience even to someone who knows that such animation existed. I can’t guess how unexpected it was to most of the audience.

I will note that how fluent Aya Suzuki’s English was. She would really make a great guest for any anime con. All of her answers were detailed, eloquent, and engaging. Plus since she speaks English she can connect to any audience far quicker and deeper than most Japanese guest could. She has the golden combination of being knowledgeable about the production process but can  also easily converse with an audience.

I might not have learned that much about The Kakehashi Project itself but I did discover a lot despite that.

narutaki_icon_4040 As an anime fan, I can easily forget that Japan has an indie animation scene because of the sheer amount of commercial animated works coming out of the country. And of course by the sheer amount I am personally consuming on a weekly basis.

It is so rare to be able to see animators demo reels, that alone made The Kakehashi Project panel worthwhile.

The project itself is about a cross-cultural exchange of ideas, techniques, and connections. It is great to see a sponsorship like this for young and upcoming animators.

The Kakehashi Project was a great way to get out of my comfort zone as well as appreciate the hard work of all types of animators. I think the same went for the rest of the audience.

hisui_icon_4040 I also went to some industry panels but you can hear anything you need to know about what happened at those panels from most anime news sites on the Internet.

I’m really glad to see this much anime and manga content at NYCC. As the convention grows I don’t think it means a proportional increase in the anime and manga content. This seems to be about the peak amount. Hopefully as the convention’s growth will let us see a bit more prestigious guests as the convention becomes the premiere East Coast convention. I don’t think this will steal guests from Otakon or AnimeNEXT but instead draw guests who might not have normally gone to strictly otaku convention.

narutaki_icon_4040 My only request is to make sure that anime and manga events get a bit better billing during the convention. Anime and manga are a piece of the NYCC pie and as such should get the hype that other parts have. I don’t expect to see every event publicized big, but when you’ve got an artist as big as Takeshi Obata bigger deal should be made of it.

That said, it feels like anime and manga are finally finding their place at NYCC again.

More New York Comic Con 2014 posts:

New York Comic Con 2014: Our 4 Favorite Anime & Manga Announcements
The Speakeasy #058: Gods of Death Love Apples, NYCC 2014

New York Comic Con 2014: Show Floor & Artist Alley
New York Comic Con 2014: Panels



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