Otakon 2015: Guests

hisui_icon_4040 We have always gotten some interviews at Otakon. We have not always gotten every interview we have asked for but we have gotten people like Gen Urobuchi so I have never really complained. This year on the other hand it seemed like Otakon really loved us because they gave us almost any interview we asked for. Kate hardly went to any fan panels because of it. But we got some great insights into the people we interviewed so it was all worth it.

I just a few quick notes before I get into the meat of the post. First of all Romi Park is a character. Most of the time voice actors and actresses are very charismatic but generally give the most generic and PR controlled answers you could ever receive. There are some notable exceptions, like Yuji Mitsuya ,who are old enough that they can say what they but otherwise you will just get very friendly but empty answer. The only guests who give answers with less substance are probably band members. Romi Park was slinging nothing but meaty answers plus she was just a constant ball of energy. You can’t expect every seiyu to be that open but you should appreciate when they are.

I really feel the guests this year shined brightly so lets see what they had to say.

narutaki_icon_4040 Otakon’s 2015 Japanese guest list featured an amazing amount of directors with voice actors, producers, and other staff upping the talent factor of the con. So many shows and styles were represented. Having GARO take center stage at the convention was a much appreciated surprise and just in time as the second season will be hitting the airwaves this fall.

To make things as memorable as possible, it seemed like every guest was as open, friendly, and engaged with the fans as I have ever seen them.

hisui_icon_4040 I started my guests panels with the staple of Otakon, the Masao Maruyama panel. He is also a great guest as he is has a wealth of information being in the industry since Mushi Production and being a founding member of Madhouse and MAPPA. The fact that he is so opening with that wealth of information makes him a treat every year. This year that fact seems to have finally got out because this is the first time his panel was full. In fact they even had to turn people away. After so many years where the room was only half full (at the best of times) it was wonderful to see the attendees eager to see what Maruyama had to say.

Every year Maruyama starts the panel with some little video treats and this year he graced the audience with a trailer for In This Corner of the World. I think Sunao Katabuchi really sold Otakon on that movie last year with the love and care he poured into the movie so this was more of a reminder that it was on its way.

Maruyama then talked a bit about GARO since it was one of the shows that was in the spotlight at the convention. He teased the audience with a few new details about the upcoming season. It seems the new show will be set in the Heian period of Japan and have a female protagonist. Seimei Abe will also be a major player in the series. The thing is the way it was said I was unsure if Seimei Abe will be in a series with a female protagonist or  Seimei Abe will be the female protagonist. Considering the fact that Seimei Abe has gained a reputation as a bishōnen over the years it would not be too much of a stretch to make him a woman for dramatic purposes. When I later asked Maruyama to clarify that statement at the GARO panel he basically said that he had already given too much away about the project and could say no more.

He also mentioned that while making anime based on games can be very hard since the mediums are different enough that it can be tricky to turn a game that can create many different experiences into a more linear story. He says that is why Rage of Bahamut: Genesis was such an ideal video game adaptation. They were allowed to create an original story merely using the setting of the game. That allowed them to create a narrative that could be told well through anime while making the producers of the game happy.

Of course someone had to address the question everyone wanted to ask: Had he seen Shirobako and was he anything like the character Masato Marukawa. He said that the meals he cooks for the staff are far tastier than what Marukawa makes. His only regret it that back in the day when building regulations were far less strict he was able to make some elaborate meals for everyone. Now that most production studios do not have full kitchens and the open flames are not allowed outside of a proper cooking area he has had to be a bit more creative with the dishes he cooks up. Sadly he did not surprise the audience with fried chicken and curry for everyone though.

There is always next year.

narutaki_icon_4040 Aniplex presented the Durarara!! Guest Panel with voice of Mikado, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, and producer Shuko Yokoyama. They started out with short introductions and showed clips reels before moving swiftly into audience Q&A.

I was surprised and pleased to see despite it being a DRRR!! panel they acknowledged a lot of other work by the two guests. The audience seemed to agree with this decision clapping and cheering for each subsequent role or series that popped up. And it made for a robust Q&A session.

There was more than one desperate plea for more Baccano! as Ms. Yokoyama was producer on that as well. Mr. Toyonaga is also an accomplished singer, even doing one of the DRRR!! openings, and he graciously sang not once, but twice, thanks to audience encouragement. And acapella no less! This was certainly the highlight of the panel.

Fair warning, there were a couple of spoiler related DRRR!! questions which I’ll talk about. Mr. Toyonaga got a great question about whether or not he knew Mikado’s true role in the series before it was revealed. The director did tell him and he knew from the very beginning, but he wasn’t told the how or why. With that knowledge hanging over him, Mr. Toyonaga eagerly read each script trying to figure out the answers. Someone also asked about the recent pen scene, Mr Toyonaga acknowledged how surprised by was with a long, loud “OHHH!!”

Both Ms. Yokoyama and Mr. Toyonaga were upbeat and talkative throughout the panel. It was a great interaction between creators and fans. They ended the session with a raffle for DRRR!! merchandise, CDs signed by Mr. Toyonaga, and a signed poster as well.

hisui_icon_4040 Since I brought it up when I was talking about Maruyama I also went to the GARO panel. They started the panel by showing the first two episodes of the TV series. I assume that was mostly to get up to Emma Guzman since she is played by Romi Park. It was a fun little trip down memory lane. It was interesting to see how little tidbits like her looking for Luciano when she is first introduced.

After that it was a bit of Q&A.

People always ask what your favorite project is. Most of the time Japanese guests will give you one of two generic answers. The first is they say they love all their projects equally. The second is they say that they love the project they are working on currently the most. Sometimes that is a dodge and sometimes that is an honest answer. When asked that the majority of the guests on the panel answered how you would expect. The thing is despite giving a face that said, “OH NO! This question, again!” Romi Park actually had a surprising answer. Apparently she loves dubbing Finn from Adventure Time. I think that choice took most of the audience by surprise.

Everything else was a bit more mundane. Romi Park generally tries to get into the head of the characters she plays and tries to see how they view the world. That means in general she does not make a big distinction between men’s and women’s roles. If she has any tendencies it would be to play men a little more forward and hold back a bit when she plays women.

On the show itself Yuichiro Hayashi said that CG was most useful with panning shots during fight scenes and for the metallic gleam of armor. While they can be done with traditional animation it is far simpler to use CG for that. Also they did not originally pick Europe during the Spanish Inquisition for the setting of the anime. Yasuko Kobayashi wrote a general plot and they all decided that the best setting to place a story with knights and witch hunts would be during that time and place in history. Also despite the insistence of one member of the audience Germán Luis was not based on Roy Focker. Any similarities between the two characters is pure coincidence.

Also Yuichiro Hayashi said the two greatest challenges for any animation project and time and budget. Both of them are limited and it always seems like a project never has enough of either. How very Shirobako.

narutaki_icon_4040 The Art of Animation with GARO panel was moderated by Mike Toole and featured director Yuichiro Hayashi, producer and sometimes Horror-designer Toru Kubo, and head of studio MAPPA Masao Maruyama.

All the guests traded back-and-forth on questions and stories, each adding here and there to enhance what another had said. There was plenty of discussion about character design, the opening style, and, of course, the budget which even got the staff joking around a bit.

We were treated to a lot of a behind-the-scenes production sketches and storyboards. We also got to see the evolution of Leon and Alphonso’s fight scene from conception to storyboards to rough animation to completion. I was pleased with this selection as it was a very memorable and well-choreographed fight. Everyone ended up snapping a few pictures of these various rare images before we were told we couldn’t take any! Perhaps this means an artbook in the future.

hisui_icon_4040 The Aldnoah.Zero panel had a much shorter Q&A than any other panel I went to. But in return that was because they front loaded the panel with lots information about the show. It was like a selection of DVD extras. They started with a tour of the studio show you where Aldnoah.Zero was made. After that it was a little presentation with some original art, character comparison charts, and other production materials. They then ended with a step by step look into how a scene goes from storyboards to full animation. If you have been to enough panels (or studied animation) you know how it all works but I’m sure it was eye-opening for most people in the audience.

They had a staff member vetting the question before people asked them. As far as I saw they did not ask anyone to sit down. It seemed more like they just wanted to make sure everyone question was clear. They mostly just seemed to screening the questions so there was just less general hemming and hawing. I asked if there was originally any plans for Inaho’s AI to have a greater story line. They said that the AI was planned from about 3/4 of the way through the first season and that it generally accomplished all the plans they had for it as a plot device. I still feel that it felt like the AI was supposed to have a bigger role but maybe I’m just detecting wasted potential more than anything else.

The most inserting question was about the challenges of production delays. I expected Ei Aoki to give a rather rote answer but once again I was surprised when he mentioned that they has some major problems when some of the staff just stopped coming to work and everyone had to scramble fill in for the missing artists. He did not name any names or mention what position the person who left was in but I am sure some amount of speculation could be made with that statement alone.

narutaki_icon_4040 We may be spoiled forever by this year which felt frank and fun in equal measures when it came to guest interactions. I hope they walked away from the con knowing how rare, talented, and loved they all are.

hisui_icon_4040 As I said before I am still a little worried about the guests next year. A simple cost cutting measure would be to cut the Japanese guests for a year. If they kept the normal domestic guests it will probably only have a minimal effect on the attendance numbers. So overall I feel it would be a very sad but understandable sacrifice. But Otakon 2016 is still pretty far away so a lot can happen. Either way I look forward to see who they can bring over next year. If that means more wonderful Japanese guests than all the better.

More Otakon 2015 posts:

Otakon 2015: Tweets
New Anime for Older Fans 2015
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with Director Shinji Takamatsu
Otakon 2015: General Impressions
Otakon 2015: 15-minute with Director Seiji Kishi
Crime Scene Investigations #009: Otakon 2015
Otakon 2015: 15-minutes with GARO’s Yuichiro Hayashi and Toru Kubo
Otakon 2015: Artist Alley

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