Otabek removes Yuri Plisetsky’s glove with his mouth during a skating routine in a move that is overflowing with pure sexuality in a dance that already had echoes of a strip tease. The audience watching this scene begins to scream like they were seeing the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. To say that the AnimeNEXT attendees reacted positively to a sneak peek at an upcoming Yuri!!! on Ice extra is putting it extremely mildly. I mention this because I think it sums up one of the nicest things about the atmosphere surrounding the Japanese guests this year.
As I mentioned this year’s AnimeNEXT had a distinct lack of a “rock star” production guest. There was no Rei Hiroe, Rintaro, or Kenji Kamiyama. Names that get a good deal of praise as creators who have some time in the stoplight. While she had been at AnimeNEXT in the past they did not have Sayo Yamamoto as part of the Yuri!!! on Ice team. This year had more character and color designers, key animators, and production desk managers. These are vital jobs but ones that are usually entirely behind the scenes. These people rarely get interviewed and don’t often interact with the fans for the better and the worse.
If you have been reading the anime news it is clear that more and more people in the industry feel overworked and underpaid and are actually speaking up about it. That means that the turnover rate at studios has gotten higher and it is getting harder to get talented people into the industry. Therefore I think events like AnimeNEXT can be infinitely valuable to the mid and level animators who are so often isolated in the trenches. It shows them that while they may be suffering there are people who value and appreciate their blood, sweat, and tears.
I’m not saying that this is proper compensation for the work they do. They need to be paid a living wage. Events like this can be a good boost to their morale that might be the difference between someone staying in the industry and fighting the good fight to improve conditions instead of just seeking greener pastures in a different career. The knowledge that there are fans out there that appreciate their work and passions can make all the difference.
My opening to the panel is a fairly good example of the extra material that the studios brought to AnimeNEXT. MAPPA and Trigger definitely brought the thunder this year. Because of press conferences I missed the first ReLIFE panel but the second one had a live drawing by Junko Yamanaka which always makes even the most elementary and controlled Q&A panels super exciting. But all of that speaks to the care that AnimeNEXT places in the presentation of their Japanese guests.
AnimeNEXT does a supreme job of selling Japanese guest panels to the general audience. The Japanese guests panels were always packed. I got the sort of energy from the crowds you usually only get for someone like the staff of Cowboy Bebop or Masashi Kishimoto. The Yuri!!! on Ice Q&A panel was actually better than normal because the moderator gave a quick run down of the job of each of the guests. Even when people asked questions the guests could not answer it was more from a slight and understandable misunderstanding of their contribution to the show as opposed to a wildly inaccurate idea of what they did.
Trigger always goes the extra mile at AnimeNEXT and this year was no different. They brought a brand new episode of Inferno Cop along with the announcement of Inferno Cop 2. This AnimeNEXT special had even more Little Witch Academia and a fight with Donald Trump because … Inferno Cop. Everyone I talked to liked the one from last year more but the fact that they made a whole episode (even if they are only shorts) is tremendously generous. They also had a picture of the new main character of Inferno Cop 2. Considering how off the cuff the production is for Inferno Cop I assume that might be all the material they have for the show in general.
Just a little note. The Trigger staff asked how many people in the audience had watched the Little Witch Academia TV series. They even mentioned that they knew that it was not officially out in English but there were clearly methods of watching it so just were curious how many people saw it anyway. I would say a majority of the audience raised their hands. Even taking into consideration the number of people who just thought they were talking about the two movies that is a fairly good sign that most of the audience had seen the show through fansubs. I know that there are people who prefer the binge-watching model from Netflix but it works against the anime on Netflix. It makes it that people watch the really popular shows through bootleg streams and everything else falls into obscurity. It is one thing to hear people speculating about it online but it is much harder to ignore when you see the results in real life.
While the MAPPA staff did not have an original Yuri!!! on Ice animation just for AnimeNEXT they did have the next best thing. They had the DVD extra of the original performance of Yuri Plisetsky called Welcome to The Madness. Besides that they had the pencil tests for the opening and Welcome to The Madness alongside a small art books worth of sketches, designs, color tests, and assorted production materials. As I mentioned at the start the audience went crazy for Welcome to The Madness. Most of the people I went to the convention missed the first showing of the performance. They were taken back by the reaction of the audience which was actually more subdued since it was their second time watching the video. If my friends were amazed by the thunderous reaction to the second showing you can only imagine what the first reaction was like.
The thing that stood out to me the most about the Yuri!!! on Ice Q&A was how much work the staff had to throw into the show. Izumi Hirose mentioned that when she normally does color design she will work up a sample and then the director will usually make some corrections and suggestions. Sayo Yamamoto had her come with three or four designs so she could choose which one to modify for the show. All the stories about Sayo Yamamoto seem to be like that. In Sayo Yamamoto’s defense they also made it clear she was always working just as hard or harder herself. But such intensity is unsustainable. Apparently that is why the animation in later episodes is merely very good as opposed to the eye-popping gorgeousness they were in the beginning. For example the skating scenes originally got 4 sets of detailed corrections before they were done. By the end they would only get a single pass. If anything the initial goals might have been a little too ambitious which may have caused a robbing Peter to pay Paul situation. It is situations like this that makes the production guests so valuable. Stories like these truly explain so much of the show.
I was completely unaware that Reina Ueda is fairly popular idol on top of being a voice actress. Since that part of the industry is generally outside my field of vision it is an easy fact to miss. When someone explained this to me on the way back home it all made sense why almost all the questions were for her during the ReLIFE panel. I am curious if that was just be a peculiarity of the Sunday panel or did that happen at the previous one as well.
That is not to say that is was just a Reina Ueda panel. Junko Yamanaka was doing a live drawing of Arata Kaizaki from ReLIFE most of the panel. The picture also had a chibi An Onoya on Arata’s shoulder since Reina Ueda voices her. While that was going on they played a clip with An Onoya trying to seduce Arata with commentary from all three guests. Since Junko Yamanaka was drawing most of her attention was focused on her craft and most of the observations came from the other two ladies. I don’t remember any amazing insights to the production from the commentary but they did a good job building up the tension in the scene.
After all of the gushing about the Japanese guests I will conclude with my overall disappointment with the Capcom Live! concert. I like to decompress on Sunday by going to the concert before I start getting ready to go home. It was hardly a bad concert but it also just it had the potential to be amazing and instead was merely adequate. Other than Street Fighter most of the games they picked from were a single song and there were not that many games highlighted. There was nothing even close to a surprising pick. In fact all the off kilter but exciting Capcom game music was played during the pre-show.
The best selection in my humble opinion was probably the Phoenix Wright section. I think it worked because it was a Phoenix Wright overture. That let them have a smorgasbord approach to series well-known for a wealth of catchy songs. Instead of playing a single song from most games the overture gave fans of each song featured a little service. I understand why the focused on Street Fighter. It is one of Capcom’s most notable franchises with a ton of music from different games to draw upon. But that made it even more important to expand the range of exploration within the other games. Ōkami and Mega Man would have greatly benefited from this approach. Also a nice mix of some of the older games in a single melody would have let the selection feel much more robust.
I know I spend a little chunk of time every talking about how well AnimeNEXT does Japanese guest panels but as long as other conventions skip what they are doing right I think it is worth bringing up again and again. I have a feeling this is also why the guests bring so much material to AnimeNEXT. You bring over much nicer gifts when you go over to the relatives you like as opposed to the ones you barley tolerate. Since the guests at AnimeNEXT get enthusiastic crowds the guests are more likely to return that energy.