Animazement 2013: A Growing Family

Animazement 2013, a three-day convention held on Memorial Day weekend, has steadily grown the past few years it has been held. 8,855 attendees came to Raleigh this year, roughly 10% more than last year. Predicting this growth, Animazement’s layout at the Raleigh Convention Center (RCC) and Marriott City Center dramatically changed this year, streamlining traffic, making the increased attendance have less of an impact, and providing more space for exhibitors and guests to present their work.

During previous years at Animazement, the game room closed when the RCC did. This year’s relocation of the Game Room, from the RCC to the Marriott, gave gamers 24 hour access to the game room. The space previously occupied by the game room, close to the Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room was dedicated to fan panels, requiring less walking between very popular locations. The segregation of fan and guest panels allowed lines for guest panels to avoid crowding the rest of the convention space. The Artist Alley was expanded into the balcony in front of the fan panels, simultaneously using unused space and preventing evil attendees from dropping things on other attendees below.

I did notice major crowding on Saturday. Animazement’s growth, along with its more compact layout, led to crowding along the Artist Alley / Dealer’s Room walkways at peak times. The Dealer’s room is one place where Animazement could easily improve, as vendors only use about half of the allocated space. It seems like Animazement could space the dealers further apart and alleviate traffic problems.

The rest of the space is used by RCC-provided snacks. I thought this arrangement was awkward: the location of the food should be placed closer to the entrance of the Dealer’s Room. Very few people actually took advantage of the refreshments in the Dealer’s Room.

Animazement’s late night dance room was halved in size compared to 2012. I ventured inside there on Friday night to look at the crowd and get glowstick dancer photos, but found it rather difficult, as the dance room was over three quarters full on Friday night. I tried again Saturday night, but realized it was even worse, as the dance was completely packed. I later realized that many attendees that didn’t make it into the dance went outside the RCC’s main doors and set up their own dance.

Cosplay Chess at previous Animazements had been run as a fan panel, with a chess board in the middle of the panel space and spectators sitting on the ground around the board. This year, Animazement made Cosplay Chess a main event, giving the incredibly popular event a stage and good seating. Instead of having to follow the action by trying to figure out who was who by balloons floating from pieces’ heads, a computerized display with the chess board made it very clear what was going on.

Responding to feedback from fans in 2012, Animazement hosted a formal ball for the first time this year! Held away from the rest of the convention at the Marriott, it was supposed to be a classier dance than “the late-night one”. A strict dress code was enforced, required dancers to be in formal dress, or a formalized version of a costume in order to enter.

Feedback from formal ball dancers was mixed. The music selection could have been more classy, the dress code could have been more strict. For running a new event, I could forgive Animazement for its mistakes the first year in running a formal ball.

For me, my overall impression of Animazement 2013 are mostly positive. I feel like the panel selection was weaker than it has been in the past, and the schedule being released as late as the day before the convention gave many of us very little time to prepare our schedules. However, the convention itself ran more smoothly, even with a with a large jump in attendance this year. The post-convention feedback threads are very positive, other than some issues stemming from a miscommunication about the the photography policy. I can only hope that Animazement continue the great work they did with the improvements this year!

 

Full disclosure: I staffed Animazement this year.

Chihayafuru 2 Episode 24: When I Must Hide These Feelings

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So Arata won because the Queen was sick? Here I was thinking the match is akin to the US Open in 2009 when Del Potro defeated the five time defending champion Federer who has never lost to the Argentine previously. I guess this means there must be a rematch in the future so I will take it.

With the conclusion of the tournament, I wonder what the last episode will be about. Hoping for a reunion among the three protagonists when they finally get a reprieve to catch up followed by a cliffhanger to ensure a third season!

I decided to look up the poem Kana-chan is referring to which led me to this fantastic Chihayafuru/poetry blog. It’s a keeper. Anyways, love. The one word that conjures more words than any other and in this case, pain, which I am all too familiar with.

The last time I fell in love and acted upon it resulted in a disaster of polemic proportions. I am still suffering consequences directly from it today and will likely for my lifetime. Indirectly, it’s made me far more cautious to love again. I am ridiculously tsuntsundere so it’s not obvious that loving is to me as karuta is to Chihaya. Imposing restrictions on love has certainly made me feel as if I am immolating soothed only by my tears as I cry myself to sleep.

That said, love.

While I refrain from the verb in my 3D existence, I will make up for it in 2D. (I was going to use this song for my review of episode eleven of Aku no Hana as a potential love letter Kasuga could write to Nakamura-san but given my last attempt was not well received, I decided to shelve it except now I will apply it to Chihaya, just don’t tell her what I just said mmmkthxbye.)

Transcript: Hiroshi Nagahama (Aku no Hana director) Animazement Panel

Hiroshi Nagahama entertains a crowd at Animazement 2013.
Hiroshi Nagahama entertains a crowd at Animazement 2013.

Shizuka, our photographer, attended and recorded Hiroshi Nagahama’s fan panel at Animazement 2013. Nagahama directed Mushi-shi, Detroit Metal City and most recently Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil). The pivotal seventh episode of Aku no Hana was shown near the beginning of the panel.

This transcript is translated directly from Nagahama’s remarks from the Japanese by Rome, and edited for clarity by gendomike.

The panel begins as Nagahama walks up on stage. He points to his shirt and points out that he’s cosplaying Iron Man 3 (see picture above). Then he sits down.

Nagahama: I am currently working on the new anime Aku no Hana (The Flowers of Evil). What do you think of it?

The audience agrees that it is a ‘masterpiece.’

Nagahama: Really? In Japan, people got freaked out when we used rotoscoping, and [the technique] became controversial, a hot topic. We didn’t expect that….On the internet, it was huge, but we didn’t plot [the response]. The original is a manga, but I thought it would be the best to use rotoscoping for the adaptation.

If you guys want, I can show you the latest episode, episode 7 Have you seen it? It just got aired in Japan.

Most of the audience indicates that it has already seen the episode.

You’ve already seen it? But they weren’t any subtitles, so you can’t understand it. But the latter part is only music and pictures, so I hope you may get that part, at least.

Episode 7 of Aku no Hana is then shown, without subtitles.
 
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Nagahama: There is a question!

Q: Why rotoscoping?

Nagahama: I read the original manga thoroughly, and I thought that the feeling from its artwork was actually more real and vivid than the manga artist had depicted. It felt very close to how we are. Living in reality, you see and feel a tactile sensation, and I wanted to evoke that feeling of real life as closely as possible. So my only choice was rotoscoping.

Q: What are some of the differences between traditional animation and rotoscoping?

Nagahama: It took three and half months to shoot the live action scenes that the rotoscoping is based on, but the actual time to animate was about a month. Live action and animation production are not really that different, though it did take twice as long to edit. To me, making anime like my previous works, Mushishi and Detroit Metal City, used exactly the same techniques. The way you adapt the original work didn’t change a bit: you read the manga thoroughly, and you make the anime that perfectly fits the original manga.

(Our Question): Your works tend to dwell on the hidden side of people or the world. Is this a theme that you are drawn to, or did it just end up that way?

Nagahama: Both. I love American comics: X-Men vs. Magneto, Spiderman vs. Venom, Iron Man—and one of them is an alcoholic, what a secret! I was interested in them from my early days. Everyone knows that American comics have characters with a dark side. And Star Wars, of course: having a dark side is part of being a human being, and I’m interested in that.

Q: If goal was realism, why rotoscoping, and not live action?

Nagahama: If you make it live action, then you will notice and tend to fixate on the real human actor projected on screen. For example, Iron Man: I love the Iron Man movie, I really love it, but when it was made into a live action film, there is a risk. In the film Tony Stark doesn’t really exist—more accurately, it wasn’t Tony Stark but Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr. And people will think that Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr. is really cool. But Tony Stark doesn’t really exist anywhere in the world except in a comic book, which can only really appear in motion pictures as animation. But in the case of an animated Tony Stark, it requires a high level of skill to connect the animated world to our own, and there will always be a gap between its world and ours.

So in order to connect the animated world to ours, we have to choose something in between: something that is not anime and also not live action. That is why we did the rotoscoping this time. If someone asks whether rotoscoping is the best choice, we wouldn’t know. But we try rotoscoping first anyway, then we think, and that’s the case. Does that make sense?

Q: Did you expect to get backlash to episode 1?

Nagahama: I knew there would be criticism because we chose the method that we did. Even if this rotoscoping was accused of being creepy, it’s way better than if the audience didn’t feel anything. Tor example, this aired on TV: so if you turn on the TV at midnight, you can watch this show and see that this anime is so different from the usual anime. So it’s creepy. But 5 years from now, if this anime is still sold, you’ll see it and think, “oh this is that creepy anime, maybe I should give a try.” And then you’ll watch it, and if you discover something new from that, I would be happy.

There are so many anime in Japan, and most of them fail to leave any lasting impression. I didn’t want my anime to be just another show, and I didn’t want to treat the original work that way. That’s how I felt.

Q: How did you develop your own personal directing style?

Nagahama: well, I don’t have my own style until I actually start work on it. Why was Mushi-shi unique? Because Mushi-shi’s original manga is unique. Same with Detroit Metal City and Aku no Hana as well. Because the original mangas are so distinctive, the motion picture will be distinctive. Thus the original manga determines the direction of my artistic method. If I ever did Mushishi again, it would be in the same style, I won’t make it rotoscoped. (Laughs.)

Q: I was just wondering, how you pick your projects? What do you search for to find what to work on?

Nagahama: I really wanted to do Mushi-shi, so I begged them to let me do it, and I could die happily if I did it. But I’m still alive even after Mushi-shi, so that means I can’t accept death. As for Detroit Metal City, I refused at first. But then a different idea popped up in me, so I animated that too. Aku no Hana was the same.

So I did only two types of work: one I really wanted to do, or ones I refused at first but but did anyway. And I think it will be like that in the future.

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Q (by Omo): The stuffed animal [on the bed] from episode 7 – is that actually the voice actor’s rotoscoped bear? (It resembles one from another anime.) Also was the hair rotoscoped [in the end credits with the manga-ka, Oshimi]?

Nagahama: Really? these dolls were of the actress that played Saeki, Yuriko Mishina, so I made her bring her own dolls. And the doll had very long limbs, like Jason, so I folded it and tied it and put it there. But as a result, I reckon it resembled Gooter.

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As for [Oshimi’s] hair, this is the first time I was asked that question both in Japan and the USA! Everyone asks about the rotoscoping because it leaves such a strong impression. So, to tell you the truth, that end credit self-portait was in the original manga and I drew it myself: I traced and made the original picture for the animation. I used different material for the hair and made it move. Most of Aku no Hana is of course animated in the opposite way, but for the end card I had actually wanted to do it in Flash, almost as a symbol of this anime. But no one could do a Flash animation, so I made them animate the hair in a Flash-like style. That gave it a weird atmosphere, and the picture that come out made me say, ummmm.

Q: The soundtrack and animation create a very unique atmosphere. How did you want the viewer to feel through that?

Nagahama: Atmosphere? That’s difficult to answer. Mushiishi was the same and this time Aku No Hana is the same.

It’s like when you meet a new person for the first time: you are going to see that person’s mannerisms, hairstyle, fashion style, the visual information that comes in first. Then you talk to that person, and you hear that his voice is deep and warm, and talks fast, or slow. Then the words themselves come in: oh he’s interested in those things, oh, he doesn’t click with me, or oh, this person has a common interest.

…If you get lazy with your own work, or if you let your guard down, it’s like meeting a new person and thinking, “oh, I’ve met this person before!” “Oh, this person is just like that other guy.” You have a preconception that “oh, this person mostly doesn’t like this” or “I don’t really like this type of person.” [Analogously], you think that a given work is going to be easy to pigeonhole, and I don’t want that to happen. Just like when you meet a stranger for the first time and you wonder what kind of person it is, I want have the audience to have the same curiosity and take interest in my work.

Let’s say you go to an anime convention, and you like Gundam, but everyone else is cosplaying Naruto. They only talk about Naruto, they only like Naruto. So then you cosplay with Naruto’s headband on your head, but wear a robot suit over the rest of your body. They are like, “Who the hell is this guy?” Or “which one do you actually like? Naruto or Gundam?” You might say “I like both Naruto and Gundam,” or “I don’t know any of this, but it’s my first time cosplaying, so I did it in this strange way.”

You have to grab their interest before they can like it. Maybe you can’t go in to a group that is devoted to perfect Naruto cosplay saying that you like Gundam. But if you are a little off, or not clear, getting “sorry, I don’t quite get that, so what are you?” can evoke that kind of atmosphere, but if that strangeness goes too far, then no one will come to you. They get the impression “Oh wow, scary, what is that person? Why is that person dressing up so weird?” Then no one would touch you. But it’s not like that: you co-exist within the same animation, so I don’t want to make my anime like a person you’ve already met, or treated in that manner.

So I am going to make more anime in a similar style. But, this work that I’m intending to do, if this is going to be fulfilled, some interesting works will be put in motion. If you guys can wait for that, I will be happy. and like Aku No Hana, it’s not like that I’m only taking this direction with cute girls, and indeed I get a lot of offers of that type of anime, but right now as far as timing concern, I can’t do it.

I’m really happy to hear the feedback, and also answer your questions.

Aku No Hana: Ep 11, phallic inferno

shimekougyoushotatekouyagura

This scene is in Fukuoka, Japan. Because that building is from Shime town of Fukuoka. Shime-kougyousho-tatekou-yagura (志免鉱業所竪坑櫓). This is a winding tower for mining built during WWII, that was used to produce coals. And now, it is a Important Cutlrual Properties of Japan. See for yourself. Continue reading Aku No Hana: Ep 11, phallic inferno

Spotlighting on AnimeNEXT’s 2013 Fashion Segment

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Whenever I think about fashion shows, that song by Right Said Fred for I’m Too Sexy always starts to echo in my mind. The song might be a one hit wonder, but there was definitely a catwalk set up for the fashion show for Mint Neko and Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. Both designers are Japanese well known labels and were invited to Anime NEXT as guests. Convention goers were also able to purchase the designer’s goods at the dealer’s room over the weekend.

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Mint Neko’s fashion show was first, followed by BTSSB, and after every fashion show, there was a short Q/A with the audience. Convention attendees were allowed to line up and ask questions. During Mint Neko’s Q&A, it was revealed by the designer that he got into fashion to meet girls, and of course he was currently single and looking for a girlfriend. This pleased many female admirers in the audience. Mint Neko is a designer that uses a neko motif in his trendy urban and mod fashion lines. His style has been worn and modeled by Jun, a member of the Golden Bomber, a Japanese visual kei rock group. His fashion line is produced in limited quantities every season, so it would sell out.

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Baby, The Star Shine Bright walked through their fashion show, while video was shown on the two screens to the far side of the cat walk on both sides. During the Q/A session following, it was vey apparent that Akinori Isobe, the CEO of BTSSB, Masumi Kano and Saki Tachibana, BTSSB designers were all quite soft spoken. If there’s any interest in dressing up in the fashions of sweet lolita style, then anyone not located in Japan or San Francisco can look up Tokyo Rebel to shop. The fashion show that BTSSB did also included two additional Anime Next guests, with participation from Moon Stream.

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Check out Anime Diet’s Flickr to see more additional photos from the fashion show.

Chihayafuru 2 Episode 23: To See The Beautiful Cherry Blossoms

Arata

As if there was any doubt previously, I am definitely cosplaying Arata for Otakon. And now I know exactly what to say and the expression to say it with. This moment marks the birth of arata as a new word. It’s definition? Sexier than sexy. Usage: The word countach isn’t enough to do justice to Kana-chan in a hakama, only arata!

Arata will win. My guess and hope are that they will drag out the victory over the last two nail biting episodes. Perhaps we will learn of a new karuta tactic from the master candidate.

I don’t know if I can do what Chihaya did. In a never before display of maturity, her genuine gesture of friendship is enough to induce tears. Her falling to her knees and sobbing while holding on to Taichi… highly envious. Enough for me to reconsider cosplaying Taichi instead of Arata.

It’s another heartfelt reminder why Chihaya is so adorable (besides her penchant to fall asleep anywhere, anytime). Whereas everyone else merely has feelings, she radiates nothing short of passion.

The greater beauty that unfolds here lies in Taichi’s intentions. Knowing precisely the sacrifice Chihaya is making to cheer him on, he vows to win quickly which hurt him until he motivates himself by his desire to beat the person spectating his match. It’s truly romantic in a comical and tragic way. Exactly my kind of romance.

I am still shipping Chihaya x Arata.

Chihaya

OreGairu: goshin (self-defense) from 3D girls

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OreGairu, Hachiman (aka Hikky) is really pathetic. Yui Yuigahama has a huge crush on Hahchiman, but he can’t get any of that. Yui already shows way too obvious signs to him, but he can’t see it. All his romantic senses are filtered by his past bitter experiences. Yes, like Underground Man. Continue reading OreGairu: goshin (self-defense) from 3D girls

Aku No Hana : An Assessment Of The Impulse

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And so with self-expulsion comes long-sought intention. Flirtation with the unfamiliar, and an attraction to all things id. What can be perceived as broken and dangerous to some, just might be liberation for others. Finally caught up with the misadventures of Takao & Nakamura when matters became abundantly transparent that the entire series has in fact revolved around a very simple concern that plagues many a creative talent; whether the work is endemic to a continuing, organic process, or merely additional fodder for mass consumption. (and that high school life itself can be seen as a working analogue for this) A merging of form and function is at the center of this affair, and it has little to do with maintaining a vanilla existence – which is often everything that anime safely represents ad-infinitum.

 

While over the course of several weeks already, we have seen our lead character’s indiscretion become something of a spark for all manner of internal conflict. From the onset, we are privy to his bookish nature, his curiosity for the darker corners of life’s domain. And yet we are also allowed to understand his need to be embedded within the collective in some manner, no matter how slight in his adoration of Saeki, a classmate with which he cannot help but feel represents something of a sanctuary in a world he sees rotting from all corners. How funny it all is when the caustically antisocial Nakamura enters his life, and sees Takao as some form of externalizing force for her rage, something far more volatile than his own concerns. How strange it is then, that the show has done quite a spirited job at offering attractive glimpses at both roads Takao can choose for himself. Saeki (and in turn, his mother) representing a domestic world packed with sincerity amongst so much data defect, and conformity. Whereas Nakamura is an unwitting emissary of a much-required deviation from this world. A kindred which is using a bevy on repressed angst, and emotion to whatever end. While both have their respective dangers, they also carry with them some manner of very real desires, ever at conflict with one another.

 

There also seems to be an unspoken choice which is implied by his subsequent actions throughout the story that is never verbalized, and yet seems on the edge of virtually every rash decision; that expression manifests as it will, whether the bearer of such feelings recognize them or not. That the outlet of art is often one of compulsion, and not as much a matter of practicality.

 

A facsimile versus an authentic portrait. A photograph, or a personally nuanced drawing? This is where Aku No Hana resides as of episode 10. In this series, form and function are paramount, and as our leads struggle to best grasp what it is they truly wish for, while it won’t always be pretty, it is perhaps in the name of all that it is to be young that it be as ungraceful as humanly possible. Even when one wishes to look away, there is something undeniably true about a collective sigh versus a scream. And even when a reviewer cannot agree with the choices of a character, there is also an implicit understanding of life within certain guidelines that occasionally requires aberrant types to balance out the larger equations.

 

Many of my own personal inspirations have opined that the creative impulse is something embedded within all of us, yet not all of us feel it knocking as loudly as it does with others. Pop music icon, Bjork once even stated that her shifts in musical tone have been so not because of some need for her work to be impenetrable, but because of a deeply rooted compulsion to do so. That these things spring forth as they will, and WILL manifest one way or another. It becomes less a matter of economics as it is one of lava that is primed to escape the crust, ever closer to bursting. That a minor few find themselves in this predicament, often very early in life, and is often something that mainstream society isn’t willing to accept, or is adamant about stamping out. The Takaos and Nakamuras of the world, for all their unspoken pains, have a need to produce, to quantify and expose their findings, society be damned. And while they flirt endlessly with ideas that are on a surface misanthropic and strange, could the alternative provide a reasonable, honest equivalent?

 

A nasty paradox..

 

While so many detractors have complained regarding the show’s presentation and pace, it is with a happy heart that I look at views such as this with fondness, as if I once knew a time when such feelings were as natural as breathing. To be confronted with something this stark, this honest, it is often the last thing many fan-types find themselves either interested in, or willing to submit themselves to. This series demands to be seen on its own terms, and that in and of itself is worth shouting about. The choices are more than clear at this point, and to imagine that we have a show like this airing right now is akin to a miracle. It simply shouldn’t be happening – and that..is invigorating.

AnimeNEXT 2013’s Vertical Industry Panel

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At AnimeNext this year, there were only two industry panels with Aniplex and Vertical. I was able to attend the manga industry panel. This is going to be a summary of what was presented at Anime NEXT. More importantly, there has been no new announcements, so Vertical presents a repeat of what was done at A-Kon.

  • Limit volume, 5 has been released around May. It is a shojo title that should appeal to readers of both genders.
  • GTO: 14 Days in Shonan, volume 9 also released around May. This is the final volume, and brings full circle of the teacher known as GTO, from when he was introduced to the American readers in Tokyopop’s manga to now. Onizuka grows up.
  • Knights of Sidonia, volume 3 was released just in time for June, so convention goers had the opportunity to pick it up early.
  • Flowers of Evil, with the recent anime being aired on Crunchy Roll has been a seller for Vertical. Six volumes were available at Vertical booth during the convention. Ed spoke about the anime has been a positive correlation for manga sales.
  • Gundam: The Origins Part 2. This is a love song that Vertical had thrown their money and effort into translating for overseas fans. This second volume just got released in English. It is a book series that is worth’s its weight in content.
  • Wolfsmund part 1 was available at this convention. It is a series created from a former assistant to Emma and Beserk. It has German on the cover, so reading it out loud is an activity I heard over the weekend.
  • Twin Knights is the sequel to Princess Knight and would be available around July. Vertical mentions as a publisher that they are probably going to be publishing fewer classic titles in the future.
  • Helter Skelter is going to be on sale around August. This is a Josei title that deals with physical beauty and the spiral of a model who changed her entire appearance by plastic surgery.
  • Chi Sweet Home’s success has pushed the series to be extended to about 13 volumes. Vertical is going to be releasing volume 10 by August, with volume 11 being release next year.
  • Summer Wars Part 1 is going to be out by NYCC. This is the manga adaptation of the hit movie adaptation. Vertical is condensing its original Japanese three volume release to a two volume set.
  • Tropic of the Sea is the only manga ever written by the late great Satoshi Kon. A great feature of this book is an essay from Kon, that details his transformation from mangaka to animator.
  • Sickness Unto Death is going to be a two volume manga series modern retelling of the same title from Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. This is expected to be sold later this year around September and November.
  • Pink – Love and Crocodiles by Kyoko Okazaki is a collected manga, that was initially published in magazines and later reprinted into this one volume book. This is a coming of age tale of seeking happiness.
  • Sushi Simplicity is a cookbook that details 60 different recipes on making sushi in about 20 minutes or so. No need for any fancy sushi presses or cutters.
  • A Dog in Water was the only novel that was presented at this panel. It is a crime fiction novel from Kazuhiro Kiuchi who created Be-Bop High School.
  • From the New World volume 1 is going to be on sale around November. This is the manga adaption for the light novel and anime series of Shin Sekai Yori that is currently streaming on Crunchy Roll.
  • I became aware that Vertical is slated to publish more origami books in the future.