Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now.
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.
Tomoyo Kurosawa is a young voice actress who has already landed several prominent anime voice roles. She’s been acting in commercials, dramas, and stage plays since the age of 3, she also plays the voice of Sylphy in Amagi Brilliant Park, Itsuki in Yuki Yuna is a Hero, Miria in Idolmaster Cinderella Girls, and the lead role of Kumiko in Kyoto Animation’s Sound! Euphonium.
This interview was conducted by Raymond Hu and Michael Huang, and is edited for clarity.
I like it! My coordinator/interpreter took me here and I ate muffins and cupcakes, and I enjoy it.
I’m glad the food tastes good. But personally I think Japanese food tastes better.
I like them both!
What are the differences between voice acting and other types of acting?
When I was acting in person, it was more natural. But when I started voice acting, I had to train myself physically and pay attention to breathing and use of space.
Who is your favorite seiyuu, and why?
Miki Shinichiro, famous for Kojiro in Pokemon. He’s very passionate and I learned so much about voice acting from him.
How often do you watch anime and play games?
I don’t have much chance to watch anime, other than my own shows, but Katanagatari made a strong impression on me.
(SPOILERS FOR YUKI YUNA) When you were in Yuuki Yuna is a Hero, you voiced a character, Itsuki, who later lost her voice. How do you voice a character like that?
Up to episode 5, I did have lines, but after that my character couldn’t talk. In episode 9 there was a flashback scene, but there were three weeks total with no lines. Still, the character I played affected the other characters and encouraged them. I treated the role as I would with any other usually.
What do you think about the Japanese cultural phenomenon that encourages very intimate relationships between girls from middle school to junior college?*
Sound Euphonium features good friendships between girls, but it’s not about romantic relationships. But it shows girls’ complicated emotions and frustrations that they can’t really express in middle school. It’s characteristic of puberty. It looks like romance, but it’s not really about that. It just symbolizes adolescent life.
Did you ever have any similar experiences like that in Euphonium?
I understand the feeling of being best friends, sympathizing and crying with them.
[Michael] How about with music? Did you ever play music and play in high school band?
I played the guitar in high school.
[Michael] Do you still play?
I practice euphonium now for the anime event!
[Michael] Did you ever have to go through an audition that is as hard as the ones shown in Sound: Euphonium?
For voice acting auditions, they listened to a recording to decide, but I’ve been to theater auditions where I had to be in a studio for four days and a workshop for one month.
What’s your earlier memory of acting? We know you started at three years old…what were you doing at the time?
I played a granddaughter of Tsugawa Masahiko on an NHK drama when I was three. I saw sugar candy and I started eating it!
*Note: In reference to some of the relationships depicted in Sound!: Euphonium; see this article on Gar Gar Stegosaurus for further analysis (SPOILER ALERT)
Itaru Hinoue is lead character designer and one of the founding members of Key Visual Arts, one of the most influential visual novel studios in Japan. Her moe character style has helped define entire genres of visual novels and anime, from titles starting with Kanon and continuing into Air and Clannad. Inoue also contributed to the scenario of Key’s latest visual novel, Rewrite, and has also done other artwork as collected in her art book White Clover.
This interview was conducted by Lily Huang and Michael Huang. It has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
[Michael] When you started designing characters for Key, did you imagine that it would inspire an entire approach to doing this “moe” style?
I didn’t expect it at all!
[Michael] What were you trying to capture in designing characters that way, especially girl characters?
My characters have to be cute–that’s what I was going for.
After you did Kanon and Air, which were very popular games, was there a lot of pressure to meet fans’ expectations between Kanon, Air, and Clannad?
I did feel pressure to make it a better creation, to draw it better, to make better illustrations for each project I had.
I ask because Kanon and Air were only one year apart, but there was a 4 year gap between Air and Clannad.
Overall we wanted to do better because Air sold so well. We ended up taking four years because we wanted to go above and beyond.
Between Clannad and Little Busters, you worked on BL games. Do you think boys can be moe?
(Laughs) You must be really into it! I like making very handsome people…because I had been drawing girls, I wanted to draw some guys. With my style of moe, I can draw them…I like the smaller boys so I can apply it the way I like.
When I came across your BL work in White Clover I was surprised. It’s so different from what you’ve done before.
After Clannad I was trying to figure out what to do next, and I wanted to draw boys. I gathered some girls and did some [focus] testing to see what kind of drawings worked, and ended up making it at the company. That’s how it started off.
[Michael] What does moe mean to you, personally?
It means kawaii (cute).
[Michael] What do you hope the audience feels when they see one of your characters?
That’s a hard question! I want them to think–“my wife.” I want them to love them that much. I want them cute enough to say “they ARE my wife.”
What are your favorite character types to create–tsundere, megane, eyepatch, cool, etc.?
IA is a newer Vocaloid persona created by 1st PLACE, based on the voice of anisong singer Lia. Based on Vocaloid version 3, she has appeared in a few games, many Youtube videos, and other media, and recently got her own rhythm game, IA/VT Colorful.
At Anime Expo 2015, we spoke with Kumiko Murayama, the CEO of 1st PLACE and the lead producer of IA. She answered questions about IA’s origins and the future of music with Vocaloids in general.
This interview was conducted by Michael Huang and has been edited for concision and clarity.
How was Lia chosen to become the sampled voice of IA?
It was Lia and her management who came forward–she had gotten married and had kids, and was on maternity leave, so she didn’t have the time to continue promoting herself and continuing on as an artist. She wanted a way to keep her fans happy while also raising her family, and using the Vocaloid as a means to do that was something she proposed.
That’s really fascinating. Do you think that is something that singers who can’t perform as much as they like to might use to extend their artistic abilities in the future? Could it be a general trend?
One of the other goals Lia had was to become a worldwide artist, and at the time of her leave, she hadn’t met that goal yet. She wondered what could help achieve that goal. Since the Vocaloids are popular not just popular in Japan but all over the world, that was one way of pursuing that dream.
As for other artists using that approach and maybe making a trend, it sounds like it could be something that’s viable.
IA is based on Vocaloid 3, a newer version of the software than some other Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku. How has the company used the newer features of Vocaloid 3 to produce IA, and how is it different, even improved over previous Vocaloids?
As technology comes out, there’s always new features that get added on. As we were developing IA, Vocaloid 3 had just come out, and there was a feature called “TriHorn” as well as many other features specified in the manual. But we used other features not in the manual, without specific names.
Vocaloid 4 is already out, and we put a lot of time and effort into IA’s development, so even though it’s still on 3 we think the quality matches that of 4. TriHorn produces much better, much more natural voice quality. It sounds a lot less animatronic and a lot more human.
How long does it take to prepare for one of these live concert appearances, where she’s being projected onto the stage?
It depends on a case by case basis, but the one that you saw on the sample video, that took about half a year to produce. And the production that’s playing on July 4th for AX took about a year to produce.
IA has been used in different kinds of branding for different companies. Out of all the companies IA’s been involved in, which industry do you think has had the most impact in terms of attracting fans?
There was a game, Groove Coaster, that really helped internationally in getting people more familiar with IA overseas…people that played this game and went to Youtube to watch the videos. As a result we got 2 million views.
Do you think Vocaloid artists like IA or Hatsune Miku are the future of pop music?
The main mission or goal is to get a worldwide fanbase for Japanese music. For the most part in Japan, there aren’t a whole lot of new musical genres that are being created. [Instead] there’s a lot of refinement of the existing genres. This is taking a genre and giving it worldwide appeal and getting as many people outside of Japan interested in the music, and Vocaloids.
Do you see this beginning to spread outside the anime fan culture? Or do you see that as the primary audience?
We want to appeal not only to otaku and anime fans, but to make it mainstream, worldwide music. The way we feel we can do that is to create places where people can make that jump. For instance, “City Lights” was one of our big collaborations with a drum n’ bass group. So that was a way to get more people to become more interested. Similarly, Groove Coaster is not so much an anime, but it’s a music game, so again a bunch of people played that and become more interested in IA and watched all the videos on Youtube.
The grand plan is to bridge the gap between people who believe that Vocaloids are only for otakus and make it more widely acceptable. It’s not going to be like people are going to be turned off by looking at the image and thinking, “this is just another Vocaloid, this is just anime style and I don’t care about that.” The idea of this was to broaden the horizon for Japanese music in general, so that we have international customers who say that, “Oh I want to listen to Japanese music.”
Voltage Games is a prominent Japanese publisher of mobile otome games (i.e., dating sims featuring several men to choose from, aimed at young women) such as My Forged Wedding, Kissed by the Baddest Bidder, and more. We had the chance to speak to company founder Yuzi Tsutani as well as VP Kentaro Kitajima at their booth at this year’s Anime Expo about their games, the challenges of adapting to an American market, and more.
The interview was conducted by Michael Huang, with question help by Linda Yau. Their games are available in the US in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
You are primarily a mobile game company. What is your take on being a mobile company vs PC games?
When we started the company in Japan, we started with Japanese cell phones (keitai). We never thought about doing PC or console games.
What’s your opinion about crowdsourcing funding, like with Kickstarter? Do you think you might pursue any games at Voltage that are crowdfunded as opposed to traditionally funded?
I don’t think so. Our budgets are much bigger than what crowdfunding sites get. People use crowdfunding when they are starting their business…but for us, it’s more like an investment. We are listed already [on the stock market].
Tell us about your best selling game, My Forged Wedding.Why do you think it’s so popular?
We feel that marriage and weddings are popular with women, an important part of their lives. We feel like using that as the main topic for the app, and so it’s become very popular.
Most of your games are aimed at young women. Do you see yourselves as role models? What do you hope to bring to them?
There is that aspect, but our number one goal is to create apps women will enjoy first and foremost.
In many of the games, you have to buy the routes a la carte. What types of routes are most popular?
Usually we have 5 characters in a game. The most popular one is the bossy character, then the cool character. The younger character is not as popular.
Have you had any opportunities to collaborate with other companies or brands, and is that something you would like to do in the future?
In Japan, we are working on releasing an app based on Hana Yori Dango, which is a very popular anime/manga series. If that does well, we’d consider more of them in the future.
You were adapting a very popular title in that case. Has it worked the other way around, adapting some of your games?
Some TV companies are considering making a program based on one of our stories. We can’t say which title. But some have already been made as a manga–our very first title was made into a manga.
Since you’re bringing these very Japanese games to an American audience, are there things you have to change or emphasize differently to appeal to a different culture?
Sometimes in Japanese games, things happen that wouldn’t make any difference there, but directly translated into English may be offensive. We have to be extra careful when we are localizing those aspects.
[Also] in Japan, a very quiet and [introspective] character is a norm, but that’s not the case in America. People prefer a much stronger, more self-aware character, so sometimes we have to adapt them.
What kind of games do you hope to release in this country?
Our next step is Labyrinths of Astoria. This is kind of between Japanese and US characters. It’s the first in our new series of Amemix titles, which aim to blend what’s great about Japan and America. We use anime style art, but with stories based on western concepts like Greek mythologies, with a very diverse cast. So we hope to create a new market with a new series of apps.
At Anime Expo 2015, we talked to French-born Thomas Romain, an animation creator working at Shoji Kawamori’s Satelight Studio in Japan. He is noted for being the co-creator of basketball-influenced anime Basquash!, and has done designs for Space Dandy and other shows. He brings a unique perspective to working on the ground of the anime industry, often with some of the greats like Shoji Kawamori, Tatsuo Sato, and Shinichiro Watanabe. He’s also been on record noting concerns about the pay situation for animators in Japan–though you may be surprised on his thoughts about possible solutions to the issue.
The interview was conducted in English, and was edited for clarity.
Tell us about some of the Japanese anime you liked growing up.
When I was a kid, there was a lot of on tv, classics likeDragonball and Captain Harlock. And then when I was a teenager, I watched the Ghost in the Shell movie. It was pretty awesome. [I also watched] Ghibli movies, like Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies).
It was my generation—French comic artists who are about 30-40 years old, are like me very influenced by Japanese comics, because we were all watching anime in the 80s.
Tell us how you got involved in the anime industry. I know it was through Oban Star Racers…
Oban Star Racers was an anime influenced TV project, and we made a small trailer which we released on the Internet. We had a lot of very good responses from all over the world, and from Japan too. We got a message from a producer from Bandai Visual, and we realized that maybe it was possible to work with Japan.
And I was really into anime at that same time: I was watching Cowboy Bebop, Evangelion, things like that. So we tried pushing in that direction and we succeeded in financing the project and convincing European investors to produce the series in Japan, with a Japanese studio, in 2002-2003. We moved to Tokyo and started producing the show. It was a really awesome experience. I wanted to stay there, and so I became a Satelight employee, and here I am.
You mentioned in an earlier interview [with Anime News Network] that this was an opportunity to meet your heroes, the luminaries of the industry, like Shinichiro Watanabe…
Actually I met Watanabe quite recently for Space Dandy.
And Tatsuo Sato for Bodacious Space Pirates.
The first time I met Sato was when I did Basquash!—I co-created Basquash! with Shoji Kawamori, and Sato was handling all the writing.
But youknow, I wasn’t really aware of that. Because I wasn’t an anime fan; I was just trying to create my own stuff, and draw cool drawings. I was aware of some of the bigger names like Miyazaki, or Hideaki Anno. But Shoji Kawamori, when I met him, I wasn’t really aware of his career. So when I met him for the first time, I wasn’t really nervous. I was just really natural.
So it’s only later you found you found out this guy created Macross, and that he’s a legend.
Are there any funny stories of you working with some of these people?
Kawamori is really a character. There are a lot of stories about him. He’s really mystical, [interested in] old beliefs and religion and healers…healing people with their hands. That sort of thing.
We went to France two years ago, since we were invited by Japan Expo. Kawamori loves travel, and we went in some places in France, like the very old house where Leonardo da Vinci died, [where he spent] the last two years of his life. So we went to the room where Leonardo da Vinci died, and Kawamori just stayed there for one hour, without moving, trying to connect his spirit with da Vinci’s. He’s that kind of person.
Turning to a more serious matter, you’ve been quoted about some of the working conditions that animators face in Japan. Since that’s gotten some more publicity recently, have you seen any changes, or maybe a new discussion in the industry toward making some changes?
Some people are trying to make things better, but first it’s good to generate some publicity and to let people know that being an animator in Japan is really, really hard. Then maybe the audience will respect even more the work of the animators, who are doing an amazing job with nothing, with a piece of paper, with a very low salary.
But to make changes, we have a difficult problem. We don’t want animation to disappear from Japan, because if we make the costs too high, the investors will prefer to outsource the animation. Like France and US did…there is [now] almost no more 2D animation in France, Europe, or America. So I don’t want the same thing to happen to Japan.
And also, animators like to be free. They don’t want to be employees of [a particular] company. They want to stay freelance, work at their own rhythm, their own pace, and with the people they want to work with. It’s a very complex problem. It’s too hard. And I’m really worried—it’s becoming more and more difficult to get new talent interested working in anime. All the young people want to become seiyuu, not animators or background artists.
I wonder if you ever saw–there is a show called Shirobako. I highly recommend it to you.
I haven’t seen it, but it’s a very popular show. Back in the day there was an OVA called Animation Runner Kuromi. Also there was an episode directed by Satoshi Kon, in Paranoia Agent, with one episode about the animation industry.
I bring up Shirobako because there was a famous salary chart that was published, that basically published that annual salary of each of the characters.
I saw that. Yeah.
The difference between a regular animator and an A-list voice actress is such a gigantic gulf. It’s exactly what you’re talking about.
It’s like Lady Gaga vs. the guy checking the mics before the live shows. Like stars vs technicians.
Since you mentioned that most animators want to be freelance, do you think unionization is at all a solution to the pay problem?
I had this discussion with Lesean Thomas, the American creator I’m working with right now for Cannon Busters. He told me that unionization destroyed the animation industry in the US. There are no more animators.
We talked also about…doing storyboards for feature films. In Japan, usually the director does the storyboards for the feature film by himself. But in the US, they are working with a team of several storyboarders for each feature film. And he told me it was impossible in the US to ask only one guy to do all the storyboards because of the unions.
As a non-Japanese person in a Japanese industry, do you think you are primarily called upon to bring a non-Japanese perspective into the work that you’re doing? Is that something that you thought you’d be doing when you came to Japan?
Absolutely not. I just wanted to almost become Japanese, to work exactly like the Japanese creators. But because I cannot remove the fact that I am French, sometimes people want the skills…for example on La Croisée, the setting and action is in Paris. Or probably Space Dandy, Watanabe wanted something very different with the designs…
[The producers] just want to work with me, because I do great, solid designs, because I have strong skills, and I work very quickly and respect the schedule. So sometimes they ask me something because they want something different, but otherwise just because I’m just a skilled designer.
Having been told that the entire projection took an year’s worth of preparation by the producer herself, it should not have been surprising that the show began an entire hour later than scheduled. Something as complex as a Vocaloid hologram is likely difficult to set up and prepare for public performance, even though this is not the first time a Vocaloid has shown up at Anime Expo, and it is using a later (though not latest) generation of the Vocaloid software than Hatsune Miku. When IA’s figure, gyrating and swinging to the synthesized beat, rose onto the piece of transparent glass that is her medium, the crowd finally went wild, glowsticks aloft. There was much pent-up energy that needed release.
IA sounds smoother and more “natural” (i.e., more like a human voice) than her more well-known sister Hatsune Miku. Based on samples of the voice of anisong singer Lia, there are moments during the performance where, if you close your eyes, you can believe it’s a human being singing the song rather than a voice synthesizer–that is the difference between version 2 and 3 of the software. (This is quite different from Miku, who sounds like a robot, which is part of her charm.) It helps that a few of the songs are catchy in the inimitable J-pop way of most Vocaloid music, and for those who are into going full otaku with the glowstick motions, the songs are easy enough to follow along. Nevertheless on some songs the synthesized nature of her voice becomes apparent, especially during the “stage banter” parts where long awkward pauses give away the fact that everything was preset. The appeal of this sort of performance is going to be inherently limited so long as uncanny valley moments like this still exist.
The choreography of the projection and the human dancers that often surrounded her was reasonably well-rehearsed, though occasionally awkward. The animations themselves were well-captured, however, and it’s easy to see how it would have taken a year to record, animate, and render the dance moves.
IA does not have the fame or cachet of Hatsune Miku, who is the face of the Vocaloid phenomenon, but her more natural sound points toward an interesting possible direction for this sort of singer: there may come a day when a Vocaloid will be almost indistinguishable from a live human voice. Whither, then, the future of pop music? Perhaps the tireless moe robot overlords are coming to a future stage near you.
On the surface, Wagakki Band could not be a more diametrically opposite act than IA. Wagakki Band, for one, was a live band, with all their musicians playing real, even oversized, instruments. Many of those instruments are the ancient ones of Japanese traditional music: taiko drum, koto, shamisen, shakuhachi flute.
Yet, there is also the drums, guitars, and bass of modern heavy metal too, and it becomes apparent that Wagakki Band–despite its name which means “traditional Japanese instrument band”–is a thoroughly modern concoction, a cultural and technological collision as profound as that of a robot animated singer. It would be accurate, in fact, to say that Wagakki Band is more a hard rock/metal band with traditional Japanese flourishes, as Beni Ninagawa thrums on the shamisen like a hard rock guitar player with a pick and, during a thrilling drum solo between drummer Wasabi and taiko player Kurona, they bang out a talking drum duet as hard and fast as the great rock drummers of yore. (I was reminded of a heavier version of Chester Thompson and Phil Collins’ drum duets during Genesis’ latter prog days, but that may be a bit obscure for many readers.)
The thing is: this works. If you are a fan of hard rock music, the powerful, shigin-tinged vocals of Yuko Suzuhana belting out the theme from Samurai Warriors will excite as much as any female rocker. Crunchy riffs from Machiya rock as hard as anywhere else–occasionally sounding like John Petrucci of Dream Theater (whose music played, appropriately, over the PA during the intermission between IA and Wagakki Band). The melodies are much more traditional if you listen hard, but somehow lend themselves to rock much more than one thinks–and much more than the comparatively limp studio recordings suggest. This is a band best appreciated live, by far. They may not dance quite like IA, even though they do sometimes sing Vocaloid songs in their inimitable style, but they certainly know how to rock out, on the usual instruments as well as the wagakki instruments they are named after.
The Wagakki Band set, for this relatively unfamiliar newcomer to their music, was consistently exciting and full of energy and rock goodness, with only an occasional moment where the loudness appeared to peak out the PA and cause some clipping. This is normal for a lot of rock shows, however, and convention concerts in particular, where live instrumentation is not as common. It was not enough to flag the energy of the crowd madly waving the same, somewhat faded glowsticks from the IA set. Their encores were well deserved, even if it was a repeat of the song from the start: a reminder that this is a still relatively new band just beginning to find its stage all over the world.
We have been subjected in the past few years to a spate of misleading, light novel adapted, anime titles. This is a happy thing, because the titles rarely promise anything other than the cheesiest, fan-serviceyist sort of outing: The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?The Hentai Prince and the Stony Cat. Each one of these shows has proven to be better written and characterized than their titles suggest, and perhaps can be chalked up to the collision of marketing necessity and rigid anime convention with an author’s desire to tell a different sort of story altogether. Sometimes you have to play the game in order to break the rules.
Such is the case with perhaps the greatest example of them all, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU(lit: Just as I Thought, My Youth Romantic Comedy Was a Mistake)—though on further thought, the title may be more appropriate than it appears. It is, after all, quite a failure as a romantic comedy—its best moments are wistful and serious, not comedic. It begins with a standard quasi-harem set up but moves far beyond it, to tell the story of how teenage misfits try to navigate the emotional turmoil and confusion of adolescence in all too real ways. Real in how flawed, idealistic, and self-delusional they are; real in that they make mistakes when they think they are doing their best. The audience expects a cheesy harem comedy, but gets something much closer to Catcher in the Rye instead, a perhaps painful reminder of how one fumbles toward maturity with one’s friends in tow.
The Holden Caulfield at the center of it is Hachiman—Hikki to his friends. He is a recognizable figure to any smartass, self-exiled teenage male who fancied himself less “phony,” less conforming, and more intelligent than his peers. If the mark of childhood is to take everything at face value, the mark of adolescence is to see past the surface and to realize there is more to life than just appearances—and to congratulate oneself for the insight, as if it were the greatest revelation in the world. This is why he cannot, in the first season, accept Yui’s kindness as genuine. She must be nice like this to everyone, he reasons, or is just pretending, either out of politeness or a desire to be thought well of. She must, in short, be a phony. As Holden put it:
That’s the whole trouble. You can’t even find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. —JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
This is the thought that runs through every adolescent’s head when he or she discovers how unfair and cruel the world can be. Even in minor ways, consequential only when you’re an adolescent: we discover later that Hachiman was brutally rejected by certain middle school girls who return in the second season, there to taunt him all over again and remind him of his past, embarrassing sincerity. The lesson he learned was that it would not do to wear his heart on his sleeve any more. He would protect himself with a shield of cynicism, even as he continues to flatter himself by “helping” others in his own way through the Service Club.
The Service Club is a concoction of his teacher, who, like Mr Antonini in Catcher, is trying to widen Holden/Hachiman’s perspective by forcing him to interact with others. At first there is only Yukino, the kindred-yet-different spirit who shares Hachiman’s reticence masking even less concealed vulnerability. In a lazier show they would be an easy pairing, but SNAFU novelist Wataru Watari does not make it nearly as easy. Their attitudes militate against connection, because it would require them to discard their constructed identities as smart, superior loners who see through the shallow social high school scene. This is why Yui at first seems an interloper, a “popular” person trying to penetrate the outcast group, but—as Hachiman, in a searing moment late in the 2nd season, acknowledges, they are longing for nothing less than “the real thing.” Yui brings that in her heart-wearing, kind, and purposeful effort to be friends with these stuck up loners.
That’s the rub, isn’t it—“the real thing.” One could call it authenticity, or emotional honesty, or speaking plainly, something the characters don’t seem quite to manage even at the very end of the second season: they avoid the subject of who-loves-whom to continue their balanced friendship, even as they know very well it cannot last forever. SNAFU is smart enough to realize that dramatic transformations do not happen instantly, not even when there are epiphanies and eloquent speeches—which the show is full of, especially in the second season where Hachiman’s self-protective worldview gets taken apart brick by brick as he realizes his “help” simply preserves a sick status quo at best, that his desire to not hurt others is hurting others more, that his unwillingness to be open is driving even his closest friends away. Realizing these things, which were some of the most emotionally satisfying parts of the series, was not enough to change everything overnight. They still can’t quite be entirely honest with themselves at the end—and we understand that, well, they are still kids. The show may be over (for now), but they still have time to figure it out. After all, it took some of us even longer to do that than many people who do as they finish up adolescence.
Once, not long after graduating from college, I found myself a counselor at a urban summer camp for a bunch of Chinese kids in Brooklyn. The kids were the children of garment factory workers, whose mothers (many of them were in single-parent homes) toiled in the Garment District for most of the day and had little time to care for them. Many of them were rambunctious and unused to following instructions. Being an only child, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at children as much as I have as I did during that week.
There was one girl whose name I have forgotten. I remember her well because she, after seeing ungainly me, unused to being around children and the kind that likes to stand around aloof and awkward, had the gall to call me “creepy” to my face. I was more hurt than offended—I knew very well that I was not the most friendly or welcoming person, because I had barely even figured out who I was in my early 20s: I’d been too busy to think about it much in my intense high school and intense college majors. I wasn’t good at hiding my awkwardness from others, and children being as forthright as they are, she called it out.
It has been over ten years since then and I really only remember two things: one was yelling at a particular boy who kept running around and disrupting the play time. The other was occasionally asking the girl how she was doing, and eventually discovering that she was interested in writing stories. She tended to play alone, the way I usually did when I was her age. When it was time to do some writing exercises, I asked her how she came up with ideas and gave her a few tips from my own efforts to write stories: I had just graduated from the creative writing program, and while I was burned out at the time from putting anything out, I still remembered all the advice I had gotten over the years from workshops, books, and brutal peer feedback.
I did not spend that much more time with her than I did with the other kids. I only remember her so well because, for a brief moment, there was a kindred spirit, a small reminder of where I once was, but in a less privileged place; a chance to share, albeit briefly, a bit of what I had learned up to that point about writing. I was lost and confused then, much more than I actually realized at the time, and all I could do was offer a few shards of the life I had pieced together then.
I’m not sure anything is that different now, really, as I write this and I look back at this real life incident and the fictional echo that I saw in certain scenes of SNAFU, especially the ones with Rumi in S1. We don’t ever stop being broken in one aspect or another; is anyone’s life ever really whole and seamless, ready to offer as God’s gift to humanity as some paragon of righteousness? Maybe the only gift we can really give as human beings is the gift of honesty: to offer our own selves, take it or leave it, and hope that when it is offered, it will be appreciated as “the real thing.” It’s a dangerous thing, though.
Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. —JD Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Hi again, everyone. It’s good to be back. I missed you all.
JAM Project, one of the biggest anisong “supergroups” in the industry, was founded in order to further the genre of anime songs specifically. Consisting of a number of veteran anisong singers, today it now comprises founding members Masaaki Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, as well as Masami Okui, Hiroshi Kitadani, and Yoshiki Fukuyama, who all joined between 2002-2003. They are best known for songs for shounen action shows such as Cardfight Vanguard, Nobunaga the Fool, GARO, and New Getter Robo, as well as video games like Super Robot Wars. Their operatic rock seems to fit those genres especially well.
Unfortunately, the audio for our transcript recording was sometimes fuzzy so not all attributions were 100% clear. Apologies for lack of clarity on those questions and answers.
We started by asking Masaaki Endoh about his famous predilection for bringing instant noodles with him on tour.
Endoh-san, what kind of instant noodle did you bring this time?
Masaaki Endoh: Six different flavors of mini-sized ramen! But I don’t have a water boiler due to luggage weight limits, and unlike in Japan, they don’t have hot water dispensers in every room.
Your stagecraft and style of music is very theatrical and almost operatic. Is that a reflection of the sort of anime that you do music form or is that your natural style?
Hironobu Kageyama: Actually it is influenced by the type of anime the songs are for. So if it’s anime that has robots, like Super Robot Taisen where there’s a lot of fighting and energy, the songs will be influenced by that.
How do you think your style has adjusted over the past 15 years?
Kageyama: We don’t so much change our style as look for something new to do.
So would you ever do a song for a moe anime?
Kageyama: If someone ever asked us to, sure. We have girls in the band. [looks at Masami Okui] But we don’t ever get asked to do that sort of thing…
How do you relax when you’re off jam project? Individually? Or collectively?
Kageyama:We always like to talk together sometimes. Outside of music…well, we always thought about making our own jam. Jam Project jam!
What flavor of jam?
What secret hobbies or hidden talents do you have?
Kageyama: I’m the oldest, so working out is my hobby. Recently I’ve been cycling and scuba diving. And this year, I’m challenging myself to train for a short distance triathlon. Hiroshi Kitadani: The fans on twitter probably already know this, but my hobby is cooking. I do it every day, and when I make my own dish and drink alcohol, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic.
What’s your favorite dish?
Kitadani: Oden! It’s easy to make. Masami Okui: As for [my hobbies], in Japan or all over the world, I like to visit “power spots”–places with spiritual energy. In Japan, that would be shrines or temples I love. When I’m off work, I go there a lot. This year, though, I want to go to Mt. Shasta. Yoshiki Fukuyama: I have no hobby. So my hobby now is to look for a hobby. Endoh: I love animals, so I have a lot of pets. It’s a dream that I want to be surrounded by animals in a big place.
Kageyama-san, you said last year at Anime Boston that you started the band when anisongs were in decline . Do you think the anisong industry has revived since then? Where do you see it going?
Kageyama: Anime songs are much more popular popular in Japan compared to 10 years ago. There are a lot of live events and concerts now and the audience has increased a lot. And variety of artists have shown up. So, it has changed a lot over the course of 10 years.
Who is the first musical artist that grabbed your heart?
Kitadani: I love Kiss. Kageyama: I love Motley Crue. Fukuyama: I love Deep Purple. Okui: I love Kageyama’s vocal band, Lazy. Endoh: I love the Beatles.
You’re all at Las Vegas now, do you plan to gamble and do you feel lucky?
Okui: Living is a gamble. Kageyama: I don’t feel the urge to gamble. But if I was, I’ll pull a slot machine handle once. Kitadani: It’s a little scary, but I would like to try roulette. Try betting on black. Ehh, really but what about red? You can split it 50/50, like your hair! [Laughter–ED: Kitadani had colored half his hair red, as in the picture at the bottom.] Fukuyama: I never tried gambling, but I have seen it a lot in movies, so I like to try it like they do it in the movies. Endoh: I like hitting the jackpot.
You’ve done a lot of songs for sentai series. What are your sentai colors?
Kitadani: [points to Kageyama]: He’s red. Kageyama: Oh, I’m red, huh? Okui: I’m pink. Endoh: I like red, but red’s been taken, so I’ll be green. Fukuyama: I’m blue. Kitadani: I’m yellow.
The interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth with additional questions by Michael Huang. Rome Yamashita, Raymond Hu, and Linda Yau translated from the audio for this transcript.
Yoko Ishida has been actively singing anime songs since her recorded debut in 1993, Sailor Moon R’s ED “Otomo no Policy.” She has sung songs for series as wide as Ai Yori Aoishi, Strike Witches, and most recently the first OP for Shirobako. At the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, in addition to her own songs she also covered the Haruhi Suzumiya insert song “God Knows.”
When did you decide to sing anime songs?
When there was an anime singer contest. I auditioned for that–and won!
The Grand Prix 1990, right? What was your winning song?
The assigned song was from Maple Town. And the free song I chose was by Imai Miku.
What was like to prepare for your recording debut with “Otome no Policy” (the Sailor MoonR ED)?
At the vocal booth, I entered alone. It’s a solitary process, so when I record a vocal, I imagine that I’m singing in front of a huge audience.
Were you nervous?
I get nervous every time!
You’ve done a lot of songs. How do you choose which ones to do at each performance?
For example, like this performance in Vegas or elsewhere abroad, I choose whatever songs are popular in that local area. And I also take into account what songs fit in outdoor or indoor venues.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I don’t have any…[but] I love traveling abroad privately. Now I go abroad for work, but since I love traveling, I still feel happy.
Can you tell me which anime moved you emotionally?
My debut song was in Sailor Moon, but recently I was moved by Strike Witches. Those girls work so hard. They fight hard and build their friendship, and that kind of story moves me.
How do you translate those feelings into a performance?
Many times that the lyrics tells a story and the girl’s emotion, so when I sing, I put emotions into the lyrics, and I remind myself of the first scene [in the story], which raises the right emotions.
I love your opening for Shirobako, “Colorful Box.” Based on what you know, how realistic is that show in showing the anime production process?
The people I know in the industry say “oh yeah, that’s true, that happens!” when watching that show. So I think it’s close to reality.
What other anime you watching?
I don’t watch a lot recently, but I did enjoy watching Strike Witches.
Who is your first music love?
My mother loved old Japanese pop songs. Lyrics were sung very clearly in the old days, so now I sing lyrics very clearly too.
Do you plan to gamble tonight?
Yes, on the slot machines!
Are you feeling lucky?
Yes I will today, since I lost yesterday. (Laughs)
Michael Huang conducted the interview, with assistance by Jeremy Booth. Raymond Hu provided on-site translation. The full interview was translated by Rome Yamashita.
ChouCho is the singer of many recent anisongs, including songs for Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, Heaven’s Memo Pad, Glasslip, and Mashiiro Symphony. She got her start singing Vocaloid covers on Nico Nico Douga and quickly established a successful solo career in recent years.
We started off by asking her about a sandwich from the Hard Rock Cafe (the concert was held there) she tweeted a picture of the day before, marveling at the size of it:
What do you think about size of the food here in the US?
It’s double the size of Japan’s.
Aside from American food, we understand you’re from Osaka. What kind of food from Osaka do you like?
I want to eat takoyaki sometimes!
Let’s go back to the start of your career. You sang anisongs even as early as high school.What anime did you like back then?
I used to copy J-pop songs then [actually]. After graduating from high school with the band I had, that was the first time I copied anime songs.
Any particular ones?
Evangelion and Aquarion–songs by Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto.
What inspired you to post videos on Nico Nico Douga?
When I was in an anime song cover band, we entered a local anime song event in Osaka. And the other band’s vocalist was posting their songs on Nico Nico, which was the first time I heard about anyone doing that. That inspired me to do the same.
Any particular Nico Nico artists you liked?
Vocaloid composers, like supercell.
Any favorite supercell songs?
The most played song on Nico Nico was “Hajimete No Koi Ga Owaru”. [ED: Below is her cover of the song.]
Did you feel you were adding something unique by covering Vocaloid songs? They start out as a software voice, after all…
Hatsune Miku is a machine, so it doesn’t have emotion. Even without vocals, the song itself has enough charm to convey [emotions] directly, so when I did the cover, I was thinking a lot about how to convey the charm of the songs through my performance.
Tell us about how you got chosen to do the KamiMemo OP.
They were looking for a singer to do OP for KamiMemo, and I was selected from various candidates. They saw my NicoNico videos and that’s how I got vetted, and I feel I was very lucky.
How do you prepare for a performance like the one you just did?
I practiced at home a lot, and practiced English MCing. I studied English in Canada for a half year. But that was 5 years ago, so I almost forgot all my English. It’s been a long time since I went over English and I was nervous about it.
The anime you sing for features a lot of cute girls. Who are your favorite cute anime characters?
It’s difficult to say! I put a lot of energy into each anime I sing for, so it’s hard to choose. If I have to choose, it’s Alice from KamiMemo.
Do you have any image in your head when you sing?
Since it’s main theme song, I have to become the character’s feeling, in order to express.
This is the first of several articles/interviews about the Lantis Anisong Festival, held a month ago in Las Vegas in conjunction with Otakon Vegas. Interviews and videos coming later during the weekend.
This article is based on the second day of the festival on Saturday January 17.
There was a certain clockwork efficiency to the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, with the way each act came and left the stage in relatively rapid succession. It had to be, given that there were about a dozen acts reprising anime song favorites, 2-3 songs per artist, who sometimes doubled up and collaborated (as ChouCho and Sayaka Sasaki did). Despite being all managed by the same record label, a great diversity of anime was also represented, from pure shounen action (such as with the headliners JAM Project and solo performer Hiroshi Kitadani with songs from One Piece) to otaku fan service comedies (Bamboo, singing the OP to Baka Test “Baka.Go.Home”), to moe parody (ChouCho‘s Fate Prisma Iliya OP “starlog“), a cover of Haruhi Suzumiya’s legendary insert song “God Knows” by veteran singer Yoko Ishida, and even the Power Rangers theme song at one point with JAM Project founder Masaaki Endo. The presence of a stage band anchored the live musicianship consistently, with only other full bands like Yousei Teikoku needing to take the stage with their own players. Full, live musicianship is relatively rare at convention concerts, so hearing nearly four hours of actual performed music was a treat.
And yet this was not a convention concert in the usual sense, despite the festival’s ties to concurrent Otakon Vegas: it had its own management, ticketing, and arrangements, but both logistics and logic dictated some overlap. Its relative independence proved a boon, because the general convention audience and the audience that would “get” the majority of these songs do not necessarily overlap: there were relatively few cosplayers in the audience, for instance, and many of the songs played were from obscure-in-America properties, like the original live-action GARO. The truly committed had paid over $100 for VIP tickets, and many of them were decked out in traditional otaku fan garb: glowsticks, headbands, and coordinated gestures. Buying a VIP ticket also entitled the holder to high five the artists on the way out of the venue, a touch opportunity that is generally coveted highly in Japan, the subject of lotteries and contests. This was the Anisong Festival’s only non-Asian stop and it was Asian-style fandom that was fully on display.
As for the performances themselves: they were, above all else, consistent in their high level of musicianship and singing, with sacrificing the distinctives of each artist. Standouts include not only the highly energetic headliners JAM Project, with their excellent operatic singing and rock god poses, but the exuberant bamboo (milktub). As he sang the Baka Test OP, he clambered down from the stage and simply started mingling with the crowd–not just the VIPs!–singing all the while with his wireless microphone, high-fiving everyone. He carried and showed off a body pillow. Bamboo came off as a man who has truly embraced anime music as a culture, perhaps a job requirement given his other job as the head of MangaGamer but deeply felt all the same. Sayaka Sasaki, who we saw last year at Otakon Vegas, also gave a spirited performance, though the more restrained ChouCho slightly edged her out in vocal consistency. Both were equally charming though during their joint performance of “Enter Enter Mission!”, the ED to Girls und Panzer. Faylan, who sang the OP to the Nasu-conceived PA Works action series Canaan, showed off some great choreography skills along with aggressive singing.
Perhaps the hardest rocking performance was given by the goth metallers Yousei Teikoku, who at one point seemed to be launching into something resembling the intro to Metallica’s “Masters of Puppets” before proceeding into one of their own songs, “Kyuusei Argyros” (the ED of Tokyo ESP). Many heads banged along. True to their image, they played the aloof, too-cool-for-school part, even during the final ensemble festival anthem “Starting Style” where all the artists took the stage at once: perhaps a bit too syrupy for their taste? The singer did induct all the audience into her Fairy Empire however, and in a show that featured much more pop and light rock, their heavier sound was welcome.
A few more words about JAM Project and their associated members, Masaaki Endoh and Hiroshi Kitadani. Perhaps no other act embodied the spirit of the festival and its purpose than them, a supergroup started explicitly to carry on the spirit of anime music. The two leads, Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, are veterans of the industry whose operatic metal-influenced voices practically defined a generation of shounen, super robot, and tokusatsu animes, shows, and games from the 80s-90s onward. That sort of anime is now only one type of many in today’s media landscape, and arguably garners less immediate commercial attention than the cute/moe aesthetic typically favored by today’s otaku (the sort of anime an artist like ChouCho sings for, for instance). Their sheer performance chops are undeniable, however, and they were absolutely the correct act to close the afternoon: after seeing them belt out passionately, jump and wheel about on stage, working in near perfect coordination, one feels almost as pumped up as they evidently were. For an evening that started with the purely artificial Hatsune Miku, the end was about the power of raw, organic performance, the essence of what rock music has always been about. It is an “anime” music festival, yes, but it is a “music festival” too, and all in all it succeeded being that just as much as being a celebration of anime.
Due to life events, I’ve been away from the Anime Power Ranking ballots for a few weeks, but I’ve returned to tabulate what I think are the best anime series of 2014!
Kill La Kill
Terror in Resonance
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
One Week Friends
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
This list only includes series that concluded in 2014, which means series that began this year, but are not finished (ex: Knights of Sidonia, Your Lie in April, Shirobako, Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, Parasyte) are not included, and shows that started in 2013 but finished this year (ex: Kill La Kill) are included.
Here are my comments about all the series, briefly:
The top position was a toss up between Mushi-shi and Kill La Kill, and there could not be two shows more different. Mushi-shi is simply one of a kind, the sort of quiet, contemplative, and haunting anime that simply has no peer or imitator, and is worthy of nearly every accolade.
It’s sad that a lot of my actual favorites–Knights of Sidonia, Shirobako, Your Lie in April, etc.–do not qualify for this ballot due to them not being done or being split cour. However I was left with 18 choices initially and I had to shut out some worthy but ultimately deeply flawed series like Golden Time, Yuki Yuna, and Chaika.
Terror in Resonance fits that description too, but its highs are so high, and the Watanabe/Kanno combo so potent at its best, that it still is one of the best things I watched this year. It was undermined by a muddled plot and a confusion of symbolic gesture with political statement, but aesthetically it was one of the finest presentations of the year.
Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is, hands down, the most entertaining and original comedy of the year. More character-driven and consistent than its nearest analogue, Ouran High School Host Club, it takes aim at shoujo cliches but doesn’t forget to make the characters not only wacky but likable.
Barakamon is a personal favorite, being a comedic drama that I could identify with and whose children are deeply authentic in their portrayal. The storyline is typical but the execution is both funny and touching.
The same applies with the patient, low-key, and charming One Week Friends, whose understated innocence is instrumental to its success. Also if one understands the subtext, it becomes a deeply poignant story about a person learning to come to terms with reality.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, which just concluded, is simply a winner by virtue of its sheer competence: it is essentially a Hollywood blockbuster fantasy film in anime form, but done with a high degree of finesse and wit. It falters near the end somewhat, but remains endlessly watchable. It may win a special award for greatest adaptation from a plotless card game.
Both Sabagebu and Gugure! Kokkuri-san provided many barrels of laughs, especially the former, which may have been the biggest surprise of the summer season. Both comedies feature demented, jerkish characters who amuse in direct proportion to their meanness. In an anime world full of characters who are too nice, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Log Horizon contains just enough touches of intelligence and thought-provoking drama, as well as far better developed approach to the MMO genre, to assure its place in the top 10. The slow patches were difficult to get through at times, but the reward was worthwhile, even for this non-MMO player.