Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 3: Lost in the VIP Room)

This is the story of how me and some other bloggers met the CEO of Funimation at Comic Con, and then some.

The main characters in this story.

 

III: Lost in the VIP Room

Daniella, who I worked with earlier this year to help the relief efforts in Japan, and I had to stay close to each other much of the time, during that strange JManga.com reception: it was hard to get a word in to a lot of the people there since we were among the few who didn’t speak Japanese. We were in a room full of Japanese executives, whom Chase Wang—he of former AX and now AM2 fame—had invited a bunch of us bloggers to meet after the JManga.com announcement at Comic Con. There were translators, writers, and even a few other bloggers eagerly speaking to representatives from Shueisha, Kadokawa, and the other publishing conglomerates who were combining to launch this online manga reading service. And we couldn’t talk to any of them directly, even though we had questions that weren’t answered during the panel.

“Maybe we should find a translator for us,” Daniella said.

“But who?” I wondered aloud. The few translators I knew by name seemed already busy, immersed deep in conversations with only a few words I could pick out from years of anime watching. A decade of anime watching does not constitute a linguistic education: you don’t really absorb a language by osmosis by watching subtitles all the time.

I hovered around the table of hors d’oeuvres, occasionally grabbing some crunchy rolls (harhar) and sliders, hopefully not enough to look gluttonous. I was going to use this reception, which was held at Roy’s Restaurant, as dinner.

Another journalist approached me while I was standing idly by the food. Stephen of The-O Network was also another non Nihongo speaker stranded, seemingly, in this crowd of insiders and wannabe insiders. We introduced ourselves and soon started talking about our common dilemmas, and soon it was the three of us standing in the corner after the brief presentation, wondering how we were going to overcome our awkward nervousness and try to approach some of these people.

I remember feeling surprised that one of the people who spoke was none other than Gen Fukunaga, the CEO of Funimation—an anime, not a manga distributor. Fukunaga had made some general comments about how Funimation would be lending some cross-promotional support to various JManga titles, if they happened to have any anime versions of the manga being sold. Fukunaga was Japanese-American, meaning he spoke perfect English. He also seemed more outgoing and approachable than the more formal Japanese executives. Cultural stereotypes in action, I suppose.

What got into me to flag Fukunaga down, then, when I saw him pass the three of us by, I don’t know. I remember seeing Deb Aoki in the back talking to another executive, tape recorder in hand, and I was thinking to myself that I probably should be doing the same thing and how I wished I could do it too…but Fukunaga saw me wave, and he eagerly came to the three of us to introduce himself. Immediately, we took the opportunity to pepper him with questions: about Funi’s streaming plans, about what they were even doing at JManga.com’s reception. He answered more than thoroughly: he seemed eager to explain himself. About how more streaming options were coming soon, about how he foresaw the problems that both the manga and anime industry years ago, and that they were busy trying to reach new audiences. He then proceeded to ask us for our opinions about how they could make crossover animations using Western game properties like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. We did not hesitate to give our opinions.

Fukunaga also told us some information which he said should remain off the record. All I will say is that they will become competitive very soon in a burgeoning field, and that some long-awaited wishes will be granted.

I remember I felt that finally, the reception hadn’t been a waste. Daniella and I then rushed out to head to our next panel, the Yen Press presentation—I was committed to liveblogging as much as I could that was manga-related at Comic Con—and we were both kind of marveling at how easy it was to talk to a CEO, one that controlled the majority of the domestic anime distribution market to boot. I was impressed, certainly, with his openness, something that Funimation has improved on over the years. Finding him was certainly a surprise, and a sort of surprise you wish happened more often at conventions.

Jeremy called me while we were walking back into the convention center. He had exciting news to share: he had managed to secure an interview (which you can see here) with the CEO of Nico Nico’s American branch, James Spahn. Apparently my contact with Fukunaga—Nico Nico and Funimation are partners—was rather serendipitous. Suddenly, we had an entry point into both Nico Nico and Funi, big players in our corner of the world, and this could be a potentially fruitful partnership.

Nico Nico: the new Greek chorus of otakudom

I remember going to the Funimation booth once, because I had to inform Mr. Spahn that we had to postpone our interview by a day. He was talking to someone else, while the Nico Nico guys were filming cosplayers and interviewing them just behind. You could see the trademark scrolling comments rolling by on the screen. I patiently waited for him, before realizing it would be a while before he finished. I always feel awkward in these situations: I wandered around the booth, looking at the DVDs and Blu-Rays for sale, weaving through the crowds of cosplayers who were trying to make it onto Nico Nico. I didn’t want to be the creep who hung around the edges, anticipating an opening; but, I had an important message to convey. It took a good while before he was free and I managed to deliver my message.

The interview itself was much more like a conversation. Jeremy had already started talking to him once I arrived, my voice memo recorder app in hand on my iPhone. The recording actually started a bit late, but we got enough good quotes down for an article.

That was hobnobbing and reporting, Comic Con style. If you want a really wild story, talk to me sometime and ask about Operation Time Lord. :) I won’t share it here but it was one of the most memorable stories ever…

Next and final part: comrades and colleagues in the blogosphere.

Leave a Reply