Interview: Kumiko Murayama, IA Producer


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IA is based on Vocaloid 3, a newer version of the software than some other Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku.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.

Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)
Photo by Kaori Suzuki (official)

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.”

Interview: Kazutaka Kodaka, creator of Danganronpa


Kazutaka Kodaka is a writer and director of video games at Spike Chunsoft. He is best known as the creator of the Danganronpa series, which features elements of mystery, survival horror, and anime-styled whimsy. He has also been involved in localizing non-Japanese games for Chunsoft such as Hotline: Miami. We spoke to him at length about his influences and inspirations for the unique series and approach he takes to gaming.

This interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth at Anime Expo 2015.

First of all, how was your trip to LA?

I loved Hooters! I just went straight there.

What inspired you to get into the gaming industry? What was the moment you knew you wanted to go into designing and making games?

I was originally going to write scenarios for films, but I was asked if I wanted to join the game industry instead. So that is how I got in.

So you went from just telling stories to making more interactive stories?

Yes, interactive.

You’ve said you are a fan of movies like Cube, Saw, and other survival horror. Are you interested in any other horror movies or films, and have they influenced your mindset?

I like Twin Peaks.  I like sequels…I wanted to create games where once the first chapter ends, you’d want to see the second [installment].

You mentioned Twin Peaks. What other David Lynch films do you like?

Mulholland Drive, Wild at Heart….all of them!


You also said you were influenced by a game called Illbleed. Anything stand out from that game that really stood out to you?

It’s very particular, but I like the fact that the healing items will disappear if you don’t use them.  

Any other games you are inspired by now or in the past?

Conker’s Bad Fur Day, which was made by Rare. A squirrel has a gun and just starts shooting…I think the comedy and parodies are awesome. It’s cute but it has a very aggressive and violent tone…one of the characters [a piece of poo] even sings opera! I can never see what’s coming next.

Are you familiar with Five Nights at Freddy’s? It feels like an American take on something similar to Danganronpa.

Yes, it’s true, the concept and a lot of things do seem similar. Even though it’s similar, it still has its own different individual character.

What do you remember most about working for the Konami Group?

The company is really strict. I was debugging games part-time.

What impressed you about Hotline: Miami? 

I liked how cruelty is turned into entertainment through 8-bit art styles…I also like how the music and soundtrack, and the fact that the game is only written by two people. There are games that are so famous or big that you don’t know who’s creating them. I prefer games where there’s a small group of people making it so I can see what kind of people they are.


What do you look for when you want to bring American games to a Japanese audience? How do you localize a game like Hotline: Miami?

I didn’t want to change that much…I don’t mind if not that many people buy it, only the few people who would love that game who would be entertained by it. Same goes with Danganronpa.


Your company is also well-known for the 999 series [of room puzzle type games]. What draws you to that genre?

It’s an interactive story, as interactive as possible. The situation is similar in Dangonronpa where you have to kill a character at a time. Instead of showing you a character to kill, you make the player choose who to kill.

What direction can we expect for the Dangonronpa series?

When I release something to the public, I want to surprise the audience. I don’t just want to release the same old thing, rather something where you say “you’re doing that?” Still, the core component is mystery.

More insanity?

Yes! Awesome.


Interview: Voltage Games

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 Dangowhich 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 AstoriaThis 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.

The SNAFUS of Youth


What uniform can I wear to hide my heavy heart? It is too heavy. It will always show.

Jacques felt himself growing gloomy again. He was well aware that to live on earth a man must follow its fashions, and hearts were no longer worn.

Jean Cocteau

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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

Otaku No Video Kickstarter Success (Why It Still Matters)


Upon catching up with the news via Twitter, among all the other amazing things happening yesterday, news came that Animeigo’s ambitious Blu-ray Kickstarter had ended to incredible success. More than excited to hear that the final numbers absolutely crushed the proposed $40,000 goal with a whopping $102,869, the upcoming release plans will likely live up to and beyond initial promise. And now that the initial crowdfunding leg of this particular tour is at an end, Paypal will be open to those late to the party. Sure, goodies that were set up for those who participated won’t be available, but do not feel too left out. The hallowed Secret Master Of Otakudom edition is jam packed with celebratory sweetness for even the most pokey of supernerds.

The recent Japanese release contains not only a lovely transfer, but also an all-new commentary track featuring Shoji Murahama, Kikuko Inoue, Hiroyuki Yamaga, & Yuki Sato. The Animeigo release also promises an english commentary track by none other than Gilles Poitras!

All these bells, whistles, and glory for what exactly? Well in case you’ve been on these intarnutz over the last two decades (strangely an equivalent to being under a huge rock), Gainax’s Otaku No Video remains a poignant, and often self-effacing document on an era of anime fandom that deserves remembrance. And while we certainly have evolved into forms far beyond in that short span of time, the roots remain as relevant, and possibly as dangerous – as ever. For those with a need for that added nudge, please read.

Then scratch that itch. Fight the good fight!

Fight, Ota-royalty!

Otaku no Video Crowdfunding Project Promo Video from AnimEigo on Vimeo.

Through Older Lenses: A Candy Colored Pill They Call Shirobako


Someone recently asked me about current anime television, and what I have been spending limited time watching lately. And they were surprised to hear that a soft series like Shirobako, has pretty much dominated a majority of that time. Which is funny considering how easily the series borders on self-parody. (even when it seems like such a turn would in fact boost it by leagues) While we have flirted with anime about anime in the past, Shirobako feels a lot like the kind of show the fictional Musashino Animation would indeed produce. Something quasi-steeped in reality, but mired so deep in the artifice of anime, that all of the drama inherent seems to roll off the shoulders like a set of remote controlled plastic clouds. It’s like a tailor-made opiate for raging internet commenters. Which isn’t to say that it is bereft of any charm whatsoever.

We have for perhaps far too long, shared a world built around the concept of the smooth pill. The easy answer. Flat tire fix. It is a complicated thing to delve into when talking about the whys, and how things are often sussed out in the real. When discussing any number of topics facing our daily world, one of the replies that tends to slip out of my mouth is that quite often, we prefer the myth over the weighty responsibility inherent.


Friend: Why do we seem so hellbent on playing the same game, even when the current model no longer seems to work? Like voting for one of only two political parties.

Me: It’s comfortable.

Or (and I know I’m being a bit pedantic here, but bear with me)

Friend: Hey, ever wonder why so many fans self-serve, rather than a reflect?

Me: Myth can be a drug. Doesn’t matter if the truth is obfuscated. Which is advantageous to those who sell the myth writ large. As long as the sleep continues, profits are kept relatively safe a little while longer. In the end, everything diminishes.

Shirobako, on its face feels like one of those great balancing acts so common in today’s market; eager to reflect the world of fans-turned-animators, yet hampered by market necessity. While we are constantly let in on the process of the creation of animated product in the Japanese system, we are also reminded of what is being used to sell the series-a near army of appealing, albeit typical teen anime girls. Definitely a latter day moé-wave title, with an easygoing pace, and ready with open arms to share the daily trials and challenges of televised anime with the public at large(all while remaining as soft-pedaled as its comfort food pedigree tends to allow). There’s nothing challenging about it save for the completion to air deadlines. It’s a fantasy about making fantasy.

Especially in a net climate where animators from both Japan and the rare U.S. expat have shared grueling tales of an environment rife with problems both internal and external, there is so much that Shirobako wishes to keep soft and harmless, so as to maintain the sales potential. While we are decades beyond Otaku No Video, we are certainly not ready to blur the line between anime and reality with this topic just yet. Or it could just be that at this point, with the industry in the place that it is now, writers and producers are in a zone where all they can think of is the familiarity of the workplace. The reality has been consumed by the need for an easier dose to down.

In one of the later episodes, a great question is posed by our central character, Aoi. She asks the big one. “Why did you chose to work in anime?” And the answers turn out to often be unfocused, and overlooked. When working in such an assembly line environment where artistic aspirations run head-on into the needs of commerce, there is a factory mentality that can often blur distinctions. And while some of the show’s animation staff try valiantly answer this burning question, the replies tend to be that of aimlessness, or a wish to share something cool with the world. Things whittle down quite rapidly as those in the wheelhouse scramble for some semblance of understanding why they do what they do. Only to reveal that very often, it couldn’t be less readily tangible.


Now the show does its part to both warm up and warn viewers regarding the attraction and repulsion of the anime production world. From charming moments that feature analogues for medium legends (there is that HA guy, as well as a vivid rendition of Hiromasa Ogura who joins in on Musashino’s latest project), to some sweet breakdowns of the process by way of Aoi’s internal greek chorus in the form of a well-intentioned teddy bear and a cynical goth loli doll. But the real surprises come in later episodes that allude to production’s darker, more broken sides by way of new PA Hiraoka, and the clearly decimated backup ani-studio TAITAINIC. As unsubtle as anime gets, if one would believe it.

It is in the short moments we have here, that the horrors and often troubling realities of anime production are cursorily hinted at if not outright explored. Dank, nearly abandoned offices occupied by merely one staffer, unseen co-workers, and half-hearted work abound. One might almost want to delve deeper into this already telling plot footnote, but alas, there’s so much more to be absorbed by. Angel Workout, anyone?

Kill me now, yes?

Now this isn’t to completely disparage the show’s occasional dips into puerile moé shtick. But as a constant quiver in Shirobako’s arsenal, it is egregious to the point of exasperation. Sure, it’s to be expected of a fluffy anime series in the mid-2010s. Who expects an anime to get its hands truly grubby with the painful complexities engulfing the entertainment industry during one of its most trying technological periods? Still. While the show does its part to make light of how episodes are divied up by PA, and each separate element is ordered, prepared, and distributed, one couldn’t be faulted for wanting just a little more adroit honesty. Every time the series runs against a potentially challenging road block, in comes a new offering of nubile comfort food to keep those nasty realities away. In classically mild Japanese fashion (and to be fair, the old school Disney model as well), Shirobako never finds itself ready to unveil past a certain amount of skin.

In tradition of hoping our entertainment would take point, and offer up something new and potent, Shirobako has certainly done its part to be mildly diverting. But one cannot help but feel the pressure of market lining every corner of its production. Heck, one episode even went so far as to address the pressures of investors that often pit artistic ambition versus sales potential, no matter how shallow or trivial. It’s at least able to get that one welt in there. Now if only more of the show were as willing to take on the industry that spawned it. And so, we’ll continue to wait. Certainly, this series could have been far more harmful than it is. At least Genshiken takes some uncomfortable, yet well-deserved jabs at a business subculture saturated in repression, and shamelessness. Shirobako is simply born to be mild by comparison. Sure, firing retorts at a wired, conspiracy-obsessed populace by way of a peek at the sausage factory through a charming set of binoculars might work. But to quell the masses, perhaps something more up front might do wonders.


Ghost In The Shell At 20 (Now on Hulu Plus)


As raved about over Twitter just a short while ago, subscribers to Hulu Plus can now enjoy the recently released HD edition of Mamoru Oshii’s classic adaptation. Now alongside the later (and equally thrilling) television series’, Koukaku Kidotai has itself a nice little home base with the mega streaming service. Debate no more about Hollywood film renditions, irrelevant casting controversies, and just drink in why Production IG and company have Masamune Shirow’s crowning achievement well in hand with its exploration of political intrigue, cybercrime, and groundbreaking hybridization between science fiction and faith.

Memories come rushing back during Ghost’s initial US art house theater run via the folks at Manga Video, and just how well LA audiences reacted to Oshii’s vision. A vision that until this point was largely either unknown or patently ignored by westerners. Coming hot on the heels of the ultra-personal Patlabor 2, Ghost was a pretty unexpected theatrical and home video success story stateside. And considering the cinema world pre-Matrix, this somber and flawed mood poem had so much stacked against it, save for those who knew what a terrific coup between director and material this was. And when I say flawed, I mean this as pure compliment. Before INNOCENCE veered into near ancient library obscurity, Ghost finds itself beautifully poised between crime thriller and existential voyage. And despite it’s occasionally jarring three segment structure, it’s pretty hard to impossible to envision it work any other way.

It is Oshii at his thoughtful, grounded best.

This is especially cool news since the only version Hulu has had available for years was the irksome 2.0. Rust color and unnecessary bad CG no more!

So get on it, already!

Interview: JAM Project

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.

Interview: Yoko Ishida

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 Moon 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.

Yoko Ishida
Yoko Ishida

Interview: ChouCho

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.

How’s your pet rabbit Sanagi doing?

It’s very cute and tsundere! Normally, it’s cool (tsun), but when it’s hungry and begs for food, it’s cute (dere).

How did you name Sanagi?

My name is ChouCho (“butterfly”), and Sanagi means “cocoon.”

What message do you have for your American fans?

I now understand that our songs are loved even across international borders. Through this concert, I will try our best, so we can come back to the USA again.

So, last question: are you gonna gamble here in Vegas?

Probably, if I have time tonight!

Michael Huang conducted the interview, with on-site translation help by Raymond Hu. Rome Yamashita translated the interview from the Japanese.


Song Stream: Lantis Anisong Festival, Las Vegas

bamboo (milktub)


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.

Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho
Sayaka Sasaki and ChouCho

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.

Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project
Hiroshi Kitadani of JAM Project

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 PanzerFaylan, who sang the OP to the Nasu-conceived PA Works action series Canaan, showed off some great choreography skills along with aggressive singing.

Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)
Yui of Yousei Teitoku (Official Photo)

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.

JAM Project
JAM Project

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.

Our photos, taken by Jeremy Booth:

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Official photos by Lantis:

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Setlist (Saturday, January 17, 2015)

Hatsune Miku

  1. Sharing the World
  2. World is Mine
  3. Tell Your World


  1. starlog (Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya OP)
  2. Authentic Symphony (Mashiroiro Symphony OP)
  3. Enter Enter MISSION! (Girls Und Panzer ED) w/Sayaka Sasaki

Sayaka Sasaki

  1. Reason why XXX (So I Can’t Play H OP)
  2. Zzz (Nichijou ED)

bamboo (milktub)

  1. Uchoten Jinsei (Eccentric Family OP)
  2. Baka.Go.Home (Baka Test ED)

Hiroshi Kitadani

  1. We Are! (One Piece OP 1)
  2. We Go! (One Piece OP 15)

Yousei Teitoku

  1. Kuusou Mesorogiwi (Future Diary OP)
  2. Kyuusei Argyros (Tokyo ESP ED)
  3. Baptize (Seikon no Qwasar OP 2)

Yoko Ishida

  1. Eien no Hana (Ai Yori Aoshi OP)
  2. God Knows (Haruhi Suzumiya insert)

Masaaki Endoh

  1. Yuusha-Oh Tanjyou! (GaoGaiGar OP)
  2. Go Go Power Rangers (with Hiroshi Kitadani)
  3. Bakuryuu Sentai Abaranger (OP for show of same title)


  1. Last Vision for Last (Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls OP)
  2. mind as judgment (Canaan OP)

JAM Project

  1. Break Out (Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars OP)
  2. Vanguard (Cardfight Vanguard OP 1)
  3. GARO-Savior in the Dark (GARO live action OP 1)
  4. SKILL (Dai2ji Super Robot Wars α OP)

All Artists

Starting Style

Through Older Lenses: Letting Go Of Live Action


Anime fans, asian cinema lovers, genre hounds.

It’s time to grow a little.

That’s right, I said it. It is no longer the “salad days” of fandom. It’s train that has long passed. In fact, when the best possible celebration of these things came to our doorstep, it was the international audience who came brandishing that flag to wave it, not us in the states. Solidarity is a nice thought, but it’s something that if even came to pass, wouldn’t make the mainstream quake in its collective boots.

Adaptation should always be about more than casting. These words have been on my mind for almost two weeks now. Whether it happens or not, the Ghost In The Shell project has again stirred the hornet’s nest. After yet another attempt to adapt a beloved Japanese property to the Hollywood realm did its part to unsettle and stir the pot, it felt time to again dish out the whys. Also, to hopefully quell minds with a few good realities to consider.

A quick fix is rarely a good thing.

We see tech offer up simplified answers to often step-packed questions, and technological development does what it can to leapfrog those steps. But skipping about can very often obscure room for nuance, and specificity that can occasionally be important to many. Which is why many stalwart admirers of the longview tend to gather more understanding of process.

As far back as I can remember learning about it, my love of anime has been a protracted lesson in how localization works. From the beginning, it has long been a held reality that direct translation leaves quite a bit to be desired, nor does it better grab the cultural and psychological nuance of a foreign work. So tweaking and fine tuning are an expected norm. And while we have made substantial leaps to best synthesize this into a palatable shared language, there is still nothing like learning and better understanding other languages and cultures. So when the mainstream is confronted with work almost completely in step with classic anime tropes and ideas (see- Pacific Rim), it’s understandable to see the average moviegoer take in such ideas and cock their heads sideways. The response is often not that of revelation.

Even when manga and anime properties are adapted on their home soil, there is disconnect. This is another huge hurdle I have had to get past these last few decades. In writing the column, Live Action Manga Blues at the Kaijyu, it over time came into sharp focus that even the Japanese are saddled with both the budgetary and literal limitations that come with taking something iconographic and making it into fleshy reality. And the reasons here are multifold. After all, we are talking about taking what is often seen as Japan’s hidden id, and bringing it into another plane of existence. To assume that the two can co-exist seamlessly without losing some grand component remains paradoxical, and often unrealistic. Sure, we have had success with certain more “experimental” fare such as Oldboy, Video Girl Ai, and the Speed Racer. But very often, there is a temptation on the part of live action filmmaking to conform the work into a language that rarely melds with the weight and necessity of itself. It either has to be almost indistinguishably gritty, or it needs to be completely gonzo. Rarely anywhere in between. And to a degree, big films like Racer and Pacific Rim are indicators that they can only work in the hands of the rare risk taker that is willing to bet the farm to see their vision to fruition. Artists with the acumen and sneakiness to ostensibly fool already cynically inclined studio heads that this is worthwhile.

(Something the director of Snow White and The Huntsman, hasn’t proven himself to me. Just saying.)

So a huge part of me isn’t expecting much of this recent news. Many would dare to still hope that one day, their favorite property would make the transition, changing the perception of at least one more set of eyes to their favorite thing. But time has perhaps hardened my purview, I suppose. Because the allure of anime is truly its own organism. And it doesn’t require further validation. It’s wild, weird, and enjoyably dysfunctional in ways that would lose fathoms of itself in being conformed to a more docile cinema language. The average mind accepts new ideas when it is time. And frankly, in twenty years we have seen Ghost In The Shell become something of an evergreen that continues to make converts out of film and science fiction fans the world over. And as new animation continues the adventures of Section 9, such windows will continue to open. Because of this shared world we now reside, it takes more than one obligatory, stunt-casting laden feature film to turn heads. Especially when the genuine global article already exists.

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