Tag Archives: Anime Expo 2011

Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 4: I ♥ ABTS)

Conventions, at least in America, are social events. It’s rare to find anyone going to a major convention all by him or herself. Always, there is a group of friends, cosplayers, or (in our case) staff. And when you’re an anime blogger with a press badge, there are always the others who share the same privilege. They’re our natural allies and friends and we spent a lot of time with them this year.

There’s a lot of name dropping in this article. Consider this mostly a shout-out to friends and comrades! I’m sorry if this is a little inaccessible for everyone else.

Inside the press lounge. You can actually see zzeroparticle all the way in the back.

IV: I ♥ ABTS (Ani-blogo-twito-sphere)

The first group of people who we sat next to at the Anime Expo press junket were the crew from Nico Nico. While we were surprised they were there, they are not part of the ABTS and therefore not a part of this story.

After Nico Nico left, in walked zzeroparticle (twitter), _eternal (twitter), Shinmaru (twitter), and KylaranAeldin (twitter). I remembered all of them from last year except _eternal, for whom this was his first AX. As a longtime admirer of his writing, I was glad to meet him. Kylaran, who has helped us with subtitle translations for our interviews for the past couple of years, immediately launched into Japanese conversation with Rome (our own interpreter), and we swapped stories, and emotions: nervousness about our impending interviews. Wondering when omo was going to show up—we knew he’d be late. Asking each other questions about Hatsune Miku, which a lot of us didn’t have extensive knowledge about (especially me). Later, an old friend, Benu of Anime Genesis, showed up: he’s been around since the very beginning of Anime Diet and it was great catching up with him as well. I’d run into him again waiting in line for Miku press tickets on the morning of the concert date.

Yes, it was a table full of guys. You can make your sausage party jokes here. Gia, now of Anime News Network, sat with her colleagues at the different table, and she came over once to greet me. She’s been a ubiquitous presence at cons ever since her Anime Vice days. But ANN is operating on a different zone, in a way; the guys in front of me, these were people who I still mainly knew through their sites. A brotherhood of blogging.

Omo finally came in after we got lunch from Quizno’s. I’ve seen him quite a few times since we first met at New York Anime Festival in 2008, and he straddles the two worlds: he’s got his own longstanding blog and now he’s also a reporter for Japanator. We said hi, but he sat mostly with his colleagues from the latter this time, and we’d only occasionally run into him from time to time: most memorably, after the Kalafina show where he was with Fasalina, whom I’d never met up until now. She’s an example of someone who’s more on Twitter than on a blog; when you know someone mainly through Twitter you begin to imagine that they resemble their avatar, and it’s always a surprise to put a face to a pseudonym. I wish we could have talked more.

canon_chan puts in a MANMA-rable appearance at the food truck plaza.

And then there were the discussions, debates, and fake flames: I mean the theatrically heated discussions, often started by Kylaran, about whether Madoka is crap, why Kalafina’s choreography was substandard, and colorful stories about going to the one booth in the dealer room selling Japanese live-action porn. There was especially the blogger meet up at the food truck plaza, where we met canon_chan (twitter), calaggie (twitter), kevo (twitter), yumeka (twitter), and others. (Sorry if I forgot.) If there was anything approaching the experience of being in a big IRC chatroom, or active comment thread, in real life—this was it. Lots of conversations back and forth; me being quiet for the most part. I’m still quite an introvert at heart, especially in large groups.

Most of the guys were heading to the Miku concert just afterwards. We’d already decided which of our staff was going to do it for Anime Diet, and it wasn’t me. I walked with a bunch of the other bloggers to the Nokia Plaza, and there we parted. There, I wrote my first Kalafina article, and waited for the concert to end. (I’ve told the story of Miku, and our struggles, earlier.)

Anime Diet staff are devotees of the press lounge. We like to go there first thing in the morning, looking for the free drinks and food that were promised (and were not forthcoming this year, except on day 1). Stay long enough in there, and zzeroparticle and Kylaran and Shinmaru often will show up, usually plotting which events to cover for the day or, in zzeroparticle’s case, prepping for a panel about Yuki Kajiura one day.

zzeroparticle bestrides the raised table like a skinny Asian colossus.

We wanted to be there to support him of course, Rome and I; as a fan of Kajiura and Kalafina and as friends. Kylaran swore to heckle him from the sidelines, and we saw him and other bloggers scattered throughout the audience. It reminded me of the old days, when Hinano and JPMeyer had a blogger panel at New York Anime Festival 2008, and where I first met bloggers in person: it was in these moments that the con experience felt least like work and most like a bunch of friends hanging out and doing stuff together. There was always lots of laughter, loud, raised voices, and walking slowly down the long corridors.

This is the part of convention-going I never hope to lose, even if by some miracle Anime Diet becomes big one day and ranks with the ANNs of the world. In the middle of hectic, sometimes frustrating events and coverage, this was what made it worthwhile: meeting people, fellow otakus and nerds, putting faces to the words that exist only on screens. I was taught in church that people were more important than things, that relationships were to be valued over objects. I see those moments as moments of grace: like when we were all standing outside Club Nokia waiting for us to be approved as press and griping together, or when we had our computers and equipment scattered around the table in the press lounge, doing our work and having side conversations at the same time.

As professional as I aspire to be at Anime Diet, this is the true spirit of the amateur: the lover, the one who does it because he loves it. It’s the whole reason we exist here at this website, and why other bloggers write their blogs. Without love, it’s just clashing cymbals and nothing. To steal another blogger’s namesake, it’s what we must always remember. And I hope I’ve done an adequate job here in sharing whatever memories I had.

Waiting for Miku tickets. Benu is up front.

This concludes the Conventional Wisdom series. Next time: actual anime reviews!

Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 2: The Miku War)

In the end, we got the the Miku videos up. You can see them here. But the road there was long and circuitous.

II: The Miku War

She told us, the nice girl at the press booth, that we needed to a sign a form to film the Hatsune Miku concert. It was a three page list of rules with a consent form at the end, which needed to be signed to get both photo and video shooting rights. Each press outlet only got two main event tickets for the whole con, and since I wanted to go to Kalafina, that meant only one person would get to cover Miku.

A three page list of rules sounds restrictive and intimidating, but as we read them we were astonished by their generosity. We were allowed to shoot six songs, seven if the intro montage was included. We were allowed photography rights anytime. These are some of the loosest rules I’ve ever seen in my time as press at anime conventions, in which the norm has usually been 3 songs maximum, if any at all. (The no-footage-whatsoever rule for Miyuki Sawashiro was more extreme than most, but the norm is closer to that end than to its opposite.) Moreover, no restrictions were described in public dissemination for the footage and photography—no prior approval or limit written in the rules.

We were, in other words, free as can be. And I knew we had to get that footage out ASAP.

These people were in line for the Miku concert. A local news crew apparently interviewed some of them for the evening broadcast.

I remember sitting outside the Nokia Theater the night of the concert, writing my Kalafina reflection article. It was a warm evening, t-shirt and shorts temperature, and I was in as relaxed a mood as I possibly could be in the middle of a hectic convention. When the Anime Diet staff who attended came out of the show—Rome, Dan, and Mike—they were excited, albeit tired. I looked at the footage Dan shot—despite his initial misgivings, it was more than usable. It had gotten the essence of what the concert was like; the music was crystal clear and the smoothness and dynamism of the animated idol was plain. In short, I knew we had a winner.

We celebrated at the ESPN Sports Zone. It was also Dan’s birthday, and we had a toast. Then we all drove home.

I spent some time in the press lounge over the next couple of days, splitting the footage into songs, adding a few titles. I doubled checked the rules to make sure we weren’t restricted on it. We weren’t; the only thing even close was a set of contact info if we wanted access to the official photos and videos that would be made available to the press.

So we uploaded them—where else?—on Youtube, the first ones going up on the last day of the convention. They were an immediate hit, with thousands of views. I noted specifically that we had permission, and that an official DVD/Blu-Ray was forthcoming (its release is now imminent as of this writing). The videos, while clear, were no substitute for whatever official footage would come along: the angle wasn’t ideal, for one. It was a nice preview at best.

This is just one strike of two.

The takedown notices came within almost exactly 24 hours, one right after another. They came from a party I didn’t know was involved with Miku, Sega Japan. (They are the ones who actually animated Miku’s motions.) While it ruined my dinner and made my blood pressure rise—not since we were kicked out of Google Adsense for “adult content” have I been so irritated and angry on behalf of the staff—I also was somewhat prepared for it. Posting concerts, though we’ve done it before without issue when it was part of our press privileges, can be risky. But the document, I assumed, had us covered. I immediately called Dan and asked for a scan of the rule sheet, knowing that there was no provision on there for video releases on the Internet. It’d be a matter, I was sure, of contacting the right people listed on the sheet and explaining the situation, pointing out that our contract didn’t specify anything of the sort, and that we should get at least our Youtube demerits removed.

So I wrote emails to both reps that were listed in the contract—one from ASCII Media Works (sponsor of many of your favorite current anime) and one from Crypton Future Media, the creators of the Hatsune Miku character and voice. I wrote a long, detailed and documented email, complete with annotated scans of the rules. We were in the right, I felt, and we could prove it. This was a misunderstanding that could be cleared up if I just simply explained it in justifiable detail.

That, in retrospect, may have been the wrong approach. Neither representative was a native English speaker, and the wall of English text may have been intimidating. They may not have had the authority or even the knowledge to correct an issue with Sega and Youtube. I only received a brief reply from the ASCII representative, which indicated (as far as I could determine) that Sega was busy removing videos from Youtube and that this was their initiative to prevent piracy. In short, my question wasn’t answered, and I replied back that the issue was that we thought we did have permission. You can see the rules we got for yourself below, with the relevant section circled.


We’ve never received any further replies from any party. Not ASCII, Crypton, or—once I discovered how to contact them on Youtube—Sega. I sought help from a friend who speaks fluent Japanese and has worked with industry figures before to draft a much shorter, to-the-point letter. It got no response either. She explained that Miku’s rights are knotty and complex, with many stakeholders on the production committee; it was very possible that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, and that just because Crypton and ASCII permitted something does not mean that Sega or anyone else would. And a glance at Youtube revealed that Sega had been pretty ruthless indeed; no video with any clear close-ups of Miku or other Vocaloids remained from that concert, by anyone. They were consistent, at least.

So we had no videos, two strikes on our Youtube account, and no recourse. Youtube’s counterclaim procedure—in which you say that you indeed own all the rights to the creation—had the scary warning that it could lead directly to a lawsuit. In fact, a lawsuit was required if the content owner disputed your counterclaim. I hesitated greatly at this prospect. I began to despair that we’d ever get the strikes removed, which by now was the main goal—having strikes forbids us from posting videos longer than 15 minutes and any additional strike for any reason will get all our videos removed.

Two months later, by chance, I read a tweet from our own Wintermuted about the upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release of the Mikunopolis concert. The link went to the concert’s official website, which, inexplicably, I had never explored. This may rank as one of my larger oversights, because when I went to the “Press” section, I discovered the passage I had been looking for all along (see the red boxed area):

So that was it. Sega didn’t want any Miku vids on video sharing sites, but they had no problem with self-hosted videos. Why they didn’t tell all of us as press this earlier, I have no idea. They could have told us this when I made my email inquiries too. Thing is, we at Anime Diet have no desire to go against the wishes of the rights holders. We just needed to know the rules up-front. Those two sentences would have avoided all of this trouble had they been in the rules from the beginning.

But I was happy to discover this. It led me to repost the videos on our own servers the very next day.

The black marks on our Youtube account still remain, however. I’m still considering what to do with that. So the story is, in a way, not quite over. But the important battle—the videos themselves—is concluded, in a kind of victory.


I tell this story not for pity’s sake, or to showcase our spoiled nature, or even to disparage Sega or other rights holders. I certainly could have googled for the official site much earlier, so it is a story of my own neglect as much as anything else.

What we have here, though, is a great example of both the liminal nature of being fan press I talked about earlier, as well as the importance of communication.

This was a problem with two dimensions. One is that Sega’s discomfort with press footage loose on Youtube and other video sites is an example of how much further “new media” has to go in terms of respectability, especially when they are still not far removed from their fan roots. A CBS, NHK, or CNN would probably have no problems posting similar footage, and the ASCII rep’s cloudy reply mentioned something about how Sega wanted to prevent “audience footage” or something like that from getting out. Clearly, Sega had the mindset that whatever was shot by parties other than themselves was amateurish and unworthy of release. While I understand that mentality to some extent—it’s the same mentality that prevents many guests of honor from being filmed or photographed in general by their management—it needs to be clear what is and isn’t allowed from the get go, so that the outlets who follow the rules to the letter don’t get penalized.

That’s the second aspect, and the more important one. What burned about the experience was how after-the-fact it was: how we found out two months afterwards that the problem wasn’t having videos, the problem was putting it on Youtube. This is not clear from simple takedown notices that offered no precise explanation for their removal. I realize here, too, that language and culture barriers may have played a role. Yet the rule sheet, and the explanation on the website discovered later on, were clear enough. Had those two sentences been in the rule sheet, we’d not be in this mess. The videos would have been posted not long after the concert and all parties would be happy.

It was not a loss. I learned a lesson about communication and about the need, as a reporting outlet, to ask the right questions beforehand; and that in our mission to bring you the best and most complete coverage there are always going to be lumps along the way. They’re worth taking, though. Despite my frustration—on behalf of Dan, who shot the videos, and for my staff and for our viewers—I think we did right, and we always want to do right by both you, our audience, and to rights holders. We may be scrappy and “new” as media, but we’re also growing. Let us know, that’s all we ask. Chances are, we probably want to do the same thing.

Whew. Glad that’s off my chest now. :) The next part will be the final part in the Conventional Wisdom series, and it’ll be a lot more positive.

Next time: hobnobbing with CEOs and bloggers.

Conventional Wisdom: The Year of Our Con 2011 (Part 1)

These cons were definitely big, all right.

By any objective measure, this has been Anime Diet’s best press year ever. In the month of July alone this site covered Anime Expo 2011, AM2‘s press junket, San Diego Comic Con 2011, and Otakon 2011. Seven staff members, four volunteers, and an entire film production team of three—14 people in all!—pitched in to generate videos, articles, and pictures of the biggest con happenings this year. We’ve done tremendous work and will continue to do more.

But, again, this is a personal account, and a record of both the ups and the downs of being fan press at conventions. There were some challenges along the way, and even a little drama. And there were also triumphs and the kind of bonding that only fellow nerds can have. Perhaps, a far better storyteller can I can turn it into a gripping movie or novel. But until then, there’s just me and this after-the-fact attempt to record my experience.

So here, again, are some snapshots of what con life was like in The Year of Our Con 2011.

I: Junket

Even more than the sweaty ears from wearing a Skype telecon headset for too long—and there were many long telecons—I remember the stacks of paper scattered on my desk. Card stock for business cards, because it was too late to receive mail-ordered ones except at great cost; printouts of the daily schedules for AX; receipts and press confirmation letters. Google Maps of where we’d be meeting.

That physical mess, as reflective of the busyness of that time as it was, didn’t compare to the blood-pressure-rocketing power of certain emails and spreadsheets.

The internet has left me in despair.

There was, for example, the email that I awaited with bated breath to sign up for junket interview slots. Our timely signups in 2010 had gotten us some of the best interviews we ever had, and we were not about to lose the opportunity to do that again. My paranoia and nervousness paid off. When it came, I finished the form within 10 minutes of its arrival.

But then there was the spreadsheet that came the following week, with the final interview schedule which did not have our names under Kalafina or Miyuki Sawashiro—the two guests we wanted the most to interview. Some hope was held out for people giving up their slots on the day of. My heart sank anyway, even as I vowed to press every opportunity that presented itself. There were some backdoor negotiations. Entreaties. Above all, uncertainty.

Or the emails that cast doubt about whether our photographer would be even able to register, even though we had one free press slot remaining on our roster and we’d been easily able to fill it last year, under the same management. A reply seemed brusque at best, rude at worst. Tempers flared. Drastic solutions, considered.

I remember the heated discussions, the heavy silences, the twitching of my fingers across the keyboard as I composed emails in response to our difficulties. There were less than 48 hours before the junket. Answers had to come, and nothing could be put off anymore. This is the hardest part of being a leader for someone like me, having to go out front and be both courteous and bold in stating our desires. I wanted to duck it. I didn’t want to fight or stand up for anything or anyone: why is this worth it, all this pain for a stupid anime convention?

Just under my tight-lipped smile is a STEAMING CAULDRON OF DRAMA

But it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about getting the best for everyone who had joined us, who were pouring their time and energy and sometimes money to work with us. I had to try, at least, to fight for our photographer and our interviews. Not because we were entitled to every interview—press is nothing if not a privilege. Not because the world would end if we didn’t get exactly what we wanted. Not even because we would feel slighted if we were turned down because it was thought we (and other outlets) were too unimportant, which is what we heard whispered here and there.

No, it’s because if you are going to stand up for something, if you’re going to give anything a shot—you might as well shoot for the moon. You might even get there sometimes if you try. But only if.

I wrote the emails, proofread them, got some feedback, and sent them. The replies came. We got our photographer in and he did superb work. Despite our last-minute jockeying, we didn’t get the Kalafina or Miyuki Sawashiro interviews.

We got everyone else, though. And I’m glad we did. Every year, there are surprises: great interviews from guests didn’t know too well and expected relatively little from. Last year it was Yuu Asakawa and Masakazu Morita; this year it was both Maon Kurosaki and Nirgilis. They were spirited and generous, and even editing their interviews was a joy because they were such engaging, beautiful people. Meeting people like that working in the anime industry is one of the greatest pleasures in being press, along with meeting friends and swapping war stories. (Of which there was plenty this year, perhaps more than any other year: that will be told in a later part.)

You win some, you lose some; and in the case of Miyuki Sawashiro, you win later when Japanese otakus discover your surreptitious exclusive liveblog anyway and send your traffic to an all-time high. :) I’ll accept that as some sort of vindication.

To be continued: The Miku War; or, What Crypton Giveth, Sega Taketh Away

Hatsune Miku: Mikunopolis 2011 Concert Videos

Well, everyone, the wait is over! We discovered that we indeed have permission to post our concert footage online, so long as we host it ourselves. And that’s what we’re doing here: posting all 6 concert videos which were taken down by Sega on Youtube, hosted on our own servers. They’re streaming, they’re instant, and they’re awesome. (And, unfortunately, they are Flash so iPhone/iPad users, no dice for now…looking into a solution for that. As an Apple user it pains me to say that, but this is a better, more universal solution than Quicktime for now.)

Anyway, enough yapping. Here’s the videos!

Clover Club

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Electric Angel

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


Get the Flash Player to see this video.


Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Romeo and Cinderella

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

World is Mine

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Izumi Matsumoto (Kimagure Orange Road) Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Anime Diet interviews Izumi Matsumoto, the original manga artist of Kimagure Orange Road! We ask him about what inspired that legendary manga, what he wished he’d seen in the anime version, and the future of Hatta and Komatsu, among other things. Right now, Matsumoto is at work on a new manga about his experiences with an illness, cerebrospinal fluid disorder.

A transcript follows the break.

Continue reading Izumi Matsumoto (Kimagure Orange Road) Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Toshiyuki Morikawa Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Anime Diet’s exclusive interview with Toshiyuki Morikawa, best known as the voice of Griffith in “Berserk” and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children! He also has been the Japanese dub voice for many famous actors like Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler, Ewan McGregor, and others. We ask him about what it’s like to act for anime/games vs live action dubbing, which roles he likes best, and whether he’s ever wanted to cosplay as Sephiroth before.

Transcript follows after the break.

Q: How did you get started in voice acting?

In Japan, there are schools that train voice actors: I entered one of these, called Katsuya Voice Acting Academy.

Q: I know you went to school with Kotono Mitsuishi and others. Do you still get along with her and other classmates?

A long time ago, Kotone and I were in the same production company, Arts Vision. Now she’s a freelancer. Similarly, I started a company called AXLONE this April, and have been working independently. We’ve met sometimes in the studio and talked. Also, our ages are close so we get along really well.

Q: You’ve also dubbed a lot of Hollywood actors’ voices. Which voices did you enjoy most?

All of them have been fun. Nowadays, when it comes to dubbing…  Well, it used to take a while before a Hollywood movie would be released in Japan. Now movies tend to have world-wide premieres, so I’ve been able to enjoy dubbing the newest movies immediately after release. It’s refereshing. In terms of which one I liked best, I’ve done Tom Cruise for a long time. For example, Knight and Day, which was released last year, and the Mission: Impossible series. Also, I liked doing Ewan McGregor’s voices in Star Wars. I think… I would say I feel close to the stars whose roles I’ve dubbed the longest.

The one I’ve worked with the longest — I don’t know if you know, so this may be surprising — is Adam Sandler. (Rome: Personally?) No, I mean in terms of dubbing. (Rome: Oh, I see!)

Just recently, I worked on the Clone Wars animation.

Q: Have you met any of the actors you dubbed over? What do they think of your work?

I haven’t met them. Actually with Tom Cruise…. I haven’t met him personally, but Tom actually watched the voice over I did for him in Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick, which in turn led to him having me do his roles in Japan. Because of that, I told him I would love to receive him in Japan when he comes, but he’s never in Japan for an entire day since he has to fly out in his jet immediately so we haven’t had the chance to meet.

Hey, you’re in Los Angeles now. Maybe you’ll see him?

Maybe he’s around!

Q: What’s the difference in acting for anime/games as opposed to live action movies?

Animation is, well, 2D. Live actions are 3D, meaning it has depth. Due to this, anime is done a bit over the top. On the other hand, in movies the actors have such rich facial expressions, so the acting doesn’t rely on voice alone. That means I don’t have to exaggerate my acting.

Q: What draws you to acting deep-voiced characters? Did you ever scare your classmates with your deep voice?

No, that’s never happened. You see, my voice actually isn’t that low. I have both a high and low range. But in order to become the some of the characters I’ve been asked to play, I needed to sound deeper. After all, sometimes you want to sound scary or murderous just using your voice, so it’s just this image. If you actually measured my voice, you would notice it’s not that low. People have this image of me. For example, they might think I have a dark personality.

Q: Last questions—have you or have you ever been tempted to cosplay as Sephiroth? And what would you do with all the fangirls who’d come chasing after you?

Well, if I can move swiftly, I would.

(Rome: Ah! And if you were assaulted by fan girls?)

I would run away.

Nirgilis Interview – Anime Expo 2011 Junket

Anime Diet interviews the J-rock band Nirgilis at Anime Expo 2011’s press junket! We talk to them about their music, magical girls, herbivore men, and more. Nirgilis is perhaps best known as the artists behind the ED to “Deadman Wonderland,” one of the EDs to “Eureka 7” as well as the newer “Birdy the Mighty Decode” series.

Continue reading Nirgilis Interview – Anime Expo 2011 Junket

Maon Kurosaki Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

At long last, the first of our numerous junket interviews with Japanese Guests of Honor! Up first is Maon Kurosaki, the Akiba idol and singer of the ending themes for High School of the Dead.

Continue reading Maon Kurosaki Interview – AX 2011 Press Junket

Anime Expo 2011 — “Skull Girls” Interview!

A few years ago, when I was employed with a video game magazine, one of my more enjoyable duties was meeting and making contacts with new upcoming artists.  I would wander the artist alley at different conventions, in search of hot new talent and talk to them about artwork and possibly doing some commissions for the publications I worked for.  Yeah, it was a fun gig, and I made a lot of great friends with some of awesome artists.

One year, Anime Expo 2008, I came across an artist who, in addition to some amazing artwork, had a laptop on his table.  Running on the laptop looked to be a 2D hand drawn fighting game and a cute girl with some sort of monstrous parasite on her head instead of hair.  The game was Skull Girls and the creator/artist was Alex Ahad.  Intrigued, I began asking questions about the game, the characters, the art style, all of which Alex was more than willing to answer.  I liked the game and art so much I bought his sketchbooks to show to my publisher.  This led to Skull Girls being featured in Girls of Gaming Volume 6, two years before it would be officially picked up to be published and scheduled for release on PSN and Xbox Live.

In Skull Girls, the action takes place in the fictional Canopy Kingdom where players, as one of the stunningly gorgeous yet lethal female characters, vie (I.E. kick each other’s butts.  It is a fighting game after all) for a mysterious artifact known as the Skull Heart.  The Skull Heart has the power to grant wishes, but at a terrible cost.  If the person who obtains the artifact isn’t a pure soul, along with their wish they will be transformed into a frightening monster.

At this years Anime Expo, I caught up with Alex, no longer in artist alley but on the actual Anime Expo convention floor proper, along with an official Skull Girls booth. We discussed the soon to be completion of his masterwork opus, the journey it took to get to this point, and what may lie ahead.

Daniel C.: Ok, to start off, what was the inspiration behind Skull Girls.

Alex Ahad: Well, if you are talking about the character direction itself, I think I’ve always been a fan of these types of characters.  The cast of Skull Girls was initially just a bunch of character designs I had piled up over time as it’s just something I enjoy doing during my free time anyway.  Particularly, creating monster girl type characters.  They’re kind of badass and cute, but also have a dark vicious side to them.  So I had enough characters with this kind of motif to them, that I compiled them into a hypothetical cast.  I met Mike (Zaimont) later on and he had a game engine but no characters, so we were able to meet up and make this thing happen.

DC: That’s really great.  For years now, I’ve spoke with you at conventions, usually in artist alley where you would be set up with a single laptop running an earlier version of the game, and now you are in the Anime Expo exhibit hall proper with a great set-up, PS3s, and multiple screens.  When you found out after all these years that Skull Girls was actually gonna happen and be done, what was your feeling?

AA: Even to this day, it still feels kind of surreal when I think about it. In the office I hear people saying character names like Parasoul or Cerabella, talking about them in the context of trying to figure something out as a crazy team effort, and it’s mind-blowing.  It was a long process of pitching the game to different people, so I’ve been getting use to the notion of dedicating an increasing amount of time to the game, but it’s still surreal knowing that we have an office and that I’m doing this full time.  It’s pretty exciting, but also sometimes it’s also beyond my comprehension.

DC: So this is full time now?  No more day job?

AA: This is my day job! And it’s still like my night job too! (laughs) It’s pretty much my everything right now.  It consumes my time all day.

DC: Fantastic! So you said you have piles of character designs.  How many characters will be in the final release of the game?

AA: There is gonna be an initial release of a roster.  I think I’m officially allowed to say about 8 characters, but the general plan is to have DLC to add on later because there are plenty of characters designed.  Ideally we will get to them.

DC: Or secret characters that will unlock after you do certain things?

AA: I don’t know if I can go into that, but there are things like that in mind.

DC: I’ve seen you talk a bit about some of the inside jokes in the game such as Kuribo’s Shoe from Super Mario Brother 3.  Any hints for other Easter eggs we may see in the game?

AA: Well, a lot of the color palettes for the characters are references also.  Like for Filia’s alternate color, it was intentionally a play on Hatsune Miku’s colors.  Other characters like Peacock and Cerebella have a few of these as well.  As you go to other characters you will see random references in the color palettes or in the lines that they say.  I guess the most references you will see will probably be with Peacock, because she is kind of a joke character and has a sense of humor. It kind of fits with her personality. So probably the most with her, but you’ll see references with other characters too.

DC: I was actually going to ask if Filia’s teal color palette was supposed to look like Hatsune Miku…

AA: Oh yeah, it totally is.  That’s on purpose.

DC: So this is getting pretty big.  And you’ve been nominated for some awards already.

AA: Yeah, we got nominated for a lot of “Best Fighting Game” awards after E3 and I think we got “Best in Show” from Shonen Jump which is pretty amazing.  So I guess we are award-winning now.  It’s kinda cool. (laughs)

DC: The game itself, will it be a disc release or fully downloadable?

AA: It is a downloadable game.  The initial game is downloadable and then the DLC is obviously also downloadable.  So it’s all online.  No disc at this point.

DC: Before the interview started I saw that there was a cosplayer here actually dressed like Filia.  How does it feel to see your creation that you have been drawing for years walking around on the Anime Expo floor?

AA: Oh man, it’s just mind-blowing to see people cosplaying as my characters!  I always wondered if… I mean I wasn’t sure if this character could be physically possible, but then the cosplayers find a way to make it actually happen.  Like with the teeth or the hair… it really is just mind-blowing.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get use to seeing that.  In a good way obviously.  It’s just like wow.  It’s so cool.

DC: How freaked out would you be if you saw someone walking around as Peacock or Cerebella, with all the intricacies of those costumes.

AA: Oh yeah, that’s another one that I wouldn’t think would be possible.  I would like to see someone take on that challenge. I like to see things that I wouldn’t think would be possible as cosplay being done, so secretly I’m hoping to see these.  Almost just from an engineering standpoint to see how they would do Peacock’s arms or even just her face and getting that across.

DC: The art for Skull Girls is all your designs.  How long does it take to go from the first sketches of a character to the final animation we see on screen?

AA: Well the idea itself is relatively fast because it’s just like a key frame, however when it comes to executing the full process, that takes a huge team effort to fully animate something.  I would try to animate as many of them as I can, but to be realistic I have to be sure to spread my time evenly managing the general art direction of the game. Especially these days.  But particularly with Filia I ended up doing a bunch of them because that was when I was doing this during my free time before the game was picked up.  So a lot of Filia’s stuff I was involved with, but even then I was contacting people to help me.  So it’s a real team effort when it comes to the animation.  But your question was how long does it take.  It’s weird to estimate, because we work on different characters simultaneously, but I would say it takes two to three months generously to make a single character.  While other characters would be finishing up, I would be working on the preparation of the next character, those key frames I was talking about.  So ideally it’s staggered in a way that keeps it flowing.  But from start to finish, two to three months per character.

DC: Wow.

AA: Yeah, so it’s kind of a tight schedule that we are on and we have to get that worked out in an efficient manner.

DC: Is there a firm release date for the game?

AA: It’s more of a tentative date.  It’s slated for later this year, but it’s still kind of loose.  We can’t pin a definitive date on it yet, because there are still a lot of things we are figuring out and a lot of stuff to build on.

DC: When the game comes out and sells like gangbusters,  obviously there will probably be a sequel, but my question is do you have any ambitions to try something other than a fighting game, like say a RPG or a platformer?

AA: I would definitely love to explore other genres of games.  Like for example Metroidvania (an adventure platforming game in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania) is one of my favorite genres, so I’d like to try a game like that or maybe give shot to a Beat’em Up.  There are tons of ideas we toss around in the office all the time of the different game genres we would like to explore, because we are all pretty experienced and passionate gamers.  We definitely have a preference when it comes to what type of genres we would like to try.  I’ve heard stuff like Tactically RPG or Metroidvania, which is one I vouch for, or Beat’em Ups and many more.  Reverge collectively has a couple other projects that they have under development, but for me personally I would love to try a few different genres in the future too.

DC: Ok, well that’s it!  Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

AA: Cool!  Thank you!

Alex was also nice enough to contribute a couple original sketches of Filia for our article.  Thanks Alex!! 











Skull Girls releases later this year for PS3 and XBOX360.  For more details visit the official website at http://www.skullgirls.com/

Publisher: Autumn Games
Studio: Reverge Labs
Genre: 2D Fighting

Art Gallery

Nico Nico: A Closer Look and Interview with James Spahn, CEO

Nico Nico Douga, one of the largest sites in Japan, recently opened an English beta of their website. With its famed running on-screen captions over videos, it’s a cornerstone of otaku culture in Japan and hopes to make a similar splash here. We spoke with the CEO of the English site, James Spahn, at Comic Con to learn more about where Nico Nico might be heading in the future.

Continue reading Nico Nico: A Closer Look and Interview with James Spahn, CEO