Aya Hirano’s concert, held on the last day of Otakon 2012, was an excellent way for many to spend the last few hours of the convention. Aya Hirano is best known for her role as the singer of the opening and ending songs for The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as voice acting anime characters such as Haruhi and Konata from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, respectively.
Scheduled from 12:30pm – 1:30pm (conveniently after most area hotels’ checkout time), the line for Aya Hirano’s concert extended from the entrance of the concert hall and continued outside the east side of the Baltimore Convention Center, an effort to minimize the line’s impact to traffic inside the convention that was mostly successful. Thanks to excellent line control by Otakon’s staff, the concert hall quickly and efficiently filled with Otakon attendees, nearly hitting the three-thousand person capacity of the concert hall.
The lights dimmed, the band strolled onto the stage, and…
Aya Hirano stood before thousands of her American fans, singing “Riot Girl” from her debut album of the same name. Her second song, “Kiss Me,” was from her second album Speed☆Star. These songs were from 2008-2009, near the beginning of her career.
After singing the first two songs, Aya Hirano finally greeted her American fans to excited cheering and vigorous waving of glowsticks. The next set of songs were the only parts of the concert that press could photograph. So as Aya Hirano started performing these songs, I was madly taking pictures of Aya Hirano’s performance.
“DIFFUSION (To the Other Side)” – from Aya Hirano’s May 2012 FRAGMENTS album
Unnamed World – from Aya Hirano’s 2009 Speed☆Star album. Also the ending theme for Nijū Mensō no Musume.
BRIGHT SCORE- from FRAGMENTS as well
At this point, most fans of Aya Hirano who had only heard of her anime songs might not have recognized any of the songs just performed. Of course, she had just saved her most well known songs for last: “God Knows…,” “Lost My Music,” and “Super Driver.” These songs were used as insert songs for the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the opening to the show’s second season.
As Aya Hirano finished “Super Driver,” the stage went dark, the band departed, and the concert ended. Or did it? Aya Hirano’s fans at Otakon cheered for an encore for almost five minutes before Aya Hirano and her band obliged, singing “Bouken Desho Desho?”, the opening theme to the first season of Haruhi Suzumiya. This wasn’t just an ordinary performance of “Bouken Desho Desho?”, as Aya Hirano called out to the audience, holding out her microphone for the audience to sing along with the harmony. The last song of the concert, “MonStAR,” was a piece from her early album Riot Girl.
The concert was immediately followed by an autograph session. A line that stretched the entire way around the perimeter of the room rapidly formed. While I didn’t have time to stay for Aya Hirano’s autograph session, I heard that she stayed for more than two hours after the end of her concert to make sure that everyone who made it into the line got an autograph. Bravo, Otakon and Aya Hirano, for making many Hirano fans’ dreams come true: a live concert, an autograph, and a memory that will last a lifetime.
Affectionately known as Kaki to his fans, Tetsuya Kakihara made an appearance at 2012’s Otakon. He has participated in anime titles such as Fairy Tale, Gurren Lagann, Linebarrel’s of Iron, Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, and Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. He was at Otakon this time, to promote Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn that has recently been released in the United States.
Anime Diet was originally scheduled for a one on one interview with this guest, but due to interest and timing, the interview became a group interview with three other press groups. Similar with Anime Diet’s interview with Gen Urobuchi, there was no photograph, or video taping of Kakihara. Still the 27 minutes I spent with this guest was an enlightening one.
Stepping into the interview room, we waited briefly for the appearance of the guest, and Tetsuya Kakihara arrived, wearing casual clothing and a pair of sunglasses that he took off when he spoke with us.
Questions or statements spoken by press are going to be in bold, and with the assistance/translation of Monsieur LaMoe. This is a transcription of the interview, so there is going to be the other press’s questions.
(First press group spoke Japanese.)
I’m Japanese, and I’m currently living in North Carolina. Only a few Japanese people live there, so I do Japanese magazine exchange for them. There isn’t any information about Japan over there, so people want that kind of stuff, so that’s why I started this.
What interested me is that Tetsuya-san lived in Germany in his childhood, and went back to Japan. There are so many people sharing a similar experience with you. Personally, my son is similar, also at a close age. He also eventually wants to go back to Japan. Do you have any advice for them, and why did you go back to Japan? What struggles or dilemma did you face when you went from Germany to Japan. What was the most difficult thing, etc?
Oh, that’s enormous. What a broad topic!
I lived in Germany until I was 18. German education system is having elementary school until 4th grade. At 5th grade, we have to chose a path to take. There are already many options set by the school. If you go to university, then school is designed to prepare for university education. Or if you become a craftsman, then there’s technical school. For sports, a sports special school. For kids that haven’t decide whether going to university or tech school, then Realschule. When I became a 5th grader, the paths were already divided a lot.
I went to the school preparing for university education in prospect that I may go to university. So from that point on, (5th grade to 13th grade), you stay in the same school. Total of 9 years, with the same, unchanging schedule. I did go to Japan during summer break, and this yearning for Japan began. If you turn on the television, animation airs, as with variety programs, and there are many mangas as Japan’s subculture. By seeing this, my emotion was like, “Wow, how interesting a country Japan is” came to emerge. Still the 9 years of the same school, same classmates, and the same teachers.
Basically, when you became a 5th grader, yes, perpetually, and you have a rakudai (fail to reach the norm to grade up, so you have start the whole year again). There will be fewer students left every year. So, in the beginning there were 150 students, but by the time I graduated, only about 40 students were left.
Yes, my school was that tough. But seeing that I had such an interest in Japan, I decided to move there. I wanted to work for a career that I’m be able to get involved with. Then I had a huge interest in acting, especially voicing, and I want to give a shot for it, so I went to Japan in order to aim for becoming a seiyuu.
Translator: Where do I need to pause?
Well, it got a bit long. It’s very difficult. Because this is a serious topic.
But even though you made it to Japan, normally a person can’t keep doing hobbies, and usually gives up and it ends as a dream that never comes true. But since you didn’t use Japanese that often, how did you make it possible?
Well, going to the motherland of my parents was one of my dreams. I ran away from home, so I haven’t seen them for about 10 years.
When did you run away your home?
18 years old.
So, leaving country was like running away from home to you?
Yes. Therefore, once returning back to Japan, the only choice left is you just got to do it, and I can’t go back to Germany like a loser. I must keep on doing it, whether I like or dislike it or not. So, for me, there wasn’t any choice of giving up or throwing in the towel. So, by the time I realize that, I’ve been working hard to reach this current status and rather have been enjoying doing this. It possibly was meant to happen naturally. Since I went to Japan, naturally I would aim for this job. To drop out in the middle was inconceivable, and it was natural that I would do this profession. I don’t have any thoughts like, “Why do I keep doing this?” So I don’t get that.
So, the faith that you will work hard to reach that goal drives you to strive?
You mentioned subculture. Have you have any fanboy moments when you working in this industry? Oh my god this is happening!
Of course, that’s true myself. Well, the people I idolized, when I go to the studio, I look left or right, they are definitely there .
Umm, not specific…Well, the special one was, people who are acting since my childhood, a very famous one, I’m 29 now and going to turn 30 this year, but these people still actively working as seiyuu still. I really admire them. I have a feeling that these senpai seiyuu are amazing. But the person who I am close working with, under the same management is Takayama Minami, who does the voice of Conan. She does seiyuu work for several decades, and even doing main characters of the masterpieces, yet at the same time she still has the perseverance of her acting stance. Since I’ve been to so many recording sessions and seen a lot of actors, it’s rare for me to feel that “Boy I’d like to be that person one day!” But she is, well I’ve been doing this profession over ten years, but even that, whenever I meet up and work with her, she is the person makes me feel that I’m still not far from perfect and still need to learn a lot of things.
There is a work called Saint Seiya, and there is Saint Seiya Omega. As I expected, there’s Midorikawa-san, and the last generation of seiyuu who acts in Saint Seiya and Gundam: Furuya Touru-san. Every time I listen to them, “Oh, their voice is still the same since my childhood, even though they age infinitely.”
There are so many people around me. Rather than idolizing them, I’m on the same stage with them, so there’s a feeling that I have to fight, not to lose to them. I got to fight them. Yes, I still continue to look up to them, but I don’t have a yearning for them anymore. I will crush them to the bone!
Do you have a favorite swear word and what language do you swear in?
It used to be German, “asshole.” Like “Lick my butt.” That I used to say a lot in German. But recently, I also think in Japanese. I don’t swear that often. Did you mean to someone or to myself? It depends on that, doesn’t it? I think and say sometimes to a person, “Hope you burn.” If they do something ridiculous, “Hope you burn.”
(Anime Diet’s Question) You do a lot of work outside of anime, video game is one of them. What do you think of otome games in America? You’ve done work in Amnesia, Renai Banchou, and Grim the Bounty Hunter.
It’s an interesting culture, with renai simulations and relationships. I myself was drawn into wanting to be a seiyuu with a game called Tokimeki Memorial, that is a dating sim. It was the most famous pioneer of the dating sim, and it was perhaps the first game that was voiced by the seiyuus. I was amazed by the fact that it actually talks with voices, and at the same time I was amazed by the awesomeness of imagination and idea of Japanese people with having a virtual romance in a video game.
It used to be boys that were doing virtual romances, but nowadays girls are even more passionate about virtual romance in game, and also romance in anime, so I think it is a very interesting phenomenon. It gets very interesting when I am doing voice acting, since I say something that I would never say in my private life, and go to a dating spot that I never go to. Those kind of scenes you can act is the privilege of seiyuu, so, I think this job is a very interesting one. Very different from boy’s genre, but it’s very famous in America, isn’t it?
It is quite pretty popular, I play a lot. All my friends also play.
Thank you very much. I’m very happy as an actor to learn that oversea fans are increasing.
Does your German help in your voice acting career?
Well, for any German speaking roles, I was able work in Magical Lyrical Nanoha, because I can speak German. But as a matter of fact, for Japanese stereotypical view on German. Germans are wearing military uniform, a huge macho man giving enormous psychological pressure, with a very deep voice. My voice, however is rather a young shonen voice, so for German characters, the lower voice actors play that role, so I often was sent to the studio to do German coaching. As an actor though, I want to play German characters by myself.
So, actually the ability to speak German didn’t help that much. But when I go overseas to places like America, because I speak German, I can understand English very well by hearing, so in terms of that, it’s been very helpful.
You play Gurren Lagann‘s Simon. Did you see any robot anime in childhood, and does that experience help for playing Simon?
I didn’t watch robot anime. But when I was a kid, there were a lot of energetic passionate works, with main heroes. So when I played Simon, seiyuu senpai acting from those anime was very helpful.
Not only anime but also manga, and all, regardless of seiyuu genre, that Japanese anime and manga, all of these are very good study tool.
Any dream voice do you want to do?
Right now I have this work that I’m in love with. It’s a manga. It is called “Bachibachi.” (バチバチ) It’s about sumo wrestling, and that manga is very very interesting, and I bet Americans love sumo?
Oh, you don’t have a lot of chance to see. I see. But if this is made into anime, it would be very interesting, and it would be a hit, and I really want to play the lead character of this work. Please let me play that role.
In my opinion, I don’t think sumo anime would be a hit in America, because no cute girls in it.
Hahaha. Oh, I see.
Only E. Honda from Street Fighter 2.
But I hope this would be a chance for Americans to get interested in sumo.
There weren’t any more time for questions after this. But definitely knowing that Kakihara was able to visit the United States is a nice experience for fans that were able to make it to Otakon 2012 for him.
The Melancholy of Haruihi Suzumiya remains one of my favorite anime so I was certainly beyond ecstatic to have the opportunity for this interview. I didn’t realize it at first but Hirano understands English very well and one can see from the video that she probably didn’t need the interpreter. She displayed tremendous professionalism while remaining affable throughout. I would tell you more about my impressions but the pictures speak for themselves.
The Paper: Thank you for having Anime Diet. It’s a distinct pleasure. So to start out, what are you listening to now?
Aya Hirano: On the flight over, I was listening to songs that I will be performing on stage tomorrow. Also, Komuro Tetsuya.
TP: How do you protect your voice? Maybe something you do or perhaps avoid doing?
AH: I take great care of my voice because when I voice act, people would notice if my voice is off. So I watch what I drink and would wear a mask to protect myself.
TP: Do you prefer singing live in a concert or for a recording?
AH: While recording, there’s stuff I would try out, such as changing the pitch. For concerts, I love how I get immediate feedback from the audience. The energy is something I love.
TP: If you can redo your idol debut, would you have done anything differently?
AH: I feel like I did three different debuts. I have a long history of doing voice acting, idol before that… now that I am older, I don’t think I have the confidence to do cute stuff anymore.
TP: You’re best known for playing Haruhi Suzumiya. What do you like best about the character?
AH: It’s very hard to decide on a favorite trait. Haruhi is a part of me I feel. Lots of other characters have had a similar impact on me. Not sure how I can make do without any traits from any of my characters.
TP: Before I go on, I am impressed that you understood my English perfectly for the last question. Moving on, speaking of Haruhi, you’re still mostly known for that. Are you afraid you may be typecasted?
AH: Haruhi is a strong character and I get lots of energy from her but I want fans to experience the various roles I can play when I am in character so please check out roles I do that’s not like Haruhi.
TP: Have you ever done a role that’s completely different, where afterwards, you’re surprised at yourself?
AH: As you know, my character from Lucky Star, Konata, has a completely different character than Haruhi. Even though it was made by the same people who did Haruhi, they told me to put on a completely different role and feel. I wanted to show them that I could without having any trace of Haruhi. At the end, I was surprised at how well I did.
TP: You keep yourself very busy… working, traveling. How do you protect your health? How do you stay healthy?
AH: I actually love being busy. Since I find my job very refreshing, it’s actually stress relieving. By actually staying busy with work, I can feel the most healthy.
TP: Going back to protecting your voice, where you mentioned about wearing a mask, do you do that all the time? Even in public?
AH: At home, I constantly wear a mask, whereever I can, even in public. I also use a humidifier and things like that.
TP: For the last question, is there a message you want to leave with your fans?
AH: To be invited all the way here overseas to an event like this makes me very happy. In Japan, I do things like voice acting, music… and lots of people here follow that close to real time. I find that really fun and feel like I should work hard so I can be invited overseas to cons again.
TP: Thank you. I look forward to your concert. And thank you for having Anime Diet.
AH: Thank you.
Her management wanted to know more about Anime Diet and Hirano wondered about who made the logo featured on my card.
Gen Urobuchi entered the stage wearing a gray hoodie zipped all the way up with the hood pulled all the way down so that one cannot see his face. He was escorted by two cosplayers from Fate/Zero on each side. I believe one was Saber in her suit but can’t remember for sure as photos were strictly forbidden. He sat down then proceeded to take off the hood in dramatic fashion, revealing himself wearing a Kyubey tee. I think the stunt was meant to generate a huge applause but the cheer that ensued seemed weaker than expected. Regardless, the fan panel had a healthy turnout.
They were giving out raffle tickets throughout even though I had no idea how they were distributed and did not get one. I also want to mention that I could hear Apollon playing next door which brought a smile to my face every time “Sakamichi no Melody” played.
What is your impression of American anime fans?
This is my second time in the US. Everyone seems really into anime and it makes me happy.
Did Gen meet Nasu and if so, what was he like?
I moved next door to him. His charisma is unmatched.
When I found out that witches were ex-magical girls… [the fan actually became speechless here] Did you have individual stories for each girl?
Akiyuji supervised the stories including the upcoming movie.
Are there plans to address discrepancies from Fate/stay night?
That’s highly unlikely. Too busy.
If you had a choice to become a magical girl [the audience roars in laughter], would you and what would your costume look like?
[Urobuchi makes a very amused expression when the interpreter starts to translate and the audience roars again.] I am a very suspicious person. And if I ever get such an offer, I would certainly be extremely suspicious. It would have to be the devil’s work.
I heard that Shinbo wanted you to change Madoka to a happy ending but you refused. Can you tell us more about that?
Sayaka’s story was the main issue. In the end, the story made sense as written since what takes place is natural given the decisions made by a fourteen year old girl.
What is it like to work with Studio Shaft and ufotable? They have such contrasting styles.
It’s hard to tread carefully but much like the crew of the Enterprise seeking aliens, it’s exciting and rewarding to make it all work.
Can you reveal anything about the movie?
The movie will continue where the TV series left off. Because of the nature of the parallel universe, spin offs are very possible.
What was the inspiration to harvest human emotions?
Human emotion is very special. I imagine that a villain’s first choice of attack would be our most prized possession.
If you were a master, who would you pick for your servant?
Archer would be the most reliable. [Audience cheers.]
What differences and similaries do you find between writing for games, anime and manga?
Video game is the direct opposite of screenplay. People want an involved and engaging experience in a video game so it’s the equivalent of ten, even twenty, books. Whereas in anime, you want just the barebones because the director and animators have so much more to add.
Which magical girl shows have influenced you?
I didn’t want to reference any magical girl shows but closest would be Lyrical Nanoha and Magical Heart Kokoro.
At the conclusion of the panel, Urobuchi signed three DVDs and a poster for four lucky winners of the raffle.
The Otakon Matsuri on Thursday is a spectacular success despite temperatures hovering around a hundred the entire time. The deadly* heat prompted Brent** to proclaim it as “Swampass Con”. Held in the parking lot of the First Mariner Arena, my first impression found it small in every sense. Expectations for a matsuri that one encounters in anime are certainly unreasonable but I had hoped otherwise. There were only three food vendors which would be ok had they featured Japanese cuisine but instead offered pork, Pho and noodles. Besides, the prices were not exactly appetizing. It’s understandable that choices among food trucks or those with mobility would be limited and pricy. The booth that had not one, but two, bottles of water for $1 was a definite win however. Performers’ booths rounded out the rest. In short, not much to do or see.
The music overwhelmingly overshadowed all of the above. I was familiar with none of the bands beforehand but ended the day with two very happy discoveries. Prior to their performance, drummers from the Chin Hamaya Culture Center engaged the crowd by offering anyone a chance to play the drum. I am very confident that my drumming, or more accurately, lack of drumming, sorely disappointed the boy that approached me. I know this because in a few minutes I got to witness him and the rest of his troupe drum and march their way into my heart.
Kelly, their leader, who is a joy to speak with, introduced each instrument along with background on origins and the like which the reader may peruse at the end of this article. I would write love letters to demonstrate their amazing performance but I captured some on video so do yourself a favor and see what you missed out on. The Culture Center is based in the Washington DC metro so if you’re in the area, I highly recommend catching one of their shows. I know I will.
I had to pick up friends just after the Taiko drums ended so I missed DJ Cutman’s first mini set but was back in time for Shinsei. Their performance was solid but nothing to write home about. The reader may judge for themselves here. Highlights for me include the bass player who reminds me of the guy from Nana who also wears a chain linking ear and lip and the guitar player who broke at least two picks. I should also mention that they had a guest drummer that alternated between songs.
DJ Cutman had another mini set. I am picky with my rave music, hence my early exits at the Otakurave each year, but I found myself nodding along for the majority of the set. He had an adapter that connected his Game Boy for some chip tunes at one point. My favorite part was the flawless transition into “Call Me Maybe”. It was subtle and well played.
Finally, we were treated to Hsu-nami. You know it’s going to rock when there’s an erhu involved. And no, I did not know what it was at the time. I had to ask Jack, who plays said instrument, how he kept the bow string from breaking to which he revealed that he has never broken the string which astounded me because he played with a ferocity that kept the string stretched practically the entire time. Run, don’t walk, to the video.
While cute at first, Brent’s insistence on rousing the crowd got old given that the music spoke much more convincingly. Actually, the music roared. I was delighted by the showmanship of Jack who often held the erhu like an extension of himself where he released all his emotions. I was too busy dancing to record the part where a brief duet took place between him and the keyboard to my chagrin. Hsu-nami demonstrated superb synergy among the instruments. There were definite moments where it sounded like an erhu concerto with band but on the whole, each sound complimented each other like long time friends conversing, well, dancing around a table. The set was a fantastic ending to the Matsuri. I felt it set an upbeat tone for the rest of the con.
Okinawan Taiko Drums:
The Paranku is a small hand-held drum with a cow skin frame drum which is used in traditional events called “Eisa”. Eisa is a form of folk dance unique to the people of the Ryukyu Islands. This is a centuries-long tradition, to mark the end of the Obon Festival. Eisa is an event which young people play paranku/other kind of drums and dance with the song and the musical band to send off the ancestor soul to another world.
O’Daiko drums are the largest members of the family of drums. Because an o-daiko is made from a single tree trunk, the trees from which they come can be hundreds of years old and the largest of them come from trees over a thousand years old.
Shime Daiko is a major category of drums that have their drumheads pulled taut over a hoop by a lace of tension cords. The word “shime” comes from the verb “shimeru”, meaning to bind or make tight. Adjustments to their tone are made by pulling the cords. Shime-daiko are drums that can be tuned.
Maid Café is a symbol of all things cute and moe in otaku culture. It is also something that is readily available in Akihabara. How does it feel to be called Master and waited or pampered upon? People end up paying for the company of charismatic people. Conventions in the states have been importing this facet into anime conventions and while at some conventions it works, other it flops. It has been an idea floating around on the Otakon forums for several years now, when it was initially announced on Otakon’s website it was seen as an April fool’s joke, but joke it was not and 2012 happens to be Otakon’s first convention with a maid café.
Otakon’s maid café took place in the Hilton’s Johnson suite, where hours were posted outside the door, as to notify when people were allowed to enjoy a session that included a show, games, drinks and food. There was a 40 person limit, for each shift that was separated into about an hour and half intervals. The Maid café was only available on Friday and Saturday. So what entails going into the café? Is it worth the $10 to go in and then an additional $5 for desert? I definitely would say that the amount of money going into this is worth with the entertainment included.
Outside of my own experience with Butler cafes in Japan, I never was able to experience maid cafes, but one of the difficulties I saw at NYAF was the maid’s inability to serve food on convention premises. At Baltimore Convention Center it was a similar situation, but Otakon was also able to host the café at the Hilton, maids and butlers were definitely able to serve food and drinks with gloves. However since the hotel provided food, there were no personalized Japanese foods that is infamous with Japanese maid cafes, but with an adaptability, menu and services was introduced via shows. Drinks I saw were iced/hot tea, soda, hot chocolate, lemonade. Desserts a la carte were brownies, cookies, and cupcakes.
An issue that was mentioned was the lines and wait for the services, this became out of the café’s hands, as there were issues with giving tickets, and people not coming back. Time is money for things like this, so it is not uncommon to see a line build up. That is the game of convention going. Now then guests at the right time were ushered in to pay and then be personally seated by a butler or maid. Afterwards a show began, and the room was busy with maids and butlers providing service. At each table, guests were strangers to one another, and this turned into a social gathering. Everyone has wanted to experience what were the perks of Otakon’s 1st maid café. Each maid and butler had their own moe style and flair. The show introduced each maid and butler, who worked with their assigned tables.
Now these maids and butlers are also convention goers, so to prepare and enjoy a service such as being a maid had the convention organizers selecting the best from about 80 applicants. The maid/butler staff was chosen in April, so though there weren’t as much time to prepare. Each maid and butler definitely made the most of it. Many of the staff at this café has not met prior to this convention, so to be able to put on a cohesive character driven front away from the curious eyes of the convention goer is admirable and professional. Some of the maids and butlers have restaurant backgrounds, so that was interesting to see some of the staff balance cups and plates as well as assist one another; luckily I didn’t hear any shattering of glass when I was at the cafe. The staff also had a maid boot camp of six hours before the convention began on Thursday, so as an observer I definitely got caught in the experience.
During the show was happening, each guest upon coming in received a raffle ticket, and from there, three guests were chosen to play a player vs. maid/butler ensemble of Jan Ken Pon. The winner won prizes that included anime pencil boards, keychains, or gachapon. The Maid café wasn’t able to get any more personalize prizes, so that may or may not change in the future. Due to timing as well, not every guest was able to play table games, but it is not as though the maids and butlers didn’t try to charm everyone. Now as the service and show came to an end, every maid went around and autographed a photo for every guest with a signature color and sign. It was all quite charming.
I am certain that the maid café has enjoyed a success; I definitely know that if I get the chance to, I would be a paying customer. With first year down, there is definitely room for improvement, and the staff of the Otakon Maid Café would be looking into presenting a better experience for guests in the years coming ahead. Now if you’ve happened to want to see more pictures Anime Diet has taken, including some more of Maid cafe check our Flickr!
There are many who have an interest in running a panel at cons but lack the expertise. I decided to locate arguably the best panelist in the nation and request an interview to gain insight. Charles Dunbar has been a prolific panelist at anime cons over several years. You can learn more about him at Study of Anime. My hope is for this interview to prove helpful to aspiring panelists as well as current ones.
The Paper: To reiterate, my aim for this interview is to gain a better understanding on creating, pitching and running a panel. To begin, how do you choose a topic?
Charles Dunbar: Picking a topic is the hardest part. How much material can you find? I believe in the saying that “you should present on what you know or something you don’t know but feel very passionately about”. Actually, inspiration hits when you’re not thinking about it. It happens to me when I am playing video games.
TP: Tell us about the research process.
CD: It’s just like a college paper. Goto the library. When I worked on my Death panel, I looked up everything “death + Japan”. This part is the most fun because I can learn about so many new things.
TP: Now that research is done, how do you prepare the presentation?
CD: When I first started, it was just massive walls of text. You tweak it over time. The second time around, you add new tricks, new jokes. While you want the slides to hit upon all the talking points, you don’t want to read the slide unless it’s a quote. Have something else to say that elaborates on the slide. Engage the audience.
TP: So how do you pitch the panel? Or do you pitch first? What’s the order?
CD: Pitch first. Pitch even before research. Have an abstract. That said, still do the research first. A well researched pitch will make an impression. Ichibancon has someone on staff who always ran this one panel. But when he reviewed my pitch, he saw that my presentation is potentially better and stepped aside. It’s gotten to the point where cons understand the work I put into research and they will actually proffer me ideas for panels.
TP: Ok, let’s talk about the presentation.
CD: Give the presentation in its entirety the first time just to test it. Rehearse it beforehand. I was in my hotel room rehearsing from midnight to 2am. Add humor. In fact, make a reference to the joke on the slide in parenthesis. It helps you and the audience finds it amusing. I am intimidated by a huge room like the Miyazaki panel but you could return to familiar ground. The seven episodes of Dragonball Z skit [at said panel] was something impromptu I did at another con. The crowd feedback was instantly positive so I kept it.
TP: Great. Tell us about panels with multiple speakers.
CD: It’s hard to match panelists. We need to feed off each other. The key is to find a good place to jump into panel discussions. I used to be terrible at this. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Plan and prepare logistics beforehand. Review each other’s slides.
TP: What’s the most memorable experience? Worst?
CD: Worst is not getting any response from the audience. Hmmm. Best would have to be the time I was doing the Miyazaki panel on the second level at the hotel and the audience was really into it and cheering so loudly that it brought people up from downstairs curious about the commotion.
TP: Are there any improvements you like to see?
CD: This one time I had a panel scheduled at midnight. Why would anyone do that? It wasn’t an 18+ panel.
TP: I saw a tweet from Mike Toole a while back and was surprised at the lack of accommodations for panelists. Can you give some comments?
CD: Well, some cons treat panelists like just another attendee that happens to speak. Anime Boston and Otakon treat us very well. Panel Ops at Otakon has ice cream, cake… panels provide programming.
TP: Thank you for the interview.
CD: Thank you.
[We continued chatting after the interview and he had more to say.]
CD: There are some people who want to run a panel just so they can get into the con for free. They’re not serious about presenting and just want to hang out with their friends during the panel.
TP: A bad apple ruins it for everyone.
The Cat Returns is my favorite movie of all time so afterwards I took a playful jab at him about how he is wrong that that movie is not the best Ghibli film. He said it was grossly underrated.
Doubt much of this would be new news for any manga fan or for those who follow Twitter for industry or Otakon news, but this was what shaped my Sunday. Soon after getting an autograph out of the way.
I was on my way to manga relevant panels. Due to scheduling, Otakon placed all manga industry or topics all on the last day, so I ended up unable to attend Aya Hirano’s concert.
Twitter became my life line to actually remembering many of these panels went to, since I was Twitter most of what I noted during the panels.
One of the first panels I attended was Paul Starr’s panel on Light Novel translations. (This happened at the same time as the Comic Book Legal Defense Funding panel, so guess where I was.) He is the American translator for Yen Press’s releases of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as the Spice and Wolf light novel series. He is also credited with Vertical’s Nintento Magic’s non-fiction book.
Since I have been dabbling in translating manga. I found this to be an informative panel where Starr spoke about his experiences on being a translator. Light novels are definitely not manga, and are chapter books. It has started to be published in the United States, with Yen Press plunging in, there is a certain risk in licensing light novels, because just how much can it sell or not is a deciding factor as to why publishers would pick a certain light novel or so.
From my twitter notes, these were points made during this panel:
Translating Japanese dialects into English is a difficult part, since there are variations in Japanese that is not covered in English.
A typical translation is done in a period of two months.
It is easier to work on an existing project rather than being a new one.
Next panel was Kodansha’s panel. This was done by David Yu, an editor at Random House, who was tasked to represent Kodansha. I haven’t seen Kodansha since last NYCC/NYAF, and based on the live blog of Mike at SDCC, didn’t expect any new news. Yu reiterated that Sailor Moon is their most popular title at this point. It has derailed the Naruto train.
Yu also spoke a bit about Hiro Mashima being a gamer of first person shooters, who complains about American gamers regularly beating him. There is not a lot of love for American gamers on the part of this Japanese mangaka, but he really appreciates his fans.
There were more street dates for their publications that I heard. The following are Twitter notes.
Genshiken Second Season: 9/4/2012
Mission of Love: 11/2012
Battle Angel Alita Vol 16: 12/2012
Danza (Natsume Ono title) 2013
Mahou Sensei Negima after a couple of rewrites is coming to a conclusion 2013.
No Android App, but Kodansha Iphone app officially got more acknowledgment, and sales are going on right now for first volume at $2.99.
Lastly it is Vertical’s Panel, and yes this is a bit of a highlight for me. Ed Chavez, Vertical’s marketing director was there and amiably chats with the audience. To hear that Chi’s Sweet Home is Vertical top seller warms me to no end. Volume 10 is coming out next year and Ed was able to say that it was the conclusion saddens me. But I would take it with a grain of salt. He also welcomes being beat up at or getting thrown cash at. (coughs).. I would pick the latter option….
Here are my Twitter notes:
Message to Adolfis not delayed from shipping out this month, but printer delays that prevented it from being sold at Otakon.
Vertical continues more on publishing Stan Lee’s Heroman.
Cookbooks, craft books, cookbooks have allowed Vertical to continue as a publishers, so there’s a new gumi cookbook.. what Ed didn’t speak about was their origami book.
Vertical announces publishing Gundam: The Originsnext year, so that was a huge crowd pleas-er. First volume is going to be initially published in a limited hardcover run, chock full of essays from Gundam notable people. Estimated around 440 pages.
Final cover for Paradise Kisswas announced. It is going to be on sale later this year, and this is a josei direction that Vertical is taking.
Wolfmsund a William Tell adaptation was mentioned. This is going to be released one volume a year, due to the mangaka only publishing once a year.
Vertical is still a pretty small company of about five people, they are very happy as to how well loved and supported by fans. They have taken calculated risks, and it has paid off. They would continue to go about taking risks and striving to be a fan favorite.
Tom Wang is one of the Otakon staff out of roughly nine hundred for this year. He generously took time out of his busy day to sit down with me for an interview. Like many attendees, I am vastly ignorant of the gears that keep our beloved convention running on all cylinders so I wanted a peek behind the scenes to gain a better understanding.
As a veteran staff of several anime conventions, with his first back in 2008, Tom revealed some fascinating tidbits. I was especially delighted by his answer to my last question.
The Paper: My aim for this interview is to shed some light into the inner workings that make Otakon run so smoothly. To begin, what exactly is your position? Please tell us a little about your duties.
Tom Wang: I am part of the team at the Otacafe. It’s basically karaoke. People can request songs from our database but they must be anime or game related. Attendees are welcome to bring their own MP3 player if we don’t have a song. This is highly discouraged but we may even resort to YouTube.
TP: How does your job differ from con to con?
TW: That’s hard to say because I have different positions at each con.
TP: Oh ok. Let’s focus on Otakon then. I understand that the Otacafe is part of Operations?
TW: Actually, it’s Programming. We have a staff of eight and one gopher. We have several gophers throughout the weekend but just one at any given time. The Otacafe will host several hundred songs over the course of the con. On Saturday, we had 189 people who signed up.
TP: Oh wow. That’s a lot. Must be a long line. Is there any plans to perhaps add a second room?
TW: Well, waiting is actually part of the experience. And some of the regular patrons even have fans in the audience so if it was split into two places, a fan could potentially miss a singer.
TP: What are some challenges you face? Is there something you like to see improved?
[Tom didn’t bring up any specifics but he touched upon logistics.]
TW: The Otacafe is located at the far edge of the convention center by Charles Street. In the event that we need something or assistance, it could take longer than average to reach someone.
TP: What was the best or most memorable experience? Worst?
[He had to mull over this and we went off tangent slightly where he mentions Otacafe’s Facebook group, how he got started staffing cons, etc.]
TW: The best would have to be meeting Carl Macek and Tommy Yune. I ran into them at Chibi-Pa, we got to talking then it was dinner time so we all grabbed a bite together! I had interactions with other guests before and since but something felt different from that encounter. It felt more intimate.
TP: What about worst?
TW: Hmm. Staff turnover means that it’s sometimes difficult to identify the right staff member for a certain question. You might go around in circles when person A directs you to person B who in turn directs you back to A. We had an issue during set up. Otakon offered radios to staff this year but gave the impression that it was only for those who wanted one so we didn’t pick one up. When we finally did, there’s a limited number of channels so usually you can only radio a department, not a specific person.
TP: One more question. Is there anything attendees can do to make staffs’ jobs easier? Perhaps be more understanding?
TW: There is always an issue so those in the senior staff do not sleep. I won’t ask attendees to be understanding though. There’s too much to go into so it’s not fair to ask that of them. If there’s one thing… please do enjoy the con!
TP: Thank you so much for granting me the interview.
TW: You’re very welcome.
The interview ended on an amusing and ironic note. As we were leaving the room, we found that we got locked inside. We had to call the hotel to rescue us. We were only stuck for maybe ten minutes.
Gen Urobuchi needs no introduction and the moment I stepped inside the interview room, I sensed a unique atmosphere filled with the promise of a memorable conversation. Urobuchi-san exudes a professional demeanor where one could easily discern that he takes his job seriously even before he spoke. He often had a thoughtful look.
The Paper: Thank you for allowing Anime Diet the opportunity for this interview. Let’s start with something light. What was the last anime you watched?
Gen Urobuchi: Do you mean one that I have completed or still ongoing?
TP: Good point. Finished please.
GU:Kids On the Slope and Tsuritama, only because they showed them back to back on TV.
TP: You’re known for “darker” stories. What compels you to explore thus? What message are you hoping to convey?
GU: I got into anime during the 80s. Back then, there was no moe. Just about everything was “dark”. I am just trying to bring old sense into new styles.
TP: We heard you had the idea for Madoka for years. Why did it take so long for it to get produced?
GU: It wasn’t intentional. Studio Shaft was already fully booked at the time.
TP: The ending to Madoka has theological undertones. Tell us a little about your own religious philosophy and how it influences or guides your work.
GU: [He looks rather thoughtful] Hmm….As a genre, magical girls is a world view filled with emotions and kindness and happiness. Madoka came about as if emotions are not part of the girls but stood alone by themselves.
TP: There are a lot of aspiring writers. Unfortunately, most of them lead busy lifes…jobs, family, etc. What advice do you have for those with so little time?
GU: It’s not about having the time. It’s up to destiny. Screenwriting doesn’t take a long time. It’s inspiration that takes time. [He touches his temple upon the word inspiration] Time and training won’t give you inspiration. It’s almost luck. Writers are people just like you and me, people from various fields. There is no formula.
[Interpreter finishes translating and I am still busy note-taking when he continues.]
GU: One thing is for sure. If the chance arises and inspiration hits, you must seize it. In fact, having a busy life would lend itself to better writing. Put life experiences towards the writing.
[I am looking at my list of prepared questions and I hesitate because I had one asking about his impression of moe which he touched upon earlier. But I am running out of time so I went with something lighter.]
TP: Do you get much fan mail? What was the most memorable?
GU: It’s not often that I get fan mail. When others mention my work or praise them, I consider those fan mail.
TP: Again, thank you so much.
[He smiles and bows slightly.]
As I am standing to leave, I gesture to my shirt and remark that he’s wearing Rider’s tee. The interpreter translates and he nods rather charmingly in a solemn fashion almost as if it’s his duty to do so.
As if the premiere of FMA: The Sacred Stars of Milos isn’t fortunate enough, I had the distinct pleasure to interview the director hours before the film. Kazuya Murata has also lent his talents to other animes including Eureka Seven, Pokemon and Gunsmith Cats. Transcript of the interview below, followed by an edited video.
The Paper: First, I want to thank you for taking the time to grant us the interview. On behalf of Anime Diet and Dragonfish Films, I really appreciate your time.
Kazuya Murata: Same, the honor goes to me.
TP: You have done a lot animes. Which one is your favorite?
KM: The most favorite work of mine is the current one, Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos.
TP: Why is that?
KM: Because it succeeds in having the most interesting animation that I had in mind to entertain the audience.
TP: You have done everything from Pokemon to Gunsmith Cats, two very different animes. How do you approach a project?
KM: There are a lot of genres. But there are certain elements that ensure that the viewers always have a good time. Whether it’s something that feels good or grasps the viewers’ hearts, the basic ingredients are the same. So I like to conjure those essences that makes anime enjoyable regardless of the genre. So actually my approach is always the same.
TP: Well, That definitely explains the magic of your works because the vast majority of your work indeed are very entertaining… definitely grabs the audience. Is there anything else, any other ingredients, to use your word, that you put in?
KM: Anime characters run into a lot of situations. I want the viewers to simultaneously share the same emotional experiences that the characters are having. If the character is surprised or having fun, I want the audience thrown together into the world along with the character. I try different camera angles or rearrange plot development throughout the process.
TP: Well, I must say that you do that very, very well. Of the works you’ve done, has there been something that you like to change?
KM: Personally, I want to make a lot of changes in my animes but once shown, they become part of the viewers’ property as well. Since a particular change I want to make may be in fact an aspect very dear to the viewer, I don’t actually want to change past works I’ve done.
TP: That’s a really good answer. Is there something that you might
want to direct? Is there something that interests you?
KM: Actually, I’m already working on something that I’m interested in but I can’t reveal it here. I rather you to look forward to it than having me tell you about it right now.
TP: That’s funny because my next question was actually to ask what’s your next project but I guess I will have to skip that now.
KM: [Smiles. Chuckles.]
TP: What’s the best part about your job. The worst part?
KM: The best part is that I’m in the position to actually realize the thing that will best entertain the viewers. In turn, the worst part is if the viewers are not entertained, then all the responsibility falls on my shoulders.
TP: I was thinking since I can’t ask what your next project is, how do you approach a project?
KM: In Japan, works are constantly produced but I want to make an anime with a vista that noone has seen. Not just in terms of animation but something that’s completely new in the animation field. Rather, a new vision, a new breeze to mankind. Something really new.
TP: Last question. I am a big music fan so as a silly question, when you go into a record store, which section do you goto first?
KM: [Chuckles.] That’s a hard question because I don’t goto record stores that often.
TP: Ah but the music in your movies are really amazing.
TP: Yes, like Eureka 7 or FMA.
KM: [Nods.] If I must choose, I like classical and movie soundtracks. Since childhood, I’ve listened to Beethoven, Schubert and Tchaikovsky. Those are my favorite composers and I used to listen to them a lot.
Ever wanted to see Nobuo Uematsu, the legendary soundtrack composer for the Final Fantasy games? Our friends and partners at Dragonfish Films caught him at a Q&A session at Otakon 2011. He was only at the convention for a single day, and this is one of his rare public appearances in America. And now you can watch it. Check it out!