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Anime Expo 2012: Tatsuo Sato Interview

Tatsuo Sato is the famed director of Martian Successor Nadesico, a classic of the 1990s robot genre and one of the defining parodies of the era, as well as the recent shows Moretsu Space Pirates and Rin-ne no Lagrange. He agreed to talk to us in private just after the press conference—which, in some ways, is really the first part of this conversation. For instance, we had just learned that Rasmus Faber had won the right to do Lagrange’s OP by competition, and started this interview by asking him more about Faber.

Did you ever listen to Rasmus Faber’s “Platina Jazz” arrangements of anime songs? Which songs did you like?

It was played as the BGM at the gym I go to, so I don’t really have an idea which track was my favorite. Sorry about that!

What anime inspired you to enter the anime industry?

While I certainly watched anime as a child, I really just wanted to go into the film business, the visual arts in general: not only anime but live action as well. I didn’t have any connections at first, but my sempai just happened to be already working as an animator. He introduced me to that particular exam, and I got in the anime industry. In terms of my career choice, I wasn’t aggressively seeking to be in the anime business [in particular]. I just wanted to do something related to the visual arts.

So which visual arts in particular inspired you?

As far the decisive elements of visual art [that got me into it]: sure, I like it when stories, drama, and visuals are combined into a narrative film. But the most inspiring piece of work for me was “Powers Of Ten“, which is a science film that starts from the human body and goes down to the microscopic, even atomic level, and then goes up to the universal or galactic scale. I thought it was amazing that it could depict, using a scale of 10s, to go from large to small, and small to large. It was very impressive, and that kind of filmmaking does something even more fundamental than storytelling. From that starting point, I got interested in visual arts, including anime.

Back then, it was on film, so the picture was [perhaps] not as refined. But what it wanted to depict was very clear, and I found this was one way of expressing it.

Nakajima Megumi [as Ranka Lee] said “Kira!” [as her catchphrase] in Macross Frontier. Madoka says “Maru!” [in Lagrange] in a similar way. Was that an intentional response [to “Kira”]? What kind of process went into deciding that?

Well, for that, the producers wanted to have a catchphrase, but we said, “Isn’t that going to be too much like ‘kira’?” At that time, Nakajima Megumi hadn’t been selected yet to sing the OP. I said, “It’s not Nakajima Megumi, so let’s not do that!” But they replied, “This time, it’s a robot anime, so don’t worry.” At that time, Nakajima Megumi’s name wasn’t even on the list. But when we started to produce the music, we thought her songs were great, so she got selected, at which point we said, “It won’t overlap [with Macross], will it?” In hindsight, it was coincidentally similar. While we didn’t intend it, I think it’s alright if people think we did it intentionally!

Well, among otakus, it was alleged that it was an ambition or even a conspiracy for “Maru” to replace “Kira.”

Well, in the anime world, a lot of things that pile up coincidentally can get seen as being inevitable. For example, a lot of anime have overlapping seiyuu casting, and so people wonder, “Why are all the seiyuu the same?” But it’s just a coincidence. A very talented seiyuu, prior to becoming famous, might have a lot of openings in her schedule, so before she knows it, her schedule quickly gets filled up with offers and jobs. Her management doesn’t fill up her schedule with jobs because they think she is a famous seiyuu, but rather, if there is a good seiyuu with lots of opening, they want to make sure she gets more work. That pattern is more common. It wasn’t about deliberate imitation.

Where do you see the anime industry going in the next 5 to 10 years? Do you see any upcoming trends? What do you see for the future? 

In the press conference, I said I wanted to focus on TV. I think there will be more movies. The 13 episode cour is so weak as a series, so hard to sell and market [as a whole]. If so, then it’s better to make films to keep the TV series longer, and approach to sales or marketing is what a lot of people are thinking is the better way.

Last: where can I buy your T-shirt?

I bought this in Japan, it just recently came out. Probably you can get at Amazon.



Thank you very much! 

Tatsuo Sato Press Conference Transcript

The small press conference with Moretsu Pirates, Rinne no Lagrange, and Martian Successor Nadesico director Tatsuo Sato—as well as the follow-up private interview—is one of the richest dialogues we’ve ever had with an anime creator. We hope you enjoy this inside look behind Sato-san’s thought process in making Moretsu Pirates, Lagrange, and other shows. Some tidbits that perhaps have never been shared, like the origin of Lagrange’s OP, are here.

Translation by Rome. Our questions, which compose the vast majority of them, are in bold.

How do you feel the anime industry has changed over the years?
Well, the biggest change was when I went from being a producer to a director. The job has become mostly about how to communicate with people, so I came to be able speak like I’m doing now.

In Moretsu Space Pirates, there seems to be a deliberate upending of expectations in the way the show is paced and the characters built. What was your process in deciding how to adapt the original novel into an anime? Was there an eye in particular to recapturing certain approaches that are less common today?
The original work was a novel. Each episode advances the story, but [since the anime has to come to an end before the novel’s story ends] it’s weird to have to say “stop” to the main character’s growth, right? The main character becomes a high school student, and from there the [anime and novel stories] run alongside each other like parallel lines. But the story goes on past that; if you read it in a long run, that would have been okay, but if you adapt an anime in parallel with the novel, you don’t have the freedom to deviate. This anime series has 26 episodes, so rather than just simply adapt the novel, it has to build up to a rising climax to end the story. That’s how I restructured the story, making sure that the character will end her growth after 26 episodes of the series.

So the anime series only focused one part of the story.
Well, this I directed is “moretsu” (gung-ho, bodacious), but it’s not moretsu in the beginning. The story is about how Marika becomes a “moretsu” pirate.

Nadesico was one of the first shows to use certain “meta” techniques in anime: Gekiganger-3, the parodies of contemporary anime, etc. Now these techniques have become widespread. What is your opinion of that trend?
Well, speaking of Nadesico, the meta is heavily involved is the first part of the story. But to tell the story all the way through meta techniques is difficult in terms of the structure. Although it is now used a lot, it is really difficult for the meta to be involved with the core of the story.

If you could collaborate with another great director in the anime scene, like you did with Masaaki Yuasa in Cat Soup, who would you like to work with?
Yuasa is a guy who entered the anime industry at the same time as me, so he is like a close duplicate of mine, so I know his greatness. Well it will be rude to say it like this to him, but I was interested in “what if I make anime based on him?” so I did it. This type of person is rare; although I have some people that I’d like to work with, it is rare for me to create works with that in mind.

Can you talk about Rin-ne no Lagrange and the degree of your involvement as the chief director?
Well, the production is still going on. When Morestu Pirates just started, I was asked to also join the Lagrange project. So it was impossible for me to fully participate. The main part I did was in directing the construction of the project. The basic form of the series, scenario writer, and director are under me, but the real filmmaking was done by them.

The original work has two cours with a total of 24 episodes. Of course as the story goes on, it will deviate from the original plan. When they lose track of what the goal and wander into dangerous territory, you advise and support them. Very much like—well, it’s weird to say “from above,” since I’m not involved on set, as it were, but that was how I was involved.

Do you have any specific examples?
[The basic concept is that] a girl rides on a robot and fights the enemy. First, there was already talk that we’ll make a robot anime with a girl as the main character, but it wasn’t concretely clear what form and what kind of a girl, and everyone was thinking about how to do it. They said “let’s do something that’s never been before,” but they can’t come up with any idea. Well, if we want to have a girl that’s never been seen before, let’s do a “disappointing beauty” (zannen-bijin or zannenkei-bijin; think Chihaya from Chihayafuru). She is cute, but can’t be too [cute in the usual way]. So, for example, let’s put a jersey/tracksuit on her. Let’s tie her hair with a rubber-band. She’s not like the typical “good girl” that is liked by everybody, the everyone might want her to be, but she’s more merry, out of the ordinary. So what happens if this kind of girl is the main character? That’s how it started.

Lagrange seems to have some similarity to Evangelion: you’ve got a blue uniform girl, an orange/red uniformed girl, but Madoka is very different from Shinji. Was this intentional? After all, Nadesico had parodies of Evangelion. 
It’s not so much a parody of Evangelion…actually Evangelion is very much a summation of the whole history of robot anime, where a boy that has never ridden on a robot [learns to] ride it and look for his purpose. It started from Mazinger Z, whose plot is the “royal road” of robot anime. Evangelion took the same road: what if you put a boy like Shinji in the robot? That’s how Evangelion was made. So, in terms of that, this is similar: what if we put a jersey girl [in a robot]?

Anime is still stigmatized in USA as being for kids. What about Japan? Shouldn’t anime appeal to all ages and all walks of life? 
There were many people from the prior generation before mine making anime for kids, but with messages for adults inserted along the way. And we watched them and grew up, so of course, we adopted those tastes and we don’t really care if it is targeting the kids. We learned much that as a format that anime might be for kids but with messages for grownups—but we have a sense that kids are also getting our message anyway, so I think continuing in this mode is okay.

How did you approach Shigofumi? It was deep and philosophical. 
Shigofumi wasn’t for kids so much, but rather for late teens, like high school students to college students. [It was] an anime that those kind of people will watch. But despite that, we didn’t make an excessive depiction visually. But, indirectly we had to depict the anger that can be understood.  So we intentionally did that.

What was the most difficult making the characters and environment? 
Well, the most difficult part was that the character should not be swayed, but at the same time had to grow up. So, how to depict his growth, it’s kind of contradictory. He can’t be swayed, but not being swayed doesn’t mean he can’t change in some way. So, the hardest part was how to balance that.

Do you find it more difficult adapting anime from a novel or manga than creating original anime?
Even for original works, it depends on taste. Speaking of light novels, there are already illustrations, so the novel and illustrations together already create a preset image of the story. Reconstructing that into anime is very tough. Readers are very narrow. so if you make it into anime, the leeway given to it can be very narrow. And we have to work with that and explore it, and we have to bring out the unique qualities of anime. We have to make visuals very precisely, so it’s very tough. We can’t do location shoots!

The anime industry has changed a great deal since Nadesico. Do you think today’s industry environment makes it difficult to tell the stories you like to tell? (Clarification requested by translator.) Well, since Eva, we’ve seen the rise of the otaku subculture, the moe culture. Moretsu seemed different from that trend. Is it hard to make an anime like Moretsu today?
On the contrary: since the time of Eva until now, the anime cycle is getting faster, so how do you not get sucked into that trend? And what is the best thing to do? And the conclusion I drew was to make it the orthodox way, and that was it. And I thought that instead [people] would see a new thing, to see characters growing tremendously through 24 episodes: to see how the characters make decisions, to show the process of growth. I had a keen sense that would become the tastiest part of the anime, so this time I’m glad I made anime in that manner, and it was great to know that people really digging that kind of stuff are increasing.

What is the most important element to make anime?
Well, anime in this case is TV anime or… all anime? Ok, the most important thing in anime is basically that it is a medium that is bound by a running time, so there’s a [limited] sense of time (temporary art). So, for example, if you structure 26 episodes at 30 minutes each, then you have to think about the flow, and even with the artsy anime has to fall within the structure of what should you depict in that set time.

Was it your idea to bring Rasmus Faber to write the OP of Lagrange (“Try Unite”)?
Well, in this case, we had a competition. There were several contestants, and among them there was a foreigner whose name wasn’t familiar, and I was like, “who is this dude?” And I was told he was Rasmus Faber. And Lagrange’s music production company was Flying DOG from Victor Records. Victor Records have released Rasmus Faber’s CD albums, and that’s how we had connections through that. And Faber personally dearly loves Megumi Nakajima’s voice, and he particularly wanted to compose a song with Megumi’s voice. That’s how he appealed to us with that story, and he entered the competition, and that was really hilarious. So, [I said], let’s give him a shot! That’s how it was decided.

What role has technology played in making anime? Is it easier to make anime now?
Oh yes, certainly, it makes you feel that you can do anything with it. However, along with those benefits, you have to really make sure you know what you want to do with it, otherwise you will be distracted with the flow. So, you always have to ask yourself what you really want to do each time  technology makes progress. And that is very important.

Tomorrow: our private interview with Sato!

Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction Press Conference Transcript


Here’s our translated transcript of the Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction press conference at Anime Expo 2012. Some questions were not translated precisely, and we have noted when this happens. It may also account for some of the vagueness of the answers.

Our questions, as always, are in bold.

Would you say your music style has changed since you started composing soundtracks?
Ever since I started composing soundtracks, the music I create has changed a lot.

When did your love affair for music begin?
When I was in elementary school, I was in the chorus club, and I belonged to the chorus club for a long time, and so the first song I composed was a chorus piece.

When you first started your musical projects, where did you look for your inspiration?
By “project” do you mean FictionJunction? Umm, it depends on the songs, I don’t have any pre-decided place to search.

What inspired you to form Kalafina?
For Kalafina, I wanted to make focused (lit. “narrow”) music. For FictionJunction, I have to try everything I come up with; for Kalafina, I only want to try what Kalafina is supposed to sound like.

You tweeted that you’re a big fan of the Beatles. Who are your favorite bands and composers through history?
There are too many to narrow it down, but I like Paul McCartney the most from the Beatles. I love Paul’s songs. ANd I also like Queen, ABBA, Mike Oldfield.

Any other composers who inspire you?
If you say composers, I think Paul McCartney and Mike Oldfield are composers as well, But I don’t have a certain composer that I feel “this one,” since there are a lot of composers. I think I’m influenced by a little bit of everything.

Are there any future projects that you can tell us about?
There’s nothing I can talk about.

Many of the shows you’ve scored have a strong Gothic overtone. (Petit Cosette, Kara no Kyoukai, Fate/Zero, Madoka, the costumes of Kalafina) Are you drawn to that genre of anime in particular and if so, how so?
Is it gothic? I wonder Madoka and Fate/Zero are categorized as gothic, but I am certain that those shows are written in a dark and deep world. Yet, I don’t get offers to compose for anime that are merry and happy.

Question for Wakana and Keiko who are both in Kalafina and FictionJunction. What would you say is the key differences between the two bands?
Keiko: Yes, as Kajiura just said, FictionJunction does whatever Kajiura wants to do for soundtracks and anime, and Kalafina’s group sense is not like FictionJunction’s, so they are very different in terms of musicality.

Kajiura-san, in 2003 you did a concert at AX. What is it like to come back in 2012?
When I did the concert in 2003, it wasn’t a full band. So, this time, I can bring all the members of the Yuki Kajiura live band, as we always do in Japan, so I think it will be very exciting.

Could you tell me more about your Latin style chant music? What inspired you to create that sound, which is such a striking and iconic sound for you? What was your inspiration and where did it come from?
I only wrote one real Latin song (“Salva Nos”). But I use a lot of artificial language. I have huge fun creating songs with an artificial language because artificial language can make the melody stand out.

You were involved a lot with studio BEE Train. How did you get involved with BEE Train, and do you want to write music for “girls with guns” show again?
When I first worked with BEE Train, director Koichi Mashimo was the one asked me to work for the project. This first anime soundtrack I had worked on [with him] was “Eatman” (1997). And since then, because of that, Mashimo has asked me often to work on his projects. Of course, I want to make music for a “girls with guns” show again if I have a chance.

What is the most important element in composing music for anime?
The BGM and the scene have to match. I think basically BGM should be put behind the scenery. It’s not the character, but if it matches the character’s worldview, I always think that will be the music will make the anime’s worldview colorful effectively.

For Kajiura: J-pop is popular around the world, and your anime music is known internationally. How do you feel about that?
As a musician myself, I think Japanese animation is a very interesting field that can experiment with a lot of things. So, I’m very proud as a Japanese person that people around the world are paying attention to anime and watching it. It’s an honor to be part of it if my music can help people around the world to enjoy anime. I receive a lot of emails from various types of people around the globe through my homepage and website. It warms my heart when I realize how many people around the world are watching anime.

How do you get to know all these talented people?
It’s really difficult to find the right singers. And a lot of people introduced these singers to me, then I had finally made it to meet them. Everyone is so different and unique as a singer, but all of them are my ideal singers.

Was there any soundtrack that you found difficult to compose?
I had gotten an offer to compose for Mai-HiME. When I received it at first, I was worried if I could make music for such a cute show. But by the end, when the story turned out to be very scary, I didn’t get confused when I started writing the music.

How is it working with each other as FictionJunction?
Wakana: Everyone has a wonderful voice, and everyday I’ve enjoyed having stimulation from the other singers.
Keiko: There are four people, so we are all different, unique individuals, so it’s very stimulating. Every time, there’s plenty of laughter, and I enjoy doing this music.
Kaori: I usually sing alone by myself, so it’s an honor to work with the wonderful singers and I love being able to sing with a chorus.
Kaida: I usually sing with a chorus, but I haven’t done much with a quartet, so it’s good to sing together with 4 of us solidly. I feel like I can get a young power and strive, so I’m enjoying doing this.

What kind of composer do you want to be remembered as?
First of all, I really love doing anime music, I love doing BGM and soundtracks. Composing music along with motion pictures is a very exciting thing, so if I can, I want to be remembered as a soundtrack composer.

Are you fan of anime, and do you have any favorite songs that you composed for anime?
I have several; I liked the Mushishi manga, and when it was animated, it perfectly matched the manga, so I bought the DVD collection for the first time. And a few years ago, Gurren Lagann was airing in the morning, and it was a good, very energetic anime that invigorated me every day, and I kept saying, “I liked it I liked it,” and so I got the DVD as a gift and I watched it all.

For FictionJunction: what music have you listened to that energizes you?*
Wakana: I like the songs I sing, but I love a lot of other music too. If I must choose, I like Spitz, and they always energize me.
Keiko: I love dance music, so currently, I love Lady Gaga. To feel upbeat, I just listened to her and came here.
Kaori: I don’t listen to music to get energized usually, but as a result of being energetic from listing to music, I will say that Makihara Noriyuki, a male Japanese singer, his songs inspire me to live courageously.
Yoriko Kaida: Lately I like Genki Rockets, and I listen to them often, and I get energy from them.

When you hear other soundtracks, do you ever think “I can do different”?
It’s rare for me to listen to other soundtracks negatively like “I would have done it differently.” But I study soundtracks by listening to various kinds of soundtracks.

How is writing music for Gen Urobuchi (Fate/Zero, Madoka)’s stories different from other works when you do soundtracks?
Urobuchi-san’s stories are very compelling, and they have the power to entrap me. Rather than saying his works are different, his works seem ready-made to write songs smoothly. There is a certain constant rhythm in his scenarios; I can clearly see that here is the climax, and here is the blablabla, and I just need to put music to that part: so it’s makes it easy to find musical inspiration for each scene.

*This question was actually a mistranslation of what I originally asked: “Which pieces of Kajiura’s has moved you so much, it made you cry?”



Madhouse/Team Chihayafuru Press Conference

Takuya Tsunoki (producer), Kunihiko Hamada (animation director), and Asaka Morio (director).

This is the full transcript/translation of Madhouse’s Chihayafuru production team at their press conference during Anime Expo 2012. The team consists of Asaka Morio (director), Kunihiko Hamada (animation director), and Takuya Tsunoki (producer). Morio did most of the speaking, and is known for directing other shoujo works such as Card Captor Sakura and Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl and others.

Translation help provided by KylaranAeldin of The Nihon Review. Our questions are bolded and underlined. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Was there anything about Chihayafuru that made you want to take on this project?
: The idea was just to make the original manga into an anime.  Since the manga was about karuta, we simply had to do it. In so far as we had to do an anime about karuta, even if it was difficult, it was necessary.

Has the anime spread knowledge of karuta and made the game more popular?
(translator paraphrase): well, basically there aren’t a lot of people who play karuta in Japan, but because of the anime, there were more people playing karuta than before.

Do you play karuta yourselves? How good are you?
: I don’t play at all. I’m terrible.
: Same.
Sorry, but I also don’t really play karuta… At first, when we started making the anime, we were all talking about making our own team and joining a competition, but that never ended up happening. We instead put all of our passion into making the anime. All three of us are basically newbies.

Chihayafuru is billed as a shoujo anime, but it has appeals to boys as well. Why do you think that is?
: Well, the original manga is serialized in a publication for girls, but what is being told is a story about high schoolers deeply passionate about their afterschool activities. I think that part reaches out to both guys and girls.

What is special about the character of Chihaya and what draws you to her?*
: I see… This may be different from what the original author is thinking, but in terms of Chihayafuru, the main character Chihaya is incredibly straightforward, which is an incredibly important axis for the entire series. I think that might be why it’s her.

Do American action movies have an influence on your scenes?
: Well… Er, I do like movies, so I might be influenced by them unconsciously. We don’t make an anime with the intent to draw from some other work, but I do think that there are influences from what we normally watch. What I mostly watch— in Japan, there’s a lot of American films shown, so there’s probably some influence there.

Last year Madhouse lost director Osamu Dezaki. How has the studio taken his passing and what influence, if any, did you take from his work?
: Dezaki-san is someone that everyone in the industry respects, so there’s a lot of people who’ve been influenced by him in addition to us.

Did you ever expect Chihayafuru to get such a warm international reception?
: Nope, we didn’t expect it at all. See, we didn’t even know the best way to get Japanese to like it, so difficult a theme it was. To come to America and talk to people about it something was far from what we were thinking.

The anime was incredibly well done in terms of moving the plot and developing characters while explaining karuta. How did you balance all these elements?
: Oh, so people see it as being executed smoothly. That’s pretty… *laugh* “Honestly, did people here see it as smoothly done?” I wonder.

What is the most important element to make a good anime series?
: It might depend on the type of work involved, but for producers and directors, we think the most important thing is… probably, how well people can be drawn into the anime’s world. I think our job is to create a believable imaginary world. For example, with Chihaya, we want people to feel like they can see the characters and look all over the place, along with telling that to our staff. So, getting people sucked into the world is very important.

You created different works with a female characters as leads, but it seems that men seem to get into your shows more than others. Why do you think that is?
: Well, as me mentioned earlier there’s that part about the character’s passions, but… Even though I’m a guy, I like girl’s manga. How do I put this? I don’t really think it matters that the main character is a girl.

(Card Captor) Sakura was the first winner of SaiMoe competition, and the show was one of the very first series to popularize moe culture. What’s your reaction to being one of the formative influences on the current moe trend?
: Um, I don’t really know that much about moe culture, but Cardcaptor Sakura was a show for little girls and their mothers. So, um… I wasn’t aiming to make a “moe” product or anything, so I don’t really understand moe.

How would each of you define your own artistic styles?
: I’ve never thought of trying to put a piece of myself into a piece of work before. Depending on the show, the style is going to change, so each one is unique. We emphasize that when we work, so… Personally, I haven’t tried to put a part of my personality in my work. I think it’s something that’s within the work already. However, from other people’s point of view, there might be a semblance of something, but I don’t try to do it myself.

What are your feelings about the late Satoshi Kon’s unfinished film? (Dreaming Machine)
: We knew about his condition from even before he passed away. I think his passing was really unfortunate because he had a lot of talent. Um, it’s really a shame [a waste]. He should’ve been someone to continue living and making interesting anime….We do know that was in the middle of a project before his death, but unfortunately, nothing’s been done to it due to his passing.

How did you come up with the musical motifs in the show, and how much was the composer’s input vs yours?
: Well, the one who made the music was our composer, but what I ordered to be done was… Since the show is about the youthful times of high schoolers, I ordered lively music to be made.

While Chihaya is the main character, Kana Oe is very popular among fans, the one they want to be their girlfriend. Which one of the girls do each of you prefer?
: You’re asking me about my favorite girl character? [Translator: Yes.] The only two choices are Kana-chan or Chihaya. Not a lot of options are there? From those two choices, maybe Chihaya. Kana-chan sounds like she would be annoying. She has big boobs though.
: I– If I had to choose, Kana-chan I think. If it was Chihaya, it’d be a bit hard to get on the same page with her. So, I definitely if I had to pick it’d be Kana-chan.
: I like Kana-chan too. My wife is short, but… well, her breast size is a secret. But I do think some of her traits resemble those of Kana-chan’s, she’s my pick.

When did you decide to use certain directorial techniques in each scene, particularly motion scenes?
: It differs from scene to scene, but for that first scene, there first poem that’s read in the Hyakunin Isshu (100 Poets)—Naniwazu ni. There’s a poem that starts with that, and the poem talks about a flower. That flower is the Sakura, so we decided to animate Sakura.

Did you deliberately try to correlate the flowers in the poems to the visuals on screen?
: At first, we did try to match the flowers in the poems with the scenes. Other than that, the characters. Like flowers blossoming behind Kana-chan or something. We didn’t do it for male characters though. That part was based on the atmosphere as a girl’s manga plus the character themselves.

Did you get any help or cooperation from the official karuta league or organization in Japan?
: Um, there’s a group called the All Japan Karuta Organization. Even in Japan karuta isn’t that big, but there are groups that want to make it popular and we did get some help from them. We learned things like the order to place the cards, so they helped us in those areas.

Are you thinking of any co-branded marketing, like, say, branded card decks?
: We haven’t thought of something like that at all. What’s used in competitions already has a set design, so they can’t create their own.

Madhouse is known for darker works like Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, etc. You tend to do lighter works. Which one is closer to Madhouse’s identity?
: None in particular. Some of the stuff I’ve worked on before is dark, like one where the characters may be bright and happy but the story itself isn’t. It’s not like I’m always picking light-hearted shoujo manga to adapt.

*This was not the original question asked, which was: “What draws you to making stories about strong female protagonists?” It was lost in translation.

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 3 [FINAL]

Silver Tier—now that’s more like it.

Day 3 was, unfortunately, my last day, since I had to go back to work on Monday.

I did the same as the day before—arrive early in the morning to the press lounge, to pick up LiSA concert tickets. This time, they were available, but Masquerade tickets were not. I had no intention of going to the Masquerade, but apparently they too were the victim of printing problems. The conspiracy theory that a bunch of us press folks floated the night before—that our FictionJunction tickets were deliberately printed late to give us worse seats—was probably groundless if even Masquerade tickets were late. Shinmaru, newly minted Cart Driver writer, arrived later to the press lounge, along with zzeroparticle, Kylaran, and of course Benu.

I should mention that the press lounge was distinctly lacking in power strips, but I usually arrived early enough to claim one of the wall plugs near the window overlooking the exhibit hall. Free water was only available early in the morning. These are minor, minor complaints, especially since the all-important wifi and AC was still available, but it’s still a step back from the previous year. But I digress.

The first panel I attended with Shinmaru was the Madhouse/Chihayafuru panel. As we followed toastcrust and others on Twitter at Fate/Zero voice actor Rikiya Koyama’s panel, it was increasingly clear we went to the less funny and interesting one…nevertheless, there were many good questions asked at this panel for a change. We received some clarification about Chihayafuru S2—apparently it’s not certain if Madhouse will animate it. (We had been bizarrely asked not to talk about S2 during the press conference because it hadn’t been confirmed, though ANN had reported on the news earlier.) One Kana cosplayer caught the eye of the producer, who asked for a picture. A huge Keroro-chan sat in the back and waved. They all opined, diplomatically, that the moe trend didn’t necessarily pose a threat to quality anime. This was, despite the lack of Jack Bauer singing, a quality panel and we got some good tidbits out of it. And ATT 3G did not FAIL this time.

During the downtime between the Madhouse panel and the LiSA concert, I interviewed more press and industry folks about the troubles they had this year with registration, access, and other issues. It was around this time that I resolved to make a report about our frustrations this year. It felt like a duty as a press badge holder to make these things known in a truthful and accurate manner. You’ll be seeing that soon. I also had lunch with my friend Phoebe, who with her friend was cosplaying as Kurumi and Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke. I hadn’t seen Phoebe in a few years and it was good to catchup again.

When we took our seats for the LiSA concert, much to our relief, we learned that photography and video were both allowed at all times. And it was clear to me why, as LiSA began her cheerful, upbeat show. If Kajiura was reserved, powerful, and dignified in her music, LiSA was outgoing, inviting, and joyous. She interacted in solid English with the fans all the time, doing a great job getting everyone on their feet, to follow her motions, to sing along. This young, relatively new singer had a command of stagecraft that is enviable for her age and experience, and the open policy on shooting footage is a reflection of her relative openness. When she invited everyone to come up near her for a last photo at the end, I enthusiastically joined the stage rush. It’s been a while since I felt so happy after a concert.

Perhaps in an attempt to placate some of our dissatisfaction, there was a press-only reception at the 21+ open bar Lounge 21 not long after the concert. While the free drinks and hors d’oeuvres were appreciated, we heard nothing but similar complaints and stories from our fellow press colleagues. I managed to get several statements on video regarding our troubles. It was nice to hang out with our compatriots and see that we were not especially spoiled or alone, something I have no wish to be. There will be more than one press outlet that puts out a report about these issues, I now know. You don’t mess with press. :)

From the Red Carpet: Minami Kuribayashi, Kouki Yoshimune, and Ayami.

After dinner, there was just one more event I could attend, the Total Eclipse premiere with Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami singing their songs. Photo and video of any kind were not allowed, but given the low battery level of our equipment, we wouldn’t have been able to catch much anyway. In either case, I arrived just as Ayami was about to begin her song, and got into the spirit with Rome, Benu, and the rest of press in front row as we pumped our fists and cheered. The focus, of course, was on the anime itself, which was a surprisingly brutal war/militaristic mecha piece that featured only some fan-service in the first episode and no more. It’s basically the prologue/origin story of the main character, and so the main plot will begin with episode 3, but despite some clumsy directing it was actually fairly solid.

I had to rush out of the convention center and back to the hotel to pack up and leave for Union Station after that, saying a hasty goodbye to everyone, though I was able to get in a few wisecracks about Total Eclipse to the guys remaining in the hotel. I barely made it, with only 10 minutes to spare when I got on the train.

And that was my Anime Expo 2012. It was, on the whole, a successful convention, though not without its special frustrations for press this year. I had tremendous fun hanging out and being with my fellow aniblogging colleagues as well as of course the faithful and hardworking staff of Anime Diet. Thanks to @_eternal especially for providing a room for a bunch of us smelly scum of the earth, even if I went to bed and left earlier than all of y’all.

Let’s all meet again next year!

Ryo Horikawa Press Conference

This is a full translation/transcript of the press conference for Ryo Horikawa (the voice of Vegeta and other roles). Anime Diet’s questions—prepared as well as spontaneous ones—are highlighted in bold.

Translation by Rome. This transcript has been edited for clarity. Also, not all questions are answered directly due to translation difficulties onsite.

Dragonball Z’s Vegeta is an over the top character. Is it harder for you to prepare for a character like this as opposed to, say,  Legend of Galactic Heroes’ Reinhard?
Legend of Galactic Heroes is modeled after the Chinese Romance of the Three Kingdoms, except it’s a space version. I interpreted it like that, and at the audition, when I saw the script, I thought intuitively: this must be like the Three Kingdoms. With this basic understanding, I created the character: he didn’t use daily conversational language, but was a little bit formal. I thought that was the kind of character I developed.

As an experienced adult actor, what is the biggest lesson you have drawn from your days as a child actor?
Fundamentally, I think it is the same. A voice actor should be able to act well. We act in front of the mic, but you have to understand the fundamentals of acting. Otherwise, you can’t put your soul in the character, so basically, I do the same training as regular actors. For my new students who are going to break into the acting world, I would say the same thing to them.

What has been your favorite voice role or type up to now?
I always get that question, but if I say all, that would be it…but it’s difficult to choose one, because I think I have to love the character in order to play the role. Even if they are evil, baby faced…I have loved these characters fondly, so, it is hard to narrow it down and choose one. I’m sorry.

You’ve seen a lot of changes over the years in the industry. How has the voice acting industry changed over 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and to now?
I don’t feel there has been much change since I’m basically an actor. But I feel that people around me are seeing the changes rather than myself. For me, I’ve been always acting in the past and now, so I concentrate on my job, I think even the young new generation is thinking the same thing to do acting.

“His power level is going over 8000 (9000)!”? Did you know that would become such an iconic line?
I’ve seen that a lot in various places. That topic always comes up, but I don’t have any clue why 8000 was changed to 9000. So I myself want to know that, but I’ve heard that it has been talked about greatly here.

Has there been a role that you wanted to get, and weren’t able to? If so what was it?
Well, I always want to play all kinds of heroes…my desire to play them is unlimited, you might say. However it’s not about what I want to play, but what the fans want me to play, that the fans want this guy to do something unexpected or different for this role. If there’s any role like that, I really want to know about it.

What has been your favorite medium to work with: stage, games, anime, voice dramas?
Oh yes, of course I love doing voice acting, and I’m also doing some stage acting. I’m going to a film shoot, and on Sunday, I do stage work, so I have a desire to do different kinds of things.  And of course I want to do music too, and acting as well. So, I think if I can do a full spectrum performance, that would be awesome.

Were you a fan of Gundam before you played Kou Uraki in Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory?
I’m sorry, but I have to be honest: I didn’t know a whole lot about Gundam when I started playing in Gundam 0083, which is the story of the growth of Kou Uraki, who was meek at first but grows up to be a reliable adult man. But when I tried out at first, well I was also young back then, so I acted like crazy; it’s like I couldn’t really see myself. But a few years later, we had a film remake version of it, so we re-recorded the voice. So at that time I re-noticed what the flow and the story were like, but as an actor, to get a chance to do things twice is something I’m grateful for because it’s so rare to have it done. Someone said “go ahead,” and while of course it was the production team that said that, it probably was also providential. I still am very thankful to be able to redo my performance to this day. And same goes for DragonBall Z Kai, which we also remade. In those terms I think I was really lucky.

Have you ever worried that if Dragon Ball Z would be different in English if it’s translated?
Well, for me, I feel that it is okay to be different. Because there are many different unique interpretations, so it isn’t that this is the only right answer. Like with different individuals and different countries, interpretation of a role will be different too. So, I think I can see that flexibly and understand how they feel when they see our work, and also see the other point of view, the other way of making. I think that should be welcomed, and I think that leads to a better production.

Can you talk about the roles that were unexpectedly challenging or difficult?
Oh, yes. Any roles are very tough to act. Like Vegeta from Dragonball Z, there are many fight scenes, so I needed an immense amount of power and energy. And I use up a lot of energy for every take. For what I did in Legend Of Galactic Heroes, I had to act cool, detached, and not get emotional, not get angry: it was a role that is about wearing a mask. And every time it was difficult. And with Tadao in Ghost Sweeper Mikami, that role was very comical, one that went berserk a great deal, so I acted with full force. And especially after the recording of Dragonball was over, I was so hungry and thirsty.

Which character that you played was the closest to you, personally?
Which one?….I think the roles I played each have a part of me somewhere. See, I think myself as a gentleman that can’t even kill a bug, but when I’m doing that cruel Vegeta who murders people again and again, I’m playing a role, but part of me is enjoying it as the character. So when I think to myself that maybe there is a cruel part in me, I feel a little depressed. I don’t wanna kill people.

What do you think makes a good character in anime?
That is a difficult question again. What I think is, of course, you need a great deal of concentration. And, in the life I lived until now there must be a lot of hints [about what makes a character tick] so how do you grab these hints?…Or to put it another way, how do you “sublimate” them in a better direction? Is that the point? How do you feel when you see that character? And how do you develop that? But in my case, it’s not like I act, but rather if that character itself doesn’t synchronize with me, I feel uncomfortable. So, it’s not that I act that character, but rather if that character doesn’t match me, it can’t be done. Therefore, as I said earlier, there must be a cruel part and comical part in me.

Who inspires you as a voice actor?
Well, if I chose anime from the classics, there is Tetsujin 28 from my time, well, it’s the same kind with Tetsuwan Atom (Astroboy), it made me very wakuwaku (exciting). And for the actor, Nozawa Masako (Goku, DB), who I worked with. And the Lupin that Yamada Yasuo did. I watched these, and I felt dokidoki (thump thump, exciting), I thought it was good when I watched it myself. Of course, there are more wonderful people, but to give you the example.

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 2

“Bronze Tier” should have been a tip off that something was amiss…

Day 2 was going to be Ground Zero for me: the day that I had anticipated the most as a fan. The day of the Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction concert.

I did what I did last year for the press Kalafina tickets: I got up earlier than all of my blogger roommates, headed to the convention center, and waited outside the closed press lounge for our two allotted tickets for the Kajiura concert. To my surprise, the staff opened the room early, and I was able to charge my equipment while waiting.

When 9 AM, the appointed time for ticket distribution, came—there were no tickets. They would be ready by noon, I was assured. Ticket printing problems had come up. I hung around the press room for another hour or so before deciding to head on out for the Vocaloid panel with Rome, Benu, and other press folks.

Now, I know little about Vocaloid and Hatsune Miku beyond the basics. I’m not familiar with the most well-known Vocaloid composers—Benu and Rome told me that the ones who appeared at the panel, like Kagome P, Deadball P, and Dixie Flatline, were actually some of the biggest on the scene. Despite my lack of background, the panel was thoroughly enjoyable. The songs were either hilarious or, in one case, a bit poignant. The composers were frequently funny and/or outspoke, with Kagome P giving a hearty “fuck you” to the Japanese government’s laws closing dance clubs early, and Deadball P being his best otaku self by declaring Miku his “waifu” and that he has had a baby with her. His song, “Japanese Ninja #1,” is perhaps the funniest thing I’ve heard or seen at this convention. Dixie Flatline told of how a Youtube video of last year’s Mikunopoils concert (I’m still smarting over having our videos taken down by Sega—but we still have them here!) inspired him to start his musical career over again.

I tried to buy Deadball P’s record after the panel, but it sold out quickly, and no wonder.

Smile for the fangirls.

Next up was the voice actor Nobuhiko Okamoto‘s panel (Seiji in Sakamichi no Apollon, Io in Acchi Kochi among others). Jeremy had suggested we try to cover the panel and then seek a private interview with him, since though he was grouped with the Fate/Zero team during the press conference the previous day, he wasn’t part of our private interview. Fortunately, press was allowed to take unlimited photography, so we sat in the front row taking pictures as he made his fangirls (and one crazy Index fanboy) swoon by doing voices and impressions. Okamoto is a very pretty man indeed, inspiring one shy fan to give him a gift and others to declare their love in Japanese. My attempts to live blog/tweet, however, were thwarted by the total inability of ATT’s 3G network to function on my phone. I got out a few tweets using Jeremy’s T-Mobile powered phone, though, in which the most interesting factoid to come out is that Okamoto would probably have been a shogi player if he didn’t become a voice actor.

Unfortunately, he left straight back to Japan right after the panel, so we couldn’t get our private interview. The Aniplex rep, however, was friendly and told us we can try to get in touch later, but we might have to be prepared to pay. Seiyuus, he said, typically require to be paid for interviews. I wonder whether this is one of the reasons why there was no junket this year—perhaps the indebted AX couldn’t afford to pay enough.

At this point, our staff writer ElectricV01 (Dan) came by. In the absence of a planned interview with infamous, PAX-expelled cosplayer Jessica Nigri, he suggested we interview another pro cosplayer, Yaya Han, instead. Having not heard of her until that point, I was surprised later by how famous she really was. We took a mere 15 minutes to come up with good questions and you can see the results over here:

This ended up being one of the few times I actually visited the Dealer Room this year. Having already broke my con buying budget by buying NIS America’s Kimi ni Todoke box sets at AM2 earlier, I couldn’t afford anything anyway. We did briefly note one big change, the return of Viz Media with a booth. For the past few years, they’ve eschewed AX in favor of San Diego Comic Con for their big booth. When I tried to get one of their famous canvas bags, it turned out there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get one. I’ll just wait until SDCC to get one.

Dan and I then decided to try to get into LiSA’s fan panel. We saw hordes of fans crowding around the hallways, with an entire room dedicated to line overflow. Press and industry were grouped together with Premier Fan ticket holders. The line filled up quickly, and we heard staff announce that the line was full and they weren’t able to seat anyone else. Fortunately, press was allowed to go in first, even before the Premier Fan holders, and we got a good seat near the front. Dan took pictures with the DSLR, and I borrowed his Verizon phone to tweet, as ATT was once again out. (I fully intend to switch providers now, especially since I’m off contract.)

LiSA was as winsome as ever, making cute faces constantly as we saw examples of her work. The questions the moderator asked tended to be super basic, like “do you like anime?” (to which the obvious answer, of course, is “yes!” and she repeated her bit about Nyaruko-san). If the Okamoto panel was filled with fangirls, this one was filled with fanboys. None of the questions were terribly engaging, as is the norm in fan panels, but the energy in the room was palpable.

After the panel, there was only one more event left to cover: the FictionJunction/Yuki Kajiura concert. We headed back to the press room, having already gotten our tickets around 2:45 PM earlier. We had been assured by the press staff that these weren’t, in KylaranAeldin of Nihon Review’s words, “bitch seats,” but the double row letters and the “Bronze Tier” designation was not encouraging. On leaving, the press staff told us no video, but we could take non-flash photography, which was a typical stipulation for most concerts we’ve attended as press. I could live with that.

The first sign that something was wrong was the seat locations themselves. They were all the way on the left edge of the hall, and near the back to boot. It was a poor location to shoot photographs, though I felt fine that my zoom lens could handle it. Then we were told, by fellow press members already seated: the rule was no photography of any kind, even for press. “Oh, they must still be negotiating,” I reasoned, and replied that the staff had told us otherwise. No, I heard; it’s an absolute blanket prohibition. This was later confirmed by a slide put up on the Jumbotrons.

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign

I admit: I was angry enough to issue several complaining tweets, which is not the norm for me. (Believe me, I’d much rather talk about Sato or someone else, but this needed airing, because others shared my frustrations, something which will be documented in a forthcoming report about press problems this year.) Apparently we were supposed to get better seats, but ticket printing issues prevented it, and we were supposed to be able to shoot pictures, but artist management overrode it at the last minute. This kind of treatment of press is poor, and hindered our ability to cover the concert, which for many like myself was supposed to be the highlight of the entire convention. The more paranoid Japanese management organizations, like that of Miyuki Sawashiro from last year, need to understand that the game has changed and that total control of artist image is less and less relevant in the Internet age.

Reluctantly, I put my press hat aside, and my phone. I decided to enjoy the show, and…you know, I really did. The vocal and instrumental performances, all of them live, were superb. The majesty and deeply emotional wells of Kajiura’s music came through, especially on the Madoka and Mai-Hime pieces. The numerous pieces from .hack did not move me as much, and there were points in the first half of the show that the songs seem to run together—adding some weight to the frequent charge that Kajiura’s music tends to sound the same. The camera director behind the Jumbotron, which was the only way to really see the artists from where we sat, was also a bit slow on the uptake; there were frequent pans to the curtains and non-playing musicians. But overall, as our reviewer as already said, the concert was an impressive musical performance. Despite my feelings about the management, the Kajiura and her singers and musicians did a fine job. I’m not going to let that ruin my admiration for the music.

Corn chowder at the Farm.

That was it for me. Instead of returning to my hotel room right away, I decided to eat a late dinner at a restaurant across the street to decompress a bit (the Farm of Beverly Hills), and then collapsed into bed shortly after. I missed 2DTeleidoscope and his Tanto Cuore playing anti-FictionJunction con apparently. :) Oh well…

Next: Day 3, my last day

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 1


The problem when you are both press and fan—as I wrote about last year—is that you’re caught between two sets of commitments. As press, it’s your job to take advantage of all the unique opportunities you’re given, such as attending press conferences and conducting private interviews. As a fan, you want to be on the convention floor, hanging out with your other fan friends, shopping for goods in the Dealer Hall, and going to fan panels where guests often yuk it up and let loose.

Anime Expo forced us to choose one or the other this year, because most of the press conferences were held on Day 1. In the end, Rome and I chose to be at the Westin Bonaventure hotel, with the press conferences, away from the fans 8 blocks away at the LA Convention Center.

I arrived early, thinking that the first two press conferences—LiSA and Yuki Kajiura—would be packed. But Rome and I discovered that the press room was, in fact, locked. It remained locked for most of the morning, in fact, because the previous tenant of the room had forgotten to turn in the only key that could open the door. Our press liaison was forced to arrange for semi-private, junket-style interviews with LiSA instead—which turned out to be a boon for us. We got some nearly exclusive time with this lovely rock singer who was cheerful and gracious despite the circumstances.


Perhaps the most surprising thing we learned about her was that she’s new to anime; she only started watching after she got the singing part for Yui in Angel Beats. However she’s already gotten advanced enough to be a fan of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, even doing the “Uhn! Nyaa!” bit from the OP right on camera. For that, all is forgiven. :) She also mentioned more than once having been inspired by Avril Lavigne, and while that may erase some cool points in some people’s eyes (people sniggered during the fan panel, rather disrespectfully), the influence was actually quite clear in the concert—but without Lavigne’s fake dramatics.

We rushed from LiSA back to the now-open press conference room to cover the Kajiura/FictionJunction folks. I expected the room to be packed by this time, but much to my surprise, the room was only 1/3 full at best. It was still more than the nearly empty conferences from Day 0, but it could hardly be considered crowded. They’ve made a huge mistake in not doing junkets was the thought that kept running in my mind. If even Kajiura couldn’t draw more press, then something was amiss.


With all of FictionJunction along with Yuki Kajiura in the center, there were many people who had to answer questions. Most of our prepared questions were asked, either in advance or on the microphone. Kajiura, in response to my question about the Gothic affinities of a lot of her soundtracks and shows, didn’t see a Gothic connection in her music at all—partly because, I think, the translator left out my key example of such a show, Kara no Kyoukai. She noted though that it seemed that no one had ever asked her to write really happy music, which drew a laugh from the crowd. I also tried to get the FictionJunction girls to laugh when I asked them which piece of Kajiura music had made them cry, but somehow the question got turned into what piece of music in general moved them the most. That question might have been, as they say, a bit dodgy.


The best pictures we have of Kajiura and FictionJunction were in a photo shoot that followed the end of the conference. We thought we’d get more during the concert, but alas, that was not to be. (More on that later.) Our attempt to secure a private interview with them also ended in failure.


After a few hours, it was time for the afternoon conferences, with director Tatsuo Sato (Moretsu Pirates, Rinne no Lagrange, Nadesico). Tatsuo Sato was, on balance, my favorite person to talk to this whole convention. It helps that I’ve seen most of his output, and I made the translator’s life especially hard as I asked super anime nerd questions about his views of the industry post-Evangelion, whether Lagrange ahd Evangelion were deliberately similar, and whether he thinks meta-humor has been overdone since he did it in Nadesico. He was patient and he responded to them all in great detail, and given that it was basically just Anime Diet, the Nihon Review, and Anime Genesis at his conference, our questions became more like a back and forth conversation between press and guest—which continued in our private interview with him afterwards.


In the process we discovered many previously unknown tidbits about Sato’s deep involvement in Lagrange: Madoka’s jersey and hairstyle was his idea. Her personality was being deliberately contrasted with Evangelion’s Shinji. Rasmus Faber won a competition for the OP—and asked for Megumi Nakajima by name first to sing it. I also probed his thoughts behind Moretsu Space Pirates; he simply wanted to distill just one part of the novel about how a person decides to become a leader. These are my favorite kind of interviews, where directors speak in depth about their intentions and worldviews. It reminds me of the deep discussion we had with Kenji Kamiyama two years ago about Eden of the East.


The Fate/Zero conference and private interview afterwards was equally detailed, though given my relatively lack of expertise with all things Nasu and Fate/Zero it wasn’t as in-depth. Director Ei and the head honcho of ufotable did most of the talking, with voice actors Rikiya Koyama and bishie Nobuhiro Okamoto doing less. We found out that Kara no Kyoukai was the harder story to adapt, and that ufotable’s cafe was now 90% female in its customer base—thought they only gave vague answers as to why Fate/Zero would change the demographic so much. (I suspect it might be Okamoto’s involvement—he definitely got the fangirls wild in his panel.) As befitting an emotionally intense show like Fate/Zero it was a more or less serious, dignified affair. The only levity came when me, Rome, and the entire production team were all stuck in an elevator for several minutes. “This is how I’m going to die, with the Fate/Zero production team,” I joked. Fortunately, the door opened after a while, and the ufotable head later compared that elevator to the Holy Grail. Good times.


After that, it was time to relax, since I had no intention of covering anything else. I went to the Animetal USA concert for a few minutes just to check it out; it was professionally played metal renditions of old school anime songs I didn’t recognized. I left after half an hour, and decided to ditch the AMV contest; instead, I bummed around until Omo and cowboybibimbop invited me to join them at the Bushiroad panel, which was about Cardfight! Vanguard.


Expecting to see the Cardfight anime seiyuu they invited as guests, they didn’t show up, but we met up with a lot of other bloggers there. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to K-Town for some Korean BBQ, and talked shop and otherwise until nearly midnight.

I returned to a hotel room full of anibloggers playing Tanto Cuore on the bed I was going to sleep on. I patiently waited for them to clear out after 2 AM and went to bed. Sorry guys. I’m getting old, you see. :)

Next: Day 2, or, The Drama That Is Press

Exposition: Anime Expo 2012, Day 0

The luxurious express bus seat on the way to downtown LA.

See the tweet digest for Day 0.

It’s strange that no matter how many years I’ve spent doing conventions as press, I never quite feel ready the night before Day 0, or even on Day 0 itself. Part of it is because there have always been last minute changes, complications, and obstacles in the way.

So I was worried as I boarded the bus from my home in Orange County to downtown Los Angeles: what if the bus ran into traffic? What if I missed my stop? What if the press conference schedule changed again, as it had three times in the last 48 hours? I had given up a once-in-many-years opportunity to see one of my favorite bands, Marillion, play in LA on Wednesday night, because I was too busy prepping for this day. Would I regret it?

Much to my surprise, I arrived at the time I told the staff I would. The press conference room was, in fact, strikingly empty. Only our crew, our old friend Benu from Anime Genesis, and Ben Gill, who we ran into last year, were there. Not many more press outlets, save for Omo and Kylaran from the Nihon Review, showed up for any of the press conferences we attended: Vegeta seiyuu Ryo Horikawa, Madhouse’s Team Chihayafuru (which included director Morio Asaka, who also did Card Captor Sakura), and the Muv Luv: Total Eclipse producer Kouki Yoshimune along with singers Minami Kuribayashi and Ayami. The sparse attendance, according to one of our friends, upset the Total Eclipse team, who were expecting more press and complained to the manager about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other guests probably felt the same way.

The grimace on Minami Kuribayashi’s face seems to tell the story.

We had been asked to submit our questions to the guests in advance. Fortunately, our fears that they were being used to give the guests time to concoct canned answers were put to rest; they simply wanted to collect the most common questions so there wouldn’t be duplicates. To my surprise, most of the questions we submitted for the panels were asked, leaving only a few that we held in reserve intentionally. Our goal was to get the guests to be candid and, if possible, to smile or laugh. That, I think, we did, especially when Rome—our Japanese translator and staff writer—asked Team Chihayafuru who they preferred, Chihaya or Kana. Kana won by a vote of 2-1, with the animation director specifically referring to her “assets.” That, my friends, is WIN.

Director Morio Asaka is a serious man who makes cute shows.

I also got director Morio to speak candidly about Card Captor Sakura being the first SaiMoe winner. In a word, he was shocked that a show for “little girls and their mothers” had picked up such a male fanbase. I dare say, in fact, he was probably slightly creeped out. That, my friends, is what one creator thinks about your moe culture. :) (Later, at the fan panel, he gave a more balanced answer in which he demurred that moe and quality are not mutually exclusive.)

Orange hair suits Vegeta voice actor Ryo Horikawa.

Ryo Horikawa, Vegeta’s voice actor, was equally baffled by how his “OVER 8000” (9000 in the mistranslated American dub) line had become so iconic. It was fun to hear about how playing manly violent characters helps him tap into his aggressive side, though, of course, he says he’s not like that at all most of the time. He reminds me of another veteran voice actor, Toshio Furukawa (Ataru in Urusei Yatsura, Piccolo in DBZ), who has fun playing roles that don’t resemble his real personality at all.

In a way, the question I posed to him and other seiyuu about which role resembles him the most isn’t really apt when you think about it. The job of an actor is to act, to be someone else in a convincing way. They don’t have to relate to a character to do a good job in a role, though sometimes it helps, especially with deeply emotional scenes.

Ayami, Minami Kuribayashi, and producer Kouki Yoshimune

The Total Eclipse conference with Yoshimune, Kuribayashi, and Ayami was strange. Yoshimune, the producer of the Muv Luv visual novels as well as soap operatic tear-jerker Kimi ga Nozumo Eien (KimiNozo/Rumbling Hearts), did 90% of the speaking. The singers, even with questions posed to them directly, gave very pre-scripted, short answers. When you think about it, given how upset they were with the lack of press attendance, and how uninvolved they actually were in the production of the anime (Ayami and Kuribayashi only sing insert and ED songs), it makes some sense.

I remember struggling to word a question to Yoshimune about whether he likes telling emotionally intense stories like KimiNozo and whether Total Eclipse would tread similar emotional territory. The translator had trouble with it, but eventually he gave me an answer of “yes,” which was confirmed after we saw Total Eclipse’s first two episodes several days later. I also embarrassed myself by calling Ayami “Ayumi”—she corrected me directly. *blushes* In my defense, Ayami was not listed in the program, so she was an unexpected guest. Unfortunately, I called her Ayumi in my tweet and it was retweeted several times…so anyone who’s reading this, I’m sorry, Ayumi Hamasaki did not appear at this press conference. My apologies!

We had several hours to kill after the press conferences ended and before the Red Carpet and Opening Ceremony started. There isn’t much to report on them; it’s guests walking down a carpet, stopping for pictures, and the Opening Ceremony was just an introduction to them on stage. We saw FictionJunction/Yuki Kajiura for the first time, and snapped plenty of pics, as well as the pose-a-riffic LiSA, who from the get-go had a natural stage presence that she would repeat in her concert later.

The evening of Day 0 was capped off by an enormous aniblogosphere dinner at Honda-ya in Little Tokyo, in which over 30 bloggers and Twitter friends got together for an evening of izakaya, polls about who’d we rather from Haganai, and much naming and shaming by picture and tweet. I was going to be staying in the Luxe Hotel with a number of them starting that evening, and it was a fine way to meet some old friends and many new ones. It was a demonstration that there are an awful lot of us out there who are into this thing called anime, and that all our electronic shenanigans didn’t preclude being friends in 3D as well.

Day 0 was in some ways the most fun and relaxed Day 0 I’ve had in years. Typically Day 0 was an exhausting day full of running around from one junket interview to another, and sometimes an occasion for drama. This year, though the lack of a junket would turn out to be a minus in many ways, it was a fun way to begin what would be, for me at least, one of the more intense conventions I’ve had in the past several years.

Tomorrow: Day 1, or, a Press Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere

Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction live at AX 2012

The waiting line was as long as an anaconda, like waiting for a soup kitchen during the Great Depression. Yes, we otakus are desperate for the beyond-reality music to obliviate our plight in 3D. So, people were desperately wanting to see them perform.

Continue reading Yuki Kajiura/FictionJunction live at AX 2012

Anime Expo 2012: Yaya Han Interview

We talked to professional costume designer and cosplayer Yaya Han at the Exhibit Hall of Anime Expo 2012! Dressed as Psylocke for the day, she was generous enough to speak to us for a few minutes about her early career, her favorite costumes, why she likes cat girls so much, and what the differences are between cosplaying at an anime vs a comic convention.

You can find out more about Yaya at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and DeviantArt page. Give her some love!