AKB48, an Akihabara-based idol group, had their US debut at Webster Hall following the New York Anime Festival. While initial enthusiasm for their preview performance was great, the Sunday evening show time coupled with the location – across the city from the convention – thinned the crowd of con attendees considerably. Not to be deterred, AKB48 had cleverly rallied a separate fan base of non-conventiongoers, and a large throng of overwhelmingly middle-aged men clutched email printouts rather than tickets in line.
The Dave and Buster’s was crowded. Black-attired waitstaff in crisp uniforms nodded professionally at me as I entered, pointing me up to the third floor when I inquired about the event hosted there.
It was hard to miss – a frothing mass of humanity bumped and jostled at the far end of the room, packed in tight. I could not see the object of their focus, but this had to be it. As I made my way across the room, I gradually discerned that there were at least three different types of people here – businessmen in suits with refined drinks, a casually dressed faction, and a surprisingly large number of fashionably-attired teens.
(Edit, 9-30, 10:13 AM: the progress bar and time are now working. Plus, the video is watermarked, for the convenience of all the video thieves out there.)
Tomino was very dignified throughout his appearance at the convention. In keeping with his professional demeanor, he made a great effort to be polite. Even when asked directly, he refused to say anything bad about his experiences working with Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム). It has been widely observed that in the early days, Tezuka’s budget was tight and his deadlines were brutal, which many have speculated may have led to a hostile working environment. During the Q&A session following his speech, Tomino suggested that anime creation in general creates friction, noting, “If working together with others was easy, I would have produced thirty more works like Gundam.”
In person at his autograph signing, Tomino was charming and playful, joking with fans, posing for pictures, and drawing smiley faces alongside his autographs. However, his patience was tried by a poor translator, who was unable to keep up with him despite stopping him a few times to request clarifications. A bit of checking revealed that the translator used for Tomino had prior experience in translation, but almost none in live translation. The translator apparently wanted the honor of handling the keynote address, and Tomino assented, a decision that he later regretted. At just over nine minutes into his speech, Tomino’s staff issued a statement that “a proper translation will be available later,” causing a strong reaction from the frustrated audience.
To be fair, Tomino’s discussion became very complex. I was not able to follow it all myself. Essentially, his rhetoric went along the lines of, “A picture may be beautiful, but that alone does not make cinema. A story may be excellent, but it alone does not make cinema. What is it, then, that elevates work to the level of cinema? It is only through the synthesis of disparate elements from different creators that cinema is produced.”
It was an attempt by one of Japan’s finest creative minds to give a deep discussion of art, and I truly appreciated being in the presence of a genius willing to share a glimpse of how he viewed his work.
Cencoroll premiered in America at the 2009 New York Anime Festival. Contributing editor moritheil was on hand to review it.
Picture unbaked dough. Give it eyes and teeth. This is Cenco, title character of Cencoroll. Along with his human handler, he wreaks havoc on the countryside and transforms into a variety of cool things. The details of his transformation, his battle against other blob monsters, and the involvement of a certain schoolgirl are all integral to the plot. At its core, though, Cencoroll is a primal, visual appeal to the audience via transformation and violence.
Its plot is a simple laundry list of typical Japanese story conventions. Monsters let loose in an urban area, and are attacked by largely ineffectual Japanese self-defense forces. Our heroes are opposed by beings of loose moral character. Innocents are threatened. A hero goes out of his way to protect a girl despite knowing that it must be a trap. In the end, a combination of cool under pressure and fiery determination win the day, and it is children who manage to avert disaster and restore balance.