Father Geek here with the latest from Scott and the worlds of Manga & Anime by way of the Anime Boston Convention...
by Scott Green
It might be the Boston competitiveness, but over it's short history Anime Boston has lept onto the fandom stage, becoming the most significant anime convention in the north east, and assuming a position with the high tiered anime conventions in the US. This year it moved from the attractive, but logically challenged Plaza Hotel, to the Hynes Convention Center. The welcome change afforded more room to run a convention, bars across the street, seats that didn't kill the back, and a Dunkin Donuts yards away. The extra space also afforded enough room that registration could be more relax than the tightly budgeted affair of the previous year.
The convention started with a very Boston opening with some nice touches, such as a girl cosplaying (the Japanese abbreviation for costume play, dressing up like a character), and some that were a bit overdone, such as a sing along of Tessie, last year's theme song of the Red Sox that was general disliked or ignored by fans.
After last year's convention missed hosting Japanese guest Nobuteru Yuki, character designer for the Escaflowne Movie and Heat Guy J, this year's was able to offer a chance to see Daisuke Moriyama, creator of Chrono Crusade, and Yoko Ishida, the vocalist whose anime work has included the openings to the new Ah! My Goddess TV series, Pretear, Gunparade March, and Ai Yori Aoshi~Enishi~, as well as voice English voice actors Greg Ayres, Johnny Yong Bosch, Melissa Fahn, David Kaye, Cynthia Martinez, Scott McNeil, Chris Patton, Monica Rial, Brianne Siddall, and Dave Wittenberg and the creators of comics from Studio Capsule, Applegeeks, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire, Paradox Lost and WirePop.
The growth also meant scheduling conflicts that precluded one from making it both convention events such as the fan made music video competition, cosplay masquerade or concert by Yoko Ishida that ran at the same time significant industry panels.
With North American's anime distributors moving away from conventions as the vehicle for major announcements, and new licensing deals still in the negotiations stage, there weren't many major announcements, though there was some good information being circulated, like answers to why Chrono Crusade was originally Chrno Crusade, and why Battle Royale has not been not licensed, as well as details on the release of the anticipated Kodocha.
The people running the convention put forth a great effort. They were commendably helpful and friendly (apart from a requisite few people who feel the need to asset their authority), but there were numerous incidents of minor disorganization. Thanks to late turn over and unpreparedness, cases where no one knew what to do cropped up. The most noticeable were the frequent small problems running audio and video equipment, the AV people never really got into a grove with microphones, but from a press perspective the least welcome was the fact that the press contact fired, and no one knew the procedures, resulting in a bureaucratic bounce around. The effort was very evident, and the people put together an excellent event, but on the ground it seemed like some preparation had gaps with noticeable results.
From a unscientific fan census, the percent of teenage girls seemed down lightly from the previous year, though there was still plenty, and plenty of interest in yaoi (homosexual male romance for a female audience) which lead to some controversy (see here. The over all gender ratio was particularly slanted either way, especially in the younger ages. As the age increase, the ratio become more and more dominantly male.
The interesting thing to note was to compare the people dressed up as characters from the two major mass appeal series: Naruto and One Piece. Though One Piece is appearing on Fox, adapted by 4Kids, there were fewer people cosplaying as One Piece characters than the previous year, which wasn't much then. Naruto, which has received no official exposure yet was the most popular source of costumes, and seemed to continue to multiply as the event went along. There may be a lesson in how a bad TV adaptation can kill aunties among fans in this trend.
Full Metal Alchemist and Inu-Yasha also has noticeably large numbers of costumed attendees.
If last year's industry buzz topic was co-productions, American companies helping to fund Japanese anime production, this years was cyclic downturn. Fan interest is still present, and even increasing, but a combination of the rising costs of licensing, mainly due to competition and the Japanese licensing holders leveraging the competition, and the fight for retail shelf space has begun hurting the financial state of domestic anime distributors. Other factors include the prevalence of digital distribution of fan translations (fansubs), and services like Netflix. To paraphrase what a number the distributors said, not enough people are buying enough anime to fully support what is being released.
Most titles only recieve 6-9 weeks of shelf time at brick and mortar outlets, and with the crush of material competing for space, one of the major concerns has become maximizing exposure.
On digital fansub distribution, it was noted that people are not replacing their copies with the official releases. The effect ha been measured in several instances, such as a reverse sales curb on titles where digital fansub distribution stopped: rather than selling less copies as the volumes advanced, sales pick up as the volumes progress
One of the noticeable effects for consumers is that the volumes a series is released across is being expanded. A full sized series (circa 26 episodes) is more frequently being release on 7 or 8 volumes rather than 6 because distributors are not making enough money off 6.
Some of the pains raise the question of whether like the dot com boom, not enough people took advantage took advantage of the high times.
Other than the companies that announced Sony PSP releases with the UMD DVD format (Geneon and Bandai), none of the companies present expressed interest in the format.
Though there was some talk that anime companies may begin looking at TV more as its own source of revenue rather than as a means of promoting DVD sales, no two companies shared similar strategies regarding television.
Apart from a few specific projects none of the companies have developed sure strategies for getting anime on Cartoon Network, or other none-video on demand formats. Cartoon Network was said to have very particular thoughts on what they will show, including insistence on male leads. Ironically Japanese audiences have been insisting on female leads, such that in non-established properties, a North American co-produce is needed before a dark, male lead story is animated.
There was plenty of derision among the fans and distributors for 4Kids (who adapted series such as Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Shaman King, and One Piece for TV), and CMX (who recently edited fighting manga Tenhjo Tenge to recast it as a young teen fighting series). The anime distributors present have learned to take fan input and preferences into consideration, and stated that trying to shoe horn audiences have failed for them. 4Kids was said to have very interest in the home video market, remaining tightly focus of television.
Several companies express plans to commission Japanese manga creator to produce new work for an American audience.
Toei's yanking of the Sailor Moon licenses are causing plenty of pain all around. No one suspects that they will be able to re-release their Sailor Moon (including the manga), and speculate that Toei will be releasing it again in North America themselves. Other companies also expressed disappointment in the quality of Toei's first round of releases (Slam Dunk, Air Master).
A current of minor annoyance at Geneon for scooping sound tracks of anime series licensed and marketed by other companies was expressed several times.
FUNimation's Kodocha was the belle of the ball. The strength of the all ages series' blend of comedy and drama, along with a spirited English dub won over audiences instantly. The two dubbed episodes that were shown received an outstanding reaction, but even those who only saw the trailer came away anticipating the series. The special edition release of the first series will be packaged with an exclusive DVD carrier Myth bag featuring the series' mascot Babbit.
On the negative side, the series was moved from a June release to August, and FUNimation was not able to acquire the rights to the first opening by theme Tokio. The song will be replaced on the opening animation by the second theme, and a cameo by the performer in the series' first episode was reworked for dialog and background music.
See below for more details on Kodocha.
FUNimation also announced that they have licensed Sunabozu, which they will retitle Desert Punk. The series is post apocalyptic mercenary comedy from Studio Gonzo, written by Hiroshi Yamaguchi(Yukikaze, Argento Soma, Bastard!!, Gate Keeper). There has been fan interest in the odd comedy online, but with a crowd that was not aware of the show, and the screening of the series' opening, which is live action and requires knowledge of the lead character to appreciate, it did not invoke much enthusiasm from audience.
The official site went online at www.desertpunk.tv
FUNimation was not able to name any other licenses, but hinted at a Gonzo heavy summer of announcements, a possible allusion to Gonzo's three latest shows, whose domains FUNimation recently licensed: Speedgrapher.com, Trinityblood.tv, and Basilisk.tv
Speed Grapher is a strange, baroquely designed story about an investigative photographer in a corrupt near future society.
Trinityblood is a gothic horror action.
Basilisk is the Tokugawa era story of a war between ninja clans.
There was uncorroborated buzz that FUNimation had licensed the anime adaptation of rock manga Beck.
Harmony Gold is hoping that Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, a new sequel to the classic sci-fi anime adaptation, will be distributed this fall. See below for more details.
ADV announced that in addition to the previously announced theatrical rights to The Place Promised in Our Early Days, from the auteur of Voices of a Distant Star, they now have the home video rights.
Geneon announced that they have licensed Bottle Fairy, Doki Doki School Hours and Starship Operators.
Bottle Fairy is an extremely cute series about four fairies living in a bottle who how learn about the human world.
Doki Doki School Hours is a comedy about a teacher who looks like a child.
Starship Operators is a combination planet defense sci-fi/reality show parody.
Kodocha © MihoObana/Shueisha NAS. Licensed by FUNimation® Productions, Ltd.
One of the high lights of the convention was a two episode preview of FUNimation's English dub adaptation of Kodocha (aka Kodomo No Omocha or Child's Toy), which was screen to uproarious reaction. Admittedly they prefueled the audience by passing out pixie sticks and dum-dums, and squeaky mallets (a series in-joke)
Kodocha brings the manic energy from one of the reigning kings of jaw dropping pep, and jaw snapping motor-mouths, Akitaroh Daichi to a story with heartfelt drama. It's one of the perfect all ages stories that doesn't talk down, water down, or dumb down. It might be a little edgy for some younger audiences. Some discretion might be called for if parents don't care for hard edges or don't want to explain a few things, but it is a bright, colorful, painfully energetic series that is intelligent and heart felt enough to appeal to older audiences as well as younger.
The series follows Sana, a sixth grader child actress raised by her eccentric novelist mother, and her zen perpetually sun glass masked manger (or as she calls him, pimp) Rei. More than precocious, Sana thinks she has the world completely figured out, and her mouth never stops moving in her torrent of letting the world know exactly what she thinks.
The gap the in the scheduled, chauffeured world she excels in is her school classroom, which is run by her nemesis Akito, a quiet, sadistic boy who keeps the class in a constant state of disruption by blackmailing the teachers and encouraging the other boys to rampage.
Matching such a cheerful characters with a very tangible, claustrophobic threat of school bullying quickly illustrates that the series is going to be more that a funny exercise in eccentricities.
Laura Bailey is amazing in the role of Sana. Not only does she keep up with Sana's non-stop mouth and make it look natural, but when the characters does her memorable raps or songs, Bailey pulls it off with hilarious results. It works because she invests in the character rather than just ripping through the performance. It's clear that she understands the drama and nature of the character rather than just seeing the role as a comedy obstacle course.
Colleen Clinkenbeard is similarly great in the role of Sana's mother, with the perfect dry humor dead pan for a woman who wears a formal kimono, and writes award winning works, but also a sports continuing rotating roster of over done hats that house her pet squirrel. When Mama drops in for a few words of wisdom and doom Clinkenbeard gets plenty of mileage out of a few words.
The problem voice is the series' forth wall smacking bat/rabbit mascot/director self insertion Babbit. It's a bit of an older, irritating. uninvolved know-it all voice. Not unlike the wise owl in the old Tootsie Pop advertisements, which is rather amusing if you think about it. If you don't the first reaction is that it's a bit too abrasive for a role that's supposed to be a mood lightening gag.
FUNimation says they didn't take out the edgier parts of the dialog, other than changing the title of the first episode from "pimp" to "manager" for packaging reasons. The dub script was noticeably liberal in a number of cases. Some of the changes made sense, such as localizing the cultural references, other were slightly odd such as one character referring to another as with terms of endearment in front of people who were blackmailing the couple about their relationship, and one dialog choice caused the writers to slaps their heads after watching a couple of extra episodes and realized that they missing some significant foreshadowing.
The 102 episode series will have four clam shell box sets, which will hold six discs each. Two will be Babbit themed, and two will be Maro (the squirrel) themed.
Unlike the other anime distributors Media Blasters states that while they have gotten into distribution, and have gotten good at it, they would like to be producing media, eventually becoming a New Line or Miramx.
Genshiken, a smart geek comedy about a college club that call itself "The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture" will be released soon. An art box will be available with the series.
The preeminent magic girlfriend story Ah!/Oh! My Godess will be the major release of the second half of the year. It was a big license, and will be receiving plenty of focus from Anime Works. The dub casts from AnimEigo or Geneon will be difficult to put together for the series. Media Blasters doesn't have contact with Coastal Studios, but may use Bang Zoom.
The past year has been strong, especially with Invader Zim, which was a crossover hit.
Tokyo Shock, which release live action movies generally violent or horror such as Ichi the Killer is doing well.
New Korean titles include Mushisana, and the animated Aminosa, based on the manwha comic.
Media Blasters will be releasing a number of old samurai films, including a remastered presentation of the first season of the Zatoichi TV series. The Toho live action version of sci-fi submarine story Atrogon (the anime version of which was release by ADV) will also be released.
Takashi MÃ®ke's (Ichi the Killer) One Missed Call will be receiving a big push. They will also be releasing Mike' early work The Way to Fight and possibly remaking it.
Media Blasters would be a prime candidate for licensing lethal high school elimination action Battle Royale, so they were asked they hadn't licensed it (presumably the question pop up often). Media Blasters expressed interest in Battle Royale from early on, but Toei will not license the feature. The movie was originally screened in the US around the time of the Columbine shootings, and received a negative reaction from the test audiences. Toei then screened it for lawyers who told them that they'd go to jail if the movie was released in the US.
Media Blasters said that they may produce a movie like Battle Royale.
For other cross media production, like Fresh for the Beast, Media Blasters will be producing a series called Shadow, starring Candyman's Tony Todd. The movie is described as a Riki-Oh in a women's prison. A comic adaptation is also in the works.
They will also be producing movie from the director of Versus.
Berserk 2 will probably be produced at some point, but it is currently in the talking stage of production. The involved parties know that Media Blasters is interested in the series. It was noted that while the Berserk manga is popular in Japan, the anime was more popular in North America and Europe than it was in Japan.
Media Blasters will be commissioning manga from Japanese creators.
Media Blaster doesn't have any planned TV airing for its series. There have been some talks with Cartoon Network, but it described as like playing the lottery. While a showing airing on TV makes a differences for DVD sales, the related title being licensed does not.
Media Blasters isn't planning on starting it's own network because they are more interested in production.
GTO live action movie likely will be released in August. It is now in production.
JDrama live action drama TV series are difficult to license because the creators didn't count on international interest, so the rights are complicated.
They are also considering more older series, series not released on DVD, or dropped by other companies. The Mosquition TV series may be released if the TV series does well.
The Kenshin TV specials, which were re-capped episodes are being considered, but Media Blasters does not know how to deal with the episodes
Evaluating the international material, though manga Japanese companies are outsourcing animation to Korea, Korean projects are still at the level of the Japanese productions. Alternatively, Korean live action, both movies and TV, has hit it's stride, and is often more popular in Japan than Japanese titles. Thai live action, and Indian animation are also developing into material to follow.
TOKYOPOP will be running popular manga titles including Saiyuki (which becomes Saiyuki Reloaded), Fruits Baskets and Get Backers. monthly this summer, through October.
The Korean manwha industry is undergoing some turbulence. Creators of popular titles INVU and Ragnorok are caught up with other projects rather than working on the series North American fans are looking for
New and upcoming manga and manwha projects include: RG Vega: an early CLAMP fantasy based on Indian mythology; Clamp no kiseki: anniversary art books commentary and chess pieces; Sakura Taisen: The manga apdation of the popular video games about a team of young woman piloting steam tech mecha in an alternate history; Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad: shonen meets rock and role; Blame: a bio-mechanical labyrinth work; Scrapped Princess; Kanpai, from creator of Gravitation, originally Kimi No Unaii Ni Kanpai, monster vs exorcists from monster perspective Devil May Cry 3: an adaptation of the popular game; Samurai Champloo, side stories; Earthian to be released in November, it will include the shiny color pages of the Japanese releases; Life, an angsty, cutter shojo; Kamikaze from Satoshi Shiki, fighting Arcana from creator of Model; In Dream World a Korean manwha title; 12 days, serious josie (older female audience)
Originl works include: Bizenghast "fear in madness in a small New England town", to be released in August; Dramacon: a shoujo set at fan convention; I Luv Halloween by Keith Giffin, the speakers acknowledged that lots of people didn't like his translations of Ikki Tossen aka Battle Vixens and Battle Royale; MBQ to be released in July, from Filipe smith, a comic creator's semi-autobiographical story; Offbeat their first original shonen ai (homosexual male romance); Princess Ai 2 will be released in July: The Courtney Love/DJ Milky shojo; War On Flesh, zombies action, to be released in September, illustrated By Tim Smith; Van Von Hunter popular horror parody Volume 1 In May, volume 2 in December; Warcraft: Sunwell Trilogy, based on the PC games.
TOKYOPOP is looking for more series from the creators of successful titles, including the early series from the creator GTO.
Trash from the creator of Fake wasn't officially announced, but there were sold indications that it is coming from TOKYOPOP.
Other Nihei series beyond Blame are will likely be released.
Lupin III: World's Most Wanted probably will not be released again until 2006. TOKYOPOP states that they do not cancel titles, but scheduling priorities have bumped Lupin for the near future.
The Sailor Moon manga license is tied up with Toei problems. They would like to re-release it, but it looks unlikely.
More merchandise will be released in 2006.
Art book releases are planned.
Parasyte, an early horror action from TOKYOPOP is not currently planned for re-release, but there is plenty of talk that suggests it may happen at some time.
Clamp School Detectives probably not coming back, but they recognize people are looking for the first volume of CLAMP's Clove, and are considering how to release it.
Earthian will probably be released as a box set.
The manga adaptations of Kingdom Hearts will receive an untraditional packaging with larger, shorter volumes.
TOKYOPOP remains committed to commissioning original manga, and are looking for creators including Pencillers Inkers Toners Creators And Creative Teams
Commissioned manga titles should be three volumes. They are looking for a variety of genres, including more shoujo, but there are genres that they think are over saturated, fantasy specifically.
In terms of image, they are looking for visual storytelling that captures the cinematic nature of manga in a manner that North American audiences can related to.
Rising Stars of Manga 6 will run later this year. TOKYOPOP is currently running Rising Stars UK.
The company is looking interns. Inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
TOKYOPOP does not have plans for an anthology beyond the free Takahai sampler.
More from Boston in report #2...