Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green
News Highlights From the Anime Boston Convention
ADV licensed Innocent Venus, a sci-fi military thriller set in a world where the boundary between the have's and have-not's was sharply magnified by ecological disasters. Mech fans might note that the Brains Base (MazinKaizer, New Getter Robo) work was directed by Jun Kawagoe (New Getter Robo, Transformers: Energon).
Geneon announced that they have licensed The Familiar of Zero aka Zero no Tsukaima, a magic school relationship comedy from Yoshiaki Iwasaki, director of Love Hina and Takao Yoshioka, writer of Happy Lessons and the Elfen Lied anime. The 2006 anime follows a girl studying to be a wizard who attempts to summon a familiar and ends up bringing a Japanese school boy to her world. It's pastel. It looks like it sports the popular support cast types. A bit Harry Potter, an air of sexuality; it should be fine for fans of Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina, Negima) comedies.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex | Solid State Society will be released July 3rd. The two hour features follows the cyborg procedural two years after the events of the 2nd Gig season. Bandai Entertainment will be distributing The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the anime title dominating the current buzz. The first volume of that is due out May 29th. The anime follows a teenage boy roped into assisting a peer who declares she has no interest in the mundane; only time travelers, aliens, ESPers and the like. It plays with anime tropes and word is that the anime is clever with its humor and use of characters. It's also eccentric to be point of broadcasting its episodes out of order. Anime fans have enormous faith in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but it remains to be seen if the anime has any of the cross-over appeal of Afro Samurai or Highlander: Vengeance. Observers also have an eye on whether those who might want to see the anime have already downloaded the fan translations (fansubs) and how many will in fact upgrade their digital copy of the series to the legitimate release.
UpperDeck screened the first episode of Madhouse's shonen action Kiba. The company appears to be shopping the show for TV.
Hardcore geeks are well represented at anime conventions, but the typical face in the crowd is more likely than not a screaming teenage girl wearing some accessory from a title that airs on Cartoon Network. The majority of these attendees watch the well animated, well told, crowd pleaser adaptations of popular shonen titles: Naruto, Bleach and Full Metal Alchemist specifically. As consumers, they buy popular shoujo/shonen manga in the $10 a volume format, buy select other anime, and watch digitally subtitled fan translations. At the convention in question, attendance bore out the fact that con-goers aren't there for the niche or aesthetic. A fascinating urban vinyl panel, discussing designer toys from makers like Kidrobot and creators such Michael Lau and Takashi Murakami literally had a handful of attendants. A compellingly spirited, if maybe a bit loopy panel speculating on the philosophy on display on the best selling Final Fantasy game franchise was packed with hundreds. The simple reality is that at these events, post college age attendants are in the minority, and people who are post college age, not some sort of parent/guardian and not a person more disturbing than the subjects of Welcome to the NHK are a rarity. The anime con might have grown out of the sci-fi convention scene, and there are still older, active distributors, who have history in university anime club and gatherings, but anime is no longer a medium that is a frequent home for sci-fi and the North American market is no longer looking for it to be one. If a company announced that they planned to release Space Runaway Ideon in North America, a legendary anime from the creator of Gundam, plenty of well informed members of the audience would have little idea why they should bother. This is not to say that Anime Boston did not cater to the older fan. In fact it did offer opportunity that classic anime will be able to brag about. Just that it might have been a little bothersome to here fan-girl screaming from the next room when listening to a Q&A with the producer of Macross: Do You Remember Love.
The Convention Itself
The addition of December's New York Anime Festival might shuffle the order, but currently, Anime Boston is the largest anime event in America's North East. However, if the con loses that distinction, it will still maintain its best quality. As advertised, the event has held onto what could be called the ideal size for an anime convention. As the best of both world, it boasts both the benefits of a large convention and the benefits of a smaller one. It's not corporate and not a micro event that requires attendees to find something to do. It's large enough to support notable guest and exhibitors, without being daunting and prohibitively crowded. Boston's Hynes Convention Center is a fairly large venue, which allowed the event to be well attended without being packed. As expected, there were impressive lines for the key events standard to anime conventions: the coplay (dressing up as anime character) masquerade and AMV (fan made anime music video) competitions. Except maybe the entrance registration, other lines looked reasonable. Similarly, spaces like the dealer's retail area were bustling without being overwhelming. In general, the convention's fifth outing was well organized, with few last minute scheduling or equipment problems. The convention organizers brought together an admirable balance of guests that catered to a cross section of tastes and offer an expansive perspective across the cycle of anime production, from the original script writer to the North American distributor. Japanese guests included Yasuhiro Imagawa, director of Giant Robo and G Gundam, Hiroshi Iwata, producer of Macross: Do You Remember Love, Junji Nishimura, director of the Ranma 1/2 OVA, Kyo Kara Maoh and Windy Tales and Kenji Terada, writer for the Kimagure Orange Road anime, the Kinnikuman anme, South Cross, and the first Final Fantasy games. Imagawa and Nishimura had a particularly spirited panel that ended with the pair trying to outdo each other with production war stories. Notes on the conversations with these guests will be posted in later columns. English language voice actors included Greg Ayres, Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Luci Christian, Collen Clinkenbeard, Brina Palencia, Mike McFarland and Trace Willingham. Attendees seemed partificaly estatic to see a large representing of the Fullmetal Alchemist cast. Artists including Robert & Emily DeJesus and Bettina M. Kurkoski. In addition to representatives from a number of anime distributors, industry speakers included FUNimation voice director Christopher Bevins, writer/story editor/producer Grant Moran (Animaniacs, Batman: The Animated Series, Viewtiful Joe), voice actor and director Mike Sinterniklaas, voice director Tom Wayland, and long time ADV staffer David Williams. After last year's exciting counter programming coup, with a Kaiju Big Battel man-in-suit monster wrestling event, the shape of this year’s schedule seemed a bit tamer. (Kaiju did run a panel at this year's convention.) North American anime conventions have an expected shape, bound around key fan-craft competitions (cosplay and AMV) as well as social gatherings. Anime Boston augmented this with a formal "Cherry Blossom" ball, which fit into the convention's celebration theme. This theme was further explored in a number of displays that provided a small look at a host of Japanese holidays. Having not attended these events, I will not be commenting on them. This year, Anime Boston upgraded the audio and video capabilities of their viewing room equipment. It might have been difficult to see the pictures, and especially read subtitles on the bottom of a screen over the heads of others viewers when a room was crowded, but such is the limitations of the physical logistics. Previous years featured some impressive early screenings, but this year's opportunities were staggering, with titles including: Highlander: Vengeance, Ghost the Shell: Solid State Society, Melancholgy of Haruhi Suzumiya, When they Cry-Higurashi, Kiba, Tsubasa, Peach Girl, Karin, Hare+Guu OVA, Gunbuster 2, Demon Price Enma, Suzuka and Beck. (Reviews of many of these will be coming soon.) In addition to a selection from the popular titles North American market, the well chosen line-up also featured classics like Jin-Roh and Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer, as well as slightly more exotic works like Baoh, Cat Soup and Clockwork Fighters Hiwou's World.
The episodes of 009-1, Ah! My Goddess TV Season 2 and Innocent Venus were previewed. In order to achieve a level of continuity, the distributor has chosen to go outside their in-house English language dubbing team to re-use the staff from Media Blaster's release of the first season. ADV also hopes to bring in voice actors from other versions of the anime for smaller roles. The originally Oh My Goddess OVA was released in North America by AnimEigo. The movie and super deformed Mini Goddess shorts were released by Geneon (Pioneer at the time.) No information was provided on the company's XBox digital distribution deal. ADV noted that another company has picked up the rights to the re: Cutey Honey anime, that was released in conjunction with the recent live action movie. It was also said that the Monster anime will probably be released by another distributor. The company has looked at the new Gamera, but no decisions have been made concerning the movie.
Anime News Network/Protoculture Addicts
Anime News Network announced that the site will be filming convention coverage. Panels and interviews were recorded at Anime Boston to test out logistics. The print magazine Protoculture Addicts has continued to increase its retail reach. Bamboo Dong and Zac Bertschy will be editing Protoculture Addicts starting with the next issue, 91. The issue will feature a look at Witchblade and an article on Black Cat, including the anime's lost episodes.
Bandai EntertainmentUpcoming titles and releases included; Gundam Seed DESTINY on May 15 Eureka 7, volume 7, the first volume of the anime's second season, on June 5th Flag will start later in 2007 My Hime tagent/follow-up My Otome will be released starting July 17th Tide-Line Blue, will be released starting May 15 Zegapain will be released starting later this year
If you have been following the new anime distributor, the only points of interest from this panel would be that Bandai Visual USA vice-president Takenari Maeda polled attends to see whether they had next generation media players, and what premium items they would most like packaged with anime releases: a sound track CD, t-shirt, slip case, illustration card, behinds the scenes features or shot glasses/mugs. Upcoming releases include: Gunbuster 2, volume 1: May 22. Volumes 2 and 3 will be released in June Demon Prince Enma, volume 1 May 22. Maeda noted that the series is made up of 45 minute episodes Wings of Rean, volume 1 June 12, Volume 2 July 10, volume 3 August 14 Freedom, a HD DVD/DVD hybrid DVD with the first episode will be release June 29 Wings of Honneamise is also be released on HD Many attendants objected to the distributor's pricing policy, which is typified by 2, Japanese audio only episodes for $39.99, or what Anime World Order calls the "price to pain" strategy. As the company freely admits in response to questions, they are only concerned about dedicated anime consumers, not casual fans, or those who might make an impulse buy. They will charge what they can from that smaller pool of potential buyers. As a producer and distributor, the company wants to release the North American version as soon as possible after the Japanese release, and price it high enough that the Japanese audience, used to paying the higher price, will not re-import the less expensive American version. There certainly is an alternative. You can call Gunbuster 2 by one of its other names, Diebuster specifically, dub and promote the fact that it’s from the makers of popular FLCL. The connection between the works is light enough that previously seeing the first series is not mandatory. Hardcore fans will know that it’s Gunbuster 2. Viewers who saw FLCL on one of its staggering number of Cartoon Network runs might be attracted to the work. However, Gunbuster 2 is deliberately not price or marketed for those fans. Anime fans have been vocal in their objection to the price point and lack of an English language dub, but given that these are key components of the company's business model, change seems highly unlikely for at least the near future.
FUNimation's big announcement from last year, Beck is nearing its currently scheduled, July 10, release. Music rights issues have continued to be a challenge for the rock anime. To promote the titles, English language voice actors Greg Ayres and Brina Palencia sung one of the anime's original songs during the convention's opening ceremony and FUNimation ran a separate Beck music preview panel. Special edition packaging for the first volume will be shaped like an amp box and include vinyl stickers. Each volume will be packaged with a guitar pick. One of the questions hanging over the series had been how the localization team would handle bilingual scene where character spoke English and Japanese. The settled solution was that the English language dub would ignore the differences and treat the scenes like one language was being spoken. The subtitle translation would record the original intent of the scene. As recently announced, the company has picked up the One Piece license dropped by 4Kids. FUNimation will be preparing a broadcast version for Cartoon Network and an uncut version for DVD. Whether the DVD version starts with episode 1 or episode 144, where 4Kids left off, depends on whether FUNimation’s schedule allows them to produce new episodes for Cartoon Network and, at the same time, prepare different episodes for the DVDs. Both version will feature a new English language dub cast and run without skipping episodes. Mike McFarland and Chris Bevins will be overseeing the dub production. Character names will closely match Viz's translation. For legal reasons, the 'Zoro' character will continue to be called 'Zolo.' The uncut DVDs will be packaged with 13 episodes for $49.98. Releases will be spaced 2 or 3 per year. The TV broadcast will be moved to a later time slot. Guns will not be edited out. Violence will be downplayed, but not to the degree 4Kids altered the series. Due to FCC regulations, cigarettes will continue to be edited out of the broadcast version. FUNimation stated that they are not yet ready to look at the One Piece movies. The company has launched its iTunes distribution with Desert Punk, Samurai 7, Speed Grapher, Gunslinger Girls and Basilisk. Afro Samurai will be released on DVD May 22nd in separate broadcast and uncut versions. The second Dragon Ball Z box set with the Namek story will be released May 22nd. As FUNimation puts it, they are continuously releasing new versions of Dragon Ball Z because "a new nine year old is born every day." The company was open about the cropping needed to size the series for widescreen. In order to maintain the proper ratio, to add additional horizontal material, material needed to be cut from the vertical axis. FUNimation agreed that there are instances where this is noticeable. Features on the collection include a marathon mode that will run through an entire disc worth of material, starting with one opening, ending with one ending, and skipping the next episode previews. Tsubasa will also be released May 22nd. Bonus features includes guides to how the series cross-over characters fits into the universe created by the manga team CLAMP. The series will be heavily promoted on Gaia Online. The Tsubasa and xxxHoLiC movies will be released after the Tsubasa tv series completes. The company currently does not have the license to the xxxHoLiC TV series. Hats based on CLAMP's marshmallow-rabbit mascot Mokona will be sold as convention exclusives. A set of the first season of Slayers will be released in July. The Central Park Media/Software Sculptors English dub will be used. Mushishi will also be released in July. School Rumble will be released starting in late August. Aquarion and Shuffle are penciled in for early fall. The newly announced Hell Girl is scheduled for October. The company still needs to make a decision concerning whether to pursue the third of fourth seasons of Kodocha. Responding to a question, the company noted that they did have to adjust how they did business after being purchased by a publically traded company. It has effects how they make announcements and relay information, but their corporate accountants have understood the intricacies of dealing with Japanese rights holders, such as the need to enter into package deals, picking up less profitable properties alongside the more profitable ones.
Geneon indicated a significant digital distribution announcement will be made in the next couple of weeks. Samurai Horror Tales will be released starting in May. The first volume of Black Lagoon will be released May 22 A clip gave a brief preview of the anime's English dub cast was shown. This sample was short and from an early episode, but while technically fine, it was slightly uninspiring. For example, Japanese voice for the anime's headline Gunslinger Revy was the prolific Megumi Toyoguchi, whose other recent work included Winry Rockbell of Full Metal Alchemist and Miriallia Hawk of Gundam SEED Destiny. Maryke Hendrikse, who ironically voices the other Hawk sister, Lunamaria in the dub of Gundam SEED Destiny has most of the needed energy for the role, but unlike Toyoguchi's performance, it doesn't immediately click as something forcefully different. Geneon hopes to work through the content issues and package Black Lagoon for American TV, but its on-par English version could be a liability in the effort to supersede Cowboy Bebop. The Black Lagoon special edition "Steel Case" is a slim case that holds four discs. The first case will hold the 3 disc/12 episode first season. A second case will be released for the second set of 12. Karin, the manga of which is called Chibi Vampire in its TOKYOPOP released, starts May 29. Rozen Maiden will also be released on May 29. A felt box will be available with the series' special edition first volume release. The disturbing horror series When They Cry will be released starting June 5th. Hellsing Ultimate volume 2 will be released on June 12. A $49.98 special edition will be released with a 200 page design book and a bonus disc with behind the scenes material. The Geneon Classics label will be launched in May with a Doki Doki School Hours complex set and the first volume of the El Hazard OVA in May. I, My, Me Strawberry Eggs and Hakkenden: Legend of the Dog Warriors, the first volume of 3x3 Eyes, a complete set of Tetsujin 28, a complete set of Vandread and sets of the Tenchi movie, Tenchi Universe TV series, and Tenchi in Tokyo TV series will be released in June.
This year's theme was a bit quieter than previous years'. Plainly, the forecasted crunch was averted. Companies scaled back their licenses and releases, easing up on expenditure and the flow of what is being pushed onto the retail shelf. As a result, the face of anime distribution has not radically changed. Even CPM, believed to be bankrupt at last year's convention, is still hanging on. However, for fans, this leaner approach means a return to the days of wondering "if" a title will be licensed rather than "not if but when." Fans will be purchasing the anime adaptation of supernatural mind game thriller Death Note when it becomes available in North America. That does not mean that it hasn't been sat on too long already. VIZ has announced that the series would be digitally distributed in close proximity to its Japanese TV airing, but 25+ episodes into its run, not only have the logistics not been announced, many fans are unaware of the initiative. Repeatedly, industry representatives for other companies were asked whether their company would be releasing the series. Anime fans have an enormously vocal chip on their shoulder about 4Kids handling of One Piece. Like Naruto, One Piece is a popular adventure series based on a hit Shonen Jump manga, this time about pirates rather than ninjas. 4Kids is not a company that caters to anime fans in any way. They see TV as a vehicle for merchandise, and as such, they were not about to produce an uncut version of the series. Sins attribute to 4Kids' localization included A gratingly voiced dub A new bubblegum rap opening Editing to fits broadcast restrictions that included cigarettes being replaced by lollipops Content editing that toned down violence, and replaced firearms with bizarre contraptions Skipped blocks of episodes Added jokes There was no 4Kids representative or anyone involved with 4Kids' production at the convention. Most indications suggest that FUNimation's upcoming uncut DVD release should be everything that purists would hope for, and thought they would never get. Unfortunately those facts did not dissuade a number of attendants from berating a number of panelists a number of titles about the 4Kids’ adaptation.