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NYCC: Central Park Media Calls Otaku Unite! over VOTOMS, Negadon, and Manhwa

The Central Park Media crew set the tone for their panel early by handing out snacks and declaring their panel “The New York Comic-Con Panel and Nacho Party.” Run by John O’Donnell and Peter Tatara, the panel was easily the most entertaining of the panels run by the anime companies. In between a lot of laughs and liberal handouts of con swag and snack food, CPM announced a raft of new material, including documentary film Otaku Unite!, the release of the seminal Armored Trooper VOTOMS series, and more Revolutionary Girl Utena. They also went all out to promote their new manga and manhwa (Korean comics), including Tag – You’re It!, Nambul: War Stories, and Sweet Cream and Red Strawberries.

O’Donnell began the panel by briefly recounting CPM’s history, declaring that their initial goal was to get an anime title into the Billboard home video charts. At the time, CPM was still facing a public asking them about “this ay-nyme thing” they put out. They finally managed to succeed in their goal with a release charting at #8, which unfortunately was the week that Ghost in the Shell managed to hit #1. “Everything in life is timing,” as O’Donnell declared. As the only major anime company based in New York, O’Donnell also mentioned that he was really hoping this whole New York Comic-Con thing worked out.

CPM brought a raft of releases to the show, including a number of titles which were breaking street dates to be sold at the con, including Otaku Unite!, a documentary film chronicling American anime fandom from its earliest days in the 1970’s to now. The disc will contain a full-length director commentary, media coverage from the film’s debut at the Philadelphia Film Festival, and an enormous gallery of cosplayers from Otakon 2005. Otaku Unite! was directed by Eric Bresler, who was a guest at the con and will be interviewed by Toon Zone News in conjunction with the release of the film on DVD. Otaku Unite! will be released on March 7.

The second major release from CPM is Armored Trooper VOTOMS, the classic 1980’s sci-fi anime which was unavailable on DVD until now and which, in the words of Tatara, “kicks big metal ass.” Volume 1 will be released in March O’Donnell further elaborated that Gundam was made for the kids in Japan, but VOTOMS was made for the adults. CPM showed off a prototype of the big metal box that will ultimately house the full 4-volume VOTOMS release, along with a bonus disc and a 64-page guidebook by VOTOMS expert Tim Eldred. Eldred was also a guest of CPM at the con, and held court at a tragically under-attended panel on Sunday morning; keep an eye out for Toon Zone’s interview with Eldred, also in conjunction with the release of the first VOTOMS volume, and check out Toon Zone’s advance review of the first series now.

For fans who don’t want to wait until August to buy the whole VOTOMS set in its metal ammunition can, CPM will be including cards in all 4 DVD volumes which can be redeemed for the bonus disc, guidebook, and ammo can case. Fans can also pre-order the set from CPM and receive each volume as it is released, plus the bonus material when it is released in August.

Tatara moved on to Munto 2, coming soon, noting that the franchise acquired such a following in Japan that fans literally sent money to the producers to fund the sequel. He went on to announce Animation Runner Kuromi 2, the sequel to the popular anime about making anime, stating that the original release got rave reviews from anime fans everywhere. Yaoi fans can look forward to Kizuna in March, being released in a dubbed version with an art portfolio and artistic slipcase included with the DVD release.

More Revolutionary Girl Utena boxed sets will be coming from CPM in February, April, and June. CPM has lowered the price on this fantasy epic to $39.95 per box. A Shadow Star Narutaru boxed set is coming soon, following the adventures of “a Pokémon…that could blow up a city block;” lucky panel goers received many tiny plush stars to commemorate the upcoming release. The Yu Yu Hakusho movie also received a price-cut, and is available now for $10.

However, the title which received the most screen time during the panel was Negadon: The Monster from Mars, starring a Martian monster battling a giant robot in a far-flung future Earth. This innovative CGI animated film is a tribute to every kaiju movie ever made, using specially developed rendering techniques to make the movie look like a vintage 1950’s film. An exclusive trailer was shown at the panel, generally striking awe and amazement in the audience. Negadon will be screened throughout the country, with the first at Anime Syracuse on March 25, 2006 and the rest to be announced soon. CPM also asked kaiju fans to send in in photos of hand-made monsters to be included in a special feature on the DVD release. The movie’s web site at www.negadonattacks.com went live on Saturday; the site includes a trailer and more information about the movie.

CPM then moved on to their newest manga releases: The World of Narue Vol. 4, Masca Vol. 1, and Tag – You’re It!; all three releases are available now. Sook Kim, writer/artist for Tag – You’re It!, made a surprise appearance at the panel, saying that she was very thankful for the warm reception that American audiences have given to manhwa in general and to her work in particular.

Future comic releases will include Princess Vol. 1; Nambul: War Stories Vol. 1, the top selling manhwa in Korea, described as the “Tom Clancy of manhwa” by O’Donnell; and Sword of Shibito 2, by the creator of Vampire Hunter D. Further in the future is Full House Vol. 4, Platina, Oath to Love and Passion (starring 2 girls whose father is a polar bear), Couple Vol. 4, Sweet Cream and Red Strawberries (originally titled “Strawberry Shortcake” in Korea, requiring a change for its American release for obvious reasons). Releases further out in the future include Wedding Eve, Otogi Matsuri, Warrior’s Song, and Knock Your Heart Out.

When asked about VOTOMS or any other earlier anime coming from CPM, O’Donnell stated that the complete Japanese release of VOTOMS on DVD was sold for US $1,000, and still managed to break 10,000 unit sales. Unfortunately, O’Donnell further noted that many Japanese licensors believe that they can charge Naruto-sized rates for their releases no matter how old they are, which makes it cost-prohibitive to release them in America. Furthermore, many earlier shows languish in the midst of extremely tangled rights issues; other earlier shows were simply thrown away once the initial TV run was complete. O’Donnell feels that the very high advances will eventually make it cost-prohibitive to bring over new Japanese releases, ultimately hurting the market. However, the slowdown in Japanese releases, largely driven by higher and higher advance costs, has been noted in Japan, and O’Donnell hopes that the Japanese licensors will eventually lower their fees.

As always, the question of digital downloadable anime came up, and O’Donnell stated that they have downloadable content available through Movielink and available for free from their website for PSP and the iPod Video. However, he continued that CPM started talking to Apple Computer to get onto iTunes on the day that the iPod Video came out, but that there is a massive backlog of companies trying to get onto the iTunes Music Store and that they are waiting in line.

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