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Otakon2010: Industry Panel Reports

This past weekend, Otakon 2010’s programming included three industry panels hosted by significant players in the anime market: FUNimation Entertainment, Bandai Entertainment, and Aniplex of America, Inc. These panels are always anticipated for possible news about the licensing of excellent titles from the land of the rising sun that anime fans are hoping for, and they can also be a great source of more minute details about the state of the industry or already-licensed Japanese cartoons that fans care about. As a fan, I certainly know the feeling of missing a great event and wishing I could know everything that had happened there beyond the big news highlights. So while there isn’t a perfect substitute for being there in person, my hope is that I have delivered you the next best thing by doing my best to offer a full and detailed account of what happened and what was said at each of these panels.

Enjoy the report and offer your thoughts about all this on the forums!

Aniplex of America

On Friday afternoon, Aniplex of America Inc. played host to a substantial audience with their “Who The Hell Do You Think I Am?” panel on Friday afternoon (for any who might not know, the panel name is the catchphrase of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann). It was hosted by Yosuke Kodaka and Hiroe Tsukamoto, their Manager of Licensing and Vice President of Development and Marketing respectively. The panel started off with a very impressive trailer showing off the many properties associated with the Aniplex brand, some already licensed for the English-speaking market and some not. These were displayed with such overwhelming speed that taking note of them all was a difficult task, but titles that got love in Aniplex’s trailer included Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Katanagatari, Bakemonogatari, Angel Beats, Black Butler, Darker Than Black, Rurouni Kenshin, Hell Girl, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kara no Kyoukai, Kannagi, Xam’d, Guin Saga, and more.

As usual, Aniplex again promoted its DVD releases for the two Gurren Lagann compilation films, Childhood’s End and The Lights In The Sky Are Stars. They then discussed their young Youtube channel, which was notably used to stream the first twenty minutes of the movie Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW subtitled over a month ago. Aniplex announced their intention to get deeper into legal video streaming, informing the audience that it could expect Read or Die, Toward the Terra, and Ghost Slayers Ayashi to arrive on the channel soon. Aniplex also announced its intention to bring the drama/action series Durarara!! to the Youtube channel as well.

Aniplex proceeded to promote the screening of Welcome to THE SPACE SHOW as well as related panels featuring director Koji Masunari, character designer Masashi Ishihama, and producer Tomonori Ochikoshi. Their efforts were evidently successful, as the screening for the movie was packed. After this the topic shifted to the imminent Blu-Ray release of the Read or Die OVA and TV series in a single set this winter, as well as the first English casting announcements for Durarara!!: Kari Wahlgren as Celty, Darrel Guilbeau as Mikado, and Crispin Freeman as Shizuo. Bang Zoom! Entertainment is producing the dub. Prior to each casting announcement, the audience was invited to guess the voice actor for each role based on a short audio clip for each characters’ dubbed performance. This proved to be a difficult challenge, although some fans did successfully identify Crispin Freeman. Aniplex encouraged fans to check durararausa.com and Aniplex’s Youtube channel for more casting announcements to come in the future.

The panel then moved to a Q&A session. During this time several questions related to Aniplex’s commitment to dubbing were asked, prompting reassurances to the audience that Aniplex is not opposed to dubbing and decides how to handle each project case-by-case depending on what they think its potential is for sales and profitability. On the subject of licensing, Aniplex said that they would not be distributing Bakemonogatari themselves. In contrast, on separate questions Aniplex confirmed that it was seeking distribution partners for the acclaimed action/sci-fi short Cencoroll, as well as the supernatural thriller/mystery film series Kara no Kyoukai (a.k.a. The Garden of Sinners). As a fan, I dearly hope that we will hear good news about such high quality titles as these someday in the not-too-distant future.

FUNimation Entertainment

Early Friday evening, FUNimation’s always-popular industry panel was wisely hosted in the massive panel 3 room, whose size was sufficient to contain the immense crowd that wished to attend the event. The panel was hosted by marketing manager Adam Sheehan along with events and conventions manager Joshua Morris. As usual FUNimation started off with brief comments about the state of the industry and their business, and as usual their attitude was quite positive. Mr. Morris noted recent data that 51% of their DVD market consisted of people 25 years old and up with 18-24 year olds following at 40%, noting the need for more fresh young blood in the market. At the same time FUNimation also noted 13-17 year olds as the largest and most active group online, which is considered an opportunity for marketing. They also referred to the continued increases in anime convention attendance, citing the example of Sakuracon in Seattle, Washington (22% growth from 2008-2009, and 9% growth from 2009-2010) along with Anime Boston (8% growth from 2008-2009, 12% 2009-2010). Some brief comments were also made about FUNimation’s anti-piracy efforts, which are managed by a team of one lawyer along with three staff members that focus on everything from bootleg DVD’s to illegitimate streaming websites and downloads. There was also a brief reference to the recent closure of the now-defunct scanlation website OneManga, a fact which drew a mixture of some applause and a few boos from the audience–I do not mind saying that I was one of the first to applaud.

After all this FUNimation proceeded to the main event: the cartoons. Trailers were played for several recent and upcoming home video releases such as Corpse Princess (a.k.a. Shikabane Hime), My Bride Is A Mermaid, Master of Martial Hearts, Casshern Sins, Eden of the East, and the second season of Hetalia: Axis Powers. As Toonzone news reported FUNimation also announced the second season of Strike Witches, the third and fourth seasons of Hetalia (a.k.a. Hetalia World Series) and the movie Paint It, White. For new properties, they also announced Blessing of the Campanella (a.k.a. Shukufuku no Campanella) and Okamisan (a.k.a. Ōkami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi) for a 2011 release. But the best news of the panel and the entire weekend was clearly the licensing announcements of two highly anticipated anime films: Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance and the award-winning action movie Summer Wars. The crowd reaction for both was extremely positive and Mr. Sheehan went out of his way to talk up both films, remarking that Summer Wars was one of the best animated films he’s seen in years and that as much as he loves the first Rebuild of Evangelion film, the second one “blows it out of the water.” The crowd was informed that plans were being made for both films to receive some manner of theatrical release, with Summer Wars “definitely” being slated for this. On the subject of English casting for Evangelion, FUNimation said that they do not yet know what new roles will be reprised for 2.22.

Amid all the release and licensing announcements Mr. Sheehan also took some time to promote the upcoming beta of their new social website, which will be based at funimation.com and is tentatively planned for an official launch sometime in October. Mr. Sheehan named this as his primary project throughout the summer and strongly encouraged fans to sign up for the beta, emphasizing that fan feedback would be taken very seriously in order to craft the sort of website that FUNimation’s online visitors are looking for. FUNimation also plans to start a subscription service sometime late this year or early 2011; this service will give the user an ad-free website, subscriber-exclusive web forums, exclusive contests, and earlier access to dubbed anime episodes online.

During the Q&A session, FUNimation revealed some small tidbits of information about various properties. For Eden of the East, FUNimation noted that while the series’ opening “Falling Down” by Oasis will be released for the series, rights issues restrict the song to the first episode only. For Birdy the Mighty: Decode, FUNimation does not have Blu-Ray rights for the show. For Phantom: Requiem of the Phantom, however, the rights and the schedule for a Blu-Ray release are being negotiated. In response to a question about the home video rerelease of FLCL, they said that there were no details yet. Whether the English acting roles for Hellsing Ultimate will be reprised is also something still to be determined. On the subject of Dragon Ball Z and the related Dragon Ball Z Kai, FUNimation noted that the Dragon Boxes were selling well compared to their expectations and that it was very unlikely that Kai would see a faster video release, since they want to space things out and give each set ample opportunity to make sales without another one getting in the way too quickly. In response to questions about One Piece FUNimation confirmed that more episodes would indeed be released beyond the third season, with the schedule for that still to be determined. In response to a question about an eventual Blu-Ray release in light One Piece’s transition to high-definition on Japanese television, Mr. Sheehan described it as a “sure bet” if they can eventually negotiate the rights. On another note Mr. Sheehan also acknowledged the strong interest expressed by fans for more One Piece and also for more of its movies, especially the 10th film Strong World–at its mere mention, the crowd burst out in cheers and applause. Keep on pushing, fans!

Bandai Entertainment

On Saturday night, Bandai Entertainment hosted their “Bandai After Dark” panel at 9 PM. If FUNimation’s panel delivered the best industry news of the weekend with the long-awaited announcements for Evangelion 2.22 and Summer Wars, Bandai delivered the most entertaining show for the audience that packed the room. The panel was hosted by the familiar faces of president and CEO Ken Iyadomi and marketing director Robert Napton, but they were joined by several other individuals: producer Loy Fruel, ADR director Taku Otsuka, voice actor and ADR director Michael Sinterniklaas of the voice acting studio NYAV Post, and voice actress Stephanie Sheh. Mr. Napton described this as their “favorite panel” where they get to have some fun with their presentation, and Bandai let it show. Sheh started things off on a light note by leading the audience in doing a “Mikuru Beam” from an episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. After welcoming everyone to the panel, Bandai started their presentation by promoting the Bandai Store and playing the same trailers for the Gurren Lagann movies that were shown at the Aniplex panel. After that, Napton noted the presence of the large Gurren Lagann banner present in the room and announced that a signed banner would be given away to an attendee who had his business card left in his or her chair; sure enough, one lucky fan claimed his prize to polite applause. After that came the obligatory presentation of Bandai’s recent acquisitions, the fantasy series Tales of the Abyss and Turn A Gundam. Abyss’ “trailer” was the series’ opening, while Turn A was shown off with a short action clip from the series where protagonist Loran Cehack piloted the titular Turn A Gundam against a much larger enemy mobile suit (or a mobile armor?). Mr. Napton went out of his way to highlight the mecha designs by designer Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Aliens, Tron), as well as the music of accomplished composer Yoko Kanno. Remarks were made about how Bandai was “very excited” to be bringing more Gundam to fans.

The middle of the panel was occupied by plenty of focus on episode 2 of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, “The Second Coming of Char.” The episode was confirmed for a November release on Blu-Ray, with the episode first becoming available on Playstation Network on October 30th. Along with the technical details that owners of volume one would expect, Bandai’s overview of the Blu-Ray release revealed that this time the release would include
twenty minutes of extras along with the episode itself. Details will be
coming soon. After a subtitled long trailer was played for the audience, Sinterniklaas and Sheh offered some comments about the title. Sinterniklaas described the Gundam Unicorn project as a “dream come true,” remarking that it was “gratifying” to get the chance to work on what you’re a fan of. As the voice director Sinterniklaas he was also very positive about the dub, proudly noting that Gundam expert and production supervisor Mark Simmons told him that he considered Gundam Unicorn “the best localized Gundam he’s seen so far.” Sheh offered her perspective on how different it was to work on this sort of simultaneous release where everyone cares and is committed to the project, saying that she was “really honored” to be a part of it. The panel went on to note the challenges of producing the dub. The panel made clear that the staff works closely with Sunrise to get many details just right, so more people than usual are involved in the project’s production. Furthermore, since there is less time to get everything done and getting the cast together for the dubbing is a challenge, the staff need to work very long work days in order to finish the production on time. On that note Sheh recounted her story about how the first episode was dubbed in 2009 during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday and she was sick during that time to boot, prompting the others to note that it was impossible to tell by her performance. Sinterniklaas also praised the involvement of Mr. Simmons, referring to him as a “Gundam Ph.D.” that helps keep production on track and faithful to every detail. The panel gave away three Gundam Unicorn posters to audience members who correctly answered trivia about Gundam. To accomplish this Sinterniklaas used his cell phone to call Mr. Simmons himself, who proceeded to give questions to the audience over speakerphone on the spot.

The Gundam focus was followed by a segment devoted to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Bandai referenced the boxed release of the first season and the imminent release of the second season in September, which Mr. Napton noted as coming out in a box right away instead of singles first as the original season did. Bandai also touched on the future release of two different series of parody shorts related to the show, The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya and Nyorōn Churuya-san, which they said were dubbed using the original voice actors. Sheh offered brief comment about doing Mikuru’s voice for the shorts, saying that she did a “deeper and dryer” voice for the role and that she felt Mikuru oddly “…kind of looks like a man” in the Churuya-san shorts. In the case of the film The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Bandai said that they were looking to reunite the series cast and start dub production soon. Bandai then entertained the audience by screening dub outtakes from the two shorts, prompting plenty of laughter from the audience. Bandai ended their Haruhi focus by promoting the appearance of Yuki’s Japanese voice actress, Minori Chihara, at New York Anime Festival this Fall, where she will give a concert as well as doing the usual panels and autograph sessions. After playing a special message from Chihara about how she was excited to experience New York for the first time, Bandai held a contest where fans did their best to imitate the roles of Mikuru and Kyon from a scene in the TV series. Ultimately three winners were chosen according to the support shown by the audience. All three won a free pass to New York Anime Festival, while a young woman who earned first place also won special VIP seating to Chihara’s concert.

As reported by Toonzone, Bandai concluded their presentation by announcing The Girl Who Leapt Through Space (a.k.a. Sora Kake Girl), the OVA prequel to My Otome, My-Otome 0~S.ifr~, and two casting decisions for K-On!: Stephanie Sheh as Yui and Cristina Vee as Mio. This was done in anything but a typical manner. Mr. Napton informed Sheh of the decision to ask her to play Yui on the spot, quite obviously catching Sheh by surprise–naturally, she accepted the role. After that Mr. Napton introduced Vee by remarking that the panel had smuggled in a special guest that was never officially confirmed for Otakon, at which point Vee emerged from behind the Gurren Lagann banner to the audience’s delight. Dressed for Mio cosplay with microphone in hand, Vee proceeded to sing three K-On! songs for the audience. Afterward, the Q&A for Bandai’s panel was relatively light. One audience member enjoyed Vee’s performance and asked if a CD release of her singing songs from K-On! was possible; Mr. Iyadomi had to reply that he did not know. Sheh was asked whether it was difficult for her to dub the same lines several times for the (in)famous “Endless Eight” episodes in Haruhi Suzumiya’s second season; Sheh replied that it was “not bad” for her, although worse for other actors and actresses that ended up with many more lines. In a pleasant surprise, Mr. Iyadomi responded to a question about a DVD box release for the original Mobile Suit Gundam by saying that he spoke with Sunrise producer Mr. Ozaki about the issue (Ozaki, incidentally, was in attendance) and that the matter would be discussed. Finally another fan asked about the prospects for the upcoming movie for Mobile Suit Gundam 00, but no comment was given as Mr. Iyadomi noted that the movie had yet to even hit Japanese theaters.

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