AX 2008 Wrapup: Smartphone Next Time Would Be Nice

Notes from Saturday Manga Panels
Today is the recovery day after the long weekend at Anime Expo 2008 and during the con, I felt disconnected from much of the stuff that was happening. My hotel didn’t have free wifi and neither did the convention center and I had varying success at 7th + Fig (it worked in the pit but not in the second level? Come on!) so I only wrote one blog post during the convention since I’m too cheap to pay for LACC Instaconnect. But I did manage to send a bunch of Twitter updates during certain panels, which makes me feel like I did something in terms of reporting things.

Jump to: Tokyopop | Go! Comi | Production I.G. | Funimation | Kadokawa Pictures USA | Shira Oka | Eva 1.0 | Last Exhibit Hall Run

Orange GN Cover from Tokyopop Panel

Saturday 10am: Tokyopop [AOD report with dates]
I was a few minutes late to this panel but I didn’t miss much because what the panelists were talking about when I came in was the Ghostbusters manga. That was followed by more media brand titles like Camp Rock, High School Musical, and Hannah Montana. The Battlestar Galactica manga anthology series, Echoes of New Caprica, was also mentioned and is expected to come out in March although it is in very early development.

They next described a 2009 series of color graphic novels drawn by international authors that will have a tradiational GN trim of 7″ x 10″. The first was Orange by Benjamin (Hong Kong), which is about a young woman about to commit suicide who is stopped by a guy who later commits suicide himself. (They will also be publishing Remember by the same artist.) Next was Pixie by Mathieu Mariolle and Aurore from France – it’s about a young boy traveling with a prince and when they encounter a crossroads, they travel to different dimensions. The last one was Luuna from Spain, which focuses on a Native American girl going through a rite of passage that takes place on a cursed day and, to make matters worse, she receives a cursed name as well.

They mentioned new manga titles like Tsubasa – those with wings, from Fruits Basket author Natsuki Takaya, where a ex-thief and ex-military commander are now friends; The Tarot Cafe novel (the manga had previously come out); a new .hack//GU novel; the Peacemaker Kurogane novel, a followup to the manga series; Momo Tara, a retelling of the historic Momotaro story; Castle of Dreams, a collection of stories from Kare Kano author Masami Tsuda; NG Life, where Japanese teenagers begin remembering their past lives in Pompeii; Tagainu no Chi, a BL game adaption; the Ugly Yet Beautiful World manga; and Maid-sama (Kaichou wa Maid-sama), wherein a strong-willed female student council president secretly works at a maid cafe.

Frankly, the only ones I were interested in were Maid-sama because I had heard of it before and Tsubasa (kind of) because it has adventure aspects to it and is a relative short series.

Some of the questions posed by attendees yielded the response of “that’s part of what we’re currently reevaluating” such as Mobile Suit Gundam, 12 Kingdoms, and the light novel line as a whole. They are planning to release bindup versions of DramaCon and Ai Yori Aoshi. One suggested picking up some .hack manga that ran in a magazine. Some weird older guy wanted to know where their London office is located in relation to the British Museum so they could adapt the Egyptian scrolls of the dead. Another dude wearing an Anime Pulse T-Shirt (probably from that site) garnered boo’s and laughter from the crowd when he asked the panel to stop publishing yaoi because he didn’t like it.

More relevantly, Kodansha’s US self-publishing venture won’t impact them as far as they know and one panelist commented that “it’s a crowded market right now” and it’ll be interesting to see how successful the Japanese publisher’s endeavor will be.

11am: Go! Comi Panel
The next panel I attended was by a smaller manga publisher, Go! Comi. The panelists were CEO David Wise, creative director Audry Taylor (cute), and promotional director Mallory Reeves (also cute) and they led off with a trailer for 07-Ghost (pronounced “seven ghost”) that had cropping and manipulation to make it look more than plain pages of manga (you should try that sometime, Viz and Tokyopop!): “Orphaned by war; raised to be a soldier; betrayed by the truth; rescued by 7 mystical beings.” It has been serialized in Monthly Comic Zero Sum magazine, where Loveless and Amatsuki also ran, and is supposed to come in the beginning of December.

They then mentioned some of their recent releases including Yggdrasil, Kamisama Kazoku, and Cy-believers from Shioko Mizuki, the author of Crossroad. There was another trailer with added effects, this one for Ultimate Venus and used classical refined music with dramatic vamps: “a waif without a home, a castle without an heir, a mentor without a pupil”. This basic Pygmalion tale from the author of Tenshi Ja Nai!!, Takako Shigematsu, had its first volume come out last month.

Some new licenses announced were Days of Cool Idols, a BL oneshot for fall; Angel’s Coffin, a oneshot based on the Mireling affair; and Crown by Wata Shinji, which was described as like the Princess Diaries in a way. They ended their new title announcements with a trailer for Bound Beauty (Shibariya Komachi), coming out in fall from Mick Takeuchi (Her Majesty’s Dog), that seems like something a casual manga reader like me might want to check out. It deals with a 17-year-old girl who has the ability to see red threads of fate and gains the power to manipulate them at the cost of reverting to a 9-year-old body.

The most interesting part was saved for last when they showed off their part of their upcoming O-Play program of browser-based, episodic “immersive manga” with a game called Dragon Academy. They plan to launch with three games that are similar to renai in terms of items arranged on the screen and on-screen character expressions but they are intending to replace relationship stat building with shoujo plot building. The prologues will be free but further chapters will cost an unspecified amount with a subscription option possible down the line. Dragon Academy, the game they showed, had a Wheel of Emotion (WOE?) mechanic that comes key decision moments with possible options like Sad, Angry, and others. They also mentioned that if O-Play is initially successful, they may try to localize Japanese games for the service.

Nokia Theater Line for Shokotan
Line for the Shokotan concert at the Nokia Theater

1pm: Production I.G. Panel
This panel was hosted by Maki, who hadn’t planned on holding a panel this year until her trip to Japan got delayed by a week, so the only timeslot available was opposite Shokotan’s concert across the street. The main focus of the panel was The Sky Crawlers, a film directed by Mamoru Oshii coming out in Japanese theatres August 2nd. Its main characters are Kildren, children who do not age and pilot fighter planes. Maki jokingly said it could be described as “teenagers killing each other in the sky for entertainment” and when one attendee asked what’s going on in the world of the film, she tried not to reveal too much and said it takes place within a peaceful world while the main setting is a base. The trailer certainly reflected dark themes and the sound was mixed at Skywalker Ranch. They are currently looking for an American distributor and apparently there is enough smoking to make it not easy to get a PG-13 rating.

She also showed off a demo reel of their previous work including Ghost in the Shell, Seirei no Moribito, and Dead Leaves, followed by promos for Real Drive, the live action series Phone Braver 7, and a really short teaser clip from the Ghost in the Shell 2.0 remastering. Manga Entertainment will have an announcement about it at SDCC and any theatrical screenings are in their hands. GitS 2nd GIG was confirmed by a staffer as coming out on Blu-ray in November.

I'm Thinking Arby's Cosplayer

3:30pm: Funimation Panel
At first, I didn’t plan on attending this panel since I knew it would be packed but I wanted to find out a bit more about their big deals of the weekend so I decided to go. It began with Adam (Sheehan?) highlighting a quote from Gen Fukunaga’s keynote a few days earlier: “Change creates opportunity”. He then told us that Funimation is looking at the bigger picture – the non-anime market; new technology such as Blu-ray and digital downloads; and changing with packaging trends – followed by some bullet points about market growth.

The next part about Funimation Mobile didn’t appeal to me as I’ve previously said I don’t want to consume manga on cell phones and anime is not different. But I suppose you’re riding across the country on Amtrak, you might be interested in this. They are currently offering two different series packages (Gunslinger Girl and Moon Phase) that you can watch in five-minute chunks for $5/month per package. Some Blu-Ray releases they’ve already put out include Afro Samurai, Shinobi, Vexville, Robotech Shadow Chronicles, and 2 different DBZ double features.

Next were price and date information for various season sets:

  • Case Closed Season 1 – $50 – ep. 1-26 – July 22th
  • Yu Yu Hakusho Season 1 * – $35 – ep. 1-26 – July 8th
  • One Piece Season 1, Set 2 – $50 – ep. 14-26 – Sept. 23
  • Dragonball Z Season 6 *- 29 episodes, 6 discs – Sept. 16
  • Ouran Part 1 ** – eps. 1-13 – $60 – Oct. 28
  • Ouran Part 2 ** – eps. 14-26 – $60 – Jan. 6
  • Darker Than Black v.1 – Nov. 25

*features Marathon Play that allows viewing of all episodes with the in-between previews cut out
**Ouran Extras: Actors Commentary, Manga Pages, Outtakes

I personally think that the Ouran season set prices are a little high ($10 more than the One Piece sets) but the dubbing costs may be more than usual and they also might have figured they could charge more for Ouran due to the high demand for it.

They then recapped their recent normal acquisitions as well as their pickups from Geneon and Sojitz. One title from Geneon that caught my eye was the live-action Ninja Vixens, a series of softcore mini-features that ANN’s Bamboo Dong very recently called “either one of the worst things I’ve seen this year, or vaguely brilliant in a disturbing way”. They are keeping the voice actors for the incomplete projects and just started working on the Sojitz titles. More details on the Geneon relationship are that Funi will market and distribute volume by volume, then box sets while Geneon will supply the packaging materials that they had already made. Older Geneon titles (like Trigun?) reportedly reverted back to the Japanese owners.

The newly revealed YouTube relationship was hashed out with new episodes every week and some form of advertising (10-second Google ads?) helping to keep it free with an asterisk.

From Q&A: The Negima OVA & Season 2 will be coming soon, possibly late summer/early fall, while another Ken Akamatsu anime Love Hina, which was “rescued” from Bandai at AX 2007, is still TBA with a chance at late 2008. [Note: The Anime Legends collection that came out in June 2006 was priced at $80] They don’t have anything on xxxHolic Kei not yet.

Why the long delay for Ouran to come? Well, it was a combination of a delay of materials and wanting to time the cast announcements and other details to coincide with AX. To cheers, they said Kodocha Season 2 would be coming in August/September – TRSI and RACS list an August 5th date. They are aggressive pursuing VOD while not explicitly giving satellite owners the bad; they are also really optimistic about One Piece and Shin-chan. Someone suggested they look at Gintama (uh, not so sure about that…) and a whole bunch of people led off their questions with praise that made me roll my eyes and think I was sitting in a revival instead of an industry panel at an anime convention.

Haruko Cosplayer, She Actually Plays Bass

5:30pm: Kadokawa Pictures USA
Panelists Chiako and Yuko began with a brief introduction of Kadokawa as one of the largest publishers of manga in Japan then went right into their new title announcements, most accompanied with animation footage (i.e. openings): H2O footprints in the sand (12 eps), Good Luck! Ninomiya-kun (12 eps); Rental Magica (24 eps); Coo ~Our Guardian~ (24 eps); Romantica ~Pure Love~ [Junjou Romantica] (12 eps); and Spice and Wolf (13 eps).

The Tokikake regular and special edition DVDs will hit shelves November 18. There are screening planned in Boston and Seattle theaters this August as well as ten other cities planned including San Francisco. A language teacher asked if they could put Japanese subtitles on their DVDs so that his students could read the words they were hearing. Another person asked about Blu-ray for the film and they hope to have that by next year.

They plan to continue having English dubs with their new titles and they said “the more you wait, the better the contents will be” when asked about Haruhi season 2. Naturally as publishers, they would like to promote IP’s they already own as manga and light novel titles so that’s why most of the releases are adapted from works they publish.

The Rush to Grab Kadokawa Posters

6:30pm: Shira Oka Panel
I had been idly watching this indie game’s development since hearing about it at Fanime 2007. The panelists were Megan Christiansen and Andrew Chu and they gave the small audience a look at the introduction and a walkthrough of the initial character building. The setup of the game is that an angel called Satsuko sends you, a miserable drinking wreck, back in time to relive your high school days and improve your life.

While the character base stats cannot be changed later in the game, you can earn points throughout the game to improve stats and personality quirks. You can also call on Satsuko (angel) for advice – you get fuzzy, inexact results. Your mental and physical health bars are displayed on a top overlay panel and various activity options like calling people or studying appear as buttons on the left/right hand sides as you play through the game.

There is battle system involving card games that can actually result physical injury for the player’s character. It took a long time to write the dialogue and cutscenes but now the voice recording is ready to be done for the introduction, endings, and the intermission. They are aiming for a T rating and when I asked after about the range of endings, Andrew said there will be varying emotional levels in different character endings.

A single play through is estimated to take 40 hours but players will certainly want to have multiple goes through the game to see the different results. There is still no release date planned but it’s expected to come within a year. The game begins during Golden Week and makes reference to Japanese holidays so it could be localized for Japanese consumers; in fact, there has been interest for other firms in doing just that. Andrew said he’s still interested in open sourcing the engine/system; the game is written using a mixture of C and C++.

10pm: Evangelion 1.0 Screening (mini-review)
This first in the tetralogy of reimagined films had been shown earlier in the con at 11:30AM Thursday and 12:30PM Friday but Saturday night seemed to be the best time to watch it aesthetically. It was also the only time I would be able to see it. It was shown on 35mm film on a large screen and I would guess there were 400-500 people in Petree Hall (didn’t try to count).

I was very impressed by how crisp the animation and settings looked (this SHOULD get a Blu-ray release) and the storyline was more streamlined, ending with the Ramiel fight from episode 6. Of course, there were the key fanservice moments like Misato’s cleavage while drinking with Shinji and Shinji falling onto Rei while delivering her new ID card. By the way, hearing Megumi Hayashibara as Rei made me want to go back and rewatch the anime in Japanese – something I haven’t done as I first saw the series in English through Adult Swim a few years back. Overall, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would but it’s not perfect so it’s about a 9, 9.5 out of 10. I’m looking forward to the second installment especially the new female character who was wearing shades in the preview.

Da Capo Shirt at Circus Booth
Sunday 11am: Last Run of Exhibit Hall
I returned to LACC the next morning to legitimize my 4-Day Attendee badge and also to attempt to spin the Bandai Entertainment wheel. I had bought one of the cheapest items at their booth – Rescue Me Mave-Chan for $8 – to get a ticket the previous afternoon but they were setting up for the Shokotan signing at 11:30 so I gave up on that. A few booths over occupying part of Broccoli’s space was Circus, a company that makes dating sim games like D.C. ~Da Capo~ and Edelweiss. They are trying to sell English translations of their games and gave me a trial disk. I also bought for a dollar some music from Cy-Rim rev, Aina Kase, and another artist that has been in their games and most of it is pretty good.

Lain Illustration Artbook
My last stop was the Akadot Retail booth, where I had walked around on previous days but hadn’t found anything worth buying. Well, I ended up getting a Lain illustrations artbook for $15; there was also robot 2 for $10 but I kind of wanted to get out of there and paying for my hotel room share and parking left me with less desire to spend more.

8-bit Street Art
I finally left Los Angeles at quarter after noon and it took a little less than seven hours to drive home with stops at a Del Taco in Bakersfield for food and a Valero gas station in Merced for fuel. The convention experience was a good exercise in being a fan reporter and taking notes but I’m inclined on not going next year unless there is some deeply compelling reason like better guests to justify the long journey down Interstate 5. It’s going to be at the same place – the Los Angeles Convention Center – July 2-5, 2009 for those interested in being one of more than 43 thousand.

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