Animazement Convention Report
Our southern correspondent (after being cooped up in the SOS-South office all winter) found themselves hypnotically drawn to Animazement, the March 10-12 (2000) anime convention held in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Sailormoon" and "Revolutionary Girl Utena" director Kunihiko Ikuhara would be in attendance as well as number of other big guns. When did Raleigh become a hotbed of anime fandom? The convention had both good and not-so-good points.Raleigh
The capitol of North Carolina. Not exactly pedestrian-friendly. One of the major downers to holding a convention in this city was that, like Katsucon, your movements were limited to the hotel only. Not to mention that if you did want to venture out, the city was pretty much "closed" by 8:30pm. Road construction made it easy for a tourist to get lost or end up on the "wrong" side of town.Opening Night
The festivities began with "Fan Appreciation Night" on Thursday. Here, all the guests (both American and Japanese) would sit at tables while fans could hang around, talk shop, give tribute, etc. with whomever they wanted. During the intros, fans would scream for their favorite guest as if it were an Aerosmith concert. The loudest response was for Yuu Watase, the creator of "Fushigi Yuugi." Cosplayers dressed for "Fushigi Yuugi" were out in force as were fans of "Utena" to cheer for its creator, Chiho Saito.
With Chiho Saito, the creator of "Revolutionary Girl Utena" and Kunihiko Ikuhara, its supervising Director, and many "Utena" cosplayers in attendance, this panel was not going to be concerned with "Sailormoon." However, some aspects were brought to light--but it wasn't easy.
First, Murphy's Law was taking no prisoners during this session. Ms. Saito had set up while Mr. Ikuhara arrived a couple of minutes late. Before the Q&A session was to start, Kunihiko wanted to show all his loyal fans clips from the "Utena" movie. At first, the DVD disc was misplaced and then found. They popped the disc into a player which seemed to crash with every play. Even Mr. Ikuhara was getting a little miffed and was seen running back and forth between the panel table and behind the big screen trying to assist in getting the player to work. After a new DVD player was located and the footage successfully shown (the whole ordeal ate up about 25 minutes of the panel) Kunihiko and Chiho were ready for their Q&A.
One fan did ask if Utena's popularity in America was due to the popularity of "Sailor Moon." This got Kunihiko to dive a little into his work on "Sailormoon." He remarked that even though he's accredited for outstanding work on the property, it wasn't really one of his favorite projects as opposed to "Utena" which he considers his pride and joy.
Mr. Ikuhara had problems with his work on "Sailormoon" since he didn't own any serious licenses to the series. This made it harder for him to be creative beyond its established universe. Kunihiko was bored and wanted to do something else. One day, when he was in a Japanese bookstore, he came across some manga written by Chiho Saito. He was looking into creating a new series that was not entirely girl-oriented like Sailor Moon. He decided to look up Ms.Saito to have her sign on to this new project. He stopped by her house without permission (a big no-no in Japan) and introduced himself, his project and his idea. The two formed the studio known as "Be-Papas" and layed out the framework for the Utena universe. Ms. Saito would write and illustrate the manga according to her interpretation of the story while Mr. Ikuhara would direct the anime in accordance with his interpretation of the story. Both included similar storylines that are universal to the overall story of the "Utena" universe but both had different "subplots" so to speak. As most anyone will tell you this is not uncommon when comparing manga versus anime with any story.
When a deal was secured for "Utena," Mr. Ikuhara resigned from "Sailormoon" and took his staff with him. Kunihiko explained that he doesn't feel ill about being associated with "Sailormoon" but that he prefers to be remembered for "Utena" more than anything else.
Probably one of the few manga artists to have multiple hit serials published in the United States (Rumiko Takahashi has slightly more), Kia Asamiya is considered a manga legend. His work includes, "Steam Detectives," "Silent Mobius," "Dark Angel" and "Martian Successor Nadesico."
Spanning several genres has made his manga enjoyable to a wide following. Kia focuses less on Japanese readers and more on the genres themselves (thus explaining his international appeal). He said that "Dark Angel" was "medieval-based" and that "Silent Mobius" was based on "Blade Runner." Mr. Asamiya revealed that he is a huge fan of American cartoons and artists. His favorite being "Batman" (which you'll find references to in his work).
Kia said that he writes for adults and mid to late teens but that he also likes to do serials for younger audiences as well. This was one of his motivations behind "Steam Detectives," in which the main character is a boy detective with a cute 16 year old nurse for a sidekick. His latest project has him doing, of all things, a magical girl series called "Corrector Yui" which currently airs on NHK. Its target audience is girls, ages 6-10.
Mr. Asamiya said that he has a lot of control over how his stories are done in animated form. If he doesn't like the final product, he'll ask the studio to redo it. One of his most amusing stories was when artists were trying to figure out how to animate "Nadesico" while keeping the flavor of the manga. Kia's best explanation of the "Nadesico" universe to them was this, "It's basically the cast of Urusei Yatsura aboard the Battleship Yamato fighting in Gundam suits."
American Voice Actors: Part deux!
One of the main highlights for dubbie lovers was the legendary meet the voices behind your favorite anime characters. Besides the return of Lisa Ortiz, Rachael Lillis and Amy Howard (Nova in "Star Blazers-Yamato"), new comers included Brett Weaver (Carrot Glace in "Sorceror Hunters") and Pamela Weidner (Skuld in "Oh! My Goddess" and Princess Shina in "Shinesman").
The fun started before the panel even began when Brett told the audience that when he was checking in the hotel he looked through the list of guests and saw his name and title as, "Brett Weaver: Voice Actress." So throughout the convention he consistently introduced himself by saying "Hi, I'm Brett Weaver, I'm a famous voice actress." This native Texan is probably the most active and flamboyant Voice Artist (V/A) currently working in the industry. His advice for all future V/As is:
As usual, many of the performers shared some of their exploits in the business. One interesting story was when some of the V/As on the panel went to dinner with the Japanese Voice Artist, Akira Kamiya (Professor Tomoe from "Sailormoon-S" and Saeba Ryo from "City Hunter"). Brett said, "We were telling Akira all the different accents and how someone talking from New York sounds different than someone talking from Texas. Well, through the help of his translator he explained how Japanese speakers have different accents."
Lisa, "We think they (Japanese people in general) sound the same but they don't."
Brett, "He then does one dialogue of speech and then does another dialogue (in a different accent) and it's like Wow! That doesn't sound anything like you were doing earlier!"
The panel ended with Pamela Weidner reminding everyone that if they want to try their luck at voice acting themselves that the company she works for (Coastal Carolina Studios) was holding a workshop at Animazement. Guess what we went to next?
Coastal Carolina Studios director & CEO Scott Hale, his lovely wife Billie and Ms. Weidner held a workshop where fans got to play voice actor for a day. Coastal Carolina brought with them a digital drive with which they recorded dialogue. Using a digital process allows all sorts of tweaking to make lines fit lip movement. Voice actors need only to get a few good takes which approximate the lip movement and the rest can be done by a dialogue editor. And although they didn't demonstrate editing at the convention, it's possible for individual words to be spaced further apart, cut closer together, dropped completely and/or replaced by completely different takes.
Although many participants stuck to their written lines, a few did a little tweaking of their own. A lot of raw talent and creativity was on display. "Voogie's Angels," the anime that got to be the victim will never be thought of in the same way again.Autograph Sessions
With the heavyweight Japanese guests at Animazement, it was understandable that the lines were stretched out as far as the eye could see. In spite of this, both the guests and the staff acted like professionals. There were two sessions (one on Friday and the other on Saturday), each for 2 hours, with all of the guests and with no strings attached! There were no quotas, no raffles, no special tickets. There was only one restriction: Fans could get only one autograph from each guest. Fans were allowed to take pictures with the guests and to give them fanart.
Animazement is following a decidedly Eastern United States emerging trend in anime conventions. As with Otakon and Anime Weekend Atlanta, guests were definitely hands on. (Such phenomena are in scarce supply on the West coast.) Animazement, in particular, has risen above all expectations in "fan to artist/actor" relations.
Animazement Cosplay Coordinator Responds To Our Report
On May 16, 2000 we received the following rebuttal to the report above.
Hi there. My name is Phil Lee and I'm the cosplay coordinator for Animazement. I was looking through some of the post-con reports and noticed that your group was unhappy with the way cosplay was handled, citing that some skits were pre-judged to be too long, and that there was censorship of skits that were not deemed "family-friendly" enough.
This year the decision was made to reduce skit length to 90 seconds. This was applied as a general standard to all skits in order to try to prevent cosplay from going over it's scheduled time. I recieved feedback on this from several local cosplayers, including our own Amy and Carolina (cosplay enthusiasts extrordinaire), who agreed that this was a fair time limit. Unfortunatly, I was not able to advertise this as widely as I would have liked before the con and a few groups showed up prepared to deliver a longer skit, which I was not able to allow. Most of the groups I mentioned this to were able to rework their skits to fit the time limit. Now that we've established a 90 second time limit (which I plan on advertising more extensively next year), hopefully this will not be a problem again.
There was only one person that I know of who was disqualified from entering. He was using an audio tape for his sketch which was a set 2:00 minutes. I encouraged him to work with his sketch to try to bring it down closer to the 90 second mark. He also explained that his sketch used the word "bitch" in it twice. I told him that would be a bit much for our audience which does feature quite a few small children (including several which took place in cosplay themselves), with family in tow. Unfortunatly, he became discouraged and decided not to enter, though I had hoped he would have decided to create a new sketch or simply display his costume if he was unable to re-work his existing skit tape. This is the only case that I can think of where someone was unable to compete, and this was mostly due to the time limit.
I didn't want your group to get the idea that I was in the habit of tossing cosplayers out on their ears left and right due to the nature of their skits, or that the decision to limit skits to 90 seconds was made arbitrarily. I do my best to work with cosplayers to make sure that they are able to perform. And, the 90 second time limit worked quite well for even large groups, allowing cosplay to end exactly on time at 11pm.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I hope to see you back at Animazement next year!