Day 1 (Friday, March10)
On Friday Morning at 11:20 AM ET, at this past weekend’s Animazement ’00 convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, one could not help but feel the energy of excitement as the time drew near for the opening ceremonies. Approaching the Raleigh North Hilton hotel from the front, con-goers who may not have been certain that this was the hotel of the convention were at least reassured that something relating to Anime was going on here by the fact of House Of Anime’s large storage truck matted on the left, right, and back door with a full mural of anime-series illustrations.
Con-goers were out in full force, the turnout on Friday alone was staggering. The side-lobby of the Hilton served as registration point at the front desk, to the left of it were two long gropings of tables, from left-right, the lower tables were the pre-registration desk, to the left of it was a table selling Animazement ’00 T-Shirts, on down the row were many pro/fan artists, showcasing their works. From left-right, the upper groupings of tables were composed of companies, exhibiting different works, handouts, posters etc. Of note were Neko-Con R ’00’s setup. On down the tables some distance, Jerry Chu of Bandai Entertainment was setup, on their table were many flyers, posters, a 1/100 scale Wing Gundam model, a brand-new 4-page handout of the Gundam Wing VHS/DVD release, and a 22-25 inch TV. What was playing on that TV clearly was drawing the most attention though, it was a near-complete version, volume 1 of the Cowboy Bebop DVD. The disc is to include five episodes, the usual digital features and loads of extras, namely, Session 0 (or a part thereof), and an awesome menu. Mike Toole of Anime Jump asked Jerry to switch over to the menu, it was really incredible, and visually intense, featuring animated selection variables. Upon selecting a partucular episode, a sub-menu was brought up with smaller thumbnail video clips from different parts in that episode. The menu interface resembled a cross between the computer display that Spike and Jet use onboard the Bebop.
Jerry said that the Vision Of Escaflowne TV Series should see a release date on DVD near June, Outlaw Star is set for DVD release in July, it could feature the same price/format that Cowboy Bebop has.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing will not receive a Subtitled VHS release.
Prelimenary television ratings from Cartoon Network’s Premiere of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing earlier this week rank it as the highest rated Toonami slot show for that day. Midnight Run airings of Toonami are also seeing a significant boost by Gundam Wing’s addition.
Bandai will release Silent Mobius TV and Brain Powerd VHS, switching over to filling tapes with 5-6 episodes very soon, prices will remain the same. Bandai hopes to have both titles released on DVD eventually.
Around 12:00 it was time for opening ceremonies, walking through the main-lobby, past the elevators and down the main hall where the panel rooms were, a line of several hundred people had formed. One point of importance about Animazement, was that although you were aware that close-to several thousand people were here doing something or another at a particular point in time, you never felt that presence of a large crowd. Almost all con-goers were very easy-going, and of-course excited, the energy was there and almost every guest of honor made reference to the high level of enthusiasm of the fans in attendence. Another point of interest is the high female con-going turnout, the ratio of guys-to girls there was maybe 3 or 4 to 1. Costumers were out in high numbers as well, many of the costumes were very well put-together.
At opening ceremonies, all guests of honor were present on stage (Kia Asamiya, Kunihiko Ikuhara, Akira Kamiya, Chiho Saito, Yuu Watase, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Kazuto Nakazawa, Koichi Tsunoda, Nov. Takahashi, Toshifumi Inagawa, Brett Weaver, Scott Houle, Rachel Lillis, Lisa Ortiz, and Pamela Weidner), the con was officially kicked off and every guest gave an opening statement.
Yuu Watase’s panel was to be held in the same room at 1:00. Many people left after opening ceremonies but the room still managed to be filled to near capacity, with open seats near the back. Watase-san briefly stepped off stage after opening ceremonies, and talked with various attendees, posed with people for photos etc.. In attendence on the right side of the room was Michiyuki Honma, producer of Studio Pierrot, the studio that produced the Fushigi Yugi Anime and who is currently producing Miss Watase’s upcoming TV series Ayashi No Ceres. The panel began, and Watase-san took the stage with Taka, the translator. Questions to her varried from her influence on different works, to how she got her start in drawing Manga, to her favorite character and even some on assertations that some of family-related characters were “closer” than just family (^_^). Watase-san said she had drawn since an early age, she got her professional boost in highschool when she won an art-contest. Those in attendence were very enthusiastic, at one point a troop of cos-players walked in, among them was the giant white cat (Ack! what was that series/character!!??) costumer who won the award for top prize costume on Saturday. At their appearence, Miss Watase laughed, pleasently startled, the crowd joined in also. The majority of questions were focused on Watase-san’s most known U.S. work, Fushigi Yugi, she said that she selected the voice actor of Tamhome out of 10 candidates, and asked the crowd which media they had greater access to, Anime or Manga books, the answer that came back was anime. Towards the end of the panel, the focus of conversation shifted to her recent Ayashi No Ceres Manga / upcoming anime TV series to begin airing in April on WoWoW BS ch. 5 in Japan. She mentioned that in her opinion, the anime had a much better direction and production team than Fushigi Yuugi. It was asked if this series will be more “adult” in tone, and the answer came back yes, someone asked how Miss Watase thought of “adult” (sex, more intense violence) subject manner in her works and she said that her mother saw a sex scene in one of her manga and she was scolded, but that the story was that of the relationship of people (men and women) and she felt it was necessary to include the scene, at that the crowd gave a sustained applause. Soon afterwards 2 video clips were played of the Ayashi No Ceres TV series, 30 seconds and 15 seconds respectively, the 30 second clip started out with a black & white pencil sketch intro of Aya falling toward the camera, then moved into different clips which were animations from roughly the first volume of the manga. and an ambient music soundtrack accompanied it. The character designs for the Anime remain faithful to the manga. The 15 second spot featured a rapid techno-style soundtrack, but both used the same animation footage. After each clip played the crowd gave awesome cheers and applause. A final cheer/applause was given and the panel ended soon afterwards.
Kia Asamiya’s panel followed Watase-san’s, it was at 2:00, he spoke on his transition to designing “smaller characters, targetting a younger audience” in his Steam Detectives Manga. Little-known is that Asamiya-san is a huge fan of American comics, of note is that Mr. Asamiya’s Dark Angel manga will be released in the U.S. by Image Comics, an American line of Dark Angel action figures is also in the works. A push is apparently in place to get the Dark Angel Manga animated. Taking slight influence f rom X-Men, Asamiya-san’s latest project, Duplex Divine, will introduce readers and fans to an enitrely new and manga-unique universe of Mutants. The teaser line reads: “A mysterious Stone falls to Earth. Strange, upredictable even ts come to pass. The sudden appearence of mighty mutants threatens mankind. As the world falls into despair, these ladies stand fast. As mutants clash, the fate of Mankind hangs in the balance. So it begins…”.
Akira Kamiya’s panel began at 3:00, it served as a primer really of his wonderful concert on Saturday night, Mr. Kamiya spoke of his long career as a voice-actor, voicing everything from Disney, to Anime, to James Bond in the latest 007 film.
Hiroyuki Kitakubo and Kazuto Nakazawa’s panel began at 4:00, the room was noticeably packed. Kitakubo spoke on the latest goings ons at Production I.G., and that his latest Movie project, Blood: The Last Vampire, was technically complete, he had just finished the soundtrack in L.A. Mr. Nakazawa, character designer of El Hazard was asked a question on if he had indeed designed characters for the “Alternative World” series released by Pioneer, here in the U.S., at first, he was taken by the title, but when it was specified that the Alternative World series was released here under that title and in Japan as something else, he confirmed he was the character designer. Looking across the aisle, sitting in the center of the room in attendence at this panel was another guest of honor – Kunihiko Ikuhara, director of Utena and Sailor Moon, Mr. Ikuhara was very laid-back, all weekend, one could see him wandering into different areas of the convention, apparently enjoying himself as if a regular con-goer. An intense clip of Blood ran next showcasing Production I.G.’s first full digital feature. Full use of advanced digital artwork coloring, visual effects such as blurring, exhaust heat, combined with full CG models such as a military-style transport plane, and helicopter were simply amazing. After Blood, an animated short called The Digital’s ran, it seriously brought memories of the 1986 PiXar debut CG project which features the desklight bending and dancing. The Digital’s however, was on much more comedic style using modern Computer graphics design. Shortly after that, a preview of a new I.G. TV series, Mr. Vampirian showed, the animation style in this show was somewhere closer to European or American traditional styles but yet distinctively Japanese, very cool balance. A small boy wandered through the night coming to a dark castle, a large vampire appeared some ways through and tried again and again to eat him, at one point swallowing him whole with one leg and shoe hanging out of his mouth, the crowd laughed out loud, very loud at some points.
American Voice Actors, Rachael Lillis, Lisa Ortiz, Brett Weaver, and Pamela Weidner took the panel table in the above room at 5:00 PM. The group spoke on the trials, tribulatiions, and delight of voicing Anime in English.
Chiho Saito and Kunihiko Ikuhara’s panel began at 6:00, the turnout was reportedly impressive. Ikuhara-san spoke of how upon finding Chiho Saito’s Utena manga, he litterally went to her residence unanounced, and convinced her to work with him on the Utena animation project. According to the program-guide for Animazement ’00, this was Saito-san’s first visit to the U.S., she was openly excited to be there amongst so many fans.
Day 2 (Saturday, March 11)
There were noticeably more people in the lobby on Saturday, at around 8:45 before the first panels of the day kicked off. A long line of con-goers had gathered at the side lobby registration desk, at the front of the line were several Yuu Watase fans, they asked if they were late for her panel, luckily they had enough time, as it was to begin at 9:00.
Miss Watase had another filled room of energetic fans of all ages on Saturday, the panel primarily served as a reprisal of Friday’s, with many of the same questions, but there were some new details to come out of this one. She announced that as of then the Ayashi No Ceres TV series had been planned to run over 24 episodes, she urged the fans there to support the anime version of the series as she felt it was one of her most important works. At one point, a fan who was part of the line to register a few minutes earlier asked if she could shake Watase-san’s hand, at which she responded, “do want to do it right now?”, the fan said, “Yes Please!”, and Miss Watase ok’d it, the fan ran to the stage, and shook her hand, the crowd cheered wildly and applauded, indirectly it seemed as if everyone in the room had the chance to shake her hand, the fan ran back to sit down and held her hand high in the air as prize for all to behold and kissed it, truly elated.
At the same time as the above panel was progressing, down the hall, Melissa Wilson and Marcus Patto hosted a Fan-Panel on Cel-Collectors and on the creation process of Cel-animation itself. It was described how if one divided a particular scene of show into sections of begining, middle, and ending (if a character was turning it’s head for instance), Key animators would traditionally complete the begining and ending animation of the scene (the character’s head at the begining of the scene looking away, and then turned facing the camera). The sequence in between those frames (where the character’s head is actually turning), is traditionally created by in-between animators. Mr. Patto said, for Cel-Collectors, the begining and ending sequences of a scene are technically the most valuable because they represent the initiation and completeion of a particular scene, to illustrate this, a Cel was shown to those at the panel that featured a single boot at the begining of a scene, where a character was entering a room. Interestingly, the most visually impressive cel of a scene created by an in-betweener maybe worth less because it came in the midddle of particular sequence.
Akira Kamiya’s concert began at 4:00 PM, the atmosphere was very representitive of that of a concert, with lights died down in Salon F-G, replaced with a huge spotlight aimed toward Mr. Kamiya, A lively crowd, and very animated, comical Kamya-san completed the mood. Mr. Kamiya has been a Japanese Voice actor since very close to the begining of anime. He would speak about a particular project for 10-15 minutes and then perform a song. He told of his early roles, Kinnikuman, who he described as a hulking colossus of a guy who was essentially an idiot. He then spoke on his giant robot roles, and how many of them were in reality 30 minute commercials. Mr. Kamiya would call out the name of his robot, and then describe how the character would merge with it at the head. The crowd flowed with the energy Kamiya put into his song performances, clapping and even singing along for those familiar with them. The concert was to end at 5:00 but when the host announced it would be stretched to 5:10 the crowd cheered and clapped loudly, Mr. Kamiya is such a talented entertainer, it could probably continued for an hour or more. Before his final song, he expressed to the crowd that he was so happy to be here reliving good memories, he thanked everyone in attendence for sharing them with him.
At 8:00 the Animazement ’00 Cos-Play began, by-far the most attended event, all Guests Of Honor who were to serve in the capacity of Costume-Judges (they were probably having as much fun as anyone else though) tonight, filed in (minus Watase-san, it was later learned she was not feeling well and could not attend) and made their way to the judges table, below the main projector-video screen and left of center stage. The first skits involved children, one skit featured an adorable boy who had (been) dressed as Tuxedo Mask. Next, slightly older costumers arrived on stage, the event lasted for 3 hours and almost every play drew an applause from the crowd. For more images of the Cos-Play, including judges picks in the competition, please visit A Fan’s View.
The night stretched-on at Animazement on Saturday-Sunday, at 12:00 AM the videogame tournament and dance began. The videogame tournament was thouroughly packed, some very talented gamers showed up and the battle was on, no time to sleep until some hours into Sunday!
The dance event brought out a wide range of fans, some in costume, the music started and the dancefloor began to heat up, talented freestylers and breakdancers soon had circles of people surrounding them as they flipped and spun, busting moves and grooves. Probably worth the price of admission a few times over was getting to hear Bandai Entertainment’s very own Jerry Chu as DJ, until almost daylight, dishing out beatmixes of J-Pop, American rap, hip-hop, and various Anime music tracks.
Day 3 (Sunday, March 12)
At 11:55 AM On Sunday, The halls were noticeably more empty. There was a large concentration of people in the videogame room, glancing about, the rumored import PS 2 was no where to be seen, if it had been there, there would probably have been a line to play it stretching back down the hall like for the previous night’s Cos-Play. On a long table set out were 5 or 6 Dreamcast’s, each had 1 or 2 people playing. Across the room were a transparent PSX, on a TV in the corner, the 1st new Samurai Spirits OAV was running. A few table’s down were 2 Saturns, at one, 6 people were linked, playing Bomberman.
At 12:00, the final panel of Animazement ’00 began, the speaker was Nobuyuki “Nov.” Takahashi. Mr. Takahashi is President of Studio Hard, the largest company in Japan devoted to compiling / creating Anime / Manga information, and content. Mr. Takahashi began his report of the current state of the industry by going into how the huge Japanese Videogame market continues to pull talent away from Anime / Manga markets, but had problems of it’s own managing several high-profile videogame projects.
Square for instance had spent around 80 million dollars U.S. on the forthcoming Final Fantasy Movie, the project is on a brief hiatus and the joint Japanese / American teams had reportedly headed back to Tokyo and L.A. to regroup. Production is expected to resume soon but another 40 million dollars U.S. maybe needed to finish the film before it’s expected release in 2001. Likewise, Enix’s long anticipated PSX RPG Dragon Quest 6 had met several delays but could see a release in a few months. Sega’s massive Dreamcast epic, Shen Mue was seeing similar delays, Mr. Takahashi said that was because the game companies decided not to use anime studios for full-motion video sequences and wasted substantial money managing th overall production.
Takahashi said that the Anime industry in Japan had not seen a overly si gnificant hit since Gainax’s Shin Seiki Evangelion. Pokemon’s international success is drawing a new influx of investors and money to the industry from other countries, noteably, America. He mentioend that the Japanese market had seen a point of saturation, and that profit that could come from any single title has become diluted. Thus, a search for an overseas market is crucial.
Another business trend being explored by the Japanese industry is use of the internet and web, many Japanese production companies have plans to launch websites with English-Language information in the coming year. Takahashi continues, print magazines are taking hits in readership due to the accessability of the web, he predicts one anime magazine (the magazine title was not named) may cease publication by year’s end.
At 1:00, the videogame room was closed and no other events were planned for another hour, closing ceremonies began at 3:00. The bulk of con-goers had convereged on the dealer’s room seeking out those final day deals that usually pop up. Out of the 20+ dealers, it was interesting to note the wide variety of merchandise on sale, and lot’s of rare, import goods. In a corner, in the back of the room, Animeigo had a table setup with videos, and a 15-20 inch TV running a demo of their upcoming Urusei Yatsura TV series DVD, it looks to be coming along very well.
Down the aisle, C.B. Cebulski of FanBoy Entertainment had their table laden with art offerings of creator, Kia Asamiya. On Saturday, Mr. Asamiya took autographs for a brief period here, this had the dealers room quite congested for several minutes. With C.B. was David Berstein, President of Grand Design Communications, the company handling publishing rights on the forthcoming Dark Angel Manga.
Around 2:45, people were getting seats for the closing ceremonies, things got started a little late and the Guest’s Of Honor walked in and took their seats on the stage. Off the stage and to the side of the room, an announcer read the con stats. Total attendance for Animazement ’00 was 1640 persons, last year’s con drew 1232 people. Next, each Guest Of Honor was given a chance to give a closing statement, many expressed their sadness that this was indeed the last day already, some made vows to return.
In closing, Animazement 2000 was a wonderful, fun dream-event for veteran fans, and highly educative for those just now exploring Anime / Manga. Everything moved smoothly thanks to a great staff (in talking with some of them, it was learned that many witnessed the entire convention from behind a single registration desk). Animazement maybe the biggest “little” anime convention in the U.S., the magnitude and calibur of guests was astounding, and yet one never felt stuffed or crowded, everyone had room to get around and check everything out. That said, analysis that Animazement is following the trend of past major conventions is probably right on target, with a jump in attendance of 412 people this year, and generally very positive reviews circulating, there is already speculation of 2000-2500 attendees for Animazement ’01. For the travelling fan who must select his conventions carefully, Animazement deserves a dedicated look!