Exclusive Report: GR-Giant Robo At TIFFCOM 2006
By Jonah Morgan
After publishing (see our October 10th, 2006 entry) details Soft Garage was going to hold their major production announcement event for the new GR-Giant Robo TV Animation during TIFFCOM at the 19th Tokyo International Film Festival, the company’s booth was one of the first on my list to visit. The visual entertainment tradeshow opened its doors on Monday, October 23rd, 2006, occuring on the 49th floor of the Mori Tower in Roppogi.SG’s cubicle was richly decorated with various art, exclusively dedicated to the new GR release. An LCD video monitor tied to a DVD player was looping the first episode which I was told, had recently just been completed. High quality canvas prints, posters, alloy figures, papercraft busts and other merchandise examples were on display. I was greeted by international representative, Mr. Tatsuro Saito and project executive director, Mr. Ren Usami who had previously been the executive producer on Initial D: 4th Stage. Being invited to sit down, I took a seat at a small table inside the booth.
Usami-san explained his deep desire to have the new series positively received in countries around the world. It was with this goal in mind that the idea of international distribution and consumption was built into the promotional activities from the conception. This extended to their unusually rare all English web presence (posted before even the official announcement) and a beautifully illustrated all English pamphlet being handed out (to mostly licensing agents from around the world) at the show. Breaking further with traditional Japanese animation TV series rollout plans, SG would tease viewers with a freely available first episode in January, followed by a more traditional Pay Per View satellite broadcast via Animax in February. (Since October, the sat-broadcaster has changed to SKYPerfecTV! Ch.160 Perfect Choice, broadcast start is slated for Friday, February 9, 2007.) Advertisements for the R2 DVD would follow in April.
Another important factor of the production is that on the occasion of the 40th anniversary, preserving Mr. Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s 1967 original manga vision while presenting it in a package facilitated by modern animation production techniques and storytelling methods. Yokoyama first said that he wanted to see a new Giant Robo anime 8 years ago and began laying the foundation for this start-up project at that time. He unfortunately died on April 15th, 2004. “How does a person’s mind change when the ultimate power of GR is obtained?” is a main theme. I reassured them that the existing fanbase for Giant Robo in the English speaking world would more than adequate to facilitate financial success there where the series is widely regarded as an anime classic. Saito-san added the initial number of episodes planned in the first series are 13. A second season of 13 episodes is already being planned and scheduled for a 2008 broadcast. A third season may be produced as well. I was handed a numbered oversized postcard-like invitation for their production symposium to be held the following day.
Because of the Tekkon Kinkreet screening, the next day I was about 40 minutes late for the event which was being held in a small presentation room in the Mori Tower. The sheer number of greeters (more than 10) male and female, all wearing 3 piece suits posted up along both sides of the hall leading up to the door was unreal. I proceeded through a human tunnel of Japanese verbal greetings and deep bows. A shock to me, I was told the event had not even started yet. Handing in my numbered invitation, rather shamefully I was forced to wonder a) if this because they were specifically waiting for all invitations (ie: ME since I ended up handing in the last one) to start or b) if, similar to the film screenings, they usually would wait 30 minutes to begin something like this.
Taking a look around the presentation room, it was filled to overcapacity, there were about 100 people here seated and lining both walls leading up to a central stage and projection screen. Glancing about I realized something else too, I was the only non-Japanese person here. Not more than 5 minutes after taking a seat a file of people took the stage. Among them were Soft Garage Representative Takumi Ogawa, Director Masahiko Murata, Opening Theme “Answer” performer Rockwell, Ending Theme (entirely in English) “it was yesterday” performer Youna, and several members of the voice cast: Daisuke Namikawa and Romi Paku.
Mr. Ogawa took the stage saying “This project is single-mindedly focused on preserving Mr. Yokoyama’s Original Story. The staff is united behind the goal of making this series a success.” Masahiko Murata followed by saying: “Everyone in the staff is a fan of the original manga.” About halfway into the presentation 2 well known members of the American anime industry bumbled their way into the room, indicating possible licensing interests.
After a few more statements and posing for press pictures, the first episode was screened in its entirety. The story opens with alot of action. GR-2 is being barraged on air and land by military forces. The focus switches to the Japanese island of Yonaguni near Okinawa. Main characters Daisaku Kusama and Alex Mckenzie are established. Their relationship reminds me of Shinji and Misato’s in Evangelion. Daisaku goes diving at some of the supposed manmade ruins off Yonaguni and finds his way into a chamber containing Giant Robo (aka: GR-1). The episode ends with a lot drama as Giant Robo reveals himself to the outside world and UNISOM forces. 3DCG and SFX integration is quite good, as is the musical soundtrack. Definitely a series I will be highly anticipating to see more of!