ANS Exclusive Interview: 10 Questions To Yoshitaka Amano

  • 11th Jul 2004
  • News

By: Jonah Morgan

Few Japanese artists have captured the spirit and detail of the fantasy canvas like Yoshitaka Amano. Videogame RPG fans have been familiar with his character designs for the Final Fantasy Series for nearly 2 decades. His 1987 renditions for the characters of the original video animation of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D helped made it one of the earliest and most popular anime video releases in the USA. We posed 10 questions Amano-sensei that are quite a wide range of topics.

Hello Mr. Amano, thank you for agreeing to our interview. Before I move into the main questions, I have one based on some breaking news in Japan. According to a Famitsu article published this week, Mr. Sakaguichi of Square announced he has founded his own independent development company, Mist Walker. He mentioned your name and manga artist Takehiko Inoue as possible future collaborators with the new studio. Can you comment on your position regarding Mist Walker at this time? Do you of other who are being considered to do work with the studio.

Mist Walker is Mr. Sakaguchi’s own project and I wasn’t involved at all. Mr. Sakaguchi has been a very good friend of mine and though we don’t have anything definite at the moment, I expect to work with him in many projects to come.

Many of your fans in America were excited to learn several years ago that you relocated to New York City in the USA. What first drew you to the city? What were your impressions of New York over your stay and are you currently still located there?

I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment where many talents are competing with each other. I also wanted to see and experience NYC by myself. You can have a lot of information about anything these days, but those information are filtered through other people’s eyes. I wanted to have a first hand experience.

Do you find the city (New York) to be very talent rich across the various media?

Definitely!

Have you done any recent work in anime / manga? Do you have anything coming up?

Right now, I’m working on three separate projects, one in NY, one in France, and one in Japan. Sorry, can’t tell you the details yet!

Your artwork has peeled back the layers of reality and fantasy. Away from art do you carry out any interests in reading topics and music types?

I see a lot of movies, not only Sci-Fi and fantasy, but in all category. Beside that, I love opera and ballet, so I go to see the stage whenever my schedule permits.

Can you tell us your personal view on the realm of the paranormal and supernatural?

Honestly speaking, I’m scared of paranormal and supernatural phenomenon. I can work on the theme in my imagination because I know it’s my imagination and not reality. If things happen in reality, gee, I’ll be terrified!

How about advanced ancient civilizations?

I don’t think it’ll be so different from what we have now. After all, our civilization did develop from ancient civilizations. I’m more interested in the future of this civilization we have now.

What are your thoughts on humanity’s destiny taken as a whole? Do you believe there is a hope we can break free of this almost genetic predisposition to killing one another and possibly evolve above that level or do you feel this flaw ultimately will doom our species.

The technology will never stop to advance, bio-chemical, computer, nano and space, you name it, but I don’t think humans will change much in its basic element. Suppose I live another 1000 yeas, and I’m not surprised to find myself not much different from what I am now. I’ll see and lean many thing, but it’ll still be the same damn me!

100 years from now, almost all of us living today will be gone. I just want to believe that trying our best today leads to a better future.

Can you tell us your current projects on the table in the realm of games or anime character design?

I’ve been working on a new game which will be released early next year. No details yet, sorry.

Finally, any words out there to your fans?

I’d like to thank you on this opportunity for all the supports I received from my fans throughout my carrier. Take care of your health, and I hope you’ll enjoy my works in the future too!


ANS Exclusive Interview: Legendary Mechanical Designer Syd Mead

By Jonah Morgan
Forget about anime for the next few paragraph’s…… Syd Mead’s (www.sydmead.com) visual creations have been translated to represent some of the most recognizeable characters, machines, settings, landscapes and props in modern western cinema. In 1978 he designed the V’ger entity for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in 1980 the world Tron and Blade Runner with director Ridley Scott. In 1984 he designed the props and sets for 2010 based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke. In 1985 he worked with Director James Cameron on designs for 20th Century Fox’s Aliens. In the same year he designed the number Johnny Five robot in Short Circuit. In the 1990’s he collaborated on the film adaptation of cyberpunk culture creator William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic and the futuristic experience drug headset seen in the movie Strange Days.

Syd has a love of Japan too and has done design work there in live action and animation formats. Unknown to probably every anime fan he did mecahnical renditions on an aborted Mobile Suit Gundam Hollywood movie project for Lion Gate Film. 1989-1995 saw his first dive into anime as he worked on ship exterior/interior, prop, costume and setting designs for Leiji Matsumoto’s Yamato. Probably his best known design role to anime fans came in 1998 when he worked closely with studio Sunrise and director Yoshiyuki Tomino on a mecahnical revamp for the 49 episode Turn-A Gundam TV series.

Beyond his entertainment work Syd Mead is a visionary, futurist, artist, illustrator, conceptual designer and posses many, many other special qualities which can be not relayed through words. ANS is elated to bring you our interview with him:

1. Thank you for accepting our interview Mr. Mead. What have you been doing this summer? (Work and/or non-work related)

I was on a retrospective celebration panel related to the original TRON feature release, linked to the recent release of TRON2.O, the game. I designed the new LIGHTCYCLE for the TRON2.O game release.

I was part of the annual president’s advisory board’s session in San Francisco, for the San Francisco Art Institute, a three day event with review sessions celebratory dinners and gallery reviews.

I completed an illustration of a future HONDA motorcycle arena race scene for the U.S. HONDA MOTORCYCLE division design headquarters in Torrance, California. The 72X56cm gouache illustration was scanned in and enlarged to a 8 X1 foot wall mural.

I produced a digital presentation to the faculty, students and Hollywood professionals at the Gnomon school of special effects in Hollywood.

I have been finishing a series of illustrations of my current theoretical high-speed private transport vehicle called: HYPERVAN.

The third illustration, HYPERVAN IN COURTYARD will be the subject of a four or five DVD series ‘how to’ collection to be announced and offered for sale in the fall.

Just last year I completed several watch designs for the NUTS studio in Tokyo as part of a celebrity design scheme. The watch I designed was called ‘ESSENCE’ and is visible on www.rakuten.co.jp/nuts/427131/285534/.

Personally, I have enjoyed several weekends at my Orange County condo overlooking the Pacific, and several evenings with friends in the movie industry and students from Art Center, Pasadena City College and young fans in the area.

2. Looking back at your biography, it appears you have had a personal affinity with Japan throughout your life. You were stationed in Okinawa from 1954 with the US Army, was this your first real exposure to Japanese culture?

My US Army years in Okinawa exposed me to oriental culture in general. Okinawa has its own dialect and is a composite of Japanese and Chinese cultures. I enjoyed that experience immensely. I was training sergeant for about 2OO men in the 59Oth Engineering Company. Just before I was discharged from the Army, I took a one month vacation in Hong Kong with a buddy of mine. We had the good fortune to meet up with a millionaire Chinese man who owned an insurance company in Hong Kong and Macao. With that connection, we were his guests at the Polo Club, had several dinners with the Mayor of Hong Kong (Portuguese, at the time) and made a two day trip to Macao and spent the first night ‘out’ at sea with the ship’s captain, destroying, between the four of us, two bottles of single malt scotch.

That exposure to oriental culture fascinated me with its exotic geometry and pattern arrangements, the architecture and the elevated sensibility to color and graphics.

3. Did your stay there kindle a fire of interest in Japan of sorts? Upon your return to the USA did you know you were destined to return there?

Referring to my answer to question number two, yes, if you consider that Japanese culture is classically related to Chinese culture.

Upon my return to the United States, I had no idea whatsoever that I would ever return to the orient. I spent three years going through the Art Center School (then in Los Angeles, now in Pasadena) and met two guys who were Japanese exchange students. We got along famously. They returned to Japan to take up positions as teachers.

4. In 1961 you returned to Japan and this time visited the cities of Nagoya, Tokyo and Kyoto. In relation to Okinawa, what was your impression of that visit and which city in particular left a lasting impression on you?

I graduated from Art Center, went to work with the Ford Motor Company’s Advanced Design studio, and quit after twenty six months and took a position with a promotional company in Chicago. Between accepting that job, and leaving Ford Motor Company I took my first trip to Japan. I flew first class from San Diego to Tokyo’s Narita airport and spend two weeks exploring and enjoying Tokyo’s atmosphere including several meals at neighborhood restaurants, an incredible massage session and a trip up into the then NEW Tokyo Tower. Then, I took a train to Nagoya to meet one of my Art Center friends. He was teaching ceramics for export. I still have the Noh mask he gave me! (The Shinkanzen


Anime News Service – May 3 – July 7 Anime News

7-7-04—- AN Entertainment Announces Hare Guu License

AN Entertainment is proud to announce its acquisition of North American distribution rights to the cult hit anime series Har? + Guu (pronounced “Ha-rey-goo”). Unquestionably one of the most frequently requested series ever among American anime fans, AN Entertainment is excited to fulfill this overwhelming demand by bringing English speaking viewers a faithful and authentic presentation of both the original TV series and its follow-up home video series, Har? + Guu Deluxe. With a robust cast of eccentric characters, a non-stop barrage of weird and wacky situations, and parodies of everything from anime to video games to the little eccentricities of everyday life, Har? + Guu is undoubtedly one of the very best anime comedy series ever created. Highly original and highly accessible to viewers of all ages, genders and ethnicities, Har? + Guu is known to cause uncontrollable fits of hysterical laughter and virtually instant addiction to its unique and nearly indescribably odd humor.

ABOUT HARE & GUU The surreal and outlandish comedy series begins with 10 year old Har?, who lives with his free-spirited young mother in a small, contemporary jungle village. Har?’s quiet life of school, video games, and housework is irrevocably shaken when his mother brings a seemingly innocent and charming young orphan girl named Guu into their household. The following morning, Hare is shocked to find that Guu has dropped her pretense of sweetness to reveal her true mysterious and insidious nature. Guu, in fact, seems to be some sort of mind-reading alien being that eats anything and has another entire dimension of off-kilter humans and bizarre animals living in her stomach. And her sole reason for existence centers on driving Har? insane by making light of all his character flaws and neurosis, wreaking havoc on time and space, and being an utter nuisance in the way that only a super-strong, short tempered, magic using and vaguely unsettling young girl of indeterminate age, origin and physical composition can be.

Created in 1997 by female manga artist Renjuro Kindaichi, the Har? + Guu manga serial continues to headline the monthly Japanese Shonen GanGan magazine. In April 2001, the comic was adapted into a television series that spanned 26 broadcast episodes and two made-for-home-video “OAV” series, all produced by the Shin’ei Doga production studio best known for the international smash hit anime comedy Crayon Shin-chan, and directed by veteran Crayon Shin-chan director Tsutomu Mizushima.

For images and more information about Har? + Guu, visit the Official US Har? + Guu Website at http://www.hareguu.com/.

ABOUT THE HARE & GUU RELEASE Originally titled “Jungle wa Itsumo Hare Nochi Guu,” the series revised its Japanese name to simply “Hare Guu” in 2003. AN Entertainment will localize the animation for North American viewers under the title “Har? + Guu,” to coincide with the series’ present Japanese name. The DVD only release of Har? + Guu will tentatively begin in 2005. The official bilingual Har? + Guu DVDs will feature faithful and accurate dialogue translations, optional English subtitles, and extensive supplemental bonus features.

7-7-04—- ADV To Bring Korean Cinema’s Most Popular To America

HOUSTON, July 6, 2004?ADV Films, the #1 producer-distributor of anime in the U.S., today announced that they are bringing Korea?s top selling live-action films to American fans. ADV Films Theatrical Division is bringing top-grossing Korean live-action films to US theatres nationwide. ADV Films? current release schedule is jam-packed with a wide variety of blockbuster, hit films ranging from action, comedy and drama that have never been shown in US movie theatres.

The 2004 film timetable starts with 2009 Lost Memories, Conduct Zero and Yesterday, with the fall schedule to be announced soon. These films were acquired from Korea, the current hotbed of film production. ADV Films is distributing Korean films at a time when filmmaking from that country is attracting worldwide attention. The New York Times, in its coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, this year said, ?at the moment, the biggest boom may be happening in South Korea, one of the few countries outside the United States where domestic productions dominate the box office. ?Their presence in Cannes is further evidence that both large-scale commercial filmmaking and art house cinema are thriving in Korea.? ?It?s exciting to bring Korea?s number one films to an always hungry American market,? said John Ledford, president, CEO and co-founder of ADV Films. ?We are tapping into the Korean film production market to bring American fans something fresh and new.?

7-7-04

The Arizona Republic mentions an interesting partnership between a local comicbook store and the Phoenix Public Libray to allow kids to create and publish their own comics.
The Providence Journal (subscription required) has listed the Jamestown Public Library’s anime/manga club meeting schedule for this month.
The Detroit News Reviews Super Milk Chan and Ai Yori Aoshi

7-7-04—- eigoMANGA Publishes Scion Manga

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – July 6, 2004 – eigoMANGA is pleased to announce an exciting promotional collaboration with Scion, Toyota’s youth-focused brand of vehicles. In an arrangement with the major automaker, the eigoMANGA team, including Jeremy Ray, artist and creator of “Extinction Level Event,” has designed advertising materials to promote Scion??Ts XA and XB models. Proposed concepts showcase characters from “Extinction Level Event,” “The Monkey Tale??? and “Cool Downbeat,” all stories featured in eigoMANGA’s flagship manga anthology, RUMBLE PAK. Each design features the eigoMANGA characters posing dramatically with Scion vehicles, or piloting the vehicles themselves. Ray describes the artwork he??Ts done for Scion as “a sketchy version of American comic art.” Oscar Gutierrez, Jr., General Manager and Head of Operations and Sales at eigoMANGA, hopes that the success of this joint effort will open the door to further promotional partnerships between the companies.

7-7-04—- Exporting Animation A Huge Japanese Success Story

Major article on anime exportation in the Japan Times today in the paper’s BY THE NUMBERS column. According to their research:

The average amount of exported TV animation reached hours in 2001, up from 13,000 hours in 1992 and 2,600 hours in 1980, according to


ANS Exclusive Interview: Super Eurobeat Recording Artist Dave Rodgers

By: Jonah Morgan

Most anime fans will know the name Dave Rodgers (www.daverodgers.it) from his massive talent and production contributions to the soundtrack of the Initial D animation. The pairing in 1998 occured as a bit of an experiment which involved drawing music from AVEX’s popular japanese release album series, Super Eurobeat, and an animation adaptation of Shuichi Shigeno drift racing manga, Initial D. Due to this and other promotional efforts Avex made (such as adding eurobeat tracks to Konami’s Para Para Paradise arcade game series) the Eurobeat scene exploded in popularity in Japan like never before. With fresh 18 track album releases occuring nearly monthly, the succes of Eurobeat continues through the present day. In recent months, the national sales charts across Japan showed the special edition release of SEB 150 debuting in the Top 30 at #20.

Dave Rodgers entered the scene relatively early on as the Italodance artist Aleph. This precursor to Eurobeat, the generally slower BPM “Italodance”, began in the 1980’s. the 1990’s saw Eurobeat proper breakout as it’s own form of music, with new studios emerging in Italy dedicated to exclusively producing the music. With lyrics almost exclusively performed in English, music produced in Italy, and albums released in Japan, Eurobeat itself is a bit of a musical experiment. Dave Rodgers took his unique sound as an artist and production qualities and created his own studio, AbeatC in 1990. His studio now produces the lion’s share of track content on Avex’s Super Eurobeat album series and has signed many of the most popular artists of the genre. ANS caught up with the prolific musician for this interview recently:

Anime News Service: Could you tell us about Dave Rodgers the musician? Where did you come from musically, who are some of your influences?
Dave Rodgers: I musically born with the music of seventies: deep purple, led zeppelin, david bowie, quincy jones and so on.

ANS: For those readers who may not be familiar with Super Eurobeat can you tell give us a brief primer on the series as it’s released in Japan? If possible could you elaborate on the philosophy of the series and “Eurobeat” as an artistic and musical expression as you understand it?
DR: I think that Eurobeat, like any other kind of music, is one way to give sensation and good vibration to the audience: It’s not important what you play or the style you choose, but the basic point is to give emotions.

ANS: And so how did you first come into the SEB series?
DR: I’ve been one of the firsts Eurobeat singer and Producer in the early 90’s: I was contacted by Avex and we started together the SEB series.

ANS: The SEB albums are released monthly in Japan by Avex, usually containing a song or 2 per artist. Can you tell us how this works? Where and how the music is recorded etc (Japan, Italy etc..).. How the artists actually do the recording? (ie: Are most of the tracks sent in several months in advance? Do you submit “rough” versions of songs in advance that are selected by AVEX and then rerecorded for the album version?)
DR: Yes, you’re right: the recordings are done in Italy, sometimes also in japan. The versions we send are definitives.

ANS: Now Initial D has been officially licensed for the the American market by Tokyopop with the first TV series released in 2003. A version in release has “localized” the series removing the SEB background music in the show. Do you have any thoughts on this move?
DR: That’s a very bad thing!

ANS: On to the present, There is a new Initial D Video Series being worked on in Japan, do you have any commitments on this new series you can talk about?
DR: Simply I hope to be present in the future for the background music of the new Initial D series.

ANS: SEB releases it’s 150th edition in Japan this month. Could you tell us of your contributions on this volume and reflections on SEB reaching the 150 milestone?
DR: Unfortunately I’m late for this answer: as you know I was in that compilation with some videos too.

ANS: On the Duet songs you’ve done who was your favorite partner?
DR: All the female partners!

ANS: Your name is of course larger than ever in Japan, what do you have taking place there currently, any tours or visits pending?
DR: I was there for the last time in February, in Osaka for the Osaka Automesse. I’m planning to come back there the next February for the same event.

ANS: There have been rumors for many years that AVEX will be bringing SEB to the American market along with alot of it’s music catalog, are you in the postion to comment on this possibility?
DR: No, I’m not so much informed about that.

ANS: Finally, any words to your international fans out there in North and South America and beyond?
DR: Hi everybody, I hope to have in the future the possibility to come there and to make some shows for you.

 


ANS Exclusive Interview: Author Joh Sasaki – Zero Over Berlin

By: Jonah Morgan

Several months ago, having reviewed New York based publisher, Vertical Inc.’s initial graphic novel release adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha manga opus, I received a preview sheet of their upcoiming litterary works. There was one title that particulary caught my interest, Joh Sasaki’s (http://www.sasakijo.com/) “Zero Over Berlin”, the summary read:

1940. Hitler wants to rain death on London but he doesn’t have the aircraft. Classified info about a new long-range plane –– the Japanese “Type Zero” –– intrigues Nazi generals who ask their Far Eastern ally for a few prototypes to study. But how to get the planes from Japan to Germany? Unable to fly over the Soviet Union or most of the vast British Empire, the Zeros just might make it if they can refuel at the few secret pockets of resistance. An action-packed aviation novel that presents the geopolitics of WWII from the other side.

Being a world events / geo-politics buff and somewhat of a military otaku, the idea behind the novel was rivetting. A Japanese friend of mine had mentioned Mr. Sasaki has one of his favorite authors, having published close to fifty novels. The Japan Mystery Writers Association and the Japanese Adventure Fiction Association had awarded him for excellence in writing. He has also won the Yamamoto Shugoro prize, and over a dozen of his works have been made into films and/or stage plays.

Having finished the book just last week, I’m in somewhat of an afterglow of WWII military fandom. I can vouch that it has more than fulfilled any preconceptions I held about this story going in. Zero is a historical / aviation what-if tale like none other. Sasaki’s research into the technology that ruled the skies over The Pacific, and Europe is thoroughly executed and relayed in print. The technical detail is stunning, I found myself becoming a fan of the Zero plane which I had not given much thought to in the past. The gepolitical situation that existed over the route taken by the fighters during the time period is equally covered with great detail. The characters are plentiful and well defined. Some other reviews have mentioned there are too many characters for such a short work but having exchanged mails with Mr. Sasaki I understand the reason, Zero is not one book standing on it’s own but part of a trilogy where the same characters appear in different situations and themes across the range of the novels.

Fresh from the read, I had the chance to Interview the author of “Zero Over Berlin”, Mr. Joh Sasaki, via the gracious translation services of Vertical’s Anne Ishii:

1. Thank you for this oppertunity Mr. Sasaki, I have just read your novel, ZERO, over the past several days, it was an excellent read, very articulate and intelligently executed. About 1 month ago you were in the USA promoting for the release here. How did you find the reception?

There were mostly Japanese readers who had read the original that were excited about the English release. I learned that there are many people anticipating the crossover of Japanese genre fiction into foreign countries.

2. Do you travel outside of Japan often? To the USA often?

Until I hit my forties, I did go on a lot of research-related trips, now it’s about once or twice a year that I travel abroad. I come to the US about once every two years these days.

3. ZERO was originally published in Japan in 1988, how many printings and how many copies have sold there?

I can’t remember the exact print run of Zero in Japan, but the hardcover sold around 45,000 copies, and the paperback sold something like 140,000 copies.

4. Aside from the numbers, can you tell us from the author’s perspective how you feel the novel was received in Japan when originally published?

Until about when I wrote Zero, writing about the Second World War in entertainment genre was considered taboo. War was a serious topic to be written about in literary fiction. However, since the original publication of this book, I think novelists have lost at least the psychological inhibition towards the topic of war.

5. 16 years later, what are your own personal thoughts on ZERO seeing an English language release in 2004?

I’ve been hoping for an English translation of Zero from the beginning. Japanese publishers aren’t very proactive about getting their domestic writers translated into foreign languages.That’s why it ends up taking this long before seeing a translation, but it’s truly a feat for the title to have come this far.

6. How did you first concieve the idea for ZERO?

As I explained in the book, there were moments in the historical timeline of the Second World War that had a curiously coincidental way of unfolding, which caught my eye.
a. 1940, 9/13. The Zeros attack China in an all-out raid.
b. 9/15. Germany halts the English mainland invasion.
c. 9/27. Germany, Italy and Japan sign the Tripartite Alliance, forming the Axis.
d. Also, I found out that during the Second World War, Japan had dispatched some commuter planes (the A-26) from Singapore to Germany. They disappeared after takeoff.

7. How did you research the various elements for the book?

There’s a saying, “God is in the details”. To create this huge fabrication, the details must approach the truth as thoroughly and as close as possible. That’s my basic method.

8. Which area required the most research?

The most important part of my research concerned the Navy of that period, and especially the circumstances of the Air Corps. My interviews with fighter ace Saburo Sakai were crucial.

9. On the idea of a Zero or other Japanese plane flying from Japan to Germany during the time frame in ZERO, if done in secrecy in the real world, do you believe such a thing could have been undertaken and slipped into the mists of time without a trace?

It would have been really difficult (to get a Zero to make that trip). Like I said before,


ANS Exclusive Interview: Vertical Inc. Speaks Out On Buddha Eisner Win

By Jonah Morgan

BuddhaIn September 2003, ANS was one of the first to review newcomer Japanese to English publisher, Vertical Inc.’s initial public offering of manga in the American market. The company at the time had staked out some very interesting novelization properties including Koji Suzuki’s “Ring”, one of the best selling books in recent memory in Japan. Breaking out of the prevailing industry mold which almost always dictates a company chases after “cash-manga” based on a hot anime property, video game or one which was a pick of the draw from examining top weekly sales charts from Japan, Vertical’s debut manga title in graphic novel format, Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, was first recieved with quite a mixed review by industry and fan alike. Upon release in October, one of the best manga releases of this past year hit the retail shelves with very little hype. Not a mass anime web ad campaign and nary a $20,000 convention booth tour could be found anywhere in sight.

But the people who do read an appreciate manga were reading and reading and reading….. And this past weekend in San Diego, the people who are widely accepted at picking the best comics released in America, the judges of the The Will Eisner Awards handed Vertical’s release of Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha Vol. 1-2 the award for “Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material”.

ANS contacted Vertical’s Micah Burch for a brief bit of commentary on the Eisner Award win:

Anne Ishii, our publicist, along with Chip Kidd, accepted for Vertical at the conference, and so I wasn’t there to hear her reportedly tell the crowd that she almost peed her pants when they announced Buddha (I guess Persepolis really was kind of the conventional wisdom (it was, after all, very powerful).

It’s certainly the highest honor a Vertical book has received to date, and we’re amped. We’re a little humbled by the recognition (on behalf of Tezuka-sensei, that is), and thankful. The universe of graphic literature is so amazingly rich these days. But, we always believed Buddha was one of the true classics – in some ways, perhaps THE classic of the genre – and it’s nice that some experts also recognize its beauty, depth and humor.

This is of course Tezuka’s success more than ours, but there are a few people on the Vertical side who deserve special recognition for their work on this project: Yani Mentzas, the editor, of course; Chip Kidd, for his beautiful design work and de facto publicity work; and especially Kenji Ishimaru and his team of graphic artists: they were the real ‘translators’.


ANS Exclusive Interview: Hello Kitty 30th Anniversary

  • 20th May 2004
  • Blog

By: Jonah Morgan

The Year is 1974, the current anime and manga fueled Japanese character industry in America is 20 years away. A company in Japan named Sanrio begins marketing items with the character graphic of a cute white cat. In 1976, Hello Kitty appears in the USA……. licensing you ask?? what’s that? Sanrio brings Hello Kitty here….. entirely on it’s own. Today, we’re taking it back to the old school, 30 years ago, when Sanrio in Japan (www.sanrio.com) first introduced the Hello Kitty character into it’s product merchandising line. The move marked the birth of a global character icon 30 years later which is synonymous with cute and cudley.

Sanrio itself was started in Japan in 1960 when President and CEO Shintaro Tsuji founded the company. Traditional Japanese greetings call for the common exchange of small gifts and the firm’s first products were stationary, little purses and other inexpensive items designed for exchange. In ’76 when the first Sanrio stores appeared in the U.S. city of San Jose a store devoted entirely to one line of character based prodcts was unheard of. Today, there are over 300 Sanrio boutiques in the western hemisphere, with 120 in malls across the USA. In addition, Sanrio products are available in department stores and retail outlets such as Target.

From the perspective of being introduced to Japanese characters via games and animation, what Sanrio has been able to do with Hello Kitty has always been a curiostiy for me. There’s definetly some relation there……. but it’s hard to qualify. Hello Kitty is almost in a league all it’s own. If you think of manga type characters as cars on a road, every so often one passes another in popularity, switching lanes and merging back into the traffic lane. To fit Hello Kitty into the analogy, it wouldn’t even be on that road, it would be a bullet train on a track next to the road doing about 200 mph. Part of the curiosty lies within how Hello Kitty is marketed. Unlike anime, manga or video game characters that spin off from media into product lines, Sanrio’s characters begin their own existence as retail products. Becuase they are not tied to a definitive story line the customers can – and do – project their own feelings and emotions onto the characters.

To help explore the fascination with Hello Kitty over 30 years we recently spoke to Sanrio’s marketing director Bill Hensley:

1. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Hello Kitty brand for Sanrio, could you tell us Sanrio’s brief thoughts on this milestone?
Hello Kitty’s 30th Anniversary offers us an opportunity to look back at 30 years of great Hello Kitty design that has led to her pop icon status. More importantly, to look forward to more great design in the future.

2. Across Sanrio’s Global Holdings how vital has the American market been to the Hello Kitty brand and ultimately Sanrio’s success?
The American market still represents a minority share of Sanrio’s global revenues, but it represents the fastest growing Sanrio market.

3. Can you give us an estimate of how many unique product offerings related to Hello Kitty have been marketed in the USA since the 1976 debut?
Just an educated guess – In Hello Kitty’s history, somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 unique products have been marketed in the US.

4. The Japanese character industry has been increasing in it’s popularity in the American market in recent years. This has come about in the form of Anime, Video Games and manga all being localized for the market and the underground movement of fans who directly import character goods into the country. It’s kind of funny, I’ve always seen Hello Kitty and Sanrio as existing outside of this sphere of influence that is commonly associated to Anime’s boom here which began growing in the 1990’s. Has Sanrio watched this phenomena and how has it affected your company’s approach to marketing Hello Kitty given it’s Japanese roots?
Sanrio is a character brand developer and designer. We’re happy that many fans of Anime are also fans of Hello Kitty or other Sanrio characters, but the Anime phenomenon has not affected the way we develop and market the Hello Kitty brand.

6. You have many special events planned over the coming months for the 30th anniversary of Hello Kitty, can you tell us if any special Japanese guests associated with the creation of the brand will be attending or coming to the USA?
We were pleased to have Ms. Yuko Yamaguchi, Sanrio’s chief designer for the Hello Kitty brand, join us at our official Anniversary Kick-Off event this past June at Rockefeller Center in New York.

7. Besides Hello Kitty, how are Sanrio’s other character brands performing in the USA market?
Hello Kitty is obviously the star, but other characters in the Sanrio family are showing their strength. Most notable is Chococat, who is red-hot is our boutique stores.

8. What’s coming up on the horizon for the next 6 months to 1 year for Sanrio?
At least 100 to 300 new items each month, plus new characters as well.


ANS Exclusive Interview: Musician Eric Zay

By Jonah Morgan

There is a song in the vast sea of anime music which has secretly been one of my favorites since I first saw it attached to the ED sequence of the Golgo 13 OAV: Queen Bee around 6 years ago. You wont find it listed on a single all time fan favorite songs lists or even downloadable from an online file sharing network, such is it’s obscurity. The song is “Turquoise Blue” with lyrics by Eric Zay, music composed and arranged by Fujimaru Yoshino, vocals performed by Fujimaru Yoshino and Hitomi Ono. With a bit of research I found the musician who drafted the lyrics for “Turqouise Blue”, Eric Zay, who has recently been taking his own career in Japan to new heights. Following is our brief interview:

1. Could you give us a brief intro into your background regarding music? Do you have any influences, particular style or are you more of a maverick and forge your own path?

I was born into a musical environment, having a very well known singer-song writer as a father, music was always in the air. Dad gave me much support in sending me to school at Berklee in Boston. We now run our own label .and Yes, My influence will always be my father.

2. I first became of your work through the release of Golgo 13: Queen Bee around 1998, can you tell us how you got signed onto the project?

I was playing in a band called Shogun at the time when Fujimaru (singer/gtr) asked me to write lyrics for a song he wrote.

3. The song, ‘Turquoise Blue’ called for English lyrics. How did you approach writing the song and were you given any pointers in which direction to go in lyrically speaking.

I don’t remember any of the lyrics or even have a cd to listen to. I was probably given the song and the lyrics were done. I usually try to write what ever comes out pretty and will avoid becoming waste of plastic.

4. Is having the skill of composing song lyrics in English a pretty hotly saught after talent [In Japan] these days?

I don’t really know about how saught after English writers actually are but, I think it’s all a matter who you know and the connections you keep.

5. Have you done much other work in the Animation industry in Japan?

not much. . . opening and ending theme for “Black Jack” by Tezuka Osamu with a band called Orange Vox

6. On to your present music career, what has been going on recently? Anything coming up?

I have a new album coming out in september called Not Afraid, I was touring with a guy named Sugizo from a band called Luna Sea for the past 3 years Presently touring with Monoral and Bloom UnderGround Writing for tv cms’ like KDDI, Coca Cola, Nissan andToyota. . . etc.

7. For those who may be unfamiliar to your music can you reccomend a good “jumping on” point album wise?

please come and visit the homepages for music and more info:

http://ericzay.com
http://pure-records.com
http://monoral.com


Anime News Service Feature – Does The Yakuza Influence The Anime And Manga Industries?

  • 27th Apr 2004
  • Blog

By Jonah Morgan

3 years ago at a rather large American anime convention, I sat with some industry colleagues after a busy day of networking with company representatives, attending panels, interviewing fans and the usual con fare. We were sharing some drinks and shooting the breeze on the growth of the industry, behind the scenes developments etc… The conversation was all over the place. Then, with a laugh, someone at our table said: “You know…. the Yakuza funds the anime and manga industries in Japan.” At the time, I sort of laughed, and brushed it off…. “Yeah right!” I thought.

The topic did not expand beyond that point but the profound, albeit, off handed and unsupported statement continued to stick in my head. A few days after returning from the convention, I tried to research this specific information via search engines on the internet to zero success. It seemed Yakuza influence could be traced to backing enough high profit industries in Japan and abroad through the media reports and links I was able generate but nothing official on anime and manga industry connections. For the uninitiated, the Yakuza is of course, Japanese mafia or organized crime. The topic is quite popular and glamorized In fictional Japanese comic books and animation such as Ryoichi Ikegami’s Sanctuary and the films of director Takashi Miike and Takeshi “Beat” Kitano. Japanese gangsters have been a plot fixture which has been visited on occasion in Hollywood in larger release films such as 1989’s Black Rain starring Michael Douglas and directed by Ridley Scott and the humerus Showdown In Little Tokyo starring Brandon Lee and Dolph Lundgren.

In the real world, however, information on the Yakuza is scarce and rather Taboo in the American media. To see the mention on commercial television news in the USA is almost unheard of. Indeed, most of the mass consciousness surrounding the subject in this country seems to be shaped more by fiction than factual data. Along these lines, I drew an interesting parallel after just viewing the film “Black Rain” about a year ago when I sat down to examine the news of the day. A new report had just been released in Japan stating the country had made 4.36 billion dollars worth of animation product exports to the United States in 2002. This represented 3.2 times more than Japanese steel exports to that country. In the film Black Rain, one of the key scenes has the Michael Douglas detective character, Nick, following the Yakuza counterfeiters in Japan back to a steel foundry which was being used as a back-office operation and totally conspicuous meeting place for the gangsters. Now there is a real world precedent for Japanese organized crime being associated with steel holdings…….. and, if Japanese steel exports to the USA has been exceeded by animation related exports……. could the possibility of Yakuza investment in these industries truly be ruled out?

Further research that anyone with access to the internet can do will uncover mentions to Yakuza links in the Entertainment Industry in Japan dating back 60 years. The Patrick Macias book TokyoScope mentions Yakuza influences had ingrained themselves behind the scenes at various film companies after the second world war. Daiei’s top producer and president, Masaichi Nagata, boasted of a past as a former street punk. Toei’s many artisans and contract workers with traditional master-apprentice style relationships were said to be inseparable from the Yakuza of the period.

To what degree organized crime elements may influence the current animation and manga industries in Japan is information that will most likely not be forthcoming in any total or definitive capacity in the mainstream press. The actual involvement of those elements in such a profitable industry though is almost certainly assured it would seem.


Anime News Service – January 1 – April 25 Anime News

4-12-04—- eigoMANGA Teams With MTV

eigoMANGA has entered a partnership with MTV through various platforms in a mutual effort to expand their exposure towards university students through anime.

eigoMANGA is promoting a live anime concert and anime career fair on the campus of San Francisco State University on May of 2004 called eigoMANGA CAMPUS INVASION. CAMPUS INVASION is stage where eigoMANGA is producing a television pilot for broadcast on MTV’s new cable channel targeting university students, mtvU.

eigoMANGA CAMPUS INVASION will also be the platform where eigoMANGA will host a ROCK THE VOTE rally to encourage university students and young anime fans to register and vote. eigoMANGA CAMPUS INVASION is participating in the “20 Million Loud” project which is supported by MTV.

mtvU has also approached eigoMANGA to be the official sponsor of mtvU’s student animation talent search. University students will submit animation shorts to mtvU in the effort of winning an animation contract with the upstart cable television network.

For more information about eigoMANGA and eigoMANGA CAMPUS INVASION, visit http://www.eigoMANGA.com

4-9-04—- Americon To Include Anime Content

The first-ever AMERICON convention is shaping up to be a great success with current guests including: Christi Shake – sizzling hot model & Playboy playmate May 2002, Scott Chong – WWE / MTV Tough Enough 3 Wrestler & reality TV star, Christina Chen – Phenomenal artist on Battle of the Planets and Star Wars, Pop Mhan – dynamic artist behind Dark Horse Comics’ Spyboy and DC Comics’ Demon, Steve Conley – astounding writer/artist behind Astounding Space Thrills & head of Comicon.com, John Gallagher – pop personified writer/artist behind Buzzboy and head of More Fund Comics and Patrick “The Golden Child” Strange – thought provoking writer/poet behind Time Dollars, Blood of Onyx, The WhoWhats?!, Romeo Jones (The Adventures of Thong Raider) and head of Temple Studios / Temple Far East Entertainment.

Other anime & comic creators currently scheduled to appear include (A-Z): David Belmore, Austell Callwood, Philip Clark, David Dandorf, Philip Jean-Pierre, Dwayne Johnson, Nikole Jones, Russ McIntosh, David Napoliello, David Newbold, Dan Nokes, Chris Pitzer and others.

Anime & comic art studios and companies currently scheduled to appear include (A-Z): AdHouse Books, Comicon.com, Dreamchilde Press, Full Armour Studios, Ironhorse Comics, Labyrinth Entertainment, Newbold Creations, New Millennium Comics, SanKnights, Silent Devil Productions, Sky Dog Press / More Fund Comics, Temple Far East Entertainment / Temple Studios and 21st Century Sandshark Studios.

Music Guests currently scheduled to appear include: Caucasian Brown, Philip Clark and Flexible Head / Oddlot Music.

AMERICON 2004 Alpha will debut a special illustration by artist, Jo Chen, designed by Patrick Strange of Temple Far East Entertainment. A limited amount of signed & numbered AMERICON exclusive prints will be available along with a regular unsigned addition. Other merchandise available for purchase at AMERICON include: gold and silver age comic books, independent comic books, anime, DVDs and videos, original artwork, animation cels, autographs, Yu-Gi-Oh & other gaming cards, video games, non-sport cards, baseball / sports cards, CDs, vinyl, music memorabilia, sci-fi / horror merchandise, Star Wars & Star Trek related items, figures & statues, toys (vintage and new), posters & t-shirts, movie / TV / Hollywood memorabilia, NASCAR, WWE / wrestling, clothing, and much more. While supplies last, all vendors and customers attending AMERICON 2004 Alpha on April 25th 2004 will receive a Fulp Fiction (www.fulpfiction.com) promo poster for the upcoming, HARRY JOHNSON, three issue mini-series. HARRY JOHNSON is a three issue mini-series centering on the adventures of a goofy, womanizing detective of the same name. The book takes place in the late 1930s and follows detective Harry Johnson as he travels around the world on his biggest case ever! Featuring character designs by animator and Playboy cartoonist Dean Yeagle, pencils by Craig Rousseau (Batman: Gotham Adventures, Batman Beyond, Impulse), inks by Norman Lee (Spyboy, Star Wars), colors by Liquid and letters by Comicraft. HARRY JOHNSON is the creation of writer Charles Fulp, and is produced by the studio of FULP FICTION, Inc. Publisher to be announced with a FALL 2004 release date.

The guest list for AMERICON 2004 Alpha premiere convention promises to be even bigger with some of the hottest creators in anime & comics, hot models, professional athletes, music artists, voice actors and movie & TV guests lining up to attend! The premiere AMERICON Convention opens to the public April 25, 2004 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Maryland. In addition to the festivities, AMERICON will be hosting and accepting submissions for a charity auction to benefit the group ACTOR (A Commitment To Our Roots) and the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund). For further info on the AMERICON convention and Temple Far East Entertainment, e-mail at theamericon@msn.com and check out www.capicons.com and www.templefareast.com. The AMERICON convention fan-site is http://groups.msn.com/americon.

3-26-04—- Anime Toonz Vol. 2 Release

A new CD project has released in recent weeks by American dance label JellyBean-Recordings, New York – Tokyo out of the NYC and distributor Sony Discos. Titled Anime Toonz Vol. 2: Maria Kawamura, this marks the followup installment to the 2001 Anime Toonz release featuring Kikuko Inoue. The premise takes a compilation of fan favorite Anime theme songs, have a popular Japanese vocalist perform them in his or her unique voice and then have club DJ’s remix the tracks from the originals to hard house, cyber trance etc.. The vocalist for this volume is seiyuu Maria Kawamura, remixers are Nigel Richards (611 records), Bitshifter (8-bit music, Gameboy music), dablade (Ayumi Hamasaki remixer From Tokyo) and others. CD cover art is by Niki, UK resident character designer of “Sudeki” (X-Box game. Already released in Japan and will be soon in the US). 11 tracks include “sakura saku” from Love Hina, ”Forever love” from “X”. “Ai Oboeteimasuka” from Macross, El Hazard and others.

Of special interest to ANS readers, editor Jonah Morgan has added a written submission to the CD in the form of “forward” piece on page 7 of the liner notes book dealing with “Anime Song”. Look for our review to be posted soon.

3-19-04—- Japan Now: Golgo 13 Manga –


ANS Exclusive Interview: Inside The Fillipino Manga Industry With Nautilus Comics


By: Jonah Morgan

As evidenced in recent months, Southeast Asia is currently experiencing a boom in the areas of Comics, Animation and character licensing from abroad. Over $1,000,000 in manhwa licensing over the weekend of San Diego…. Lucasfilm’s animation studio move into Singapore… These events and many others have shifted the absolute focus of character related licensing in the Asia region away from Japan. Today we’re going to enter The Phillipines, another local vibrant area of talent and creative force. There, a relatively small and young studio called Nautilus Comics has been making very large waves in the local market. Their title Siglo: Freedom, has just won the Manila Critics Circle’s National Book Award for 2004. We recently talked to Jamie Bautista of the studio:

1. First of all can you tell us a little about yourselves and where you come from in relation to CAST? Who are some of your influences as far as art, character design, and storytelling?

I’ve been reading comics for quite a while, but I’ve been collecting comics religiously since 1994. I majored in Communication Arts and graduated cum laude. My first job was as a writer/graphic artist for a glossy magazine here, but then I left to do freelance graphic art. Later, I did a part-time teaching stint at my old college, the Ateneo de Manila, teaching freshman English (fiction and general writing classes) and a summer elective on comics theory. This is where I met Elbert, who was one of my students. He was one of those “nightmare students” in that he knew more about comics than I did! We kept in touch and when I decided to put up my own comic company, I tapped Elbert to help me out as an editor and pretty much as a COO.

Cast came about when Elbert suggested that we pitch a comic to one of the local publishers here. He would draw and I would write. I join two school plays in high school and I always thought the people and the world of theater was very fascinating and fun. So one idea I gave was this series about high school kids doing a play. But as we found out about the story limitations the publishers had (number of issues allowed, content, etc), we decided to go ahead and publish the story ourselves. One of my uncles had an existing publishing company that wasn’t doing anything, so we pitched the idea of doing comics to him and asked for control of the company.

Cast allows me to do all the romantic comedy/ drama type stories that I love and yet it allows for some exotic and almost fantasy-styled elements to be used due to the theatrical element of the series. So I get to do heart-warming teen hi-jinx while our artists can still dabble with some elaborate costumes, sets and even fantasy scenes from the script.

Personally, I was heavily influenced by the “slice of life” comic creators like Alex Robinson (Box Office Poison), Craig Thompson (Blankets, Goodbye, Chunky Rice) and Tom Beland (True Story, Swear to God). But my biggest influence would probably be Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), who is a master of emotional storytelling, expressive character art and inventive layouts. Films like “Shall We Dance” and “Almost Famous” also influenced the themes and storytelling styles I use. While I never really intended Cast to be manga style (this came out mainly due to market demands and the available artists), some anime series that did influence me were Cooking Master Boy and Slam Dunk, in the way they explained their core concepts (cooking and basketball) in such interesting detail yet managed to weave these descriptions into the plot so well and seamlessly. It definitely made me want to do something similar with Cast and the world of theater.

2. And so you guys based alot of the reality elements of CAST on things you saw in your own and others’ life experience being young?

Though a lot of the elements of Cast are based from my experiences, it isn’t really autobiographical. If anything, it’s more of a “What If” type of deal where I try to imagine how things would have been if certain events in my life had turned out differently. Other storylines are amalgamations of certain experiences from other times in my life. While other ideas are just wild stuff that grew out of the setting of high school theater.

I was actually in the play “Camelot” back in my old high school and another play called “Thirteen Daughters” which was done by an all-girls’ school. The basic story of Cast is a mix of these two experiences. Many of the characters are not based on any particular friends but rather combinations of different people I knew back in those days. My own life stories are really more of springboard for ideas rather than actual sources.

Personally, the main attraction of doing this type of story is nostalgia. In a way, writing Cast lets me travel back in time and relive some of the most fun moments in my life. At times it allows me to relive those memories differently. That’s the sort of my selfish motivation for doing this.

3. CAST is said to be illustrated in Manga style with distinct Fillipino art overtones. For those outside of the Phillipines, can you elaborate on what defines those Fillipino styling cues? I understand it must be a difficult question, translating an art technique into words……

One of the biggest debates in this country among local creators is about what constitutes a “Filipino art style.” Considering the overwhelming popularity of manga here, a unique national style doesn’t seem to be emerging. But then again, we’re a country that is known for taking in the traditions and ticks of other cultures then remolding them slightly into something new. We were under the Spanish, Americans and Japanese for decades (and dealt with the Chinese for centuries) and our culture is really a