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Anime Expo 2006
CLAMP Focus Panel and Press Conference

by Zac Bertschy,

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The line for Anime Expo's most anticipated event, the Saturday afternoon CLAMP fan focus panel, started around 6:30 AM, according to the intrepid gang of fans at the very front of the line. Sprawling all the way across Hall D next to the dealer's room on the first floor, fans of all shapes, sizes and costumes lined up for hours on end to catch a glimpse of the elusive mangaka. We canvassed the line to capture a little fan anticipation before the event began.

We spoke first with a group of cosplayers near the front of the line:

What are you all hoping to see today?

So you just want to look at them?
Well, they're so elusive, like at the panel you can't take pictures.

And this is really the biggest thing ever; this is my first out of state convention. It was either coming to see CLAMP, or get corrective eye surgery done. You can guess which one I picked!

If you could ask them anything, anything at all, what would you ask?
Oh, the first question would absolutely be “when are you going to finish X/1999?”

Next, with a fan in attendance with her mother:

How long have you been waiting in line?
Uh, for about 5 hours now.

What are you hoping to see? Are you really excited?
Just to hear them talk about their work, and find out what their personalities are like.

So if you could ask them anything, what would you ask?
 I'd ask them probably why their art style has changed so much over the years.

And finally, with a gang of guys who had started the line early that morning (whose names, unfortunately, didn't come through in our recording):

How long have you been in line?
Since about 6:30 this morning.

Okay. So is this the biggest event for you guys?
Yes, absolutely.

Do you have a favorite CLAMP work?

If you could ask them anything, what would you ask?
I didn't like all the drama at the end of Chobits… like it's fun and it's cool and then suddenly it's all dramatic..

That's really more of a comment than a question.
Well, like, I don't know why they did that.

Anyone else have a question they'd ask?
What's their favorite sandwich?

Oddly enough, AX management kept the fans waiting three floors below the CLAMP event space. Seating didn't begin until quite a while after the event was scheduled to begin, with fans slowly trickling in to the room. By 3:20 PM, they had finally decided to start the panel – a full hour and 20 minutes past the scheduled start time – even though fans were still filing in.

The fan focus panel was a relatively short and breezy affair, and had been obviously paired down to fit inside the time allotted to the panel after seating ate up an hour and a half ( the panel was scheduled to end at 5pm to make room for the Music Video Competition). Hosted by veteran voice actress (and English voice director of the upcoming Tsubasa TV series) Colleen Clinkenbeard, the panel began with a 20-minute video describing CLAMP's work, with each series receiving deafening applause. Afterward, the group was introduced, and photos from CLAMP's studio in Japan were shown (and to prove how eager the fans were, static shots of the Copic markers the CLAMP artists use were also met with staggering applause). They were then asked a series of 12 questions by the host, pre-selected from submissions made over the internet. By and large, the questions were very pedestrian; many of them were somewhat repetitive or otherwise asking for information that could readily be found elsewhere. Only one question – that asked specifically about whether or not two characters in Tsubasa were homosexual – seemed to generate real interest and emotion from the fans, although applause did follow virtually everything said by the four women on stage.

After the panel, fans expressed mild disappointment that the crowd was not allowed to ask questions themselves and also said that they'd hoped for deeper questions with more meaning, or perhaps at least being given answers that held more information than what could be found online already. Ultimately, however, the fans were extremely happy to see CLAMP and felt that the wait was worth it.

Directly following the CLAMP Focus panel, a press conference was held. What follows is a transcription of that conference.

Chase Wang, Moderator: Ladies, welcome to the Anime Expo and thank you for this opportunity to talk to you on your first ever visit to the U.S. Before I start taking questions from everyone here today, I'd like to ask each of you for a brief comment on Anime Expo and if the U.S.A. May I please start with Igarashi-sensei.

Igarashi Satsuki:
As my first impression, I think one is the season, of the weather here in the U.S. In Japan right now is the rain season. It is muggy and wet everyday. Compared to that, it feels great to be here in the nice, dry weather. And as for the convention, seeing a lot of people costume playing. It seems like a lot of people like our work, and that's a great feeling for me.

Ohkawa Ageha: Thank you! I'm very happy to be invited to Anime Expo this year. Actually, I arrived here yesterday and I've already had the great California Champagne.

Nekoi Tsubaki: First, I'm really happy that I got invited to such a big event and same as Igarashi here, I really like the dryer weather here compared to the weather in Japan right now. It really makes spending the day a lot easier and the strong sun and the palm trees here really makes me realize I'm in California.

Coming to such a big event, I had heard stories about this convention but coming here for the first time and seeing it for, like, the first time, a lot of things...really realizing that a lot of people really like anime and manga.  

Question: Could you describe your first meeting? How you all met and how you decided to work together as a team?

Ohkawa Ageha: The three people, except myself, were high-school classmates. So we, the four of us got together through a mutual friend. Actually, back then as a group we first published doujinshi fanzines. And back then, the group we had more people. It was 11 of us actually. And that was the first time, we used the group name CLAMP. At our commercial debut we had six people in the group, and within one year that came down to four people and since then we worked as a group for seventeen years with four people in the group.

Question: Recently I had a chance to talk to Ishikawa-sensei from Production I.G., and he spoke very highly of you. He mentioned that he had college students working on his latest project, and that the only compensation they wanted was to get to talk to CLAMP. How have you enjoyed working with him?

Nekoi Tsubaki: He left a very strong impression.

Ohkawa Ageha: He's a very capable person but also a very fashionable person. From my perspective I really thought he loves making animation and also he treats his staff well, just like a family. He knows how to treat people well.

Question: In most of CLAMP's work there's always a character who only has one eye, and I'd like to know what that means?  

Ohkawa Ageha: In the stories, the one-eyed character or the characters loses sight in one eye...I think that I'm trying to visually show that there can be a very big traumatic experience/feeling and I'm basically trying to show the feeling of being lonely. From the stories there's always some events or something that comes in later that supplements that vision. On a little different note, my right eye, the vision is not very good so maybe it's just a personal thing that I can relate to such events personally. I think in the current works, Tsubasa and XXXHolic, there's also a one-eyed character, so you might see that theme again.

Question: How does it make you feel to see people all around the world cosplaying as your characters?

Mokona: It makes me feel very happy that the people in different countries really love our characters, and I think every time I see them the costumes are very detailed. I'm looking forward to seeing those costumes.

Ohkawa Ageha: Actually, before we had the focus panel. When we were waiting in our room, we could see thru the window that a lot of people that were lined up for a long-time and I saw a lot costume plays as Cardcaptor Sakura or Chobits and if that person noticed us watching them, we did wave back to those people.

Question: I'd like to ask the four of you, where do you get your inspirations from? Do you get influenced by some others you like or your heart or whether you try to put your personal inspirations or your personal experiences in your work?

Igarashi Satsuki: I think Ohkawa here sometimes draws upon these dreams that she has.

Ohkawa Ageha: Sometimes it's based on events that I hear about or see but a lot of times it's just the deadline that's coming that gives me inspirations.

Question: Obviously there's four of you, so at times you have choices in your stories whether to do a particular series or not. How do you sort of work out these arguments? Does it turn out one of you tends to be pretty convincing of the others? Do you vote? Or do you simply say “Mokona hasn't had a chance to run things for awhile, it's her turn?” Now that you're much more international at scope, have you thought that that has affected your story-telling in any way?

Ohkawa Ageha: In turns of choosing which projects, which work to accept, or decline on, I makes that decision. But in terms of setting priorities and actual schedules for the individual works, that's handled by Igarashi. There is worldwide popularity, yes, but I think the reality is we work on the work that has the first deadline first.

Igarashi Satsuki: Yeah, we have to take care of what's right in front of our eyes first before we can see beyond that.

Question: Both in Chobits and Suki Dakara Suki you use storybooks as a way of acting as a metaphor for everything else that's going on in the stories. I was wondering what brought that sort of idea into the stories? Was that just an element of liking storybooks? Why use that element in two works, rather than one or the other?

Ohkawa Ageha: Like you said, both in Chobits and Suki Dakara Suki, the storybook appears. When we're working on two multiple storylines I think from time to time it can be very confusing to the readers. I think Suki Dakara Suki came first and we tried the storybook approach there, and we got good feedback from the readers and that's why we used the same idea in Chobits.

Question: As many manga series have been developing and becoming popular we see them going into live-action films. Out of all your novels and stories that you've put out, is there any particular one that you'd like to see as a live-action film?

Ohkawa Ageha: Live-action. Maybe it would be Chobits. I think within ourselves, we're most interested in seeing that one as a live-action. I think if Chobits were going to be made into live-action for the U.S. I would have strong preferences for the actresses.

Question: Our viewers and readers have been asking about Legal Drug. What's going on?

Ohkawa Ageha: No problem there. We will be resuming that piece in the near future.

Question: I've noticed at times you choose different styles and proportions for your characters, like in XXXHolic the characters are all very tall. How do you make that decision, and how does it affect the story?

Ohkawa Ageha: After we come up with the story we go through a character design phase. Our work process is very similar to animation production, so after the story we will choose a person to perform the character design and when that is happening I will usually specify the proper proportions for that story and the character. Actually for the XXXHolic story, in the focus panel a fan asked about this. For this particular storyline we wanted to use a more Ukio-e art style that dictated longer proportions for the characters. Since Tsubasa is linked to XXXHolic that dictates that Tsubasa and XXXHolic have similar proportions for the characters. It's not that our characters get thinner and longer.

Question: Is Rayearth a lion or a wolf?

Mokona: Initially the basis was a wolf but as I added more hair to the character, it became unclear if it should belong to the cat family or the canine family. Since it's a fantasy, please forgive that vagueness.

Question: I'm a big fan of Kobato; why did you guys change from the SundayGenX to Newtype and then remove the story again? How will you work with Kobato?

Ohkawa Ageha: For this particular piece it started with SundayGenX and they had specified a number of chapters in the series so we fulfilled that requirement and when it was decided to be restarted we went to a different magazine, Newtype.

Question: My chief editor and I have been wondering for a long time when X will be finished and how many more volumes are left?

Ohkawa Ageha: For X with various things going on in Japanese society and everything, it's unclear how fast we will work on it. In terms of numbers of volumes though it will match the number of tarot cards. For the U.S. publication the exact number of volumes may slightly differ because of the number of pages involved but for the Japanese edition there will be twenty one volumes.

Question: I've noticed that your young and innocent characters fall in love their character design changes to reflect a more mature personality. Do you feel that when characters fall in love they “grow up”, like in Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth?

Ohkawa Ageha: I think women in general are a lot stronger than to have love change them. It's a very difficult question to answer but I think it's not just love for a woman to change but it's when they find something that they'll leave their life on the line. When they find something like that it changes them. It might be love or it might be something that they want to protect. That's my opinion but we do draw a lot of love stories, targeting the girls as the audience so it's natural that love becomes something that deals with such events.
Question: What do you think are the key elements of your success in Japan and obviously in western countries?

Igarashi Satsuki and Ohkama Ageha: Actually for us, our everyday life is sitting at a desk and drawing. That's our world so it's hard for us to really feel and realize that our work is popular throughout the world… so I'm not sure what to say here.

Ohkama Ageha: I'm not sure what the key element is. . .maybe I should be asking that question to you.

Question: If you hadn't become wildly successful artists what do you think you might've been doing?

Mokona: I would think I would always be involved in creating something or drawing.

Nekoi Tsubaki: Before I started drawing I was just an ordinary office worker so I probably just would've gotten married, had a family, and lived a normal life.

Ohkama Ageha: I'm sure I would've been a manga reader.

Igarashi Satsuki: Before our professional debut was formalized I was job searching. Just looking for an ordinary salary job. So if the manga (success) didn't happen I'm sure I would've been a salary worker and I'm sure I would've put the salary into buying more manga, more books, and watching animation.

Question: Did any of you have any formal art education or did you all learn how to draw and create art by self-teaching?

Mokona: We mentioned that the three of us were classmates in high school and that high-school had a related college. At both of the high-school and college levels they were putting lots of emphasis into art. There was an art-type emphasis on education there.

Nekoi Tsubaki: In terms of general art skills I did learn at that school but in terms of drawing manga, that requires different skill-sets and for that part I'm more self-taught.

Igarashi Satsuki: As Mokona mentioned I also went to that art-type high-school. For me after high-school I went to a vocational school that was also an art-type school. In terms of manga drawing-skills I did not learn from any one particular person or school.

Ohkama Ageha: It's common in Japan for a person to work under another manga artist as an assistant and go from there. For us, all of us have never worked as an assistant to anybody so I think we are really self-taught.

Special thanks go to anime.advancedmn.com for providing the framework for this transcription.