Otakon 2011 Tiger & Bunny Panel
by Brian Hanson,
Producer Masayuki Ozaki and Anime News Network CEO and Publisher Christopher Macdonald hosted the panel spotlighting Sunrise's new series Tiger & Bunny. Ozaki started the panel by saying that this was the first Tiger & Bunny panel in the world. Ozaki thanked everyone for coming by using Sky High's signature phrase "Thank you, and again thank you!" in both English and Japanese. Ozaki also stood up and mentioned that he was dressed similarly to Kotetsu today, but in white because it was so hot in Baltimore. Ozaki spoke in fluent English throughout the panel.
Ozaki first showed an extended preview of the show, summarizing the first half of the series and previewing the second half. He noted after the video that he was surprised by the audience's reaction to Origami Cyclone in the video, and asked if he was also popular in America, to thunderous applause. He said he couldn't imagine that character would be so popular.
Macdonald mentioned that Ozaki was not just the producer of Tiger & Bunny, but also the co-creator. The panel then launched into a Q&A between Macdonald and Ozaki. Macdonald first asked Ozaki to tell the audience how he was inspired to have the sponsor aspect of the show. "That's where we started, with the idea that superheroes are all corporate sponsored," he said.
Macdonald then asked Ozaki about some of the difficulties in getting the series off the ground. "If I start talking about what the problems were, 90 minutes wouldn't be sufficient!" Ozaki joked. "One of the problems was, there was a certain financial crisis that originated in the States that affected us in Japan as well, and so the project was going ahead, but we had a problem getting a sponsor, so we considered putting the series on hiatus many times."
Macdonald then asked about some of the difficulties in regards to the characters of the show itself. Ozaki replied: "Another problem was, as you said... it's been considered that any anime character with facial hair would be a 'bust.' Apparently Japanese women do not feel attracted to men with facial hair. In addition, the main character, Kotetsu, has facial hair, he already has a child, he's much older than your typical anime hero, and it's about superheroes, which is not the most popular genre in Japan. It's a show full of elements that were considered a bust." In reference to that, Macdonald asked about the appeal of Tiger & Bunny towards older, more "mature" audiences. "We had 2 target audiences in mind, one is the former anime fan, the old-school people who used to watch anime," said Ozaki. "The other were Japanese viewers of American prime-time TV shows. And so that's why I wanted to incorporate other elements into the show, to appeal to them. One thing is that the script had to be well-written, and um, we had elements of comedy and witty dialog, and then we wanted to appeal not just to a Japanese audience but a worldwide audience, so the setting is a Manhattan-like city, and the characters are racially diverse."
Macdonald then asked Ozaki if he was aware of Tiger & Bunny's popularity with fujoshi fans. "Yes?" he replied. "Frankly speaking I didn't care much about so-called 'fujoshi.' I'm so surprised at this situation." Then Macdonald pressed him on the themes inherent within the series. "We have two themes. One is 'never give up,' which is an important part of Kotetsu's spirit. The other is the bonds between humans, between Kotetsu and Barnaby specifically."
Macdonald asked him about some of the stories involving the corporate sponsored logos that propagate throughout the series, and the difficulties inherent in working with such a wide variety of corporations. "One of the characters is Fire Emblem. He is, as you know, gay. And at first, uh, one company was interested in sponsoring the character, and at that time, that company did not know the scenario and his character. And after that the company knew Fire Emblem was gay, and at that point, that company said 'sorry, we cannot sponsor him, because he's gay.'" drawing plenty of boos from the crowd.
Then Macdonald pressed Ozaki on the character design process. "Yeah, for example, Rock Bison, as you know, he was always going to be based on the ox motif for his design. So as producer I knew that his corporate sponsor had to have something to do with that idea. We wound up with Kuukaku, the Japanese Korean Barbeque chain, and they were very happy to sponsor it." Jokingly, Macdonald took a sip of his can of Coca-Cola and mentioned that Tiger & Bunny's Pepsi sponsors would probably be unhappy with his choice of beverage. "As you know, Blue Rose has the Pepsi logo. The Japanese agent for Pepsi is Suntory. And Suntory was actually the company that was first successful in the world to genetically engineer a blue rose. So I definitely wanted this character to be sponsored by Suntory. So in order to entice Suntory to sponsor her, her name had to be Blue Rose."
On the topic of product placement, Macdonald then mentioned that audiences often don't react particularly well to blatant advertising in their entertainment, and asked Ozaki how he managed to work around that expectation. "Yes, that was one concern we had to keep in mind. Because we do know that the audience does have a hard time being connected to a show that's blatantly commercial, and those real-life examples are plenty. But within the context of Tiger & Bunny it already takes place in a world with the context of corporate sponsored superhero action, so the viewers have an easier time of accepting the framework."
Macdonald asked, in general terms, what the thing Ozaki is most proud of in Tiger & Bunny. "As a lot of you may know, it's much more difficult to do an original story and make it successful. And in order to do that you need to catch the fans off guard and make them notice the show. And one gimmick to entice the audience was the sponsor logos, and that was a successful device. And I knew that once someone would catch an episode they would be hooked. But I think the most important part of the show that enticed the audience is the fact that the characters are sympathetic, the script was crucial, and the actual story was very traditional. In my opinion, in order to grab the audience's heart, you need a straight-on attempt, and that's exactly what Tiger & Bunny does."
Before turning it over to the crowd for Q&A, Macdonald offhandedly mentioned that he knew he wasn't supposed to ask about the future of the series, but he wanted to know what Ozaki would like to see happen as the show moves forward. "My personal opinion... this season is 25 episodes. Only 25. But! I strongly want to make the next story. And this isn't anything I've brought up with the financing committee, but it's a personal aspiration. and even within this 25 episode run, there's a jump in the story between the 1st quarter and the 2nd quarter. And in future development I think there's a chance to explore what happens between those two quarters. There are a couple of characters who haven't received enough attention from the story so far, like Rock Bison, or Origami Cyclone, or Sky High. So I want to make their story in the future. So currently 25 episodes is what we have on the plate, the after story is something else I'd like to develop if possible." Ozaki then addressed the crowd directly in English. "This is something I'd like to ask you guys. Would you like to see an episode that focuses on Lunatic?" The crowd erupted in applause. "Thank you! Wonderful response! I feel so much inspiration! So I will make his episode." Then Ozaki addressed the potential future of the series. "I have no idea whether the continuation of the next work will be a TV show or direct to DVD or anything else. But I'd like to get started on developing the script and pre-production. And another question for the audience: who would like to see a live-action version?" Again the crowd erupts. "Sunrise alone can't make a live action version. We need your support to get Hollywood to license it."
Afterwards, Macdonald opened the floor for the audience. Q&A.
I love the series, it's so different from anything else out there. How do you feel when you see so much Tiger & Bunny fanart?
Ozaki: I'm very happy to see a lot of fanart. Sunrise tends to have the reputation of being nitpicky in regards to copyrighted artwork, especially in regards to Gundam. And I do think that protecting intellectual property is important, but it's also very important to have a lot of audience love and encourage fan activity as well. We can't completely afford to be like Hatsune Miku where everything is open sourced, but fan support is crucial.
Why doesn't Tiger ever tell his daughter that he's a superhero?
Ozaki: That is Kotetsu being a parent. He doesn't want to tell her because if she lets it slip in class that her father is a superhero, that might have ramifications, for example, danger might befall her, and he doesn't want her to worry about what he's doing.
I like the fact that Bunny has a change of character in the middle of the series, becoming much more straightforward. How did you arrive at this decision?
Ozaki:It was the actual idea for Tiger & Bunny to develop the relationship over the course of the 25 episodes between Kotetsu and Barnaby. So it really is the story of the growth of the relationship between the two as they cooperate.
There's a character in the series named Fire Emblem, and there's a Nintendo video game series by the same name. Is this intentional?
Ozaki: This one was completely unintentional. When we were designing the character, he was to be a fire user, so as a fire user his codename evolved to be 'Fire Emblem.' When Fire Emblem is spelled out in English, the Nintendo Fire Emblem is spelled exactly the same, but there is one character of difference in the katakana between the two of them, so there is a distinction. This is also coincidental.
Many of the corporate sponsors in the series are popular in America as well. What's their reaction to the show's popularity overseas?
Ozaki: Since Tiger & Bunny was to have not just a Japanese development, including Europe and Asia, the idea was to have a corporate sponsorship that was more global in nature. Currently the product placement is a hodgepodge of Japanese corporations as well as global corporations. But in the localization efforts in the future, I hope that we can have more global sponsorship. Especially in the US, that's something we need to work out with Viz.
There are a lot of "second tier" heroes in the series. Have there been any considerations of promoting these characters through the course of the series?
Ozaki: That's an interesting idea, and actually we think that storyline, that would be great if we could do short films that focused on individual characters. There actually is a Pepsi commercial with Blue Rose drinking Pepsi for the Japanese market.
How much control do the sponsors have over the show? And have they benefited at all from their exposure in the series?
Ozaki: Very good question. We do keep the corporate image of all the sponsors in mind, and we take that into consideration when we develop the script. So we communicate with the sponsors, we send them the script and the storyboard before it goes into production, so that we can keep a good relationship with the companies. Companies like Pepsi, Kuukaku and Bandai have seen revenue growth thanks to Tiger & Bunny.
What made Sunrise make the decision to have English subtitles on the Japanese Blu-ray? And will we be seeing any of the bonus items, like the mini-magazine, in the English release?
Ozaki: The reason why the Blu-ray had sold in Japan with subtitles is because we wanted a global audience, such as you guys, to see it. However it is possible to purchase the DVDs through Amazon Japan and get it sent here, but volume one is already completely sold out in Japan, and the auction price is triple the list price.
The product placement idea is really fun. Has there been any talk of making any actual commercials using the characters from the series? And also, one of the big sponsors is Bandai - and yet the series is coming to the US from Viz. Any interesting stories there?
Ozaki: As for the idea of having commercials, the superheros are corporate sponsored and need to act as a spokesman for their sponsor, so it is something that is a very enticing idea to incorporate into the show. Specifically for the Bandai logo, bandai is a real-life sponsor of the Tiger & Bunny series. It's not because Bandai is a parent corporation to Sunrise.
The show has certain similarities to Super Sentai and Tokusatsu live-action series, but it's obviously much different. What inspired you to move away from that paradigm?
Ozaki: The Japanese Tokusatsu live action shows are targeted towards children, so that's their format, and we wanted to do a grown-up drama, so that's why we have an incentive to move away and do something different with Tiger & Bunny.
Who comes up with the facts about Kotetsu and Barnaby at the end of each episode? Have you personally snuck anything into those that come from personal experience?
Ozaki: This is a fun sort of play we put into the show. It does not necessarily have real-life models or inspirations. But it's entirely possible that in the lines of the script, or maybe staff members' likes or tendencies may be unintentionally incorporated. But that's up to the audience's imagination to speculate.
Are there any plans for merchandise, like mass-producing Barnaby's hat? Or maybe action figures?
Ozaki: Yes! Regarding figures, Bandai will make figures of all the heroes. In addition, they are planning on releasing other character goods as well. Kotetsu's hat, Antonio's belt, Kotetsu's watch, Barnaby's soft bunny, et cetera.
Origami Cyclone started out as something of a joke character, but he had an entire episode revolve around him and really developed into a real and interesting character. Rock Bison hasn't had that yet. Will Rock Bison get his moment in the sun? Or will that have to wait until the second season?
Ozaki: I do think that 25 episodes is not enough to give depth to all eight of the superheroes. I do wish that I had a few episodes to give that to each character. Antonio is a friend of kotetsu's since their school days, so I certainly hope that more in-depth episodes of Antonio and Kotetsu could be done in the future.
I'm wondering if there was any inspiration from American "reality TV" shows regarding the "King of Heroes" aspect, and do you think that, in the future, such an event could actually be made?
Ozaki: The reality show aspect actually has much more of an influence from Formula-1 racing. And another influence is the American reality shows. And I do think that the Hero TV is a great plot device and gimmick in the show, and I would love to make an entire episode that is like a real TV broadcast.
So you announced a lot of merchandise, but are there any plans for a video game?
Ozaki: Of course. Actually Namco Bandai games is now developing a video game. And we are getting offers to do stuffed dolls of the characters.
There's a bit of a connection between the animal names of the characters and the Chinese Zodiac. Was this intentional?
Ozaki: We wanted to have diverse kinds of heroes, so we thought that the most accessible gimmick to a global audience would be animals. So we went through the character designs, and the result just happened to partially match the Chinese Zodiac.
Was Bunny's backstory based off of Batman?
Ozaki: It was not a conscious influence. Each of the characters does have a backstory, but 25 episodes is not enough to give that out to every one of them. One thing that I wanted in Tiger & Bunny is to depict the human aspect of superheroes, something very common in titles in American comics like Batman in Spider Man, and to be compared to that is an honor.
Which hero is your favorite, and which one most closely personifies you in real life?
Ozaki: Difficult question. I love every one, I like all the heroes, but I am closest in age to Kotetsu, so I do find him to be the most sympathetic. I love Origami Cyclone so much, and Dragon Kid is really cute. But there is another character which is the same one that the scriptwriter, Masafumi Nishida, has a fixation on. That's Dr. Saito. We are very fond of Saito as production staff. As for myself, I like Ben, Kotetsu's former boss.
You said you'd like to see a live-action version, so who would be in your cast?
Ozaki: In my brain, I can imagine some actors and actresses. But I can't say it!
The animators like to hide lots of "Easter eggs" in Tiger & Bunny. Are there any secrets that you had a hand in?
Ozaki: Visually there isn't anything I'm personally responsible for. Those are pretty much the responsibility of the director or the individual animators. But there is plenty of personal play that I put in the script or the setting or the character designs. So I won't point out specifics, but there are a couple of references to past works of mine, and I have favorite real-life actors, and there are homages to them in the characters designs and the script.
Some people have figured out Kotetsu's cologne. What is Barnaby's?
Ozaki: That is a common topic of immense speculation from our Japanese fans as well. There will be issues if I make an official announcement, so that's for you to speculate, so have fun!
After cutting almost a half an hour into Viz's panel, Macdonald mentioned that they had to start wrapping up. Ozaki then thanked the fans profusely once again. "There are so many cosplayers of Tiger & Bunny!" he beamed. "I am so pleased, I will take photos and show them to the Japanese fans and the Japanese actors. Thank you, and again thank you!"
Special thanks to Crystal Hodgkins for additional coverage.
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