by Carlo Santos,
Day 2 of Sakura-Con 2011 was the day to do just about everything—get inspiration from creators like Daisuke Moriyama, experience the class and grace of veteran seiyuu Kotono Mitsuishi, hear industry news from Aniplex and Bandai, and even take in an uptempo idol-pop concert courtesy of Berryz Kobo.
Although Moriyama's panel was lightly attended, it gave fans an opportunity to really learn about a manga-ka's creative process. While his new technological thriller World Embryo has yet to reach North American shores, those who know Moriyama from Chrono Crusade learned how his love of American movies, especially Westerns, informed that work. Funnily enough he considers Back to the Future Part III his favorite "Western," unconventional as it may be. Also, despite his conscientious research into guns, religion, and the 1920's for Chrono Crusade, he's since learned that there's always some nitpicker out there who's going to say "guns don't really work that way" and "the 1920's weren't really like that." The lesson? If you want to be an artist, just keep on making your art—which Moriyama has done now for over a decade.
Where manga goes, anime adaptations often follow, and that means anime voice actors too. Kotono Mitsuishi may be best known as Sailor Moon's Usagi Tsukino, but her panel was a chance to celebrate all the roles she's done and hear some thoughts from a true industry icon. Mitsuishi became interested in voice acting due to her involvement with a radio broadcast club in high school, but she lacked confidence early on, and it was by debuting as one of the most legendary shoujo heroines of all time that she became more sure of herself as an actress. Mitsuishi said that at the time, she simply tried to do her best in the Sailor Moon role, making sure that every performance would be one "with no regrets." When asked if she ever looks back on old Sailor Moon episodes and thinks that Usagi should have done something differently, Mitsuishi's answer was simple: NEVER.
Mitsuishi's resume extends far beyond that, though. She took on a role in Ebichu because she personally asked Hideaki Anno for the part, promising to deliver even the most embarrassing lines with a straight face. She ended up plowing through 44 volumes of One Piece and becoming a fan of the series in order to properly play the role of Boa Hancock. But most impactful was the time she played Misato Katsuragi in Neon Genesis Evangelion—a character that, at the time, had a more mature and complex personality than the teenage heroines Mitsuishi was known for. The secret to playing that part was realizing that she was about the same age as Misato at the time—and that by speaking from her own feelings as a twentysomething, she could deliver a more convincing performance than stressing over technical points.
Today, Mitsuishi has a daughter of her own, and a few years ago they watched Sailor Moon together, one episode per day, cycling through the entire series. It was during those viewing sessions that Mitsuishi came to see the series in a new way: after almost two decades, Sailor Moon still feels "like opening a treasure box" every time.
The industry panels for Bandai and Aniplex both felt like half-hour long infomercials for their product line, followed by audience question-and-answer. The overlap between the two showed how corporate partnerships work in the industry: both Aniplex and Bandai pointed out that May will be the best month ever for fans of Durarara!!, with the final DVD set coming out on May 31st, as well as Baccano!, with a complete Blu-ray box set coming out on May 17th. Ultimately, it was Bandai that made the blockbuster announcement of the day with their acquisition of fantastical mecha series Star Driver. With news like that, one almost forgets that Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society will be a getting a Blu-ray release, and that the original Mobile Suit Gundam will finally be coming out in both dubbed and subbed form, and that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya will be arriving in Summer 2011 as both a DVD and Blu-ray. Plus, both companies will be happy to remind you that the two Gurren Lagann movies are very much available.
After a full day of Japanese entertainment immersion, what better way to wind down than ... screaming your head off and waving lightsticks for over an hour? That's the kind of crowd that greeted 7-member girl group Berryz Kobo at their first-ever concert for U.S. fans (although that didn't stop a number of Japanese hardcores from flying across the pond to follow them). And while the Japanese "wota" presence was marked by stereotypical adult males, the American side of the fandom proved to be much more diverse, with teenage girls and even families who look to Berryz as best friends, sisters, and role models, not just fantasy girlfriends.
The group debuted as grade-schoolers under the same agency as the better-known Morning Musume, but as Sakura-Con's polished performance showed, they have come into their own over the last seven years. Wearing heavily-sequined outfits, Berryz Kobo sang and danced their way through a cross-section of the group's entire repertoire—going from signature tune "Special Generation" through recent singles like "Heroine ni Narou ka" and making stops at the Okinawa-styled "Piriri to Yukou!", hard-rocker "Maji Bomber!!", rousing anime theme "Otakebi Boy WAO!", and other (exclamation) points in between. If emphatic punctuation seems to be a feature of the group's song titles, well, that's just how much energy they packed into the show. Love or hate this style of music, the effort that goes into a Japanese pop-idol performance is something just shy of being a professional athlete.
The only problem is coming down from that emotional high of loud, uptempo music and ridiculously sparkly costumes. In fact, it sounds a lot like what happens after watching an episode of Star Driver. (Which, just to re-emphasize the point, is coming to America! Apprivoise!)
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