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Otakon 2012
NISA Anime Industry Panel

by Gia Manry,

Nippon Ichi Software USA opened its 9 a.m. Saturday morning panel by passing out tickets to all attendees. The panelists introduced themselves: PR and marketing coordinator Ryan Phillips, anime producer Mitsu Hiraoka, and anime localization director Eugene Chen. This is NISA USA's first east coast panel ever.

Phillips shared a promotional video covering a number of NISA anime titles, such as Kimi ni Todoke and Occult Academy,followed by talking about some of the free items that come along with NISA's box sets in their online store. Phillips also manages the NISA Facebook page and newsletter, and he asked the audience to "Like" the page and also follow the NISA Twitter account.

New products coming out this year: anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Kimi ni Todoke volume 3, Bunny Drop, Ghastly Prince Enma -Burning Up-, Natsume's Book of Friends, and a new title that will be announced at the end of the panel.

Next, Chen shared some of the panel giveaways, including a House of Five Leaves poster, Tora Dora's first volume (standard edition), anohana tote bags and premium edition, and an anohana blanket. Phillips told the audience to stick around for the NISA Games panel after the anime panel, where they would be giving away video games.

Trailers were the next order of business: anohana (which is nearly sold out and will not be restocked until October), Kimi ni Todoke volume 3, Bunny Drop (due out August 7), Ghastly Prince Enma (September 11 with a cucumber-shaped stress ball as the bonus item), and Natsume's Book of Friends seasons 1 and 2 box set due in October.

Hiraoka took the microphone next and talked about how NISA employees love the company's titles and how they hope that the fans do as well. He talked a bit about the industry and how many publishers had left the anime world before NISA even started. NISA loves anime and wants to keep sharing it for as long as possible. The biggest issue facing the company is fansubbing. Hiraoka asked the audience how many people watched anohana unofficially before NISA released them. Hiraoka explained that this issue is particularly problematic for NISA because they offer subtitled-only releases. They work to differentiate their releases by offering high-grade packaging, art books, promotional items, and more in each release. Hiraoka wants customers to enjoy the titles at a greater depth than they might have otherwise with these items. NISA may not to dubbing, but they add their touch to each title. Hiraoka stated that he didn't want to discuss the ethics of fansubbing, and they always assume that it is going to occur, but he hopes that customers can enjoy NISA's titles as much as they do.

Next, Hiraoka discussed how NISA selects titles for acquisition. They know that sexual elements play a strong role in entertainment, but as they got into the market lately, they have to differentiate themselves, so they don't like to rely too much on "fanservice" although they know it's a part of many titles. (Hiraoka noted that this was a business decision, but personally he really enjoys "that sort of thing.") They look for story-driven anime and comedies, like Enma or Toradora. Even if the title doesn't have especially strong graphics, if it matches this requirement they may release it.

Another trailer appeared on the screen next, for Occult Academy, which came out in May.

Chen took over and discussed localization, which NISA does through subtitles rather than through dubs, meaning that they spend a great deal of time on the text to provide the best experience. Localization is the process of taking the literal translation and editing it for the region it will be released in. Chen feels there are no "right" or "wrong" ways to do it, but that there are "good" and "bad" ways. NISA's process takes three steps: translation, editing, and review. Chen discussed some approaches: literal, "westernization," and translation of meaning. He shared examples of each. The first came from Enma, which featured a lot of puns and references to '70s pop culture. The subtitles translate these references literally.

Next came an example of westernization, also from Enma, which makes several pop culture references. The subtitles reference rock star Mick Jagger, but the original script references a Japanese singer. Finally, Chen shared a third example from Enma: the translation by meaning. The subtitle offers a pun: "There's Norway out!" followed by "Then let's Finnish this!" The original Japanese phrasing is a similar country-based homonym that makes no sense when translated literally, so the localizers found a thematic pun that worked in English text. NISA tries its best to share the best possible experience by striving to match what the original creator's intent was.

NISA's localizers will read the original works that an anime is based on (manga, novel, game) as well as the anime before going through the translation and localization process, which also includes a company-wide screening and one more proofread. It takes about three to four months and is a constantly evolving process. Chen advised fans to use the NISA website to provide feedback or suggestions if they have one.

Chen also talked about NISA's art books by showing off the Wagnaria! one, including character introductions, illustrations (including art sent in to Japanese magazines). Chen also showed some of Occult Academy's and Zakuro's art books. Many of the art books have episode guides and comments from the anime production staff, and occasionally staff and cast interviews that offer a lot of insight. The House of Five Leaves art book features storyboards from the animation process, while anohana's showcases all the different t-shirts the main character wears in every episode and an explanation of what each shirt actually says. Katanagatari offers a glossary explaining a lot of its show's jargon.

Phillips opened the panel up for a Q&A session. The first question was about the Arakawa Under the Bridge box, which the attendee liked but says doesn't fit on his shelves. He asked how the company decided on that kind of packaging, and Hiraoka offered that "bigger is better."

The next attendee asked about Our Home Fox Deity and the lack of honorifics in the show's subtitles, which he felt took away from the series and the relationships between its characters. Chen replied that honorifics depend on each series; they left honorifics in for Toradora because they understand that the relationship does matter and the core of the series is very Japanese. With Fox Deity they felt that the relationships were established well enough without them, and taking them away didn't take away from the core value. But NISA does leave honorifics in when appropriate.

An attendee asked about how long the localization process takes, and Chen responded that it takes about three months. The attendee also asked whether they go back and look at titles they might have passed over previously. Hiraoka says that sometimes happens, and they review the popularity of a series. Finally, the attendee asked about prizes, which would be the last part of the panel.

The next question went back over the localization process and what changes are made to the script during the process, which Chen briefly re-explained. Another fan asked why they changed the name of the series Working!! ("copyright issue," said Hiraoka), and the company also has no plans to set up in the Otakon dealer room yet.

Asked about The Normal Lives of High School Boys, Hiraoka said that they almost have a release date set but it's not the right time to announce that just yet. An attendee asked about the acquisition process: how far back do they go when looking at titles to release? Hiraoka responded that especially these days, they look for titles that are available in HD format, but if a title was really well-made they might go back to one only available on DVD. But generally they would go back as far as 2009 for titles that have Blu-ray versions in Japan.

The next attendee asked about NISA's relationship with Crunchyroll and specifically her concern that the subtitles on Crunchyroll are often incorrect. NISA always creates new subtitles in-house and never uses Crunchyroll's subtitles. Toradora's first volume premium edition is now sold out, to one attendee's displeasure.

An attendee asked whether NISA might offer soundtracks with some of their premium edition box sets. Hiraoka asked if he had the option of the art book or soundtrack, which would he pick? Hiraoka said that they feel that art books are more valuable to all customers, whereas soundtracks might not be as worthwhile for some. They are always considering how to improve their products, and a soundtrack is a good candidate for a bonus item.

Someone suggested that NISA license Waiting in the Summer, and Hiraoka noted that someone else had already licensed it (the audience called out that the licensee is Sentai Filmworks). Next, someone asked about the atypical art styles of some NISA releases, such as Katanagatari, and asked if it's something they look for. Hiraoka said that it's an element, but that sometimes it makes things more difficult to sell because it doesn't always appeal to the majority of fans. A unique art style isn't a factor that will cause them to decline a title, and it's not the clincher, but it's something that they do consider.

The next question was about Disgaea and whether there will be an anime of Disgaea 2. Hiraoka noted that it's done in Japan so they have no real connection or control over it. However, he noted that it's difficult to get an anime made in the anime production committee system. He stated that Disgaea would have to be more popular for that to happen.

Asked about deciding on titles by popularity, Hiraoka says he doesn't worry too much about popularity in Japan so much as popularity in the United States because they are selling to the North American audience. An attendee asked if they've considered releasing movies as well as TV series, and Chen and Hiraoka agreed that they consider everything. The next attendee asked about the earlier reference to a reprint of anohana: it will be a reprint of the premium edition.

The next attendee, cosplaying a character from Umineko no Naku Koro ni, offered the panelists "ten tons of gold" to bring the title to North America. Phillips jokingly asked if there was cash or something in writing, and the cosplayer proferred a fancy envelope. Making a show of checking it out, Phillips agreed that they had a deal and showed a trailer of the series.

The panel then moved into the prize giveaways.

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