Report: Under the Dog's Tokyo Premiere

by Ken Iikura-Gross,

On August 9, 2014 at the Otakon convention in Baltimore, a unique and intrepid anime project was announced to the world: Kinema Citrus's Under the Dog.  Many new anime projects are announced at conventions, but Under the Dog’s announcement was exceptional in that the project was going to be sponsored through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.The production team chose Kickstarter as opposed to conventional methods of funding because they wanted more creative control than what an anime production committee would allow. Very few anime projects are funded this way, and Under the Dog was certainly a bold prospect for everyone involved. Following the announcement, their Kickstarter campaign officially began, lasting for thirty days until September 7, 2014. Although the campaign had a slow start, Under the Dog reached its initial funding goal of $600,000 and ended with nearly $900,000 from a total of 12,157 backers.

Thus, with a well-planned Kickstarter campaign, the OVA was able to reach fruition and on July 27 2016, Under the Dog premiered at the Akiba Theater in the Fuji Soft Akiba Plaza in Akihabara, Tokyo.

While the main event was a screening of Under the Dog, the thirty-minute talk show with Kinema Citrus CEO Muneki Ogasawara, series creator Jirō Ishii, music composer Kevin Penkin, series producer Koji Morimoto, and voice actresses Naomi Ohzora and Haruka Takahashi was also enlightening, as each gave their perspective on the OVA's production. Jirō Ishii noted that he saw a younger version of himself in the story, which makes sense considering that he worked on the initial treatment of Under the Dog between 1995 and 1996. Listening to Jirō Ishii speak about his aspirations during that time period was captivating because it displayed how his thought process and creative sense has evolved over the years. I also found Kevin Penkin's contribution to the OVA incredibly absorbing, specifically his discussion about the main theme and how it related to the story and characters. He described the theme song as a passing of the torch between the characters Hana Togetsu and Anthea through the opening cello solo.

Naomi Ohzora and Haruka Takahashi had some wonderful comments as well, expounding on how they were chosen for the roles of Estella and Sayuri. Kickstarter backers selected who would portray the characters rather than a production committee, so Ohzora and Takahashi were humbled by the faith of the backers. They also voiced their interest in portraying Estella and Sayuri in any future installments of Under the Dog.

As informative as the staff and cast talk show was, everyone at the Under the Dog premier was curious about the OVA itself.  In brief, Under the Dog was a conceptually interesting blend of elements from Ghost in the Shell withBubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 and other science fiction anime series.  While this made parts of the story familiar, the OVA applied these elements in unexpected ways. It's still uncommon for anime to use this type of narrative, which ultimately made Under the Dog riveting. The OVA also defied the audience's expectations throughout the second and third acts. That's not to say the story was wildly unpredictable, but Jirō Ishii took risks with certain characters and plot points. However, it was the background music that really brought the OVA to life, as Kevin Penkin's score blended seamlessly with the action. Having a transcendent score that the audience could enjoy without thinking about improved the viewing experience of Under the Dog.

The premier of Under the Dog was a wonderful little event that demonstrated anime studios now have more options when seeking funding for productions. While it's true that crowdfunding presents its own risks, the freedom it provides anime production teams is amazing.  In this case, the final product presented viewers with outstanding entertainment and an intriguing narrative that could have been stifled by a production committee. There was a minor issue with some of the English language portions of the OVA, though. While the English sections were short, the dialogue and voice acting was stiff. Fortunately, these scenes were few and far between.

Unfortunately, the director, Masahiro Andō, wasn't able to attend the premier, as he was putting the final touches on the OVA for its August 1st release. I'm interested in the future of Under the Dog, and if it will find an audience outside of those who backed the OVA on Kickstarter. If so, I hope Kinema Citrus will return to the story and elaborate on the characters and narrative. In the end, I highly suggest checking out Under the Dog because it's well worth watching.

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