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Interview: Yuma Takahashi and Koji Kitakami, Chief Producers of AnimeJapan

by Zac Bertschy, Sarah Nelkin & Mitsuru Uehira ,

ANN: What is your personal history respectively with TAF(Tokyo International Anime Fair) and ACE(ANIME CONTENTS EXPO), which were held until the last year? How did you feel about the split between TAF and ACE in the last 2 years?

Kitakami: I'm Kitakami (Photo, Right). I was the producer of the Tokyo International Anime Fair. I don't know if the term “separated” is correct, but as events for the anime business world, there was the Toyko Anime Fair and the ANIME CONTENTS EXPO. From the position of someone who active in this scene, I wanted to liven up the anime business world together, as well as make an event that is closer to the fans and increase attendance. As someone who looked at ANIME CONTENTS EXPO from the outside, I really respected the event, and thought that it would be great if we could make things lively together.

Takahashi: I'm Takahashi (Photo, Left). I was the producer of the ANIME CONTENTS EXPO. When we first started ACE, we wondered what we needed to bring in, where we would have the event, when would we do it, and what would we do? At first, we had tried to open the event in 2011, but due to the earthquake we postponed it and held it in 2012 and 2013 for a total of two times, and I produced the event, instructing generally what would happen during the event. Anyway, the case of TAF splitting from ACE. In the first place, I am a member of Aniplex, and we had displayed our wares normally at TAF in the past. I'm a member of a company that appealed to both a fan and business demographic. I thought that as long as we could satisfy the members of the business side of things, by having the event as a two-in-one kind of thing, we could return the event to the form it was meant to be. However, at the time, we had to focus on making what we had the best that we could.

Are you pleased that the two shows recombined to create Anime Japan? Do you think this is a more effective way to reach the fanbase?

Kitakami: Yes, of course I am very happy, and I feel that there was a meaning to our efforts. There's a lot of buzz about TAF and ACE becoming AnimeJapan. Since the event will gather together all of the companies related to anime, I think it will be easier to deliver lots of different things to both the fans and business members.

Takahashi: We've been having meetings together a lot since last spring, haven't we?

Kitakami: We have! (laughs)

Takahashi: We've been meeting tens of times, right? (laughs) The two of us have been meeting, and then we meet each other at places with lots of adults... Well, as Kitakami said, the fans can see everything in one place. If those related with business are there too, we thought it would become the best place with lots of happy things. We thought about how we should combine the events if we decided to.

Kitakami: Yeah. We were constantly talking about how to combine the two.

Takahashi: Yes, the method of combining the two was the biggest problem... The biggest difference between what we had before is the separation between fans and business. Now, we will not separate the event into business days and public days, and everything will be joined into two days. Both entertainment and business- for example, business meetings and live events- will all be there. For example, when foreign buyers come to the event, they can see the liveliness of the Japanese fans. On the other hand, the fans can also experience the business side of things. We've been talking about making an event that can create synergy with these two elements. We've gotten this far... I'd really like for this to go well. (laughs)

Do you think it's better to have the entire industry united under one event like Anime Japan rather than having two events, as it has been in previous years? Do you think presenting a united front helps the anime industry overall?

Takahashi: Yes.

Kitakami: Yes.

Takahashi: We've satisfied the members of business and fans, and we've also achieved the various goals to make the event. Well, as it is now, I can't say that it's the very best it can be, and there are things I feel regretful about. But on the other hand, I can hold confidence in it... Actually, I think it's not just “better,” but the “best.” There aren't these kind of events very often, and there will be this one event in the spring for Japan. The event will combine a festival-sort of thing with everyone, and there will also be a lot of people from around the world who will be coming to Japan for the business side of things. I think this is the way the event is supposed to be.

Kitakami: That's true. I think that the name AnimeJapan makes it easy for people to know that this is the anime industry event that happens once a year. I think [this title] is the best.

Takahashi: To name AnimeJapan, we thought up hundreds of different candidates for names. In the end, we chose something simple. When it comes to Japan, there are such event/team names like “Nadeshiko Japan” (Japanese female soccer team) or Samurai Japan for sports. We think that this event is the Japanese representative for anime. I feel like that's the kind of place that we're making. Maybe. (laughs)

Promotionally, how does a show like this help the animation industry? What is the ultimate goal of Anime Japan?

Takahashi: Ultimate goal?

Kitakami: I guess that's what you mean?

Takahashi: Well, when it comes to the event being helpful to people, these two days will be something that mixes together both entertainment and business. For example, when the fans come, they can learn about new anime, or hear announcements for new works. When members of the business world- from other countries and from Japan- When they are there, they can of course see lots of different people, experience new works, and do new business. I think that AnimeJapan will come in handy as a hub for these kind of things. A final goal? I'm not sure what our ultimate goal is... Kitakami-san, what do you think it is?

Kitakami: What I've always imagined is to use AnimeJapan as a means to introduce Japan's anime across the world.

Takahashi: Oh, that sounds good. I feel that AnimeJapan itself is a machine, and inside of that, the people and the contents are the most important. Therefore, the machine as gotten even bigger, and a lot more things can come in. Since this event is being opened in Japan, this is why the world has its eyes on it. It's going to be a place where people from all over the world will gather. In movie terms, it would be the Academy Awards or the Cannes Film Festival. There's not many of those kind of events for anime. It's true, because it has kind of a closed feeling to it. However, it would be great if this event would change the world's opinion on anime with this... Therefore, it'd be great if the entire world would fit inside of this machine.

In terms of promotion, what does a typical studio most want to promote at Anime Japan? Upcoming TV series for the Spring season, theatrical releases for later in the year, Summer season shows? Is it a time for celebrating their past catalog, or do you see it as chiefly an event to promote upcoming products?

Kitakami: I think there's no meaning in having AnimeJapan if it promotes only new works. Of course, AnimeJapan's purpose is to connect people with the works of the past, but also to deliver the newest works to fans. I think both of these make up AnimeJapan.

Takahashi: Our ideal is to have past, now, and future [works] at the event. After all, it's been almost exactly 50 years since TV anime began broadcasting in Japan. I'd be happy if important works from these 50 years- such as Lupin the Third, or Astro Boy if we're talking about the past- or Attack on Titan and Puella Magi Madoka Magica if we're talking about the present- would lead to new business, and if more people would watch the recent works. These works of the past will become lessons for the future. Both old works and new works will be beneficial. I'd like AnimeJapan to become a place that connects to the future.

Even so, I think there are lots of people watching the newest anime, but that's why we are targeting that audience and- for example, we are making stages to feature anniversary works. As promoters, we want to include the ideal of past, now, and future.

What sort of attendance are you expecting for this year's Anime Japan?

Takahashi: For my first estimate, I'd say 100,000 in two days. I think we'll reach that much. This is thinking about the number of tickets sold last year at TAF and ACE and the pace at which attendees are increasing. For example, I think lots of buyers from outside of Japan and members of the business world will come, and the event will be held at a pretty large place, so yeah, about 100,000. Well, of course, the number of attendees isn't our final goal, but the number that signals success is 100,000. I think we'll be fine. Well, that's a maybe, though. (laughs) But Kitakami-san, that makes you want to go even more, right?

Kitakami: Well, we've come this far, so we really do have to get up to 100,000 people. I want to get.

What do you think the attendees are most excited to see? What are you personally looking forward to?

Kitakami: I think the fans- the people that are coming to AnimeJapan- are looking forward to seeing new anime, getting information about them, and also doing things like seeing stage events, experiencing the atmosphere of the event, and meeting comrades who have the same goals as them. In terms of business, I think people are interested in seeing if there are new properties [to acquire]. I think that's the reason they are coming [to the event].

Takahashi: Most likely, what we want to do is make the fan-targeted parts the event seem like an anime Disneyworld to fans. Buried in that, there are new things- of course, there are no rides or attractions, but there are stage events, displays, shopping... It's really a country of dreams filled with so many things. There are anime spaces, and on the business side, there are a lot of negotiations, as you said. However, up until now, the business associates never got to experience the liveliness of the customers, and I think many of the business representatives from outside and inside Japan are used to a quiet business day. The liveliness of the fans really perfects the properties, so I think everyone will enjoy coming... Hm, but personally, how do I say it...

Kitakami: Personally... I worked this hard to get this far, so I'm excited just to open the event. (laughs)

Takahashi: I see. (laughs) I guess that's true.

Kitakami: I think I have feelings of wanting to open the event already.

Takahashi: Come to thing of it, in terms of time... One year hasn't even passed since we first met. Still, it feels like it's been a long time coming in many ways.

Kitakami: Yes, it was long.

Takahashi: We talked about a lot of things, so opening the event is, hm... I don't know, but personally, what I'm excited for are... Of course, the vivid live stages, or the events with the voice actors, and yes, I'm looking forward to all those kind of things, and I'm excited for all the goods [that will be sold], but well, personally, if I could only choose to see two things, the first would be the Production Work Street, an area set up in the facility that features prototype works by creators and staff from the business world, and also will have lectures by creators, and you can hear lectures from Japan's top creators... You can hear and understand lessons of these amazing creators who you wouldn't expect to come to events, no matter how much you paid them. Also, Kitakami-san said something similar earlier, but the tagline for this event is “Here is Everything About Anime.” I wonder what the scenery that has that “everything”- at least the “everything” that we can prepare- will look like at the hall. We still don't know the designs of the booths that the companies will put out, so I'm really excited to see how everything will look like.

Kitakami: That's true. I'm looking forward to it.

Takahashi: If I went to the event as a regular customer, I think it would be super fun. (laughs) Makes you want to go, right? I want to go to a lecture.

Kitakami: Me too.

Takahashi: I want to enjoy the live stages, too. I can't, though. (laughs) Kitakami-san, what do you think there is within the event besides the things to do?

Kitakami: When it comes to things inside...

Takahashi: Well, include business things too.

Kitakami: That's true... Well, I'm excited for the lectures and things like that, too.

Takahashi: Kitakami-san is doing a lot of business-type things right now, like, for example, he's preparing a negotiation space within the hall, and making something of a “buyer's lounge,” and other things in order to make business go smoother. I'm wondering if it will go well...

Kitakami: That's ture. I wonder what everything will look like. The paid negotiation spaces have been filling out as well.

Takahashi: They have.

Kitakami: It reminded me that those needs really do exist... I think there are a lot of companies that believe that we will do everything in the business area of things properly within the two days. I'm interested to see how things will look after this first experiment of combining both elements together.

Any last comments to the English-speaking audience?

Takahashi: If this article is posted before the event begins and is read by those from overseas- by people all over the world outside of Japan- We really want to send contents and anime all across the world. In order to do that, we're first going to open this event in Japan, but to come visit, we know there are problems of distance and money and other things. However, if you can still come, so that you can enjoy yourself, of course... We have prepared the original Japanese text, but we will try and put as many English translations on structures and exhibits... It's a little impossible to get into the audience for stage events now schedule-wise, but you can still feel the atmosphere of the location, and you will also be able to see that things are happening. We won't let you feel like you lost something, and we're making something that won't let you regret coming., so please, by all means, come. This is an event for anime fans all over the world, so we'll be waiting.

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