Sakura-Con: Hiroshi Nagahama & The Reflection

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Director Hiroshi Nagahama is best known to Western audiences for working on critical and fan favorites like The Flowers of Evil, Mushi-Shi, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. Perhaps less known is the man's love of American comics. When he attended Sakura-Con in 2014, he greeted the audience by unbuttoning his shirt and revealing a Spider-Man symbol underneath. His appearance this year only further established his love for the genre. He held an earlier panel during the convention weekend where he showed off recent purchases at Seattle's Zanadu Comics.

Finally, Nagahama's two loves will meet this year. He's worked directly with American comic book legend Stan Lee to create The Reflection, a 12-episode anime series premiering in July after its first announcement in 2015. The project is one near and dear to Nagahama, who previously stated that working with Stan Lee would be his "dream collaboration."

Nagahama hosted a panel on Sunday where he talked in detail about the project and even showed off some footage and exclusive character design sheets. On display were several character-centric, color variant posters. Co-hosting the panel with Nagahama was Studio DEEN producer Kazunori Noguchi.

Hiroshi Nagahama: These are posters we prepared just for today. These character visuals are appearing for the first time ever, for the most part. For each character, we only have five posters each, and I have a few at the charity auction actually, so it's extremely rare. The green poster, I intended to be yellow, but we're in the fine tuning phase still, so this may be the only time we see it in this color scheme. The orange poster depicts the main character for this work. If you think about in terms of X-Men comics, you'd see female characters like Kitty Pryde or Jubilee in the main art. So you can think of these characters on the poster as equivalents for The Reflection. The character in the green poster is Lisa, and she's also in the main character group. If you look at the robot in the background, that would actually be her hero form, so to speak. Please look forward to seeing how that transformation is depicted.

I'll give you guys a brief about what The Reflection is about for those of you who may not know. This work is a joint project between myself and Stan Lee, the god of American comics. We're the co-authors of this work, which will be a Japanese anime series. The general story is there are incidents happening all over the world like natural disasters that kill many people. After these deaths, super heroes arise. It may sound a little stereotypical or cliché, but that's the idea there. If you look at the story more closely, these incidents referred to as "Reflections," you'll start to know the truth behind the incidents. It will start to have a deeper background to it. Instead of telling you the whole story, I'll launch a Q&A and answer some of your questions.

Kazunori Noguchi: About six years ago, we started working on this project, and I've traveled to the States with Nagahama to meet Stan Lee. When he approached us about this project, I felt extremely honored to work with both Stan Lee and Nagahama as well. All of you here are large fans of Nagahama, but I'm a huge fan as well, and I'm working hard because I want to see his work. I'm sure I'm much more excited than you guys to see Nagahama's series, and that's why we're striving to make it a great work.

In Japan, we will be airing this series in July, and it will be streaming simultaneously through Crunchyroll. Please let your friends know and spread the word about The Reflection, we'd greatly appreciate it.

Nagahama: The figure in front of Stan Lee [at the 2:00 mark], that's the character I-GUY. I-GUY was a one-hit wonder singer in the 80s. The music was produced by Trevor Horn, a British producer. He created music just for this character. He was the vocalist for the British band The Buggles [“Video Killed The Radio Star”]. He also worked on a band called t.A.T.u., with Seal, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. We got him to sing with a bit of an 80s twist to it for I-GUY's song “Sky Show.”

[Note: An exclusive video clip was shown here, revealing the series' unique comic-inspired style of animation]

The animation style you just witnessed is what we'd like to go for the rest of the work. The feel I was going for is that if it was printed out, it would feel like a comic book. We aren't using any of the lighting effects, gradation, focus, in this work that are used in a lot of Japanese anime now. There's none of that in this one. While this is a challenge, I wanted to differentiate from my previous works and create a distinct work. There's also no concept of shadows, instead like an American comic, shades will be blacked out. This is a lot of restrictions for creating animation, but we're sticking to it. If you really did like this art style, it makes me very happy.

When it comes to I-GUY, Stan really likes him too. He's always saying the character is really cool and fun. I love the movie Unbreakable. I felt like it was using a lot of new expressions for the comic world. What I'm doing with some of the color schemes, I'm fitting to American comic conventions. Characters may look evil, but then other characters may look good but have evil within. This is the same in Unbreakable where a bad guy is always purple. This is the same with The Reflection, where there is a bad guy and his main color is purple.

[Note: Exclusive character designs were shown here. Videotaping and photography were not allowed. Nagahama showed designs for I-GUY, Xon, and the main character Eleanor. Xon's design includes a giant X on his face and he wields a superpower that looks like an energy whip.]

From a Japanese animation production standpoint, this is a very different kind of art style. We decided to take on the challenge of using American comic book tastes. Going through all of this, you may have noticed a hint in the character names. This is a trend I was really fixated on to go with this style.

When you think about it, even little kids can draw the face of Spider-Man. But no one can really draw Bumblebee from Transformers. We've deliberately chosen these designs so even little kids can take a crayon and draw an I or an X and make these characters. We made their characters red and blue so they can pick up one crayon and draw them. This is the simplicity we were going for, so anyone can easily draw these characters. I'm designing these characters as if they were actually American comics, so we are going on the idea that there were simpler designs that gradually became more complex until there's a movie. When they're in a movie, it's even more complicated!

What steps are you taking to create a legacy that will last as long as American comics?

Nagahama Actually, we have been thinking about that while creating this. You can consider this as like a peek into a long-running comic series. There is actually a lot that has happened before and after in the story. We are actually developing an entire timeline, like Star Wars.

I understand you're a huge fan of Daredevil. Have you watched the Netflix version?

I really loved the Netflix version of Daredevil, I loved it. But there is one improvement I'd like to request: Daredevil's nose. It sort of looks like a Batman kind of shape, since that is the correct way to do it when it comes to protecting the nose. But when you look at Cap, his nose is actually out in the open. I'd like Daredevil's nose to show as well. I'm not going to ask too much, as far as having the D on his chest, but the nose at least should be different.

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