Tales Of The Industry Wanna Go To Tokyo In 3 Days?
by Justin Sevakis,
Welcome to “Tales of the Industry,” a column where we will share stories from real working professionals in the anime business. This week, we have a story contributed by a long time marketing consultant and freelancer who no longer works on anime full-time, but still freelances in the field on occasion. We've removed the finer details, but everything else is as he told it to us.
Are you a current or former member of the anime business or convention staff? Do you have a story you've been dying to tell, but just can't tell it the normal way? Get in touch with Justin Sevakis through any social media you like. His Twitter account is @WorldOfCrap, if you aren't acquainted.
“We can't pay you, but we will fly you to Japan for 10 days, and cover room and board and food. You'd leave in 3 days.” The offer that was coming to me over the line was, unfortunately, too good to resist in my current state.
I love Japan. I love visiting whenever I can, which isn't often. I lived there once, when I was fresh out of college, for about three years. I can definitely verify all of the things you've heard about it being pretty rough there for a gaijin, and I don't think I would attempt to live there again. But visiting? On someone else's dime? Sign me up.
I had recently gotten laid off, and had been spending my days rattling around the ungodly expensive city of San Francisco, wondering what I should do next, when I'd gotten the phone call.
It was from a man, let's call him George, who I'd been introduced to a few years back at a previous job at a travel company. He was starting a new video game news website, consisting nearly entirely of original video content, and to make his big initial splash he wanted to send his entire crew to Tokyo Game Show. There, they'd produce a ton of original content, and put it on YouTube for all to see. Unfortunately their producer quit abruptly, for reasons unbeknownst to me, and they needed someone who knew Tokyo to assist the crew and be their man-on-the-ground. I pictured escorting 5 or 6 fellow Americans around Japan for a few days, and the job sure didn't sound like a bad one to me. I was in. “Sure!” I said. I hoped that, if I did a good job, this might turn into something regular. That would sure be cool.
And so I got my marching orders. After making some last-minute flight arrangements, I was to fly out of San Francisco and meet the entire Los Angeles-based crew at Narita Airport in Tokyo. From there, I'd get them to their hotel, and in the subsequent days, the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba, in the suburbs of Tokyo. And wherever else they wanted to go. But most of the plans were already made, and everyone on the crew supposedly had their tasks and knew how to do them – I was to be the fixer, the guy that just helped them function in Japan, and tell them things like, “don't use a ¥10,000 bill to by a ¥120 soda” and “don't walk on that side of the road, because cars come from there.” And so, off I went.
I actually couldn't get a flight that matched the crew's arrival time, so I got to Narita way, way too early. I had hours to kill. After a 15-hour flight I decided I could use some fresh air, so I wandered outside and found a quiet area, sat down, and stared off into space for a bit.
After a few minutes I was greeted by the arrival of an ENTIRE TEAM OF RIOT POLICE. They numbered six or seven, and each of them were HUGE. As I realized they were approaching me, I could feel my adrenaline start to pump. Oh god, did they think I was a terrorist?!
“Hello sir,” said one of them to me, in the most polite Japanese-accented English I'd ever heard addressed to me. “Please pardon our rudeness, but would you be so kind as to inform us of your intentions for being in this area?” I sheepishly answered him, trying not to vacate my bowels, and he politely requested that I proceed back into the airport. How could I possibly refuse such a request? And from a man who could EASILY kill me, and yet was choosing not to?
I'd had time to calm down before the “crew” arrived a while later, which turned out to consist of over a dozen people. We had 3 hosts – all of them drop-dead gorgeous females (who actually REALLY knew their stuff), we had a couple camera guys and sound guys, and we also had a few people who I had absolutely no idea what they did. Regardless, everyone was tired, so I got them all train passes and got them to their hotel so they could crash out. As it so happened, I was assigned to share a hotel room with one of the on-camera hosts, who seemed extremely standoff-ish, but whatever.
The next morning, the crew met up for breakfast, and my somber roommate insisted that we should eat at McDonalds. I found out where the nearest one was, and we arrived, and I helped each of them with their order. “This isn't like the McDonalds in America,” she whined. “This is weird. I don't like this.”
I narrowed my eyes. “This IS a foreign country. Lots of things are different.”
“I don't like it,” she replied. That's when I noticed how young most of this crew was. They might have all been in their early- to mid-20s, but they were resolutely NOT otaku – or, not Japanese culture otaku, anyway. They were not itching to explore Japan as they'd seen it in anime; rather, they were indifferent about the place at best. Some of them were freaked out merely by seeing Japanese food in general. It was weird.
We got to Makuhari Messe, and waited for George to get our passes. We waited for what seemed like hours. I found out later that despite flying a huge crew to another continent to attend Tokyo Game Show, he had completely failed to pre-register for them in any way – they'd simply just shown up.
The shoot went mostly smoothly. The crew was pretty professional, surprisingly. The interviews went well, the shoots went well, and despite our very beautiful hosts getting stopped by strangers and asked to take their picture every 20 seconds or so, everything was going according to plan.
I was, and am still, used to anime and entertainment industry people in Japan. No matter how much time you spend there, you inevitably get lots of hemming and hawing from those people when you ask for things – basic things like marketing materials. They never seem prepared for you, and it always seems like you're REALLY putting them out by asking to market their product. In my experience, the Japanese video game industry is different. Everyone speaks English, and everyone bends over backwards for you. Nobody should have heard of this company, and yet virtually every company representative we spoke to bent completely over backwards to accommodate us. It was bizarrely nice! Maybe the camera crew made us seem more important than we really were.
With the TGS shoot complete, the crew decided to spend the rest of the trip shooting other interesting things in and around Tokyo. And that's when things started to fray. The crew was getting angry and irritable and distressed. They were going out of their way to find familiar American brands like Denny's and Outback Steakhouse. And whenever they couldn't figure anything out, they would refuse to ask for help and take it as a grave insult whenever I tried. (Of course, they would get up set 20 seconds later when, say, their Suica card didn't work at the subway turnstile.)
Worse was finding interesting locations to shoot. George had arranged the locations, but the cinematographer would usually take the lead in finding a interesting shot, and then leave it to me to talk to the store manager and get permission to shoot there. I would find the manager, and finally get them to agree, only to turn around and find that the cinematographer had changed their mind, and had stomped off to find someplace “better.” (Of course, I immediately had to return to the manager and apologize for NOT shooting there after all. Fun.)
By night, I tried to arrange some fun for the group, but it was clear that this group was simply unable to have fun in this country. I arranged for us to meet my old travel company boss and his crew at a karaoke bar, but it wasn't long before I noticed that two of the girls had started sulking. One of them approached me. “You HAVE to take us back. We do not want to be here.” Great, even after a week in town, they still couldn't find their own way back to the hotel.
My song was up. (I'd put in an old James Brown piece.) They stared at me expectantly. I couldn't leave now, or I'd almost certainly offend my old boss that hooked me up with this gig in the first place. “Look, you're just going to have to wait here for five minutes,” I said. And that was when they started crying. REALLY. CRYING. “Wait here. Everything will be fine,” I said again, starting to lose my patience.
I ran back into the karaoke room and belted out the song, dropped the mic, and left to escort them “home” to the hotel.
By the end of the trip the crew had basically turned into a class of middle schoolers, with me as the sole chaperone. We had run out of money, and so five or six of us were all sharing a single tiny Japanese hotel room, sprawled out on any flat surface we could find. I was watching couples fight, long-simmering feuds come to an almost-violent head, and literal whining and crying from actual adults. I was overjoyed when the day finally came for me to drop them back off at the airport. (This was not without its own headaches – one of them asked me to find their lost cellphone, which they had left god-knows-where.) These guys had not been ready to leave their block, much less their country.
The videos, and the site, went live, and it was a bit of a relief to see that, even if they weren't functional human beings, they did their jobs pretty well. The sullen, guarded girl I'd shared the hotel room with ended up being an ABSOLUTE PRO at videogame journalism, possessing both the button reflexes of a god, and this crazy encyclopedia-like knowledge, not to meniton a bizarre charm that only turned on when the camera was rolling.
The site lasted for several years before going under, but I was never involved with them again. The gig, however, did lead me to another gig at a sister website that covered anime, which is an industry I've worked in and with off and on ever since.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the expressing party and do not necessarily reflect those of Anime News Network, it's staff, or it's owners. While Anime News Network will never knowingly publish a false or inaccurate story, please remember that there are two (or more) sides to every story.
If you are a current or former anime industry professional and have a story to share (we can keep everyone anonymous), get in touch with Justin Sevakis via social media.
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