Anime Expo 2018: Industry Happenings and Premieres

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Day 1

 

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll’s panel was relatively unremarkable, besides their showing off of the full-color Crunchyroll-Hime figure prototype from Kotobukiya. They did however announce a bunch of simulcast acquisitions (mostly fall stuff), and I’m just going to list them out bullet point-style here:

  • Music Girls (Spring)

  • RErideD (Fall, co-production w/ Kadokawa)

  • Radiant (Fall, based on French comic, animated by Lerche)

  • Double Decker (Fall, new anime from Tiger&Bunny creator and Sunrise)

  • Rise of the Shield Hero (Fall)

  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Fall)

 

Viz Media

Unfortunately not much came out of manga and anime publisher Viz Media’s panel at AX this year, except for two relatively important announcements:

  • First, Viz has licensed MEGALOBOX, last season’s surprise-hit Ashita no Joe spinoff about a dystopian future boxing tournament. No release or home video plans were announced at the panel, but since this is such a newly finished anime that’s to be expected.

  • The only other announcement Viz made at their panel was their plans for a new Junji Ito short story collection, called Smashed, which will feature more of his prominent short works as well as some HP Lovecraft adaptations. No release date was given for this either, but they’re releasing their Frankenstein Junji Ito story collection in October so we can probably expect it’ll be sometime in the first half of next year.

 

Day 2

 

Funimation Entertainment

Funimation, like they always do, announced a lot of new home video plans at AX this year, most of which are unimportant relative to our purposes. Here’s the big stuff:

  • All of the Free! theatrical films are getting home video releases. High Speed and Take Your Marks will each get their own individual releases, as well as a combined box set with them both that will also include Bonds and Promise, the two previously released compilation films.

  • Both Pop Team Epic and Recovery of an MMO Junkie will be getting home video releases this year, which is very exciting for fans of both of those shows since they both had very fervent followings during their respective broadcasts.

  • Next up is probably Funimation’s biggest announcement from this panel, in that they will be putting out the 1987 anime classic Zillion for the first time on home video in the US in its entirety, with Japanese audio and English subtitles only. This is immensely exciting for older anime fans who remember the show’s original, aborted US release of less than 6 episodes.

  • A box set of Mamoru Hosoda films, including The Boy and the Beast, Wolf Children, Summer Wars, and The Girl who Leapt Through Time. No word on pricing for this one yet, but Funimation’s releases are almost always reasonably priced and this seems like a really great deal for both die-hard Mamoru Hosoda fans and newcomers to his works alike.

  • They also confirmed their intention to bring Witch Hunter Robin to home video sometime in the near future, after acquiring the rights to the series earlier this year. If I had to guess for a release I’d probably say sometime in Q1 or Q2 2019.

  • Finally, they talked about some new simuldubbing stuff, including their plans to simuldub Studio Trigger and Tsuburaya Co.’s SSSS Gridman when it airs this fall.

 

Liz and the Blue Bird World Premiere

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Seeing Kyoto Animation’s Sound! Euphonium spinoff film Liz and the Blue Bird is probably the thing I feel most fortunate to see at this year’s Anime Expo, especially since it’s a huge question as to just how wide of a release it’ll get when Eleven Arts starts showing it theatrically in the states in November.

This is veteran director Naoko Yamada’s follow-up work to 2016’s A Silent Voice, and from the first frame you can immediately see that film’s stylistic imprint evolving and growing within Liz and the Blue Bird. It’s an incredibly fragile, quiet viewing experience, with silence and music playing just as large a role as dialogue and conflict in moving the story forward. In fact, the opening sequence contains no dialogue, instead featuring the two subjects of the film, Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki, meeting and walking together in time with the music. This sequence also delightfully illustrates Yamada’s propensity for telling story and forming character through shots of people’s feet and legs moving, as well as sets up the entire focus of the production in microcosm by putting such importance on composer Kensuke Ushio’s music and how it sets the pace for the scene.

Speaking of Ushio-san, he attended the premiere at AX in person, and thankfully was able to give some really interesting insight into the production. Perhaps most interesting of these is the revelation that while Ushio composed the soundtrack for the film, all the music you hear in the film being performed diegetically (performed by the characters themselves in a wind ensemble) was composed and recorded by original Sound! Euphonium composer Akito Matsuda in order to give it a familiar feel.

Overall, for Sound! Euphonium fans this film will be another piece of essential viewing, and an incredibly important experience especially because it serves as a sort of pseudo-sequel to the TV anime, taking place during Kumiko’s second year. You should run, not walk, to a showing nearest you when it’s released in November.

 

Studio TRIGGER Industry Panel

This was the first year that Trigger’s industry panel took place inside AX’s main events room, which is the biggest space they offer for panels and other live events. Much like every other year, it was packed to the gills and easily one of the most in-demand events at the entire convention. It began much like last years’ panel, with their primary English-speaking social media person and translator Tattun introducing the panel of guests as they ran out from all directions showering the crowd in “Trigger money” and other stuff. This year’s panel included producer Hiromi Wakabayashi, Kill la Kill character designer Sushio, Darlifra mecha designer Shigeto Koyama and a few others that we’ll get to later. I’ll be separating what follows into sections for easier reading.

 

Darling in the FranXX

Despite the fact that FranXX was about to end at the time of this panel, Trigger didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about it. Wakabayashi started off their discussion by saying that Darlifra director Atsushi Nishigori had called him a few hours earlier and told him that the final episode was finished, a few hours before it would air in Japan.

They began talking about the production timeline of FranXX, mainly that it was begun almost immediately after Kill la Kill finished airing with Koyama and Wakabayashi involved from the very beginning. Wakabayashi also acknowledged what they have been publicly talking about at all their US appearances this year, namely how difficult it was working with A1 on the co-production for FranXX. He stated specifically that this was because A1 and Trigger are about as polar opposite as it gets from an organizational standpoint. They also briefly talked about some of the difficulties in production stemming from the death threats made against A1 and Trigger staff earlier in the show’s run as well, something which surprised me even with Trigger usually being so forthright at these panels.

Finally, they dug a bit into some pre-production image boards and mecha designs. These featured some illuminating nuggets about how the show’s design aesthetic evolved, namely that Zero Two originally had black hair and the original design of the main FranXX mecha all had the human faces of their female pilots instead of looking more robotic like they do in the final product. They also briefly touched on some very early Koyama designs featuring FranXX that looked nothing like the ones we know, with varied body sizes and shapes less reminiscent of Koyama’s familiar work on Star Driver and Diebuster.

 

Kill la Kill: the Game

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Trigger began this section by showing a newly revealed trailer for Kill la Kill: the Game, which was initially shown and revealed at a panel Trigger and Arc System Works (the publisher) the night before at a panel dedicated to the game itself. This trailer shows the first gameplay from the game (which looks to be something of an arena fighter or character action game) and also announces that the game will be coming sometime in 2019 to both PS4 and Steam.

However, this is all peaches next to the biggest reveal about the game that came from Wakabayashi, namely that the main playable character will be the anime’s initial primary villain, Satsuki Kiryuin. He also said that the game’s story will be telling a “different” or “alternate” story than that of the Kill la Kill TV anime, hinting that it will deviate from the original plot in some key ways. This was illustrated by another huge reveal, namely that Satsuki and her uniform Junketsu will have a similar “final form” to the one Ryuko had in the TV anime, and it will be called “Junketsu Shinzui” or “Junketsu Quintessence”.

All of these reveals came pretty hard and fast and it took a lot of thought for me to process them all, but honestly this makes me way more excited for the game than I would have had it just re-told the existing story of the TV anime. Satsuki being my favorite character from Kill la Kill plays a not insignificant part in that, but despite the fact that I don’t have full confidence in developer APLUS to actually make a good playing game, this makes me excited for it where before I was somewhat ambivalent.  

 

Patreon

They took a brief second after the previous section to talk about their plans to launch a Patreon and put it online live at the panel, but internet wasn’t working in the panel room so that didn’t happen. I have some pretty negative feelings (as do we both) about a major animation studio with tons of financial backing launching a site that’s meant for struggling creators to support their work, but I won’t talk about it here. Check out our day 2 recap video for more of our thoughts.

 

Indivisible

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Next they devoted some time to talk about their collaboration on another game, this time with developer Lab Zero Games and Titmouse Animation called Indivisible. They brought out Will Feng, a producer from Titmouse, to talk a bit about the collaboration process and the production of the game itself, before talking about Trigger’s work on the game specifically, which is the opening animation. They showed this animation in its entirety and announced that it was both designed and directed by Little Witch Academia director Yoh Yoshinari, and showed some of his design sheets and image boards as well.

 

Promare

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This was the #1 reason why most people were at this panel, and thankfully they talked a lot about it. For those of you that don’t know, Promare is Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima’s next big project after working to create Kill la Kill and Gurren Lagann.

Knowing exactly what we were all there for, Wakabayashi kicked off by showing around 45 seconds of exclusive footage from Promare. It consisted of several darkened shots of a cityscape, lots of fanciful and very digital-looking effects animation, and finally a true first look at Promare’s main character who they would soon introduce for the first time as “Galo”. After finishing up the PV and reiterating that it would only ever be shown just that once at Anime Expo, they jumped into some basic facts about the show and the main character.

Promare is indeed a mecha anime, and features the main character Galo, a “stupid yet big-hearted” man who is a member of a “rescue” unit or firefighting team. He pilots a mecha called the “Matoi-tech”, which is named after a type of garment ancient Japanese firefighters would wear during their work (this was quickly confirmed to be unrelated to the main character of Kill la Kill, Ryuko Matoi). Visually Galo looks about what you’d expect from a big Trigger action show, with very stylized proportions and big spiky blue hair, but he has some interesting design quirks as well that I really liked. Namely, that since Galo is a member of some sort of rescue squad, his design from the waist-down is that of a familiar western firefighter, with large yellow and black pants and hefty boots. The Matoi-tech is just as stylized as well, with a very Gurren Lagann-esque body shape fused with this world’s particular necessities, namely a much smaller size (I’d say around 5-7 meters in height) and an open cockpit design that looks to be enclosed by roll-bars. It’s painted in white and red much like a firetruck or ambulance, and has what looks to be Gurren Lagann-style sunglasses above the cockpit as well.

After showing off these designs it was revealed the Shigeto Koyama not only would be designing the mecha for Promare, but the characters as well, which means everything we were shown during the panel was designed by him. This was somewhat surprising to me considering nothing they showed us looked particularly tied to Koyama visually, but that just serves to make me more impressed that he can be so emulative of other styles while packing in his own small design quirks as well, making it all work. They also showed a lot of early concept art and image boards from the series, revealing the look and art direction of the show to be unlike anything I’ve seen from Trigger so far. The backgrounds were all incredibly sharp and colorful, evoking the type of digital painting shows like Steven Universe and OK KO use in their art direction, while much of what was portrayed in them was clearly emulating or straight-up reproducing New York City, with an area that looked like Times Square and even a few slides of Galo standing inside a lovingly recreated New York pizzeria. Everything looked very clean, very bright, very sharp, and very exciting.

They also took a moment during this section to announce that Sushio would be working as an action animator on Promare, showing off several early action key frames he had drawn of the Matoi-tech mecha. As I’ve been saying throughout this write-up with everything else related to this show, it looked very much like something you’d see in Gurren Lagann, and it’s very clear that Trigger’s trying to evoke some of that imagery and capture some of that magic for this new show.

Finally, they showed a protracted video message from director Hiroyuki Imashi and writer Kazuki Nakashima, also featuring Shigeto Koyama at a certain point. They started doing this last year too and anybody familiar with Trigger’s panels knows that not much new info comes out of these- they’re most for entertainment purposes and to further drum up excitement for the show. That being said, Imaishi and Nakashima are two of the most naturally funny guys at Trigger when you get them in a room together, and hearing them riff on the series and talking about the difficulties of coming up with this stuff from scratch is always funny and endearing to hear, as well as serving better than anything else to humanize the monolithic faces behind Trigger’s most anticipated new show.

 

SSSS Gridman: Discussion and World Premiere

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Here they brought out the character designer and the producer from Gridman (whose names escape me, sorry!) and spoke briefly to them about what their first time at AX was like, and the unique production challenges of making an anime from a tokusatsu and working with director Akira Amemiya. The emphasis here by producer Wakabayashi was that Gridman is being produced and animated by the younger animators in-house at Trigger, a lot of the same people who also worked on shows like Kiznaiver and Inou Battle. It was also emphasized that SSSS Gridman is simply inspired by the original Gridman, and isn’t an adaptation, continuation or reboot of the original series or its US counterpart Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad. After this brief discussion and showing off some polished design docs they showed a short video from director Akira Amemiya (Inferno Cop, Ninja Slayer) who mostly gave thanks to the fans for being there, and jokingly saying that Gridman would be the future of animation and would make all animation works that came before it obsolete.

After the panel itself came to a close the first episode of SSSS Gridman, which doesn’t premiere on TV until the Fall, was shown to the audience for the first time. I find myself having difficulties putting my thoughts about it into words, mostly because I have a certain level of distrust in myself in keeping a critical mind when watching something for the first time with around 1,000 other fans. The first ¾ of the episode were very muted, with little to no music (so much so that it made me wonder if the episode was actually finished).

The main story of this first episode focused on the main character, named Yuta, waking up in a classmate’s house with little to no memory of who he was or what his life was like up until that point. Most of this first section consisted of Yuta trying to make sense of who he was and what he was supposed to do with the help of several other supporting characters, mostly his classmates. It wasn’t until around 15 or so minutes into the episode that it became actual Gridman, with Yuta being sucked into a computer and forced to fight a kaiju as the giant hero Gridman himself.

This section was very different from what we’d seen so far, with very bombastic tokusatsu-like action as hot-blooded metal music blared. There was indeed a concentrated hybrid of traditional 2D animation and 3DCGI used to show the battle, with the basic movements of Gridman and the kaiju animated in very good-looking 3DCGI while more complex finishing moves and fighting maneuvers were animated in more stylistic traditional 2D animation by Trigger animators. And if any old Gridman fans out there are  wondering: yes, he does do the Grid Beam.

Overall, the show was pretty middling when it came to character drama, but in seeking to create the magic made in tokusatsu action shows with its bombastic action scenes, SSSS Gridman absolutely accomplishes this goal in its first episode. Whether it’ll do what all other tokusatsu anime shows have failed to do in creating something that’s actually watchable is anyone’s guess right now, but if anybody can do it, it’s Trigger.

 

Day 3

 

Cutie Honey Universe w/ Go Nagai

This panel was incredibly weird and hard to understand but I suppose that’s only fitting for anything having to do with Go Nagai in the first place, and it should also be noted that despite Go Nagai being a featured guest at AX this year (and easily the most famous and prestigious of everyone there) this was the only panel he gave the entire weekend. The panel started with a showing of the first episode of Cutie Honey Universe, before a Pony Canyon rep (Pony Canyon is on the production committee of Universe put on this panel) brought out Go Nagai himself as well as Universe producer Ichinao Nagai, who also was responsible for producing the other two Go Nagai 50th anniversary celebration anime, Mazinger Z Infinity and Devilman Crybaby.

The remainder of this (HOUR LONG) panel consisted of Nagai-sensei doing some live drawings of Cutie Honey and Devilman, while people from the audience were brought up to ask questions of him. These were mostly the type of questions you’d hear asked of any creator at any anime convention (why did you become a mangaka, why didn’t x character fight y character, etc etc) but there was one very cool moment where a fan who had traveled from Mexico to see Nagai-sensei told him about growing up in Mexico and watching Mazinger Z and Devilman every day on TV when he was a kid. It was an amazing reminder of Go Nagai’s importance to people all over the world, and the unbelievable reach his works have had over their 50-year-long history.

 

Sirius the Jaeger World Premiere

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The final noteworthy thing I saw at AX this year was the world premiere of PA Works’ newest anime which will be premiering this coming season, Sirius the Jaeger. It’s a story that takes place in 1930s Japan and is concerned with a special unit of mysterious foreigners known as “Jaegers” who specialise in rooting out and hunting vampires. They showed the first two episodes of the show, which gave a pretty comprehensive picture to what this thing is all about.

The animation was incredibly good through both episodes that they showed, which really is to be expected from a powerhouse studio from PA Works, despite the fact that they’re not usually known for the dark character drama and violent action this show provides. The main team and character designs really remind me of Bones’ Bungo Stray Dogs adaptation, though these first two episodes were much, much stronger of an initial showing than Stray Dogs had in its first season. Sword of the Stranger director Masahiro Ando is helming this project, and his action direction was on full display in the first two episodes, with stellar fight choreography and the type of low, wide angles that you’d want in the type of dynamic and fantastical fights that make anime like this so good.

Iron Blooded Orphans composer Masaru Yokoyama provided the music for this series, and his contributions that I heard in these first two episodes were a welcome addition that really gave action scenes their punch while still being nuanced enough to underlay some high character drama in the second episode as well. The second episode especially gave me some very similar vibes to the chimera episode of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which should give you an idea as to what you should expect from Sirius the Jaeger. If you’re looking for a vampire anime that is actually good this season, add this to your list.


Overall, I would’ve liked to do a lot more at AX this year. Unfortunately, weather, scheduling, severe overcrowding of the convention, lackadaisical involvement by AX management in press affairs and simple absence of manpower prevented me from going to a lot of stuff that I wanted to go to, and to anybody that was expecting more out of us this year I do apologize. Hopefully this provides you at least a partial measure of what was going on with us this year at AX, and you can look forward to more concert diaries from the live shows we attended as we finish them.