Anime Herald - Tumblr Edition
Happy Labor Day!

 In America, it is currently Labor Day. For many, this is a day to go out, visit friends and family, and drink until they can hardly stand. Others see it as a day to shop until they drop, or a chance to eke out a few extra hours of sleep before a shortened work week.
Whether you’re taking the day off, or stuck in retail/restaurant hell, I do hope that today goes well for you. We will resume updates tomorrow evening.

Bandai To Discontinue Anime & Manga Sales

[caption id=”attachment_3372” align=”alignright” width=”332”] See you, space cowboy…[/caption]

Earlier today, Bandai Entertainment announced that they will start winding down their distribution operations. The company plans to send its final manga and novel shipments to retailers by the end of October. They will discontinue their home video business by March 1, 2013, with a final deadline for orders occurring on November 15.

Bandai’s exit from the market was inevitable. When the company announced that they would cease all licensing in January, it felt like a sad inevitability for the troubled distributor. Bandai was plagued by misfortune as early as 2009, when a number of us began placing the company on the annual “death watch” radar. This began in January, when Bandai Entertainment restructured, laying off 19 full-time employees. In May 2010, Eric Sherman of Bang! Zoom noted that the company was facing severe difficulties, and was hoping for the Haruhi franchise to be the silver bullet that saves the company, as they threw underperforming title after underperforming title into retail channel. Release dates on key titles slipped, and Bandai continued to pay top dollar for incredibly niche offerings, like Lucky Star and K-On!.

While, at this point, we won’t see much of an impact on the greater market, Bandai’s presence will certainly be missed. They currently hold a number of strong titles with great sales potential, which include like Gurren Lagann, Cowboy Bebop, and the Gundam franchise. Given that Bandai is essentially retreating to the role that Geneon currently holds, I have little doubt that we’ll begin to see partnerships and distribution agreements arise between Bandai and western distributors. While not every title will be rescued, I have little doubt that the shows that make money, and resonate with a greater market will be given their second chance with a publisher like Sentai or FUNimation. As for who will release which titles? This will surely become the topic of speculation amongst fans and industry watchers alike.

More than anything, Bandai’s exit is a sad reminder of the changing market we currently reside within. While we are beginning to see some growth, some branching out into new territory by the major players, there is still an unmistakable sense of dread in the air. Uncertainty continues to linger, as former establishment figures fade to give way to rising new entities, and industry powerhouses continue to dominate the key blockbuster licenses. While the corrections are no longer as drastic as they were in 2008, or even 2010, we will continue to see some form of reach toward equilibrium, as the economy creeps out of its current slump.

Bad Anime Night - Looking At The Social Experience

[caption id=”attachment_3729” align=”alignright” width=”300”] Bad Anime, Bad! - a great source of inspiration for Bad Anime Nights.[/caption]

Since moving into the new house, I’ve begun the tradition of hosting a “Bad Anime Night” at least once a month. It was something that was met with initial reluctance. Several regarded this as strange, and others feared as potentially cruel and unusual punishment. And while it is indeed cruel (words cannot describe some of the shows I find), the event has proven to be a hit among those who attend. Not everybody that arrives is an anime fan, but they all certainly enjoy the evening and entertainment.

Why is it such a hit? Frankly, it’s hard to say, but the social aspect can easily turn the most horrible of entertainment into something worth watching. Droning monologues get cut off by a snarky peanut gallery, cheesy jokes are met with biting wit, and bad acting is met with a collective face-palm. Uncomfortable facts about shows get shared, and collective groans are heard with every inevitable plot twist. What is normally a spectator event becomes something interactive. Instead of sitting on a couch in quiet conversation, it’s a more lively affair that welcomes, nay encourages everyone in attendance to enter the fray.

"This is sentimental bull!"

Hush, dear reader. I’m approaching my point now.

"But…"

I promise, I’m getting to it. Now, hush.

In addition to Bad Anime Night being a night of, well, bad anime, I often like to use the event as a test bed for other titles. These are titles that I like to call “brain cleaners” of “palette cleansers,” as they’re often carefully chosen selections that are either fan favorites, popular sellers, or chart toppers from a bygone era. This is my chance to observe, and to learn which titles resonate with the group. In this social context, a number of interesting revelations begin to arise among the various viewers:

  • Light-hearted, or action-oriented titles like Shinesman, Dirty Pair, and Hellsing: Ultimate get the strongest reaction
  • Serious or dramatic titles like Shiki and Darker Than Black promote the mot discussion between viewers
  • Supposed “shoe-ins” for a casual audience, like Panty & Stocking or Fruits Basket are more hit-or-miss. The anime fans find them fun, while the non-fans are often disinterested or outright bored.
  • If a title is strong enough, it will encourage even a non-fan to buy it.
  • The average person doesn’t notice the difference between anime on Blu-Ray versus anime on DVD.
  • Trailers do little to sell shows to the average audience

The last point proves to be the important one. This is the moment in which the “third tier non-customer” we often speak of begins to move inward in the Ocean. This is the moment where the market itself expands, and a completely new demographic opens as a viable sales target. This is currently uncontested market-share that, if engaged enough, will gradually shift inward toward becoming a regular customer. Once these customers are engaged, it’s easy to point to Amazon or Right Stuf to seal a sale, or to point to Netflix for a series offered on streaming.

And how thrilled these people are to find out that Netflix carries a wide selection of anime! Since the barrier of entry is so low, they’ll gleefully pick and choose titles, and find new favorites. Returning visitors often gleefully chat about the new shows they’ve found, what they’ve liked and what they’ve disliked. This is often punctuated by a request for suggestions, which get shuffled into the next list of Bad Anime Night palette cleansers. And, as such the cycle begins anew in each month.

So, in a nutshell, a positive social experience can create a positive feedback loop. This will continue to feed positive aspects and create a more approving image of anime as a whole. Suddenly, it becomes less about neckbeards watching hentai in their parents’ basements, or geeks with no social lives that bitch ceaselessly on message boards. Instead, the focus turns to the content, the stories, adventures, and characters that fill every good show. And, slowly but surely, the image of the typical “otaku” begins to fade away in these people.

Review: Sword of the Stranger

The samurai drama has become a bit of a rarity in recent years, especially in anime. There have been creative “re-imaginings” of classics, such as Samurai 7 or Kaze no Yojimbo, as well as playful reinventions of the genre, like Samurai Champloo. However, it’s rare to see a serious epic on the scale of Lone Wolf & Cub or Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo. In that regard, Sword of the Stranger is a welcome change of pace - it manages to satisfy the craving for a serious samurai drama with the flair of a modern, big-budget thriller.

Stranger follows Kotaro, a boy on the run from the Ming, and his dog Tobimaru. In their travels, the two run into an odd traveling samurai, known as “Namaeshi” (“No Name”). Namaeshi is a man who remembers little about his past. The little that Namaeshi does remember haunts him to the point where he refuses to draw his sword. Not knowing this at the outset, Kotaro hires the samurai as a bodyguard, to guard him until they reach safe territory.

The Ming forces seek to create the legendary Xian medicine, which promises eternal life to those who take it. To complete it, they need the boy or, more specifically, the blood in his veins. Fueled by opium and armed with the infinite riches of the Chinese throne, the Ming forces will stop at nothing to get what they want.

In the Ming forces, an odd foreigner named Luo Lang rides in the ranks. He is a hulking beast with white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a 6-foot height. While he swears loyalty to the Ming, there is clearly something else that drives him forward.

Unlike most of the samurai anime on the market, Stranger’s plot actually makes sense. Events flow from point A to point B with little effort. There are no mystical monsters, and no magical monstrosities to give Namaeshi a hard time. Instead, it’s just a man, a boy, and a dog up against a band of opium-popping Chinese officers. More specifically, the Chinese are after the boy, who was prophesied to be the key ingredient to the mythical Xian medicine[1]. The Xian medicine grants eternal life to whoever takes it, and consists of the blood of a chosen individual (drawn at midnight on the night of a full moon), among other ingredients. At the same time, the Chinese are in cahoots with the local lordship, who is receiving weapons and large sums of money to help in the search for the boy.

The political intrigue and man-on-boy-on-dog bonding moments are frequently broken by some of the most exhilarating swordplay to grace an animated feature. The action sequences are a winning combination of fast-paced, brutal, and exceptionally choreographed animation. Everything plays like an intricate dance of parries, lunges, and slashes, as blood gushes and limbs fly. All the while, heart-pumping, taiko-powered rhythms provide an extra layer of tension. The fights prove to be beautiful and gruesome, breathless and simply fun to watch. The entire package is pulled together by slick animation, mixed with absolutely gorgeous use of color and scenery.

A stellar soundtrack by Naoki Sato accompanies the action onscreen. The soundtrack provides a sweeping score that mixes powerful, somber strings and lilting flutes with traditional instruments, such as taiko drums and bamboo flutes. The result is an odd combination of eastern and western influences that allow for a broad range of melodies.

At the same time, the cast is brought to life with stellar voice acting. On the Japanese side, Tomoya Nagase and Kouichi Yamadera steal the show as Namaeshi and Luo-Lang, respectively. Yamadera is particularly memorable for his stunning performance as he smoothly transitions from Japanese to perfect Mandarin and back. In the English dub, Michael Adamthwaite and Aidan Drummond are particularly apt for their roles as “No Name” and Kotaro, respectively. For the Mandarin conversations, the English dub uses the original Japanese recordings. The voices match up wonderfully, which makes the performance even more impressive. Both dub fans and Japanese purists will be satisfied with the outstanding quality of acting.

Fans of traditional samurai films, or aficionados of action dramas, should feel right at home with Sword of the Stranger. The film has enough to appeal to the die-hard fans, but at the same time has a broad appeal that can snare those who don’t normally enjoy films in the vein of Kurosawa or Okamoto. More than anything, Sword of the Stranger is simply impressive on every level. Sword of the Stranger is not merely a fantastic film; it’s a triumph of hand-drawn, two-dimensional animation in an age where Wall-E and Shrek are the faces of modern animated film.

[1] The naming of the medicine is based on He Xian Gu, one of the Eight Taoist Immortals. In mythology, He Xian Gu is associated with immortality, and is depicted as a woman carrying a large bamboo ladle.

Sword of the Stranger was released in America by Bandai Entertainment.

The series can be purchased at Right Stuf.

Production I.G Cancels Project Due to Client Default

Earlier today, Production I.G.’s parent company announced that they terminated a contract for an unnamed project with another company. The company cancelled their agreement due to their client’s defaulting on payment, even though Production I.G. already committed 144,358,000 yen ($1,837,677.35 USD) to the project as of June 30. Production I.G. asked their client to return all materials produced for the project, and is currently discussing how to recover the costs sunk by the project. In addition, IG Port, Production I.G.’s parent, will report on any revised projections once a thorough investigation is conducted on the cancellation’s fiscal effects.

In a number of forums, we’re beginning to see this announcement devolve into a combination of “the sky is falling” and “it had to be [Insert Series Here] that was canned.” Unfortunately at this point, though, we simply don’t know enough about what was cancelled, or how much will be recouped yet. At this point, we only know the stated facts:

  • Production I.G. terminated a contract with an undisclosed client
  • Production I.G.’s client defaulted on its payments to Production I.G.
  • Production I.G. committed $1.84 million to the project, which must be recouped

We can also observe that this isn’t the first time Production I.G. had to toss a project into the circular file. In their 2011 fiscal year, the company saw reduced profits after they had a TV series cancelled, and pending payments to the company for work done on two theatrical films. I won’t lie and argue that everything is fine: this will hurt the company’s overall performance over the fiscal year. Just how much damage it will actually inflict remains to be seen.

I don’t expect to see Production I.G. fold after this. However, after massive losses in fiscal 2011 and a potentially rocky 2013, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the company begin to shift to a more conservative stance. In this position, we’d see more investment in already profitable properties and genres, and of a less willingness to work with certain potential partners. Doing so would serve both as a means to right the company’s finances, as well as prevent a shareholder revolt. This would be a temporary measure, of course, as I would fully expect the reigns to loosen a bit once the company’s finances begin to improve. By how much, though, would be a combination of factors, which range from the members sitting on the board, to the economic conditions at the time.

This is but speculation, of course. We won’t know what happens until IG Port makes a formal announcement. We will continue to report on this situation as it develops.

Welcome to Anime Herald, New Readers!

Good evening, readers. Tonight, Anime Dream was finally pulled from life support. After over a decade of commentary and criticism, commentary and coverage, we’ve decided it would be best to finally bring our operations to an end.

Which leads us to Anime Herald.

About two years ago, I started The Herald as a bit of a side project. It was an outlet to vent my frustrations with the industry, the subculture, and the like. Over those two years, though, we’ve evolved and grown, much like Anime Dream had, adding new members, and new content. Aside from the what, we began to look toward the whys and the how in the industry.

So, to be fair, it’s a slightly different atmosphere than what you’ve come to expect from Anime Dream over the years. For one, we actually update regularly. Joking aside, I do hope that we’re able to capture the same spirit, the same camaraderie that led to Anime Dream’s unlikely success. We’ve gathered a talented team of writers both familiar and fresh, each with their own views on anime and the industry.

Once again, welcome to the Herald! I hope that you welcome us into your daily reading.

Not sure where to begin? The following are all good starting points:

Review: Cat Planet Cuties

In the modern anime market, the harem series is somewhat of a staple genre. Countless shows were produced over the years, from Love Hina to Rosario + Vampire and Angel Tales, each following the same base formula that’s served shows of their ilk for generations. They all revolve around the same cookie cutter plot of a gaggle of girls fawning over some non-descript male character. Certainly, titles make an effort to throw in some twist, some quirk that will differentiate them from every other show on the market: in Angel Tales, the girls in question are the spirits of the main character’s dead pets (I shit you not), while Rosario’s lasses are monsters from popular folklore. Unfortunately, These “twists” prove to be little more than a new hat placed on an aging format that’s trying to hide its aging facade.

Cat Planet Cuties is a title that aims to buck this Malibu Stacy approach to show production with a combination of high-concept plots, fast-paced-action, and characters with more depth than the average puddle. While there are a few flaws in the execution of these ideals, Cat Planet Cuties still manages to stand out as a refreshing take on an incredibly stale genre.

Across the planet, people are reporting that they’ve seen a mysterious craft in the heavens above. Government transmission lines are being populated by the cryptic message “I’m coming to drop in on you.” Local governments are in an uproar, and fear of a war, or worse, an invasion linger in the air.

In a small Okinawan town, high schooler Kio Kakazu is introduced to a strange girl that’s dropped in on a local festival. This girl, known as Eris, is an attractive lass, with a dynamite figure, cat ears, and a tail. She’s an emissary from the planet Catia, whose mission is to observe earth’s higher life forms, and determine whether official relations should be initiated. Unfortunately for her, it seems that people in high positions made it to Earth before Catia. The malevolent Dogisians, a race of (wait for it…) dog people have made a number of underground deals with elites in the military. After Eris is kidnapped in a midnight raid by those working for the Dogisians, and subsequently rescued in a fast-paced shootout, the rest of the Catian survey crew arrives to establish an embassy in Kio’s home. Since they don’t want to be left out, Manami and Aoi, Kio’s lady-friends volunteer to serve as bodyguards as relations are established. These brave souls must find a way to defeat the Dogisians and protect their new Catian friends, while keeping their hormones in check!

At the outset, Cat Planet Cuties appears to be a fill-in-the-blanks harem show. Panty shots, low camera angles, and slow pans are used copiously when focus shifts to the female cast. Eris and the Catians are rarely seen outside of skin-tight space suits, and female frontal nudity is a common occurrence. The main character is a boring husk of a person that exists mainly as a target for the female leads’ affections, and the three leading ladies fit neatly into the archetypes of “girl next door”, “tomboy”, and “nerdy admirer.”

 Beneath the typical trappings, though, is a charming, well-written adventure. Much of the the show’s core plot revolves around the growing Dogisia-Catia conflict, as the Catians rush to make their first contact, and their rivals use their contacts and might to manipulate various armed forces and hinder the Catians’ attempts. Similarly, the typical harem tropes are flavored by these conflicts. The bikini-clad beach episode devolves into a hectic battle against dog robots armed with catapaults and modified electronics. The spat between the geek and the tomboy? It becomes a hellish gunfight in the woods. These incidents continue to escalate as the series continues, right to the moment of the final battle, which begins with a showdown with NATO tanks in Siberia, and ends in an acrobatic space battle that would be apt in any space opera.

The military action is offset by a playful, absurdist sense of humor, which proves to be quite clever at times. For example, early episodes of the series see Eris pestered by an organization that wants the perfect first contact. They want humanity’s first encounter to be with creatures like”grey men”, Xenmorphs, or Hutts. The fact that Eris is an adorable cat-girl doesn’t sit well, which prompts an attempted, though failed kidnapping. Unfortunately for Kio, his teacher is also a member, and isn’t above passive-aggressive snark and a biting wit regarding the situation.

The story is brought to life with a strong cast that manage to break free of their archetypical norms. Or, to put things simply, the characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They have aspirations, dreams, and regrets that color their worldviews. For example, token tomboy Manami is an aspiring CIA operative with a love of guns. She live a life of quiet regret, as she feels she blew her chance with Kio and instead tries live vicariously through the gawky Aoi, as Manami pushes her into making a move. Aoi, on the other hand, is a meek lass, who keeps to herself in public. When duty calls, though, she suits up and kicks ass as a mercenary. It is a shame that, ultimately, these characters are merely there to fawn over Kio, who has the charisma of a box of Wheaties, and zero real screen presence. He exists to be fawned over, and that is it.

Which brings about the key complaint regarding the series: more than anything, it feels as if the harem elements were tacked on in an attempt to sell to the “lonely male” crowd. The need to focus on Kio, to make every single girl fawn over this talking sack of potatoes, is a disservice to the show itself. The strong secondary cast, the fun cats-versus-dogs plotline, the crazy cat cult, and the very idea of first contact taking place in Okinawa of all places were built into a fantastic overall narrative, which was held back by the need to have the world revolve around Kio. It certainly doesn’t make Cat Planet Cuties into a bad show by any means. It merely keeps it the show from reaching its full potential.

As a whole, Cat Planet Cuties is a fun, clever harem series that isn’t afraid to challenge genre norms. While there are a few general issues that hold the show back, they certainly do little to hinder its ability to entertain. Those looking for a harem show that doesn’t rely on breasts and panty shots, or those simply seeking a bit of light action will not be disappointed, though those seeking a bit more may be left wanting a bit more by the time the final credits roll.

Cat Planet Cuties is distributed in America by FUNimation.
The series can be purchased at Right Stuf

Thanks to FUNimation for providing a review copy!

Media Blasters Listed As Active Business

On Tuesday, Media Blasters announced that they are once again listed as an active business by the New York Department of State. In April, Anime News Network reported that the company was listed as “dissolved by proclamation”, which meant that the Media Blasters faced stiff penalties that included the denial of the use of their own name in business affairs.

The original announcement prompted an incredible reaction from the greater subculture. It sparked a wave of speculation and doom-saying that spread like wildfire. Forums and social media ignited with conversations about whether this was the end for the company, and how their licenses would be divided in the worst case scenario.

The situation continued to spiral out of control, as ANN claimed that the company hadn’t replied, and Media Blasters CEO John Sirabella took to their forums to try and quell further discussions. In the midst of a number of passionate posts, where he expressed his frustration toward ANN’s handling of the issue, the impact of the decision on future licensing deals, and the carefree dismissal of the company’s situation by the greater public. It was a rare opportunity to see a normally calm and collected entrepreneur bare his rawest of emotions to the masses.

At the time, there were many skeptics about the company’s fortune, and many believed that Sirabella’s remarks were a feeble attempt to garner support for the weakened company. However, in retrospect, it appears that many of these accusations were indeed unwarranted. The baseless speculation, the death-watches, the cries that certain titles will never be finished were all for naught.

While it was unfortunate to see such a fate befall the company, it is encouraging to see Media Blasters beginning its return to normalcy. They do still face a number of challenges, including restoring the faith of the Japanese licensors, as well as obtaining new material that would have otherwise been acquired at events like Tokyo Anime Fair. Their next moves will be important, as the company needs to be able to regain the momentum it’s lost in the past few months. It’s not an impossible task, but it will be interesting to see if Media Blasters can successfully adapt to the current market norms.

Crafting a Stronger Market From Within

Over the past twenty or so years, anime has been a part of my life in some form or another. In the past eleven, it’s grown into something of a staple in my daily dealings. I’ve become the type that kicks his morning off with an episode of City Hunter or Dirty Pair, and closes his night off with something like Shiki or Eden of the East, as my fingers clack against the keyboard in a frantic rush to get the next article out the door. I’m the type that’ll gleefully post to Twitter or Facebook when UPS arrives with a DVD order, only to gleefully rip these very shows to shreds in my next review.

In short, I love what I do.

Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve joined the ranks of million in a silent resignation that anime is a niche product. Anime, as a whole, is a product that is inherently off-putting to the greater market. The character designs are strange, the stories are unusual, and the writing styles don’t always fit in with cultural norms. There’s simply no chance of it gaining traction.

And then, I pack a room for a viewing of Trigun, Last Exile, or Bunny Drop.

"What does that have to do with anything?!"

Well, dear reader, this is far from a simple gathering of anime fans. These titles are strong enough to attract the many that don’t normally watch anime. These gatherings usually feature a fairly diverse gathering of people from all walks of life. Businessmen and software engineers mingle with shopkeeps, artists, and musicians, as they share and discuss the action on-screen. For these few brief hours each month, it doesn’t matter whether a person is a long-time fan, a regular, or somebody dragged along for the evening. All that really matters is the fun of the experience. Not everybody returns, but those that do often follow up with questions about what happens next, or which characters go through the greatest changes. Others ask whether Netflix offers the title, or even where they can purchase the rest.

Basically, these folks arrive for the company, but they grow invested in the content of the titles that are run. These shows are strong enough that they are enticing to even those that would turn their nose at such a proposition.

These are folks that don’t fit into the niche, they are, for lack of a better term “casual fans.” They aren’t hunting out the next big show, and they don’t give a rat’s ass about simulcasts. They don’t know what a “tsundere”, “moe”, or “waifus” are, nor do they invest themselves in whatever the hell seems to bubble through the greater subculture nowadays. They’re simply a group that enjoys strong content, regardless of its origin.

I’ve mentioned these before in our Blue Ocean Study. These are the Third Tier of non-customers - the type that don’t know that they want the products being offered. They’re the type that need to be jumped in by somebody, be it a core customer like you and I, or a person with similar interests. They can be called “casual fans,” if you may. And, if one were to unlock the potential in this market, we could see a revolution in the industry - a path to profits that are unheard of in today’s market. This is a crowd that could have serious sway on what is acquired and how it’s released, as it’s able to eclipse the current market on an exponential scale. How to reach this crowd is a Rubik’s Cube in itself, since it requires that special combination of the right content, with the ability to expose these new audiences.

In its current state, the anime market has great potential for expansion. However, the anime market is something that simply cannot expand on its own. It requires that social aspect, that first “push” from within. We all have the potential to help expand the market. It’s merely a matter of being realistic, and being willing to try new things. After all, the greatest journeys all begin with but a single step.

Anime Cons: A Behind The Scenes Look

It’s hard to deny that anime conventions are a large part of North American anime culture. Dozens are held every year that range from big to small, well-known to obscure. Last year, over 200 took place across America, and attracted tens of thousands of fans. For the three days that a typical convention runs, the local hotel or convention center becomes almost a fan’s Disneyland. Favorite actors and shows, the hottest acts from Japan, and more all wrapped in an energetic and welcoming atmosphere.

Even now, eager fans populate the message boards of their favorite cons with hopes that next year’s will be even better. Will their favorite guests return? Will there be fun workshops? Will the registration lines be less hellish? The list of questions simply doesn’t end. However, there seems to be very little questioning of just how the event came to be. What goes into a convention? What cross between black magic and Red Bull is needed to ensure that everything comes together? What the hell does that guy at Con Ops actually do, anyway? Failing to find an answer in the vast knowledge of the interwebs, I went straight to the source. Representatives from a pair of conventions, who serve a number of positions weighed in to shed some light on just what goes on behind the scenes of our favorite events.

Convention Chair: The Alpha And Omega

From the first push to get moving to the final say in a dispute, the convention chair is without a doubt the most important figure in a convention. According to Yuricon chairperson Erica Friedman, “It falls to the chair to do just about anything and everything to get things organized.” Joyce Lim, Anime Expo’s chair, agrees. Lim says that the convention chair is “responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the various divisions that arrange and run the convention.” In plain English, the chair delegates all duties to the proper department or, lacking departments, does it herself. “I might be dealing with the hotel, or the guests, or the companies that provide the anime we show, or sponsors or registration or tech or any number of things,” comments Friedman.

The position is far from an easy gig. However, there is always the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, that can erase the weeks of planning, negotiations, and sleepless nights that surely ensue. “It can be stressful — it is stressful,” warns Friedman, “but when someone tells you that they are having a great time, it’s worth it.”

Guest Relations: How to Find a Guy in Ten Days

Celebrity guests are a perennial favorite at any convention. After all, who doesn’t look forward to meeting their favorite actors? What about hearing stories from figures like Laura Bailey or Vic Mignogna, as they combine spirited impersonations with tales from their experiences in the booth?

It falls upon the guest coordinator to secure appearances from the stars that drive fans to the gates. There are a number of factors that go into each contract, from transportation costs, to room and board, and even fees for showing up. Also, some guests are in higher demand than others. “It is a shot in a dark to retrieve some high end [guests],” remarks Thai Nam Pham, coordinator for Anime Expo’s Guest Selection Committee.

In a guest coordination position, the relationship begins with the first contact. “You have to be patient and courteous with the guests that you want to obtain,” comments Nam Pham. This sometimes proves to be more difficult than one expects, since there is often a “delayed response of talking with representatives from Japan… they are 17 hours ahead of us.”

Even before the guests arrive, guest relations members are hard at work “ensuring that all the needs fo the guests are known prior to the convention,” according to Nam Pham. This includes guarantees of hotel room meals and other ameneties (like airport pickup). The ultimate goal is to “make sure that their stay is a comfortable and fun as possible.”

Marketing: Getting the Word Out

Once the decisions are made, the venue is set, and the ink is dry on the contracts, all that’s left is to wait for the people to pour in the front door, right?

Wrong.

Once the concrete details are set, the marketing department goes to work to attract guests and attendees alike. Kim Groomes, Anime Expo’s Director of Marketing, described her position as “the liaison between anime [and] manga companies that wish to be represented.” In English, the marketing department is the group that ensures that FUNimation holds a panel, or the latest shows are available to show in the screening rooms. And, above all, they ensure that the reps keep returning year after year.

As with anything else in the world, advertisement is a must. “Ads, press releases, etc. it’s all part of my focus,” comments Groomes, “I work to get the name of AX out to the community and fans alike.” How to go about it will differ from event to event, but the message will never change: “Come to our event! It’s awesome!” Some will go with the tried and true table at a bigger event, while others will try to tackle the mainstream with print adverts, or in the case of the largest events, TV spots.

The good efforts will usually be remembered years later. Unfortunately, so will the bad ones.

Say What?! When Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

It may be disappointing to learn that the so-called “world behind the curtain” is about as tame as the average desk job. That’s understandable, considering that these are the people that turn a hotel or convention center into an anime fan’s Disneyland for one weekend out of the year. While the atmosphere may not be one of abject insanity, working with guests (especially those from a nation as quirky as Japan) leads to a number of unique situations.

"It’s kind of amazing to see the guests of honor get together and have lots of fun with one another," muses Nam Pham. He recalls an event from last year’s Anime Expo, in which "2009 Guest Of Honor Yun Kouga was playing Monster Hunter on her PSP. One of the band members from Moi dix Mois saw her playing and told her that he brought a PSP with him with Monster Hunter." Apparently, the power of Monster Hunter is beyond comprehension, as "they both played with one another for several hours and had lots of fun doing so."

Ms. Friedman reveals a slightly different, yet equally unusual experience. According to her,”being in Japan in front of some of the leading Japanese Yuri artists and writer and being asked to define Yuri, was very bizarre.”

Grabbing the Mop: Words On Helping Out

Even with the high positions considered, the most important member of any convention is the volunteer. Convention staff are always looking for people that are willing and able to lend a hand, since the staff they keep is rarely enough. Of course, the position is difficult with long hours and lots of hard, somewhat thankless work. After all, keeping 500 to 30,000+ anime fans in line elicits a number of reactions, from annoyance to outright vulgarity from the particularly agitated. Combine this with a general lack of sleep, and a workload that would make most people groan, and the task becomes that much more daunting.

However, the act is indeed a labor of love. Conventions never have enough people, and the thrill of helping to make something amazing happen, with a ton of like-minded people is a motivator for many. Those on the fence are urged by the convention staff to grab a broom, and lend a hand. “Do it,” says Friedman, “every con needs help.” Lim agrees, stating that “we are always looking for passionate, energetic people to join our staff.”

However, spoilsports and freeloaders need not apply. Friedman cautions the less-motivated to “help out because you want to help, not because the con offers you something,” and to “be in it to help the con be a great con.” Much like any other job, the self-centered opportunists tend to be the ones that suck the fun out of the room faster than a political debate.

If the above doesn’t scare the pants off a potential applicant, then perhaps he is convention material. Lim advises those interested in volunteering to simple “talk to the staff and tell them that you are interested in helping out.” Staffers are equipped to offer “more information on how to apply to be on staff or become an attendee volunteer and help… figure out which department you’d be more interested in and best match your skills.”

Conclusion

With everything taken into consideration, an anime con seems like a lot of work. And, frankly, it is. However, it is the passion of the many who pitch in, from the top brass to the gofers. Hopefully, the insight gained from those entrenched in the convention landscape will allow a new outlook on just how much collective blood, sweat, and tears go into the average anime con. These people are crazy, in a good way — and anime fandom is better off for it.

I would like to thank those who responded and took part in this project: Yuricon’s Erica Friedman, and Anime Expo’s Joyce Lim, Kim Groomes, & Thai Nam Pham. You are all awesome!

Note: This article was originally published at Anime Dream on March 18, 2010.