Otakon 2023: Day 0

I’m so behind on the news cycle in that I basically didn’t comb my usual news sources for about a month and an half, but I had gotten back to this. Anyways, going to be Otakon this weekend and taking it easy.

The main draw this year will be not just the usual set of creators, also whatever Macross news that’s going to get out this year. I’m glad there’s at least a con that draws Kawamori to it every so often. Somehow, Watari also returns.

I’m probably going to see if I can get to see Haruna Ikezawa somehow. She is not only a fairly established seiyuu for a while, but also now a SF author. I’m actually not sure if she does that much dubbing these days, but the 00s were dotted with her voice.

I mean she was a regular cast member on Marimite! There are four more seiyuu showing up at Otakon, three of them are fairly unknown and the other is, uh, Iwao Junko. Junko Iwao makes her return to the East Coast. I’ve seen her a couple times now but please go see her at Otakon too, this veteran seiyuu is a lot of fun to see in person.

As for the other three, one of them is only really known for her role as Narita Top Road from the Road to the Top Umamusume Youtube anime–Kanna Nakamura. Only that Nakamura and fellow newbie Shou Komura are here on behalf of the new Seven Deadly Sins anime. Also, Runa Katagiri is with Kia Asamiya (or whatever his other anime staff name) to promote Asamiya’s new project. Guess I’ll try to pop out and see.

Given the terrible state of my PTOs this year I will probably have to work at Otakon for a day, but again, just going to take it kind of easy where I could. Otakon this year boasts a big guest list though so I think there’ll be something to do every day.

PS. When will I get time to watch ML10th Act-2…? I think I still need to watch Uma 5th Wish somehow before this weekend…

PPS. A former version of this article omitted some seiyuu and I regretfully apologize.

IDOLM@STER 18th Stream, SideM Thoughts

This is just the thoughts from this particular Producer, so take it as you will. Just reacting to some other folks from this morning (evening JP time on July 25) when the 18th anniversary stream dropped its usual payload of news and inter-brand interactions.

I’m lurking in a couple community discord servers for IDOLM@STER. Some SideMs are gnashing teeth. Others are just putting them to perspective. You can see some of that in the Youtube comments. I think perspective is important, as it can highlight the way forward out of this hellish situation. But I think some empathy and compassion is good. More over, these emotions and momentary problems are probably something that will come and pass with time, without us doing a whole lot.

One thing I noticed is that many of these online communities are surrounding the core game product. This is Deresute, MLTD, the Enza Shiny game, and what have you. Players of the console 765Pro games kind of dissolves into the background as old(er) people who bring up obscure data points (see above about perspective) but it’s not tangibly linked to the community. The band of IDOLM@STER branding is not that strong.

I think this is invariably the case when all it takes is a smartphone or emulator, and Qooapp. All these free-to-play games have no doors, effectively, other than being in Japanese. And just like how anime culture in America is a rainbow regurgitation of the same thing in Japan, a lot is lost in the translation. Or more precisely, a lot is missing in the localization of a media mix IP, that wasn’t even localized to begin with. Localization outfits are just publishers, they are not marketing firms with a hand in the media mix pie who want to sell rights to merch or whatever it takes to do SideM Ice Cream.

I would feel way less secure as a SideM P if all I had was the game and not the concerts, the live streams, the music, the anime, the comics, and the fandom at large. I really think this is part of the answer to Bannam dropping the Growing Stars game, but not much of this has come. Anyways, it has been disconcerting for some Ps and things have remained uncomfortable.

I remember seeing the SideM announcement at MOIW 2014 intermission. I was there at my first IM@S concert and still feeling a bit overwhelmed. Yes, even back then, we, collectively (Japan?), know that joseimuke stuff was taking off. Women buying 2D dude merch was a bigger thing than it was ever before. It was a force to tap into, if you are an opportunist. So at some level, SideM joining the fray was already a bit, let’s just say, sus, fundamentally.

At any rate, SideM fits this scheme, and I bemused around then, even, that Bannam was a tad late. But the dice were cast, and we’re in it together. Will IDOLM@STER as a business translate well as joseimuke content and media mix strategy? Despite hindsight being mostly 20/20, I think the answer is still unclear. To some degree, we see where it was successful. We also see the missteps.

I think one clear thing we can say is that Bannam executed the SideM vision with some urgency. Vision 2.0 started with IDOLM@STER 2, which introduced us to Jupiter. These guys are the lynchpins for the SideM franchise and connects us from today back all the way to origin. SideM also provided a home Akizuki Ryo, which we cannot say enough to thank for. Maybe this is at SideM’s cost as a female-pandering franchise, but ultimately it was just one person in a group with 46 or 49 idols. These are, in the big picture of the 18 years of IDOLM@STER, large, franchise-altering moves. They’re on par with Shiny Colors dropping a new unit every year from 2019 to 2022. But I didn’t think Bannam and the SideM team played this up well. Maybe because they were urgently trying to solidify this brand?

I believe urgency was why SideM took the path of Million Live, almost carbon-copy from web game to app game. It was definitely why SideM had a TV anime first, well before Million. But did this urgency pay off? I’m not sure. I can say that the transition to the app game did more to harm it than any other decision for the series, because SideM LIVE ON ST@GE was not up to the quality and standards set by the other games in the series. If rushing was a big factor towards the cause of it, it was just a bad decision.

In 2021 we got SideM GROWING STARS, which is being shut down this month. The circumstances surrounding the shutdown is still a mystery. But we probably got here only because the mistake that was LOS. Still, we should properly credit who credit is due: Bannam needs to own the bad treatment for this franchise at the closing of the game. SideM now does not have a game platform to put all the character content on top of. I think that’s actually okay, but it invites envy and criticism.

Objectively speaking, what SideM is doing is becoming more lean and agile. New character media mix franchises often start this way: announcements, casts, recorded songs and drama. But this is sort of the opposite business strategy for IDOLM@STER, one that hasn’t really happened until the launch of Shiny Colors. It is still a really weird way to see an IDOLM@STER brand exist. How can players be players without an ongoing game? Until this existential issue is resolved, it stands to reason that SideM players and producers are going to have their undies in a knot.

Given this blog and I am very silver-lining oriented, this is the best spin I can put on it. Bannam did what they could, they pushed the franchise and hit all the high notes until the Covid years. There is not much left to execute for SideM in the Vision 2.0 game plan.

So, because I have nothing to lose if I am wrong, you should take the following prediction as far or as close as you want. I suggest that the 6th franchise in IDOLM@STER canon might be also joseimuke. KominoP said it started 5 years ago. What started 5 years ago? So again, I have nothing to lose if I’m wrong, it’s going to be joseimuke, and 2.5D oriented. I mean it makes sense. It’s the one arrow missing in the quiver of the IDOLM@STER franchise. I want real life Haruka tripping on stage, just like how I really enjoyed my time at the Umamusume stage performance. SideM did rodokugeki. Is this why IDOLM@STER was so slow to this punch?

Because, on paper, the only threat to IDOLM@STER is Umamusume. Bang Dream is for kids! D4DJ is … also for kids. IDOLM@STER is for boomers! Love Live is actually just not-iM@S and belongs to Bandai Namco anyways. That’s why the franchise want to expand and add, it needs to grow to replace the warm bodies that will graduate from the series because invariably, as long as SideM or Million or 765Pro continues to exist, Bannam will make mistakes along the way. Rightfully so, it’s okay to quit when these entertainment IPs stop being entertaining.

Except Cinderella Girls–it continues to grow, and Cygames seemed to have hit the winning formula. Doomposting, unvoiced Producers continue to cause chaos and rub people the wrong way as entitled pricks. One person’s bug is another person’s feature, I guess.

Anime Expo 2023: Day -1

May and June were big travel months and I was out of the house for weeks at a time. Still, looks like I’m going to Anime Expo. If anything I hope I get to hang out with some friends, that’s my main win.

I’ll take a minute to jot down some logistical stuff just to remind myself how much goes on at AX every year, and how you just can’t see everything. Maybe it’s good that I am not going to care for a lot of these. Also, a lot of the stuff in is going to be me refreshing the departure situation at EWR as that’s the airport that I typically fly out of, and currently it’s suffering from a long cascading series of delays from last weekend. The hotel strike, at least, is not on my worrying list.

Programming: Panels and such. I’ll highlight the ones I might go to.

Day 0:

Teddy, Waipa, James Landino, feat. DDK.
Summer Kickoff party Grand Star Jazz Club, formerly known as the Anime Expo Kickoff Party but got D/C’d into a name change.

Day 1:

  • Opening Ceremony, 10:30 Main Events: Not going but there’s going to be some band (Asterism) playing there, hmm.
  • COLORFUL STAGE, 11:00 Petree: Featuring Tomori Kusunoki and Hinata Sato, about the hot mobile game of vocaloid characters
  • Kafka Asagiri Panel, 11:00 JW-Platinum: Bunko Stray Dog’s creator seems pretty interesting, but probably not going.
  • Zom 100 Preview, 12:30 Petree: It’s the next hit anime I guess.
  • Pompo screening with director Takayuki Hirao, 1:00 403 AB: Special film with a special creator, no bueno for me though.
  • Trigger new title announcement & Dungeon Meshi sneak peek: 1:45 Main Events: You know the drill, gonna be fun with this crew and Dungeon Meshi will be good stuff. Sayaka Sembongi and Kentaro Kumagai probably will be there too.
  • Bandai Namco Industry Panel, 2:00 408 AB: To feature special guests…
  • MAPPA Panel, 3:00 JW-Platinum: Should be fun with some news
  • Netflix’s anime panel, 3:15 Main Events: special guests and more. Finally get to see Maruyama after all this time maybe? Good lineup.
  • Magus Bride S2 panel, 3:30 408 AB: creators talk good stuff.
  • Bannam Showcase 2023 panel, 4:30 Petree: Trailers I think.
  • Obey Me! stage, 4:30 JW-Platinum: Not going but should be lit.
  • Spy x Family with Eguchi, 5:00 Main Events: Speaks for itself.
  • Love Live panel, 6:00 JW-Platinum: Featuring Kobayashi, Sagara and Date. Not a concert, right?
  • Fate/strange Fake panel: 7:00 Main Events
  • Mashle Panel, 8:00 Petree: Kobayashi and Aleks Le
  • SMT30th LIVE: Band of Shadows, 8:00 The Novo
  • Nonstop V, 8:30 JW-Diamond, Vtuber concert

Day 2:

  • Twisted Wonderland Feat. Hanae and Kobayashi, 10:00 Main Events
  • Manga Publishing Roundtable, 10:00 402 AB: Manga peeps talk, should be cool with some higher ups and Ed there.
  • Fuji TV’s +Ultra Panel, 10:00 403 AB: Yoko Taro and others
  • Mappa x Crunchyroll, 11:30 JW-Platinum
  • The Art and Mediums of Storytelling, 1:00 JW-Platinum, Featuring Yoko Taro, Seshita, and more.
  • Undead Unluck panel, 1:30 Main Events, with Hanae and Moe Kahara
  • LazuLight talk show and performance, 1:30 JW-Diamond
  • Mecha-Ude ep1 screening, 2:30 404 AB: I backed this anime, but probably won’t go LOL.
  • Yoshitaka Amano Panel, 2:40 Petree: The same old.
  • Jujutsu Kaisen panel, 3:00 Main Events: Special guests! Who?
  • GBF panel, 3:00 408 AB: Featuring Cygame’s Fukuhara and Yasuyuki Kaji
  • Conversation with Yoshiki, 3:45 Petree.
  • Demon Slayers Event, 4:30 Main Events: Featuring Hanae and Kawanishi
  • Like a Dragon panel, 5:30 Petree: Takaya Kuroda, woo. Yong Yea. Sega’s Hiroyuki Sakamoto.
  • FGO 6th Anniversary x Type-Moon panel, 7:00 Petree. Kawasumi, Takahashi, Akabane! A must see for me.
  • AX Summer Fest, 7:00 The Novo: It conflicts, but this lineup is really good.

Day 3:

  • Kenshin Premiere, 10:00 Main Events: Featuring Rieri and Soma Saito. Dang, even him?
  • Wit Studio Panel,10:00 JW-Platinum: Could be interesting if they announce some news here.
  • Aniplex x A-1 Pictures panel, 11:30 Petree
  • Bushiroad, 11:30 JW-Platinum
  • The First Slam Dunk screening, 12:00 Main Events: Great movie go see it on 7/28 when it comes out in US and Canada folks.
  • King Records Panel, 12:00 511: I hear some people I know is going to show up.
  • Denpa Books and Kuma, 1:30 404 AB
  • AniWaves 2, 4:20 The Queensberry: See details here. Friends throwing a party.
  • AX Cinema Nights Presents, 5:30 411: Peter is here lol
  • Gridman Universe, 6:00 JW-Diamond: I really want to see this…ahhh.
  • Rascal Does Not Dream of a Sister Venturing Out, 6:30 JW-Platinum
  • Neon District, 8:00 Main Events: Not even the Novo… but Shaq! And Taku! But they cancelled the guests I actually wanted to see so I am torn for sure.
  • Projekt Melody, 9:00 JW-Diamond: Vaguely interested in this story.
  • Denpasoft Panel, 9:00 402 AB
  • Geekboat World Tour, 9:00 411: this is the sekrit Trigger panel (after dark).

Day 4:

  • Horimiya: The Missing Pieces panel, 10:30 408 AB: Featuring Kouki Uchiyama and director Ishihama (oh welcome back).
  • CyberConnect2 panel, 12:00 408 AB
  • Charity Auction, 1:30 Community Stage
  • Fake Star Constellations vol. 4, 7:00 1720: BPM15Q, D-yama, DJ Wildparty…what a lineup. Bad venue I guess but it is what it is.

Day 5…DDK, Teddy and Fake Type. If anyone’s still here.

Con Autographs: these are the ticketed ones they give out in the morning at 8am, this time at the plaza out front by near where the ticketing and buses are. The actual signing area is by the Artist Alley in Kentia Hall. BTW Pixiv has a booth at the AA? There are other autograph chances depending on what if you look. Just the ones that got my interest below.

  • Day 1: Sasara Sekine(???)
  • Day 2: Takayuki Hirao, Masakazu Morita, Kotaro Takata, Kentaro Kumagai, Sayaka Sembongi
  • Day 3: Kotaro Takata, Co Shu Nie, Trigger (Sushio, Koyama, Otsuka, Wakabashi, Imaishi), Mecha-Ude, DDK, Masakazu Morita, Kamierabi (Jin, Seshita, Ohkubo)

Dealers/Exhibit Hall/Entertainment Hall:

Kadokawa giving away swag at their big booth. I want that Clear Bookmark Set from My Happy Marriage…

Entertainment Hall E-16 is GBF Relink play stations.

GSC, Aniplex, Hoyoverse, BN, Yostar, Cygames, Bushiroad all have presence at the E-hall.

In the main hall, CR, Aniplex, GSC, Altus/Sega will take big chunks of the front. BN and Gundam Base are also there, probably along with giant Luffy and some Naruto thing. Cygames, Bushiroad, Toho, a couple Kadokawa outposts, round out the big guys. A row of tier 2 booths are just behind that, then it gets into the normal dealer room stuff.

Community Stage schedule.

Linking the plain jane Kotaku list here if you want to see the basic stuff, like all the premieres I ignored. Here’s a list of guests…not sure if complete. Exhibitor list here.

With so much going on Anime Expo is an exercise in dropping what I can’t do. There are only a few things I really want to see, so I will probably stick to my guns on those. More over, I am going to LA to see the folks I haven’t seen since COVID, on the west coast. I hope everyone is doing well!

For those of you going, god speed, good luck, and I wish you the best in dealing with AX.

Framing IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls U149

As I was watching the final episode of U149, I thought back to how a lot of the core concepts of Cinderella Girls come down to pretty silly, bare-bones ideas but taken to the extremely-real. To use a metaphor, when the fairy godmother turned a pumpkin into a horse carriage in the Disney rendition of Cinderella, it was literally a pumpkin that morphed magically and gained the functions of a carriage. When you think of the tomboy 5th grader, maybe you can conjure up Haru. When you think of a gal 5th grader, maybe you can conjure up Risa. These acts of speaking into reality through the power of imagination is underneath all of that.

Much of this show is about fleshing out not just these character ideas, but depicting the unreal origins of these ideas with the reality of what the IDOLM@STER brand is about: idol production and all that jazz. It both sells that fantasy but it still have to tip the hat to all of the rest underneath, to use the madly-peddling swan metaphor. What’s also unreal, in the sense that this is an anime about the following topic, is that children signed under a major idol agency are child laborers. Granted, this is probably the kind people don’t look down upon in general (although many still do), but playing heavily on the “child vs adult” themes (Arisu is the child idol who wants to be an adult but is too childish to do so, in a nutshell.) all of those comes into play. It is a weird feeling to think of U149 in those terms, yet every time these kids bump into those types of workplace problems, it’s hard to not think of it.

So many scenes in the series, we see the U149 Producer working hard, putting his money towards his charges, not to mention spending all his time working for their projects. The U149 Producer displays plenty of childishness as depicted by societal norms, but is overall quite a normal adult dealing with the usual adult problems (in a work setting). He is the foil for the U149 idols.

It gets amusing and a bit confusing because the children themselves also take care of each other. One of them produces costumes, another cooks well. Some of them demonstrate emotional maturity and others have leadership skills. Some are stronger than others. In as much as U149 is a team or a unit, in demonstrating a satisfactory level of respect, or attractiveness, the kids also loses some of what makes kids kids I think.

Maybe that is why I really enjoy this aspect when Miria brings that standard kid-energy and that shadow of fear underneath her steel-woman-child visage during the live stream. Miria episodes are all so good because there’s this obvious internal conflict in which she out-matures it.

But as it were, why do people dote over Arisu…? Rhetorically, yes, I get it, I’m just saying every bratty snot in the 3rd Division has a surprising amount of inner qualities that makes them admirable as people. Maybe those qualities also make (at least some of) them attractive as idols, but it would be safe to say it is quite too early for that for the majority of them.

PS. Ever since COVID, Cinderella Girls shows all use smart/digital tickets. It means for oversea Producers, getting tickets require jumping a different set of hoops than before. It also means it’s harder than ever to proxy. Yet we see them draw in these paper tickets into the show and it just make me shake my head in disbelief. Go on, magical anime about little kids who tries to sing, dance, and behave like amusing little things. This is also amusing (in a not-so-great way).

Anime Central 2023: Wrap

Returning to Chicago for Acen is a no-brainer this year. Not just for Pequod’s or some good Italian beef, but for Tadokoro Azusa, Tanaka Rie, Kubo Yurika, and Ichinose Kana. I mean, dang, any con that makes me list Ichinose Kana as the 4th largest headline-getter seiyuu guest is doing something spicy.

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