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J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Misaki Iwasa (Wasamin)

October 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

AKB48 has dominated the Japanese music charts for numerous years and while many may recognize the main core members of the group, there is one former AKB48 member who has shined thanks to her talent of singing enka songs.

Her name is Misaki Iwasa, known by her fans as “Wasamin” and was a 7th Generation AKB48 member who passed the audition for AKB48 back in 2008.   Iwasa was also a member of the side group Watarirouka Hashiritai 7 and while performing a lot of pop songs as a member of AKB48, she is known for her love of enka music and for performing enka music, especially exposing the music to a younger generation.

In 2011, she won first place in the AKB48 YuruYuru Karaoke competition by singing an Sayuri Ishikawa’s enka song “Tsugari Kaikyo – Fuyugeshiki”.  And her participation in the competition sealed the deal for AKB48 creator and producer Yasushi Akimoto, who gave the unranked AKB48 member her start to shine with a debut CD single titled “Mujin Eki” (which translates to “Empty Train Station” or “Ghost Train Station”).

While Wasamin has graduated from AKB48, she has released numerous singles, a photobook and has performed all over the world, most recently at J-Pop Summit 2017 in San Francisco, California.

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith recently had the opportunity to interview Misaki Iwasa (Wasamin) before her performance at J-Pop Summit 2017.

Please click here to read the interview


 

 

Interview with Penelope Lagos, Author of “I Miss My Best Friend” (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

October 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to interview actress Penelope Lagos about a film that she starred in and also discuss her career as an actress and a model.

In 2017, I am interviewing Penelope once again, but not as an actress or model, but this time as a writer.

Penelope has written and published her first children’s book titled “I Miss My Best Friend”, featuring illustrations by Sophie Moracchini about her dog Cassius “The Legend”.

A dog purchased for Penelope and her twin brother Louie, the entire family raised Cassius since he was a puppy.  Taking him to Greece and to see Cassius become a champion swimmer.

He was no doubt more than just a pet, he was a family member.

And when Cassius passed away, dealing with the grief of losing a part of your family was a challenge for the Lagos family and for Penelope, she decided to write a book about Cassius to help children deal with the passing of their beloved pet.

“I Miss My Best Friend” has received a lot of positive reviews and I recently had a chance to interview Penelope Lagos about her new book and also about Cassius “The Legend”.


Penelope, I interviewed you as an actress and for this latest interview, I am interviewing you as an author of your first book, “I Miss My Best Friend”. What was the inspiration for writing this book?

PENELOPE: My own dog and best friend, Cassius. He was everything to me and when he passed away, I was absolutely devastated. I looked online and in stores searching for something, anything that would make me feel better, but I quickly realized there weren’t a lot of resources out there. I wasn’t ready to sign up for a pet loss group or even talk to anyone about my feelings, so I started writing them down. Within these notes, a story began to form and hence the fruition of “I Miss My Best Friend”.

Illustrator Sophie Moracchini did a wonderful job with the illustrations. How did the two of you come to collaborate on this book?

PENELOPE:  Sophie is such a talented and professional young woman to work with. I had taken a canine conditioning course and the instructor, Dr. Erica Boling, created various dog groups on Facebook for people to connect/network. I saw a beautiful drawing of a dog that Sophie had posted and I knew immediately I had to reach out to her. She lives in the UK, but technology has afforded me the opportunity to easily work with her throughout this entire process.

Were there any major challenges in writing “I Miss My Best Friend”?

PENELOPE:  Yes (laughing). What I have come to realize is that writing a book is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. I think that condensing my story to fit the standard 32-page structure for a children’s book was difficult for me. I tend to be wordy, so it challenged me to keep my story simple, yet still include what I hope is a powerful message for children and adults alike.

Of course, the book was written to also help children understand the loss of a pet. Any tips that you have on what helped you overcome those difficulties of losing Cassius?

PENELOPE: I think each person copes differently with death, which is why I included the ten tips at the conclusion of the book. I personally found writing to be helpful while another may want to put a scrapbook together or talk to their friends and family about the loss. For me, the most important tip is to let yourself grieve. Don’t ever apologize for feeling sad. A pet provides unconditional love and is a member of the family, and the grief process often mimics that of losing a human.



“I Miss My Best Friend” revolves around the love and also the pain of losing your dog Cassius. Having to say goodbye to my dogs a little over a year ago, both brother and sister, who were very much part of our family was very difficult. And as the passing of time had made things better and we eventually ended up adopting a new dog a year later.   I’m curious, how often do you still think about Cassius and have you moved on by getting a new dog?

PENELOPE: I think about him every day. I grew up with cats and Cassius was the only dog I ever had. Unlike the book version, he lived to be almost 16 years old, so in essence he was with me almost half of my life. Shortly after his passing, so many people sent me photos of dogs that needed a home, others stopped by with one in hand. I wasn’t ready and I don’t know when or if I ever will be. I think it’s a personal decision and there are so many beautiful animals in need of good homes, so it’s nice to be able to open your heart again and adopt.

What is your favorite memory of Cassius?

PENELOPE: What I’ll always remember about Cassius is what an incredible swimmer he was. Being outside with him and playing in the pool were my happiest times. Even near the end, with his severe arthritis, we swam together. He even went to Greece not once but twice where he swam in the Aegean Sea. He was a very special boy who was known internationally!

PENELOPE: “I Miss My Best Friend” has received positive reviews online. I have to ask, can we expect to see more books written by you in the future?

I am beyond happy that people are responding positively to the book, and I’m hoping in some way I will be able to help people overcome their loss. I am also donating 10% of each book sale back to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center who does extraordinary work in the mission to rescue animals. I already have an idea for the next book, so you won’t be hearing the last from me


“I Miss My Best Friend” is available on Amazon

 

Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

August 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (by Michelle Tymon, Dennis A. Amith and Photos by Rhiannan Smith)


When it comes to world renown artists and animators, one man who received international attention before anime would become part of international pop culture was Kenichi Sonoda.

Working for the anime studio Artmic back in the ’80s, Sonoda worked on an anime series called “Bubblegum Crisis” and his character designs for the anime series was a hit among sci-fi animation fans.

Sonoda would go on to work on the anime series “Gall Force”, the OVA’s “Bubblegum Crash”, “Otaku no Video”, “Riding Bean”, “Solty Rei” to name a few.  But he would go on to create his next hit, the manga series “Gunsmith Cats”.

While Sonoda may not have a long string of series listed in his oeuvre, because of “Bubblegum Crisis” and “Gunsmith Cats” and those two being one of the most popular early anime series to come to the United States, Sonoda has earned the respect of anime fans and is continually invited to the United States frequently to appear at anime conventions.

Kenichi Sonoda recently was a special guest at Sakura Con 2017 in Seattle, Washington and J!-ENT recently took part in a Q&A.

The following is a transcript of the Q&A featuring our questions and other questions from press with Kenichi Sonoda’s answers.


Interviewer: Is this your first time here?

Sonoda: Sakura-con is my first. This is my second time in Seattle. Last time, I was here for Emerald City Comic Con a few years back.

J!-ENT: Did you get to do any sightseeing yet, if not, where would you like to go?

Sonoda: Yes, I did. I got to go to Nintendo. I also got to go to Crab Pot for some seafood. The food there was very interesting. They basically dumped a bunch of steamed crabs, clams and other seafood in front of you and give you a hammer and a couple other tools. It was very entertaining.

Interviewer: It’s very messy. They give you handwipes and a bib and it’s kind of embarrassing.

Sonoda: I was prepared because I put the paper bib on and I had a roll of paper towels.

Interviewer: How do you feel about how anime and manga is received in the US? Is there anything noticeable about the American market.

Sonoda: About America accepting manga… I’ve always had this admiration toward the US, and I grew up watching American movies and dramas. So that’s why I had Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean set in the US. I even set the stories in Chicago because I was influenced by The Blues Brothers. So I am very grateful that the American fans have been so accepting of my work.

As for the answer to the second question, Japanese fans are very quiet overall. American fans are very lively and will approach you to talk and enjoy cosplaying. I think they’re very positive and they’re much more energetic than the Japanese fans, and I think that’s great.

J!-ENT: This is a similar question, but you were one of the very first guests invited to an event in the US. What is the biggest difference between the American fandom then and now?

Sonoda: Fundamentally there aren’t many differences but they’ve gotten smarter with promoting the events, and with how they’re run, and I think that’s great.

Interviewer: Are there any manga and anime series that you’re reading or watching right now?

Sonoda: I like to enjoy reading manga and watching anime quite regularly. But let’s see… Out of the recent anime series that have aired, I really enjoyed “Kemono Friends”. I have a lot of friends who are in doujin circles and at least 75% of them are obsessed with “Kemono Friends”, and we’re talking about men in their 40s and 50s.

Interviewer: It’s a very cute series, and everyone likes cute stuff.

Sonoda: The hype peaked in last two episodes, episodes 11 and 12. I was surprised at what happened myself.

J!-ENT: How did you get into this industry?

Sonoda: Right around the time I was sixteen or so, I started doujin work. And doujin work back then isn’t like the doujin circles who do derivative fan works that we have now.

It was more like a manga school, where everyone was determined to become manga artists. And I was the chairman for this group and got other people to join. After I graduated high school, I continued working on manga in hopes of becoming a manga artist while I went to design school.

One day, I was contacted by someone who worked at Artmic in Tokyo, who had seen one of my doujins. I was told they had a project called Gall Force and asked me if I had any interest in being the character designer.

Gall Force at the time was a 3D photo novel that appeared in a magazine called Model Graphix. They took models of girls that I designed and models of mechas that Kakinuma had designed, took photos of them, and made a story out of it.

At that point, there was no talk about making it into an anime. But not even six months later, I was told that they were going to be making a theatrical anime version, so I realized I was going to have a lot more work to do. Also, at the same time, a company called GAINAX also asked me to help out with some character design work.

So, I thought that since I now have at least two projects in Tokyo, I could move out to Tokyo and make a living over there without having to worry too much. So that was when I moved to Tokyo from Osaka, and I believe I was about 21 at the time.

My first job with GAINAX lasted about a year, and I worked at Artmic as an actual employee and did design work. At Artmic, I was working on the Gall Force series and the Bubblegum Crisis series.

Later on, I was told that if I had come up with a proposal, that it would probably go through. So I came up with a proposal without a script or original story and I went right to just storyboarding and animating it. That project was actually the anime, Riding Bean.

Work wise, things were going pretty well at Artmic, but because I was just an office worker there, my earnings didn’t really grow.

Even if something I created was a hit, I didn’t own the copyright. That was when I figured I should probably go back to my original goal of becoming a manga artist. I went to Kodansha to talk to them about a project and managed to land a deal on a serialized series.

That’s when I became a true manga artist and I quit my job at Artmic. I think I was about 26 or 27 when I started my serial with Kodansha, and my first serialized series, Gunsmith Cats became a hit. Because of that, I was able to become a successful manga artist.

Interviewer: When I was younger, I would watch Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis on television and they were my favorites. I loved both series, because I hadn’t seen anything like them before. It was actually hard to find anime and manga in the early 90s when I first started watching. But now, anime is so popular and I wonder if you had any thoughts on how anime has transitioned to mainstream.

Sonoda: I’m very happy about Japanese manga and anime being so popular in the US and the world, but I do believe that this is mostly because of the stories being good so if we don’t keep up working hard, the interest in the genre could die down. So I think I need to keep working hard.

J!-Ent: How do you feel about your works like Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force being loved so much after so many years?

Sonoda: I’m very happy about it. But since Artmic sort of went downhill, so that was regrettable. This doesn’t just apply to Artmic, but with the anime industry, if a series does well, you aren’t guaranteed to be provided with a high budget for the next series. Actually, the opposite would happen. They would say that we were able to make a hit, so we should actually be able to make another one with an even lower budget. That wasn’t the case with all the Artmic series, but I feel like if they spent more on the works, I think they would have done much better and been more popular longer.

Interviewer: Lately, there’s been a movement to make revival series, meaning companies are taking something from my generation or even older and bringing it back. Would you be interested in doing a new series for Gall Force or Bubblegum Crisis?

Sonoda: Yes, I would be interested. But there have been talks about doing digital remasters of older series for Blu-ray releases lately. There will soon be a digital remaster version of Riding Bean for the US and I did audio commentary for that. I also designed new cover art for that release.

Interviewer: Do you know the release date for that?

Sonoda: I personally haven’t seen the release schedule, so please check out the AnimEigo website for release information. Also, recently there have been talks about doing another anime of Gunsmith Cats, but I’m not sure what will happen with that yet.

 J!-Ent: Do you have any advice on how to get into the anime industry?

Sonoda: Not really. The only thing that I can say for anyone interested in joining this industry is to draw a lot.

Interviewer: Speaking of drawing, I wanted to know if you have more fun drawing mecha or if you have more fun drawing pretty girls.

Sonoda: Actually, I like drawing the atmosphere of the world of the story more than either of those choices. I’ll draw anything that is needed for that. I’m very good at drawing both pretty girls and mechas so if that enhances the series and makes it popular, that’s great. Recently, there are a lot of series that use pretty girls and mechas… and serious-looking mechas at that, and do it quite normally. I’m getting a bit nervous that my personal weapons that I thought won’t be effective anymore. Thirty years ago, there weren’t very many series that were filled with pretty girls and mechas. So I was able to use my weapons of being able to draw pretty girls and mechas.

J!-ENT: What was the first anime or manga that you latched onto?

Sonoda: The first manga works that I got into are the works of Fujio Akatsuka, Osamu Tezuka and Fujiko Fujio. There weren’t as many anime back then, so I was basically watching everything that was available. I can’t remember if I was in kindergarten or elementary school, but I cried so hard watching the final episode of Tatsunoko Pro’s Hakushon Daimaoh. I’ve also always liked American cartoons. Wacky Races, Tom and Jerry, and there was some cartoon where a Frankenstein-looking character appeared, but I liked that, too. There was also the cartoon for King Kong, too. But what I was most obsessed with wasn’t actually manga or anime, but a couple sci-fi dramas. They were the British dramas Thunderbirds Are Go and UFO created by ITV. I think the reason I started drawing so much mecha was because of Thunderbirds Are Go.

Interviewer: Would you have any interested in drawing a Thunderbirds Are Go manga?

Sonoda: No, because they are treasured memories and I want to keep them as such.

Interviewer: Are there any current American properties that you’re interested in?

Sonoda: There aren’t many American dramas that are on basic cable in Japan right now. They’re all on BS and CS, so I haven’t seen very many, but I think 24 from a little while back was really good. Also, I was quite disappointed with the newer Knight Rider series.

J!-ENT: You had mentioned that you liked America, but are there any places in America that you haven’t visited yet that you would like to?

Sonoda: So far, I’ve been only been to Chicago, Seattle, and San Jose. So there are plenty of places that I haven’t been to that I’d like to visit. I’d actually also like to go to NASA once.

Interviewer: You mentioned that a lot of your work is influenced by America and also takes place in America, but is there a reason that America influences you so much?

Sonoda: I like gun action and car action, so I watched a lot of movies and dramas with that and was influenced by them. Also, if when I draw manga, if America isn’t the setting for the story, I don’t think I could draw very many scenes where people are shooting guns. Guns are accessible in America. If the stories were set in Japan, I can’t easily logically justify the use of guns.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, it’s more believable for there to be gun fights and car chases in America.

Sonoda: In any case, I really love Dirty Harry.

Interviewer: Yeah, Clint Eastwood is really great.

J!-ENT: What are your hobbies outside of drawing and work?

Sonoda: Watching movies, making plastic models, and going out to drink with my friends. There are times that my friends invite me out to the movies, even though I don’t usually go to the movie theater. However, when my friends actually invite me out to the movies, I’ll go see any kind of movie. The movies that I went to see last year include Shin Godzilla, Girls und Panzer, and Don’t Breathe. They’re all completely different genres.

Interviewer: What were your thoughts on the new Godzilla movie?

Sonoda: I actually enjoyed the dull, first half of the movie more. During the climax scene in the later half of the movie, I thought the presentation wasn’t that great. It’s the scene where the train runs into Godzilla and explodes… But if Godzilla was standing in the way where a train as headed, you’d think that the tracks and cables would have already been trampled on, and the train shouldn’t have been running. I think it would’ve worked better if they did something like Operation Yashima in Neon Genesis Evangelion, because there’s a locomotive pulling the train, rather than the train running electrically.

Interpreter: I’m sorry, I have a slightly personal question in regards to movies, but have you seen the movie, John Wick, where Keanu Reeves plays a retired assassin?

Sonoda: Sorry, I haven’t seen it yet.

Interpreter: Honestly, considering your interests, I think it’d be a perfect movie for you, so I wanted to know your thoughts on it.

Sonoda: I see. I’ll try to rent it in the near future then. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, I think I heard a rumor a while back that they were to make a live-action Cowboy Bebop movie with Keanu Reeves, but that just never came to be, right?

Interviewer: We’ve actually had a couple live action adaptation movies of anime that haven’t gone very well. The Netflix live action Death Note movie is coming out and it’s already pretty unpopular, Ghost in the Shell didn’t do well, and Akira actually just got greenlit to be remade. American audiences haven’t been responding to them very well, it seems. I don’t know if I’d want a live action Cowboy Bebop because I love the anime so much.

Sonoda: There was also the live-action Dragon Ball. Also, speaking of Akira, that’s set in Tokyo… So are they going to change the setting to New York?

Interviewer: I heard that they were thinking about setting it in New York.

Sonoda: Also speaking of Akira, did the fact that one of the signs from the movie ended up correctly predicting the future become a popular story? In Akira, they mention that the 2020 Olympics are going to take place in Tokyo. The beginning of the story is the fact that the Olympics are going to happen the next year. Akira takes place in the year 2019.

J!-ENT: Since we’re talking about live action adaptations… In Japan, I think there’s a desire to see anime being made into live action adaptations. Whereas in the US, I don’t think there’s as much of a desire to see them. For example, there was already a lot of criticism over them casting a Caucasian actress to play Motoko in the Ghost in the Shell movie before the movie even came out. So I think that the way these adaptations are viewed are quite different in Japan and the US. In the US, as we had mentioned earlier, series like Cowboy Bebop is very sacred in the hearts of a lot of viewers here and they don’t want to see it as a live action adaptation.

Sonoda: For me, I actually have no problem with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko in the live action Ghost in the Shell. However, I felt that it was rather awkward that Aramaki was being playing by Takeshi Kitano. He looks nothing like him and he doesn’t talk in the same sharp manner… I thought that was a much bigger problem that I was hoping they’d do something about. Chief Aramaki in Masamune Shirow’s original Ghost in the Shell was actually modeled after a character from the British police drama, The Professionals. Are you able to search on the internet right now? If you search for CI5, The Professionals… I forgot the name of the actor, but he’s the chief in that show. His hair is rather thin, but his face has a very sharp look to it. He’s a very cool looking character. If you can find any pictures from the series, you should be able to find a picture of two younger male agents and a slightly older gentleman who played their boss. I’m pretty sure that Masamune Shirow has mentioned this in other interviews before, but he really likes British police and military dramas and movies. He apparently really liked The Professionals and was highly influenced by it. Also, the same actor who plays the chief in The Professionals plays the lead in a movie called The Final Option. If I remember correctly, Masamune Shirow really liked that movie, as well.

Interviewer: One final question. The genre of anime seems to have changed greatly from the early 90s and 80s. Back then, you had Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Police Patlabor, and Akira, which are all rather serious works. Nowadays, the anime series that seem to be popular are about high schools, and the moe culture. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about these changes and if you noticed and trends and changes yourself.

Sonoda: I think there are still some rather serious and good series out there even now. It’s just that there are indeed a lot more moe genre series now as well. So I personally don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Even with the moe genre series or series that use pretty girls to try to catch the audience, a lot of them have a very solid story at their core and are made quite well. So basically they’re just sugarcoated with the pretty girls or moe, but beneath that surface, there is a great foundation. So if you look for them carefully, you should be able to find those more serious anime series that you were speaking of. For example, Kyoto Animation is known for using a lot of beautiful girls in their series, but they make very serious and excellent series.

Adding onto the last question, with the change of genre, the art style from the 80s and 90s and the art style now has changed. Do you think the art style will ever go back to the way it was in the 80s and 90s?

Sonoda: There are a lot more series that use a lot of CG now as well as computer-aided drawings. This aspect also makes it a lot easier to additional details into scenes. But what’s most important is the direction and the story. So I’m not sure if the key animation is indeed the most important aspect or not. Of course, there are works like the works by Makoto Shinkai where what you’re looking at is also very important. But then there are also series like Kemono Friends which I mentioned earlier. The visuals on that show are extremely cheap looking, but the actual story is extremely well made. It actually became rather popular on the internet. As long as the creators know exactly what they should be presenting, even if their budget is not very high, I don’t think they need to worry too much about what’s visually being presented.


Follow Kenichi Sonoda on Twitter

 

“Thunderbolt Fantasy” Q&A by Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Thunderbolt Fantasy” Q&A @ Sakura-Con 2017 (L-R: Yi-Tsun Hsaio, Koh Kitaoka, Liang-Hsun Huang, Takanori Aki, Gen Urobuchi, Chen-Ching Ting and Digitarou). Photo by Michelle Tymon


In Japan, “Thunderbolt Fantasy” has amazed viewers all over the world.

A 13-episode Japanese-Taiwanese glove puppetry television series created and written by Gen Urobuchi, the series is a collaboration between Nitroplus, Good Smile Company and Taiwanese Puppet production company, Pili International Multimedia.

The series aired in Japan back in July 2016 and with a series which aired in Taiwan, China and Japan, two manga adaptations have followed.  And a sequel is currently in production.

The series is set in the East and is a fantasy setting.  The story focuses on Dan Fei and her brother, guardians of a sword known as the Tian Xing Jian.  And they are being pursued by the evil Xuan Gui Zong clan who are seeking to obtain the sword for their master, Mie Tian Hai.

Recently, J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon had the opportunity to take part in a media Q&A for “Thunderbolt Fantasy” at Sakura-Con 2017 in Seattle, Washington with Gen Urobuchi (writer and PC game maker from nitroplus and best known for “Fate/Zero”, “Magical Girl Madoka Magica”), Digitarou (President of nitroplus), Koh Kitaoka (producer of “Touken Ranbu”), Aki Takanori (Good Smile Company) and Pili International Multimedia – Liang-Hsun Huang (Head Puppeteer, 5th gen), Chen-Ching Ting a.k.a. “Uncle Cat” (Star Senior Puppeteer) and Yi-tsun Hsiao (Lead Puppeteer and Instructor).


How are you all enjoying Seattle and Sakura-con?
Urobuchi: This is actually my second time in Seattle. Four years ago when they first invited me here, it was also my first time in America. So up until then, my only impressions of America were through “Gotham City” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Because of that, I was so surprised at how beautiful and quiet Seattle was. The event and being in Seattle basically completely flipped my impression of America and being in Seattle again, I’ve been reminded of its beauty. It also may be one of the most memorable cities for me.
Pili: This is my first time coming to Seattle and America, as well as my first time attending an anime convention outside of Asia. I feel that the atmosphere is rather different. In Asia, I feel like the convention attendees seem like they’re more going to an exhibit. But here, it feels more like a carnival, where everyone is sharing the fun and love for anime.

I grew up in Japan, so I would see Japanese puppet show serials on NHK for like “Saiyuki,” so I was excited when I saw the promotional video for “Thunderbolt Fantasy.” Was the story of “Thunderbolt Fantasy” something that was on your mind prior to seeing Pili and what they can do, or was it created after you saw the puppets?
Urobuchi: This was a new story that I created, so that we could use the puppets.

Season 1 has an absolutely amazing voice cast. When I saw the pv, not only was I excited about the use of puppets, but Everyone who appeared were legendary status. If they can talk about it, can we expect another great lineup of voice cast members and can they mention any names yet?
Urobuchi: We haven’t even started the auditions yet for the voice cast for season 2. So currently, we really can’t say anything about it. We’re just getting started on all of that.
Good Smile: Actually, who would you like to see in it? Do you have anyone that you can recommend?
Urobuchi: The thing with “Thunderbolt Fantasy” is that unlike anime, all of the expressions of the characters are presented through movement, since their facial expressions don’t change. So for the voice cast, we also looked for voice actors who are known to be very expressive in their acting and filled with emotions.
J!-ENT: Actually, if I could recommend one person for the cast, I would recommend Akira Ishida.

In episode 0, I saw how much work went into making these beautiful puppets but I also saw them being thrown around and treated rather roughly for some of the action scenes. Was there any particular time that any of the puppets broke so badly that production had to stop?
Pili: For the puppets, we would make different ones for each of the characters. We would have one for the quiet and calmer scenes, where they would just be talking and moving around normally, and we would make one for the fighting scenes, as well. The reason being that inevitably in the fighting scenes, some of the puppets might get damaged. So usually, we would make three of them. We also did the same with the weapons. We had multiple ones made for all the puppets.

Now that you’re done with season 1 and you’re working on season 2, is there anything you learned during season 1 that you are doing different in season two?
Urobuchi: Well for season 2, we’re trying to see if we can get the puppets to do even more expressions. And other than that, we’d like to go even more all out with the action scenes in season 2.

Were any one of the characters harder to control than the others. I know that Lǐn Xuě Yā (Rinsetsua) was always smoking a pipe so that seemed to take more attention but…
Pili: The difficulty actually depended more on what motions the characters would be making, rather than one character being more difficult than another. It all depends on what kind of things they need to do, what kind of poses and what kind of movement. Normal actions just require one puppeteer using both hands, but some actions require two to three puppeteers to do the actions. Difficult motions would include like squatting down, or kneeling down to pick something up. In those cases, you need to move the knees, legs, feet, and everything else.

Just one final question, but is the TMR puppet going to make an appearance in the show?
Urobuchi: That is our intention, yes. We’re planning to make him a very important character.


For more information on “Thunderbolt Fantasy”, please click here.

Photos by Michelle Tymon

 

Silicon Valley Comic Con 2017 by Derek Orchard (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Silicon Valley Comic Con took place on April 21st through the 23rd 2017 at the San Jose Convention Ctr., San Jose, CA.  The convention is known to bring Pop Culture and Technology together.

Presented by Steve Wozniak and featuring top celebrities, comics, independent artists, cosplay, video games, consumer electronics, music and apps, Silicon Valley Comic Con is where entertainment and the electronic worlds intersect. welcoming more than 65,000 guests over the course of the three-day show.

This year’s theme of “The Future of Humanity: Where Will We Be in 2075?” featured a Space Village, NASA space exploration panels, robotics, virtual reality, a Kids S.T.E.A.M. Lab, celebrity appearances, leading comic book artists and authors, cosplay contests, a science fair, Geek Fashion Show, Rover.com and more.

Silicon Valley Comic Con, had a list of celebrities from the entertainment community Grant Gustin of “the flash”, John Cusack from “Being John Malkovich”, Marina Sirtis from “Star Trek: the next generation”, Billy Boyd who played Pippin from “Lord of the rings” trilogy, Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11, space Astronaut. To mention a few.

Celebrities from science and tech such as Omar Abdelwahed, head of studio, Softbank robotics America. Heather Berlin cognitive Neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry at the Icahn school of medicine at Mount Sinai. Tracy Drain best known for Deputy chief engineer for Juno mission to Mars and more.

Celebrity artists that were at the show included Award winning Arthur Adams, Brent Anderson, Joyce Chin, Lela Dowling, Scott Shaw, some of the writers and authors they had were M Todd Gallowglas, Andy Weir and the Winner twins to mention a few.

 

William Shatner and Steve Wozniak sharing the stage to talk about Star Trek and the future of technology, Buzz Aldrin presenting about “Humanity’s Future in Space,” Steve Wozniak hosting a “Wonder Women Changing the face of STEM” panel with Simone Giertz and Sabrina Pasterski , the 30th anniversary cast reunion of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” hosted by William Shatner, a “Breaking Barriers” panel featuring actress Pam Grier and Slack senior engineer Erica Baker, the original human residents of “Sesame Street” and Mr McFeely from “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood” reunited on-stage.

 

Silicon Valley Comic Con, is going to be a different kind to show that you’re used to going to they have a lot of stuff in information about things that are science fact and not science fiction so if you are really big fan of something like Star Wars or star trek or something to do with robotics.

You are going to find something here that will actually take you in the direction of learning more about that industry and that a lot of things that if her kids to physically interact on how to do things to encourage them to learn more about it. space exploration panels from NASA, Virgin Galactic and SETI, panels on robotics, virtual reality,  science.

Silicon Valley Comic Con also hosted a rally for the March for Science Silicon Valley that was attended by 10,000 people.

SETI hosted its first-ever Space Ball gala fundraiser, and ScreenUsed.com returned to host its 2nd Annual Movie Prop and Wardrobe Auction that beat 2016’s sales record of $707,000 including selling a Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope – Original Stormtrooper (Sandtrooper) Helmet for $228,000.

Other things that you could do while you were at the convention. The cartoon art museum exhibit, The game zone presented by South Bay Button Mashers. Silicon Valley Comic Con outdoor festival, life music, food trucks, exhibit art installations, evening movies screenings, Dogvacay’s dog cosplay contest and more.

So, really… there were a lot of things that you can do at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

So, when you’re done gathering autographs, getting photos from your favorite guest and celebrities, attending panels.

I wish they were little bit more center stage, but they were there. They had some of the vintage comics from back in the 40’s to today’s popular comics with all the different variant covers. You could find vintage movie posters, and a good amount of anime and stuff coming over from Japan.

There were different panels ranging from drawing, gaming, celebrity Q&A’s, comics, technology, space.

They had an impressive array of cosplay guest at the show. Valerie Perez, Keith Zen, Chrissy Lynn Kyle she was doing amazing makeup effects. Jacqueline Goehner is a contestant on SYFY’s Cosplay Melee.

I would have like to see more signage, at time it was difficult understanding where to go or where something was. it was hard to find out who was sitting where for the Authors and Artists, it would have been nice to have an listing of the table and booth numbers like they had for other exhibitors. it would have be a nice addition on the SVCC app

Steve Wozniak’s wildly successful pop culture and technology expo, took over downtown San Jose, transportation provided by Acura’s NSX supercar and more. SVCC 2.0 also saw massive physical expansions and layout changes, adding a free public outdoor festival, programming at City National Civic and hosting registration inside South Hall. Silicon Valley Comic Con will return to San Jose the weekend of April 6-8, 2018.

Photos by Derek Orchard

Visit the SILICON VALLEY COMIC CON 2017 Photos Gallery


 

 

FresCon 2017 by Derek Orchard (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

FresCon, Fresno State’s geek culture convention took place on April 1-2, 2017.

FresCon is a non-profit and educational event that showcases Fresno State and the surrounding community through the collective enjoyment of geek culture including movies, television series, books, comics, video games, board games, card games and cosplay.

Some of the main events include “Street Fighter V” and “Super Smash Brothers 4”. Also, featured was “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for the Nintendo Switch.

The event featured panels on game designed by Geek Wise Academy and voice actress Erika Harlacher who did a Q&A plus a signing session on Saturday and on Sunday she did another panel about playing “Kingdom Hearts 2: Talking Games”.

FresCon also showcased modern anime such as “Fairy Tail”, “Mob Psycho 100” and some nostalgic anime such as “GTO”, “Gurren Lagann” and “Cowboy Bebop”.

Also, the event premiered the first episode of “Attack on Titan” season 2.

They also had panels dealing with cultural importance of genre fiction and storytelling which included Dr. Frederick Raswald for “Alien Lifeforms: Beyond the evidence”, “Philip Cable: How to Make and Market a Feature Film”, Lady Lindsay: “Character design what your concept?”, “Chris Zimmerman: The story of Labyrinth” and “Kyle Villarama: Batman and Psychology”.

 

On Sunday, after the cosplay contest, they had videogame cover band Super Soul Bros., a San Jose base Jazz band that covers music from videogames and cartoons.

FresCon for 2017 was a very enjoyable event! It is the type of event that if you’re not that into all aspects of a particular genre. And I personally feel that they have done a really good job of creating an environment for the true geeks and younger fans to come out to the event and enjoy.

Photos By Derek Orchard

Visit the FresCon 2017 Photos Gallery


 

 

Ani-Me Con 2017 by Derek Orchard (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Ani-Me Con 2017, March 18-19th @ the Big Fresno Fairgrounds in Fresno California.

For my latest convention report for 2017, I traveled to Fresno, California for this year’s Ani-Me Con.

Attendance was just over 7,000 for the weekend, making this year their biggest convention yet.

Some of the things you would have found at Ani-Me Con this year included the live action role playing of “Terras Wars”. As well as Ani-Me standards such as the collector card game tournaments, comedy acts, band performances, panels, dance crews and a rave on Saturday night. And also a cosplay contest that took place on both days plus a fashion show.

Special guests include voice talent Erik Kimerer, Sarah Annie Williams and Erika Harlacher and on Saturday there were panels on voice acting, experiences in the industry and autograph signings.

Band performances by “Coast in the clouds” and “Light of mine” and on Sunday a performance by the band “For the record”. Artist panel was by Hyperbooster studio who displayed his talents including drawing manga and also there was a comedy act by Vanna Vandal.

There were three different dance crews on Saturday which include “Empire Dance Crew”, “Royal T”, “Corps Dance Crew” with their hip-hop sailors scouts routine, which was a lot of fun to watch.

On Sunday we had singing and dancing performances by “Lovely Rushers”, who I think did a fantastic job, even though they were not the last act onstage on Sunday, they were a hard act to follow.

On Saturday and Sunday, Ani-Me hosted a cosplay contest. I am really impressed with the level cosplay that’s happening in the Central Valley. From beginner to advance, people are putting a lot of effort and a lot of thought into the costumes of their making. This year they had a fashion show on Sunday, featuring the designs of Miss Alphabet. Very colorful, very fun and the presentation was done very well, quite impressive.

Overall, Ani-Me has definitely grown compared to last year. I have lightly touched, on a lot of the different things that was available at Ani-Me Con.

I haven’t talked about what was on the main floor all the different items that were for sale at reasonably market prices. Like items from Japan, PVC figures, hoodies, games, card games and etc.

The convention had an artists alley with very talented artists. Cosplayers had tables where they had on display items from their different costumes. On display were props, where they could talk about how they made it and the process of what they went through and also giving tips to other people that are interested in making props and costumes.

It was a pleasure to return to Ani-ME Con this year. It will be interesting to see what they do with next year’s event.

Photos By Derek Orchard

Visit the Ani-Me Con 2017 Photos Gallery


 

J!-ENT INTERVIEWS PUFFY AMIYUMI (2017) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When I first discovered Puffy AmiYumi (known as “Puffy” in Japan), they took Japan by their storm with their simple style of t-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers.  Bucking the fashion trend and dance choreography of other Japanese female music artists during the 1990’s, Puffy AmiYumi impressed audiences with their style of music and presentation.

The duo consisting of Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki burst into the Japanese music scene back in 1996 dominating the charts.  And while Puffy AmiYumi would release their debut album in America and perform in the U.S., it wasn’t until their music was featured in the Cartoon Network animated series “Teen Titans” that the duo would receive recognition internationally.

In 2004, the duo would have their own animated TV series titled “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”, would be featured on a GAP fashion ad and performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

And as I have interviewed Puffy AmiYumi for the next few years, our last interview with the ladies, was back in 2010 to celebrate the duo’s 15th Anniversary (view our 15th Anniversary Puffy AmiYumi special).

And here we are in 2017, celebrating the duo’s 21-year anniversary and knowing that there are not many female Japanese music artists that have had the same level of success of Puffy AmiYumi and continue to perform for audiences worldwide.

Starting on March 31st, the group will be performing at Anime Boston 2017 and on April 4th, the group will be performing at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles, followed by a performance on April 6th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco and on April 9th at Trees in Dallas, Texas as part of their Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “#NotLazyTour”.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Puffy AmiYumi about their upcoming U.S. performance:


I interviewed both of you when you made your debut in the United States and I have listened to your music when you first made your single debut “Asia no Junshin” in Japan. What is the biggest difference in your approach to music today versus when you first started out.

Ami: When we debuted, we really didn’t know anything. We were always surprised by how our producer, Tamio Okuda, and other musicians made music and the various things they concentrated on. But now, we really understand how that feels.

Very few Japanese acts were able to penetrate the American music scene, yet Puffy AmiYumi was able to create an audience thanks to the theme song for “Teen Titans” and you eventually had your own animated show in the United States. You had a GAP ad and performed on the Macy’s Parade on national TV. Looking back at your success and knowing that you accomplished something that many Japanese have not done, was there a lot of pressure on for the both of you to continue that success?

Yumi: There wasn’t really any pressure. We always make sure to have fun with anything we do as a part of Puffy’s style, so when we did all of those things, I believe we did while having fun. And those were all experiences that most Japanese people aren’t able to experience much, so we are very honored.

Last year, Puffy AmiYumi celebrated their 20th Anniversary and the music scene has changed a lot in the past two decades. One difference is the popularity of social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do you feel that social media has changed the way for the both of you to communicate with your fans?

Ami: I believe that the spread of social media over the last 20 year is definitely huge. I personally have my own Instagram, and because of that, I’m able to directly receive messages of support from fans. And since we can see how our fans our reacting with so little time lag, it’s very helpful to us.

You are about to embark on another tour which includes performances in the United States (for Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “NOT LAZY”). It’s been awhile since you performed in the U.S., how does it feel to be coming back?

Yumi: Even though we hadn’t traveled to America for a while, we had been constantly doing concerts in Japan, so I think we’ve powered up even more since our last visit. So right now, we’re very excited!

As you celebrate your 21st year, after all these years…Ami, what are your top three songs that you love performing in front of a live audience?

Ami: “Asia no Junshin,” “Akai Buranko,” and “Circuit no Musume.”

I’m curious to see how your musical tastes have changed.   In our very first interview, Yumi you said you were listening to Nirvana, Eels, Hole and U2 and Ami said Red Hot Chili Peppers. But what about now?

 

Yumi: Of course, I still love all of those groups. When I listen to the albums that I love, I remember things from when I first heard the albums, or feel very nostalgic.

Back in 2002, for our second interview, I asked each of you to describe each other in one word. Yumi, you said of Ami, “Serious” and Ami, you said of Yumi “Young”. In 2010, Yumi said of Ami “Relax” and Ami said of Yumi, “Older Sister”. Ami, if you had to describe Yumi, what would you say today?

Ami: For Yumi…“Hanashi ga Tomoranai” (She doesn’t stop talking)

Yumi, you told me you were playing the video game “Ryu ga Gotoku” (known as “Yakuza” in the U.S.) a lot back then.  Ami you were playing “Dragon Quest Monsters Joker II”. Any certain games that you are playing now?

Yumi: I still love “Dragon Quest” even now and continue to play. Right now, I’m trying to figure out if I want to buy a Nintendo Switch or not.

Both of you told me you love tea! But I didn’t get to ask what kind of tea that both of you enjoy? So, I have to ask…what is your favorite tea? And if there is an area in Tokyo that serves the best tea, which area would you recommend?

Ami: We like tea… Did we actually say that? Either way, I do like tea. I like chai. I think I’d recommend the café next to Saigoyama Park.

It’s funny because in our 2010 interview, both of you said that you wished Taco Bell would open a store in Japan and now you can find a Taco Bell in Japan. And now there are more Mexican restaurants in Tokyo. But with you returning back to America, is there a certain food that you have wanted to try but never yet had the chance?

Yumi: While we weren’t in America, I can now eat some foods that I couldn’t before. For example, cilantro and lamb. Because of that, I’d like to try out some places that I never got to try before.

What final words do you have for your fans worldwide?

Ami: This year, Puffy is now in our 21st year. The reason that we’ve been able to continue for so long is the countless support we’ve received from people from various countries!! We’ll continue to work even harder so we can someday hold concerts in countries we haven’t been to yet!

Yumi: Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and we are grateful to all of our fans! The upcoming concerts should be a lot of fun. Please come out and see us!

For more information, please visit their official website or their Facebook Page.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan


Read our complete J!-ENT Puffy AmiYumi interviews and articles from 1996-2010 (Click on image)


 

Bak-Anime 2017 by Derek Orchard (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Bak-Anime 2017 February 25 and 26 at the Kern County Fairground in Bakersfield, CA

The 9th annual Bak-Anime, Bakersfield’s one and only Anime convention was held in the final week of February 2017.

In previous years, the event has been held in a much smaller venue which they had outgrown. I have gone to other events where they had changed locations and the new locations were really too big for the event.

From my personal perspective, it was a smart choice for the convention to make the move, as there were plenty of dealers and plenty of attendees.

In fact, Bak-Anime had a record attendances with over 3,500 attendees.

The dealers room was not too crowded and t was really easy to shop around and find deals if you are looking for something special. And for those who were hungry, a Okamoto Kitchen Japanese comfort food truck and Pappa John’s Pizza were there on hand.

Bak-Anime 2017 had a returning favorite, Actor/voice actor/composer/singer/producer Vic Mignogna. And new to Bak-anime, Actress/voice actress/Producer Cherami Leigh and Voice actress/gamer, Danielle McRae.

On Saturday only, David Yost, Karan Ashley and Walter Jones from the “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” were special guests at the event.

All the guest had panels and were available for signings.

All the lines seem to move pretty fast, I thought everyone was having a good time.

Pro Lab gaming was there at Bak-Anime for the video game tournaments, Paladins Game Castle and the Gaming spot sponsored the collector card games, demos and other hobby games.

They also had their 4th annual swap meet which is an event only for fans. On Saturday night, they had their late night electric dance party open for all ages. And on Sunday, the event had an art contest.

There was plenty a Cosplay to be seen throughout Bak-Anime 2017.

There were plenty of people walking around in different costumes from anime, comics, video games and movies. On Saturday afternoon, Bak-Anime 2017 had an adult cosplay contest, where just about everyone had skit or a dance routine that they did. And I actually think there was an actual marriage proposal that happened during the contest.

On Sunday, they had another cosplay contest which was for the kids only. Even though the kids had help sometimes, it is really amazing to see all the talent that is out there. People with the skills to make these elaborate and awesome costumes.

I have personally been really impressed with how Bak-Anime has continued to grow and has been so well supported by the community out there in Bakersfield.

I really do think it is a show that is worth your the time , even if it is just for one day.

If you’ve never been to a “Anime con” or a “Comic-Con” this would be a great first time show to get a taste of the con experience.

More Photos By Derek orchard

 

J!-ENT Interviews Wednesday Campanella (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

December 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in 2012, Dir.F, a label manager at Tsubasa Records wanted to create a new music project featuring provisional female members. While the music and lyrics for the group would be created by music producer, Hidefumi Kenmochi.

The name of this group project would be “Suiyoubi no Campanella”, which translates to Wednesday Campanella.

That same year, Dir.F was at a house party for a friend and he would meet KOM_I and he invited her to join Wednesday Campanella as one of the provisional female vocalists and the group would upload two tracks on YouTube that year, “Oz” and Kukai”.

Wanting to push their album later that year, the group’s first CD titled “Suiyoubi no Campanella Demo 1” was sold at Design Festa Tokyo Autumn.

The following year, KOM_I would perform live performances with just her on stage and the group released their first mini album titled “Crawl to Saka Agari” and it was released at Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa.

But it wasn’t until 2014, when the group’s track “Momotaro” appeared on J-WAVE and would become popular.
In 2016, Wednesday Campanella would make their American debut at SXSW in Texas and would perform in July in San Francisco at J-POP Summit Festival.

While the first five mini albums were released by Tsubasa Records, the group would be signed by Warner Records and would release their first major label album “UMA” in 2016.

And since then, Wednesday Campanella’s popularity has skyrocketed. From a promotion and music video with Toyota for the Prius, multiple television performances, magazine interviews and live performances throughout Japan, KOM_I also appeared on the popular variety show “SMAP x SMAP” with SMAP (who also sung along with her).

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith had the opportunity to interview KOM_I the day after Wednesday Campanella’s performance at J-POP SUMMIT.

Please click her for the full interview

 

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