Sakura-Con 2012 by Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
June 15, 2012 by Michelle Tymon
Sakura-Con 2012 proved yet again that it is still the biggest anime convention in the Pacific Northwest as well as one of the biggest in the country. April 6-8, 2012 brought anime, manga, video game, J-Rock, and gothic lolita fans from all over the world to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington. Cosplayers could be seen all throughout the Seattle area that weekend.
The convention once again brought huge names from the anime industry as well as a big concentration of gothic lolita industry guests too. Some of the Japanese anime industry guests include Masakazu Morita, Michihiko Suwa, Yutaka Minowa, Tateo Retsu, and Kawajiri Yoshiaki. American anime industry guests this year included: Steve Blum, Todd Haberkorn, Leah Clark, Chris Sabat, and Clarine Harp. The gothic lolita industry guests this year included: h. NAOTO, Yuko Ashizawa, and Fumiko Kawamura. Last but not least, the musical guests this year at Sakura-Con were STEREOPONY, Kanon Wakeshima, and Moi dix Mois. For a list of all of the guests this year, please go to: http://www.sakuracon.org/programming/guests.php
Events each year include guest panels (Q&A, and industry panels), concerts from the musical guests, karaoke contests and open mic, 24 hour gaming (arcade, retro and console), fan panels, cosplay contests, cosplay chess, cosplay photo shoots, artist alley, and an enormous exhibition hall where fans can buy almost anything they can dream of when it comes to anime, manga, jpop/jrock, and video games. This year, there were also gothic lolita fashion shows and a gothic lolita tea party. There’s always something for everyone at this convention, for first time attendees and those who have been coming for years.
This year, Sakura-Con also welcomed GoFA (Gallery of Fantastic Art) and they had an amazing exhibit of original art by various artists from the anime, manga and Japanese science fiction genre. Featured artists included Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess), Izumi Matsumoto (Kimagure Orange Road), and Shigeru Mizuki (Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro). I almost got away without buying anything myself this year, but then I saw a limited edition trading card set with art done by Shigeru Mizuki. The set they had displayed included the full set of cards in a collector’s book and a certificate of authenticity so I was sold. It’s definitely an amazing find. Mizuki-san is quite famous in Japan because of his various series involving the paranormal like Akuma Kun and Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro. His wife wrote a autobiography about her life with him, called Ge Ge Ge no Nyobo, which became a best-seller in Japan and a movie and NHK morning drama serial of the same name followed and was also a huge hit. The trading cards are his rendition of the famous Tokaido 53 Tsugi (The 53 Stations of the Tokaido) ukiyo-e series done by Hiroshige. Hiroshige’s work of is well known (if you’ve seen any historical Japanese art at all, you have probably seen his work) and this series of ukiyo-e shows scenes from the 53 stations of Tokaido Road. Mizuki-san put his own twist on the original art work and instead of humans walking around the 53 stations, there are youkai visiting the various locations.
One of the biggest guests featured this year was definitely Steve Blum, as all of his events had huge lines of fans waiting to get in. Steve Blum is one of the most well known American anime dub actors and also does voice work for various video games and American cartoons as well. His roles include Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, Leeron from Guren Lagann, Mugen from Samurai Champloo, Wolverine from various X-Men TV series, and Leandros from Assassin’s Creed Revelations. On Friday, he and Todd Haberkorn had a panel, demonstrating exactly how anime dubs are done. Todd Haberkorn worked on the technical side and Steve Blum did some live dubbing for the crowd. Some members of the audience also got to try some live dubbing themselves and got to hear what they sound like voicing characters from D. Gray-man. Steve Blum had a Q&A panel on Saturday that had people waiting in a huge line for hours and on Sunday he had a dubbing for video games panel that also had quite the line.
Here are some of the guests that I personally had the opportunity to cover this year:
Masakazu Morita definitely didn’t get his start in the seiyuu world like most other seiyuu. Morita-san was born in Tokyo on October 21, 1972. He was hired as the motion capture actor for Tidus in Final Fantasy X and eventually ended up becoming the voice actor for Tidus as well, which opened the door to the seiyuu business for him. His most well known roles include (but are not limited to): Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach, Tidus from Final Fantasy X, the second Pegasus Seiya in the later series of Saint Seiya, Saint Seiya Hades Chapter: Inferno, Keiji Maeda from Sengoku Basara, and Barnaby Brooks Jr. in Tiger and Bunny.
He is easily one of the busiest seiyuu in the business right now. So busy, that he was only able to be at Sakura-Con Friday and Saturday, but that didn’t stop him from being super energetic and kind to each and every fan that came to see him at his events. His events at Sakura-Con included a Q&A panel and autograph signing on Friday, and then a live seiyuu dubbing event and another autograph signing on Saturday. Both of his signings were full of eager fans and he made sure to greet each one and shake their hands as he signed things for them. At his Q&A panel, he took an extra fifteen minutes just to make sure everyone who had lined up to ask him a question got to. He performed a lot of interesting fan requests like saying “I love you, Rukia” as Ichigo and at his live seiyuu event, he even did the “Kamehameha” as Ichigo. He shared with his fans how he got into the business and how all of his roles seemed to require him to scream quite often.
He was asked at the Q&A if there was anyone who he looked up to in the seiyuu business and he mentioned that one of his heroes was the legendary seiyuu, Tohru Furuya. Furuya-san has been voice acting since he was a child, and his first major role was Hyuuma Hoshi from Kyojin no Hoshi. Furuya-san’s credits are extensive, but one that sticks out for me and apparently Morita-san as well is his role as Pegasus Seiya in Saint Seiya. During the later Saint Seiya OVAs, it was announced that the original seiyuu would be replaced with new ones. Morita-san got the call to be the new Seiya and he talked about that whole experience and how much it meant to him.
The whole time, he was always full of energy and knew exactly how to entertain the crowd. At one point, he was asked to do a super hero pose, so he borrowed the sunglasses and jacket that a Barnaby Brooks Jr. cosplayer was wearing, jumped onto his chair and performed a line as Barnaby Brooks Jr. His manager got video of that and that can be seen here: http://twitvideo.jp/07QPf
He also took a picture with everyone who attended his Q&A session which can be found here: http://twitvideo.jp/07Q81
On Saturday, Morita-san had his seiyuu panel where he demonstrated live voice acting. He performed lines from Bleach, Sengoku Basara, and Final Fantasy X as the crowd watched the footage on screen and we heard his voice live. During the scene he performed from “Final Fantasy X”, whimpers and other sounds of sadness could be heard from the crowd as he performed the saddest scene from the whole game.
He then took some time to talk about his experiences shooting the motion capture for Final Fantasy X as well as voice acting in general. Morita-san not only did the motion capture for Tidus, but had to do some of the action scene motion captures for Yuna and Rikku as well. He finished up with another short Q&A and then had one last autograph signing about an hour later. That finished up Morita-san’s events at Sakura-Con. Even though he was here for a short time, they definitely enjoyed him being here.
This year’s Sakura-Con was extremely lucky in getting the famous anime producer, Michihiko Suwa, as one of the guests. Being a producer, people may not recognize his name, but will definitely recognize the series he has produced. His production credits include: City Hunter, Inuyasha, YAWARA!, Magic Knight Rayearth, Meitantei Conan, and most recently, Rinne no Lagrange. Suwa-san was born on April 14, 1959 in Toyota City, Japan. He joined YTV (Yomiuri Television) in 1983 and directed the variety show, 11 PM and then started producing anime series in 1986, starting with Robotan.
At Sakura-Con, he had a Q&A, a panel on producing anime, casting seiyuu, and an autograph signing. I was able to make it to his panel regarding casting seiyuu and it was one of the most interesting panels I had been to. He talked about the seiyuu industry, explaining how many people are actually in the industry, how many people audition every year and how many are actually successful in the business. He also explained how many seiyuu schools are in Tokyo alone because of the research he had to do for one of his projects called Kami Voice. Kami Voice was a live action movie about the road to becoming a seiyuu, and actually starred quite a few famous seiyuu. The cast includes: Yuuki Kaji, Wataru Hatano, Romi Park, Shoutaro Morikubo, Mayumi Tanaka, and Koichi Yamadera.
One of the most entertaining parts of the panel was when he brought out his personal alarm clock, a very original alarm clock because there’s only one in the world. It played personalized alarms addressed to Suwa-san, all voiced by the seiyuu legend, Akira Kamiya. The alarms featured the characters: Kogoro Mori from Meitantei Conan, Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star, Kinniku-man from Kinniku-man, and Ryo Saeba from City Hunter.
At the end of the panel, he brought out a Meitantei Conan calender and a poster of Rinne no Lagrange and had everyone at the panel participate in a paper, rock, scissors tournament. The winner got to choose between either of the items and he would sign it on the spot. The winner chose the calender. He then gave the poster to Janitha Robinson, who had asked a question a little earlier in the panel in Japanese. Suwa-san was so impressed with her Japanese, that he wanted to give the signed poster to her.
Almost the same exact crowd that was at the panel showed up to his autograph signing shortly after. Because the line wasn’t too long, the fans were able to get multiple autographs and pictures with Suwa-san. Suwa-san took his time with each autograph and at the end of the signing, he had few who had come to the signing pose with him in a picture doing the “Shinjitsu wa itsumo hitotsu!” pose with him from Meitantei Conan.
It was an incredible honor to meet him. The one thing that I was disappointed about was the small turnout for the Suwa-san events that I went to. He is known throughout the industry in Japan and this was an amazing opportunity to meet him. On the other hand, the loyal 20+ people who showed up got to have a much more personal experience with Suwa-san.
The all-girl rock band, STEREOPONY rocked the main stage to a packed house on Friday night. STEREOPONY consists of members Aimi (vocals/lead guitar), Noahana (bass) and Shiho (drums) and the members are all from Okinawa. Fans were excited and enjoyed the high-energy show and the girls put on an excellent performance. In November of 2008, they released their first major single, “Hitohira no Hanabira”, which was the 17th ending theme for the anime series, Bleach. Since then, they have done songs for various anime including Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Yatterman, and Eureka Seven: AO.
Their events at Sakura-Con included a concert, autograph signings, a Q&A panel, pictures with fans, and a raffle. Their first autograph signing followed their concert and the lines were packed. Fans that bought a shirt at their merchandise booth had a chance to get a picture with them on Sunday at their booth. On Saturday, they had a Q&A session where fans got to ask them various questions and they had a little quiz at the end. Questions asked included if they liked the anime their songs were used on (in which they replied, “yes”), who their musical influences were and where they would like to tour in the future. A fan even proposed to Nohana at the event, which she even commented about on her twitter.
After the Q&A, they had another autograph signing where many enthusiastic fans showed up once again. The girls were energetic and polite to each one of their fans at both signings. On Sunday, fans gathered at their booth to get their pictures with them and to see if they won the raffle for a signed poster from the band.
Sakura-Con continues to grow each year bringing more fans as well as even more guests from Japan and the US. This year, the convention decided to only offer the 3-day membership rather than offering the 3-day membership and 1-day passes. Despite the change in their membership rules, the crowd seemed to be as big as ever.
As the convention grows every year, so does the number of staff they need to run this enormous event. I would personally like to thank all of the hardworking staff members who put in so much time and work to keep bringing us this amazing event every year. Even though conflict and confusion happen at huge events like this, the staff works extremely hard each year to keep things running smoothly and address problems that may have occurred at prior events. Two of their biggest challenges in the past have been the autograph signing lines and the lines at registration. I believe they did an excellent job handling both of those issues this year.
For most of the autograph signing sessions this year, they created a system where people could get a priority line ticket for autographs if they attended the guest’s Q&A panel. I think that this worked extremely well. That way, the guests would actually have fans at their panels, there wasn’t an issue with people lining up too early, and more people were able to get autographs without too much trouble. In the past years, they would have to turn away some people towards the end of the allotted time if there were too many people who showed up, but that didn’t seem to be an issue at all this year. They had two lines for each autograph signing session, had more than one session for most guests, and would hold more than one session at a time. All these factors made it possible for a huge number of people to get the autographs they wanted without issue. At each of the autograph signing sessions I went to, all the fans that showed up were able to get their autographs.
As for registration, it was held in multiple places so it seemed to go much smoother than previous years. At the end of each convention, con-goers can express their concerns to the staff at a panel and I believe the improvements I’ve seen over the years proves that the staff takes the concerns seriously and do whatever they can to keep improving the con.
Another great addition to the con experience this year was the use of the smartphone app “Guidebook”. This application allows the user to get the most up-to-date information on convention events and they can set reminders for the various events they want to go to. There tends to be some changes made to the schedule because of various factors such as guests schedules changing so whenever there was an update to the convention schedule, it showed up immediately on this app. You could also view events by guests as well so you could make sure you didn’t miss any of the events with your favorite guests.
Great guests, amazing cosplayers, endless amounts of merchandise, and a team of hard-working staff made this year’s Sakura-Con another fantastic success. Sakura-Con 2013 is scheduled for March 29-31 and I’m very excited to see what they will be bringing us next year.
For all of the pictures I took at Sakura-Con 2012, check out my Flickr album here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28410146@N06/sets/72157629966634123/
For my Facebook photos for Sakura-Con 2012, go here: Michelle’s Sakura-Con 2012 Facebook Gallery
Sakura-Con 2012: www.sakuracon.org
Sakura-Con 2012 Guests: http://www.sakuracon.org/programming/guests.php
Sakura-Con History: http://www.sakuracon.org/aboutus/history.php
Michihiko Suwa’s Blog: http://www.ytv.co.jp/anime/suwa/suwa_main.html
Michihiko Suwa’s Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/suwacchi
Meitantei Conan Homepage: http://www.ytv.co.jp/conan/
Rinne no Raguranje Homepage: http://lag-rin.com/
Kami Voice Homepage: http://kamivoice.com/
Aoni Production Profile: http://www.aoni.co.jp/actor/ma/morita-masakazu.html
Masakazu Morita’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/edokko_dey
US Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/STEREOPONY_US
SHIHO Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Stereo_SHIHO
Nohana Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/stepo_nohana
STEREOPONY’s blog: http://ameblo.jp/official-stereopony/
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