Sunday, February 10, 2019

Localizing anime

The story behind anime localization
Les and Mary Claypool

For the past 10 years I’ve been guesting at anime conventions across the United States. Each one is unique. On the coasts they tend to be larger and older than cons in middle America, with massive crowds and decades of history. But they’ve each become more diverse. Most today report a near 50-50 gender mix, with attendees spanning racial and ethnic spectra.

What’s frustrating, though, is that I hardly ever get to talk with anyone. (I talk to them, of course. That’s my job. But sustained conversations are rare.)

Once the crowds show up, cons are dizzying. Your liaison escorts you to the venue, navigating through clumps of cosplayers. The fans pour in, get their book signed, mutter their thanks and maybe share an anecdote about their favorite show, a trip to Tokyo, or a story you wrote that they read. It’s nice, but brief.

Unfortunately, the same goes with other guests, many of whom are professionals I’m eager to meet. A quick hello in the green room, an exchange of pleasantries at the breakfast buffet. Hello, good to see/meet you, goodbye.

Mitch Iverson (photo: Sean Yates)

I’ve come to appreciate being asked to moderate panels on top of hosting my own presentations. I’ve moderated silly ones (AKB48 in New York stands out), others with rising stars who have now risen (Makoto Shinkai) and some with industry staff who really know their stuff: the sausage-makers working the factory floor.

At Anime Los Angeles last month in Ontario, California, I was lucky enough to be hosting a panel with writing, dubbing and adaptation/localization experts Les and Mary Claypool and Mitch Iverson.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Why Hayao Miyazaki is back

Hayao Miyazaki: The never-ending story

Last week, an NHK documentary chronicling Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement and un-retirement, “Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki” opened in select theaters across the United States. The same day on the other side of the world, his 1988 classic “My Neighbor Totoro” was released for the first time in theaters across China — 6,000 of them.

Next month, Miyazaki will receive the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Career Achievement Award. In 2019, also in LA, the largest-ever exhibition of his work will inaugurate the prestigious Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Tokyo’s Shinbashi Enbujo Theater will stage a kabuki version of “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” Miyazaki’s 1984 sci-fi epic. And 2020 (or soon after) will see the premiere of “How Do You Live?,” his 12th feature film, followed by the opening of a Studio Ghibli theme park near Nagoya.

Miyazaki held a press conference to announce his retirement in September 2013.

“Through the years I have frequently talked about retiring, so many of you are perhaps wondering if this time I am really sincere,” he said. “I am.”

The Japanese anime and film industries were convulsed by the news.

Commercially, no more Miyazaki meant no more bankable nationwide summer releases in Japan for major film distributor Toho Cinemas, or DVD and subsidiary sales overseas for global partners like Disney. Artistically, Miyazaki was the last living master of a craft being trampled by technology — hand-drawn 2D animation. No more him meant the end of an art form.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DEVILMAN CRYBABY & AGGRETSUKO: Chats w/Go Nagai, Masaaki Yuasa and Netflix's Taito Okiura

Go Nagai is the original bad boy of manga. His series “Shameless School” (“Harenchi Gakuen”) cemented his status as the inventor of the hentai (erotic) genre. “Shameless School” debuted in the first issue of Shueisha Inc.’s Weekly Shonen Jump, Japan’s best-selling manga magazine, in August 1968. The adult shenanigans and sexualized students Nagai depicted rendered him the target of national media, Parent Teacher Associations and women’s groups — and an infamous artistic pioneer.

Over the past year, both Nagai and Shonen Jump have been celebrated for their 50th anniversary milestones. But one of Nagai’s later manga has gained immediate relevance. The animated adaptation of his 1972 “Devilman” series, “Devilman Crybaby,” directed by Masaaki Yuasa and released on Netflix back in January, has become one of 2018’s most talked-about anime and biggest international hits, despite its source being 46 years old.

Now 73, Nagai looks like a professor -- which, in fact, he is, albeit one with a flair for smart jackets. In 2005, he started teaching character design at the Osaka University of Arts. The soft-spoken former troublemaker admits that he may have been ahead of his time.

“‘Devilman’ came out over 40 years ago, and maybe the work itself was too early for the audience,” he tells me over coffee in Los Angeles. “Up until very recently, only one volume was translated into English. I think it’s Netflix that has driven my reputation here in the United States.”

Director Yuasa, 53, was the featured anime artist at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. He brings his signature visual contortions to “Devilman Crybaby,” while updating its specs: characters communicate in rapid-fire text messages and post bigoted rants on social media; a street gang’s disenchantment is sung in hip hop verses; and the story’s principal young women, Miki and Miko, are edgy, self-possessed and impatient, showing nary a trace of anime’s conventional kawaii cuteness, often preferring one another to men.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Live in Dubai at the 25th Sharjah International Book Fair 2018

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sharjah International Book Fair, 5 - 10 November, UAE

Honored to be in Dubai this week for appearances at The Sharjah International Book Fair.

Manga & anime in Japan's Heisei era (1989 - 2019)

Defining the Heisei Era: When anime and manga went global

The Heisei Era commenced after two gods fell in rapid succession. The first, Emperor Hirohito, was no longer officially a god, having repudiated his quasi-divine status under the terms of Japan’s surrender in World War II, but he remained god-like in stature. His January death in 1989 at age 87 signaled the end of a Showa past both turbulent and glorious. It drew global attention from the world’s leaders and media, but had been widely anticipated in Japan.

The other fell just one month later, in February, and his death shocked the nation. Osamu Tezuka, the beloved “god of manga,” died of stomach cancer at the age of 60. News of his declining health had been kept secret, as was then customary in Japan. Tezuka was a prolific workaholic and omnipresent television personality. He was also a licensed physician. Almost no one expected his sudden passing.

The two deaths would augur a new life for Japan’s twin pop culture media: manga and anime. Both would find global audiences in the Heisei years that were previously unimaginable, resulting mostly from the intensifying appeal of the kind of Japanese creativity and innovation that Tezuka had pioneered, but also from the increasingly cheap and easy access to Japan’s cultural products made possible by rapid advances in technology.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Nieman Foundation 80th Anniversary in Cambridge

It was a privilege earlier this month to join my fellow Nieman fellows, dear friends and colleagues in Cambridge, Mass. for the 80th Anniversary of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Kampai!

Gala Dinner at Boston Public Library

Brunch at Lippmann House

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


Honored to be ensconced in the Tower at the Catwalk Institute.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Feminism, motherhood and anime: Mari Okada's MAQUIA

Motherhood in modern anime


Screenwriter, author and newly minted anime director Mari Okada shrugs and smiles as she and her entourage burst through a door behind me 15 minutes late for our meeting. We’re in a conference room on the ground floor of The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in downtown Los Angeles, a building famous for its cameos in hit films and TV series (“True Lies,” “CSI”) and for its bewildering interior layout.

“We didn’t know there was another entrance to this room,” explains one of her handlers. Okada, sporting a floral print dress, puts a hand to her lips and emits a giggle.

It’s not what I’d expected. In her autobiography, “From Truant to Anime Screenwriter: My Path to ‘Anohana’ and ‘The Anthem of the Heart,'” recently published in English by J-Novel Club, the 42-year-old Okada tells her coming-of-age story as a rural hikikomori (shut-in) in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. She was awkward and unhygienic, endured sporadic bullying, got into fights with boys, dropped out of school, and was nearly knifed to death by her divorced and disapproving mother.

Self-loathing humor bleeds through the book (“Okada, you’re a failure of a human being,” she is once told and continues to remind herself), an unsparing portrait of the artist as an asocial and ill-equipped young woman.

Mari Okada

NHK is adapting Okada’s autobiography into a live-action TV special starring former AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda and set to air in September. Okada is writing the screenplay, which will also feature footage from her anime films and series.

But that’s not why Okada is in LA. Her directorial debut, the anime feature “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms,” had its U.S. premiere on July 6 at Anime Expo, North America’s largest anime convention, before it rolled out in limited release around the country last Friday. The consummate loser — who spent her youthful years hiding in her futon, wearing days-old underwear and T-shirts while ingesting a mix of manga, video games, and Camus and Tanizaki novels — has embarked on a promotional tour, stepping into the spotlight for the first time to sell her work. And when she is finally seated across from me at a small round table, she is disarmingly candid.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Japan's 'light novels' catch fire in America

Can Japanese ‘light novels’ remain publishing heavyweights?

Sam Pinansky (photo: Roland Kelts)

The palm-sized, lavishly illustrated paperbacks known in Japan as “light novels” can have some heavy titles. “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime” is one. Another, “Is it Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in a Dungeon?” is a bestseller, but so is “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas.” And that’s a love story. Of course.

They can also have some heavy political repercussions. Earlier this month, a light novel called “(New Life +) Young Again in Another World” had its big-budget anime adaptation and future publications in all languages abruptly canceled after its author, pen name Mine, was found to have posted racist tweets denigrating Chinese and Koreans. The offensive posts, first issued four years ago, were deleted, and Mine publicly apologized. But the tweets and the novel’s storyline, in which a Japanese swordsman who murdered 3,000 in China is reborn in a land of monsters, were not taken lightly.

Quite what qualifies as a light novel is a subject of debate and ongoing revision. According to translator and journalist Kim Morrissy’s 2016 Anime News Network article, Keita Kamikita, manager of an online fantasy and science fiction forum, coined the term in 1990 when he noticed that new types of fantasy prose narratives were drawing the attention of manga and anime fans. This burgeoning readership was not entirely young, so the “young adult” label didn’t apply. Nor were they reading works that adhered to pre-existing genres such as romance, mystery, horror and so on.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Manga for intermediates -- guest post by Danica Davidson (with Rena Saiya)

With the global popularity of manga, there are also people in all corners of the globe who want to learn how to draw in the manga style. I have a background in manga – after starting out as a fan, I made it part of my career – covering it as a journalist, adapting it into English and working in the editing process. Two years after the release of my first book on manga, Manga Art for Beginners, I’m back with its sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates. 

For this book I worked with Rena Saiya, a professional Japanese mangaka who is making her American debut. This book mirrors the design of the first book, which aimed to show more steps for character-drawing than your average how-to-draw book, and to also make sure that the art is in the manga style. (I find most how-to-draw manga books in America look like a combination of manga and American comics.) But the book also discusses how professional Japanese mangaka work, including what pens they use, what happens if they make a mistake, and some of what Japanese publishers look for.

I also talked with Rena for what she wanted to share with JAPANAMERICA. 

“Thanks to the spreading popularity of manga worldwide, the development of IT technologies, and my English ability, I was able to make a decision to expand abroad while living in Japan,” she said. “This is after several years of a career in the Japanese manga industry. I thought it would be interesting if I could publish my manga books through foreign publishers directly, since usually manga sold in foreign countries are the ones first published in Japan and translated later.

“As for the content of the book, I heard that there are few manga drawing books which are based on genuine Japanese style in the States. So, I tried to put basic techniques or information which would be most common among Japanese mangaka. As for drawing tools' information, I chose ones which are available on the internet. With regards to the characters in the book, popular ones has been chosen and I tried to design a kind of typical type of each character. Therefore by learning the characters, you can create a kind of database in your head and it would be helpful when you design your original characters.”

Manga continues to grow around the world, but I’m not aware of any other books like this one, which combine the knowledge of a Japanese mangaka who knows the Japanese manga market with an American author who knows the American manga market. I think it’s a unique offering for fans of manga and can help them grow as artists. -- Danica Davidson

Manga Art for Intermediates
By Danica Davidson and Rena Saiya
Skyhorse Publishing paperback, also available as an ebook
On sale: June 2018
ISBN: 978-1510729520
Price: $19.99

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why Japan's lit and culture are so vibrant today

The Times Literary Supplement: Japanese questions of the soul

At public readings, either in Japanese or English, the novelist Hideo Furukawa performs like a banshee. He voices his characters’ personae, tenor shifting from stentorian to hushed, growling, trilling, book held aloft in his quivering left hand. His compact frame rocks to and fro, slowly enlarging before your eyes as he rises on his toes and raises his arm into a broad arc, snug hipster beanie barely holding his cranium in place.

I have watched Furukawa read several times, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and each time I have been unable to look away. At first I worried that his histrionics might be overkill. But then I re-read his prose. He writes like a banshee, too, forcing words into action, squeezing them for meaning, studding his lines with coinages such as “scootscootscoot” and “creekeek” when the words just can’t take it anymore.

At fifty-one, Furukawa is among the generation of Japanese writers I’ll call “A. M.”, for “After Murakami”. Haruki Murakami is Japan’s most internationally renowned living author. His work has been translated into over fifty languages, his books sell in the millions, and there is annual speculation about his winning the Nobel Prize. Over four decades, he has become one of the most famous living Japanese people on the planet. It’s impossible to overestimate the depth of his influence on contemporary Japanese literature and culture, but it is possible to characterize it.