Since New York Comic Con absorbed New York Anime Festival in 2012, the emphasis of the Con has been on major television shows such as The Walking Dead, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Sleepy Hollow, relegating anime to the background. Instead of Japanese manga, the focus is on American comics, with Marvel receiving a great deal of attention and exhibitor floor space. (It is Marvel’s 75th birthday, after all.) Even cosplay isn’t the exclusive domain of Japanese anime and manga, with Star Wars, Star Trek, Ghostbusters and Dr. Who characters wandering the floors of the Javits Center.
If you’re interested in Japanese pop culture, you can still find it if you look hard enough. While there wasn’t a huge Japanese presence at this year’s NYCC, which took place October 9 through 12, there were several panels and booths dedicated to manga and anime.
Here’s a sample of what I found while looking for Japan at New York Comic Con:
The Hatsune Miku Craze
In a panel during Day 1 of NYCC, Hiroyuki Itoh, CEO of Crypton Future Media, discussed how his company created the world’s most popular vocaloid, Hatsune Miku. She appeared with a live band on David Letterman, has an art exhibition at Wallplay until October 19, and will perform two concerts this weekend at Hammerstein Ballroom. At NYCC she had collaborations with new mobile game Brave Frontier and Square Enix designer and director Tetsuya Nomura. Not bad for someone who doesn’t actually exist in the flesh.
Obata Sensei Draws
NYCC draws big names in the manga business, and I was fortunate enough to sit in on one of Takeshi Obata’s two panels. The legendary manga artist known for his work on Death Note and All You Need Is Kill, Obata discussed his collaborations with writer Tsugumi Ohba and did an amazing live sketch of Ryuk from Death Note on an overhead projector. With a Sharpie.
Godzilla is Alive and Well
Attractive action figures of the daikaiju abound on the exhibitors floor, and a panel dedicated to his 60 years in show business was so popular that NYCC staff members turned people away – including yours truly – because the room had reached capacity.
The Triumphant Return of X Japan
Four years ago New York Comic Con brought together the immortal Stan Lee and Yoshiki, the charismatic leader of X Japan, one of the biggest bands in Asia. The two announced their project Blood Red Dragon, a “motion comic” featuring Yoshiki as a superhero. NYCC also sponsored the X Japan concert at Roseland Ballroom. X Japan was back this year for another panel, which was supposed to be with Stan Lee, and an epic concert, also backed by NYCC, at Madison Square Garden. Lee didn’t make the trip from LA, instead sending his regards in a video, and the panel became an enjoyable chat between X Japan members and their fans. Prior to the panel, those same fans waited for about an hour in front of a booth on the exhibitors floor for an appearance by the band.
Oh, So Cheeky
There was another Japanese band at NYCC, one with not quite as much history as X Japan. Cheeky Parade, a nine-member, all-girl J-pop group built in the mode of AKB48, had a panel to plug their appearance at CBGB Music and Film Festival in Times Square on Sunday. The teens were charming, effervescent – and yes, cheeky – as they talked about their music and showed of their kimono-style outfits. The best part about the panel was that 25 or so of their fans made the trip from Japan to support them.
Bridging Emerging Animators in the US and Japan
One intriguing panel brought five emerging animators from Japan who introduced their recent work and talked about what it’s like to be an animator in Japan today. Yuzuru Tachikawa, Ryo Okawara, Saki Muramoto, Aya Suzuki, and Saori Shiroki are participating in the KAKEHASHI Project, which is promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and commissioned by The Japan-U.S. Educational Commission and co-organized by Japan Foundation and The Laurasian Institution. Justin Leach, the producer for Kick-Heart, moderated the panel, which was joined by special guest Natasha Allegri, creator of Bee and PuppyCat, who will visit Japan through the KAKEHASHI Project.
Are You Ready for Some Manga?
Kodansha Comics, the US division of Kodansha, Japan’s largest publisher, announced their new manga licenses to the enthusiastic cheers of the capacity crowd. The new titles are Fairy Tail: Blue Mistral, LDK, Inuyashiki, and Tsubasa: WoRLD CHRoNiCLE. The panel, lead by Kodansha editor Ben Applegate, also discussed various versions of Attack on Titan, as well as a spinoffs box set available for the holidays; sales for Say I Love You, which Applegate called “our biggest surprise” of the year; and Vinland Saga with an exclusive Q&A with the author.
Japan on the Exhibitors Floor
In addition to the panel, Kodansha had a booth, one of the many that featured manga and other Japanese items, as did VIZ Media, a Japanese-owned, San Francisco-based manga publishing and anime licensing company that also distributes Japanese manga to English-speaking consumers. VIZ Media’s attractive booth featured titles from Doraemon to Death Note. Kinokuniya also had a booth, doing brisk business with a sale that offered customers 20% off all manga- and anime-related items on the final day of NYCC. There was even indie manga for sale at the GEN Manga booth. The New York-based company publishes underground manga straight from artists in Tokyo. You can purchase paperback books or download them digitally. With an annual subscription you receive unlimited access to downloadable material for a calendar year.
Little Things Mean A Lot
Walking through the show floor was sensory overload, but in the midst of the cosplayers and weary moms exhausted from carrying their children’s newly purchased books and posters, there were Japanese gems such as collectibles from East Village retailer Toy Tokyo; Bandai, with its Gundam, Dragon Ball Z and the aforementioned Godzilla action figures; and a set of Luke Skywalker Lightsaber Chopsticks by Kotobukiya. Con attendees played Resident Evil at the Capcom booth and Nintendo’s Pac-Man 2 and the Ghostly Adventures.
GKIDS plugged the upcoming New York screenings of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a film by Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata and the DVD release of A Letter to Momo, which was the Grand Prize Winner at the New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Not all of the booths were manned by big-name companies. There were plenty of small businesses on hand to sell Japanese clothing, including Baltimore-based company Rakuen, which had Lolita fashions from frilly dresses to leg wear and parasols. Some booths weren’t run by Japanese companies, but their products were certainly influenced by Japanese culture. StuffedSushi.com sells handmade pillows in the shape of sushi rolls and onigiri, and there were lots of kawaii plush characters to be found. Designer Simone Legno, founder of Japanese-inspired brand tokidoki, signed autographs at his booth.
We talked about Hatsune Miku earlier, so did you know she has a rival? IA (pronounced Ee-Ah) is a vocaloid software that, like Hatsune Miku, performs as a hologram. She sings an edgier, heavier brand of rock than Hatsune Miku’s bouncy pop tunes. Japanese company 1st Place Co., Ltd developed IA, which is voiced by Japanese singer/songwriter Lia. At NYCC, 1st Place had a booth selling IA merchandise, screened the world premiere of IA’s live concert, and was the featured guest at the NYCC After Party at M – Lounge at Megu.
Yes, NYAF is no more, and the focus of NYCC is not about Japanese manga, anime, and pop culture. But that doesn’t mean those elements don’t exist. New York Comic Con is what you make it. If you’re interested in panels, you’ll camp out all day on the lower level of the Javits Center. If you’d rather check out the latest products or find indie gems, you’ll push your way through the crowd on the exhibitor floor. If you want to cosplay and check out everyone else’s costumes, you’ll wander around the entrance or hang out in one of the many (long) lines for (crappy) food. If you want Japanese stuff, it’s definitely there. You just have to look for it.