On Saturday 27 May 2006, I had the experience of attending one of the country's biggest conventions " the London Expo. The event takes place on long weekends twice a year, and attracts some huge audiences. This one alone was expected to have over 20000 people walk through its doors over the course of the weekend. Expo is a hard event to pin down. It's not your standard convention in that it's not a show made up of a series of panels and events, instead it's more of an exhibition with some programming and events in between. It also has an extremely broad reach, with exhibitors from all sorts of cult and sci-fi TV, gaming, anime and much more. Guests range from the likes of some Star Trek favourites like Walter Koenig and Robert Picardo, to the cast of 24, with a bit of Tahmo Penikett (Battlestar Galactica), Corey Haim and others in between. Then there are the likes of 20th Century Fox promoting the heck out of their upcoming Eragon feature, a massive DDR tournament and more. In general it's just a pretty huge event.
So it's easy to see why anime companies would want in on it, and in terms of representation, all four major companies were out in force, with stands, tables, screenings and more. While I don't tend to talk in terms of manga, TOKYOPOP also had a good presence with one of the biggest stands (a huge manga wall) where they were selling all their books and promoting some manga art contests and things. ADV, Beez, Manga and MVM " the aforementioned four " collectively form "Anime Village ? at the Expo and were grouped quite close together, and then behind the Manga stand was the screening area where each company was cycling through some of their releases.
From an anime standpoint, one thing towered above the rest, and that's where my day started. Naruto had an enormous presence at the event (as we knew it would thanks to some leaked information a few weeks earlier), and at the main stage Jetix were on hand to announce that they will be bringing the first 26 episodes of the show to UK TV screens starting on July 22, to coincide with the start of the school holidays. It will air every day (probably cycling through those first 26 episodes for several months), and they are expecting it to be a big hit. I heard figures of 0.25 million bandied about as the sort of numbers they are expecting, which is pretty significant.
At the same time, Manga were on hand to announce they will be bringing the show to DVD. Naruto Uncut Box Set 1 will hit streets on August 21 with a price of £24.99. That will get you the first 13 episodes of the show spread over 3 discs, with Manga having (so far) licensed the first 52 episodes of the show. Box 2 will follow around November time, with Boxes 3 and 4 coming next year. While the licensing deals were totally independent of each other, they certainly benefited from some cross-promotion opportunities. The promotional bags given at the door to the event were emblazoned with Naruto on one side and the other big new Jetix property, the Jetix Europe co-produced Oban Star Racers, which received its premiere with an airing of the first two episodes in the main stage area. I only caught the end of the presentation (it was on before Naruto), but it definitely looked interesting and the creator of the series was also on hand. Jetix handed out a promo DVD with the first episode of Naruto on as well as a promo for Oban to anyone that wanted one. They seemed to do a very good job of getting people psyched for both shows. It also really helped that Manga had brought over Maile Flannigan, the voice of Naruto in the English dub, who attracted some large crowds.
Following the Naruto extravaganza, I had a long look around the various stands. The setup comes off largely as a giant dealer room with several other things in between. Wandering around I got a glimpse of some of the aforementioned special guests who were signing autographs and things, and I also had a quick look at the DDR tournament and the Anime Village screening area. This was packed pretty much every time I checked, which was good to see, although the fact it was running severely behind schedule caused some people unnecessary headaches.
One of the people I was introduced to by Hugh David of ADV Films was Jan Kurotaki, the international cosplay model for Newtype USA. She was really nice to meet and it was pretty surreal walking around the floor with her, dressed as Belldandy, getting stopped every few steps for a picture. We were talking a lot about the differences between the Japanese, American and British culture, especially at these events. It turns out that Japanese conventions are set up very, very differently, and Jan was also surprised at how reserved everything was here, with the special guests just wandering around mingling with public. Speaking to her was really, really interesting (as was finding out her connection to Naruto, seems everyone and their mother here had one...), and as well as Jan I got to briefly meet Stuart Claw, who was working on a new radio pilot show called Anime+ for DTRN, and the crew from EyeOnAnime.
Of course, one of the main reasons I was there was to chat with the anime companies, so here's a bit about what each of them are up to.
ADV were co-sponsors of Anime Village again at this Expo as well as the anime cosplay competition, and were really pleased with the number of visitors that came through their booth over the course of the weekend. They are very excited by their upcoming line-up of shows hitting this autumn, with features (Saiyuki Requiem and The Place Promised in Our Early Days), new series (Area 88, Yugo the Negotiator and Samurai Gun) and a couple of boxsets as well (Burn Up Excess and Neon Genesis Evangelion Platinum).
It's not all about the new though; they're very pleased with the performance of some of their current titles such as Cromartie High School, Gilgamesh and Madlax, all of which had successful screenings at the Expo, and are really enthusiastic about their line-up. As Hugh David put it, "We're very confident indeed in our titles for the UK in 2006, and the Expo confirmed our feelings in more way than one. ? ADV didn't have any new titles to announce at this Expo, and suggested we'd have to wait until a bit later in the year for anything as they firm up their schedule for the end of this year and next, and contacts are finalised in the US. The company was also quite excited about the prospects of the Anime+ radio show (which they sponsored).
Beez had probably the smallest booth of all the companies, though it was situated right opposite the DDR competition. Like everyone else, they were selling all their latest titles and had some good deals on offer to entice people to buy (unfortunately some newer titles like My-HiME that they were planning to sell weren't received in time). Beez have had a good past year with lots of acclaimed titles being released, including Planetes, Wolf's Rain and Crest of the Stars. With many of their shows currently finishing up though, it's time for a new slate to hit and they have plenty lined up for the rest of the year.
My-HiME was premiered at Expo to a good reception, and looks to be one of their most anticipated new releases. They continue to try and do the best for the European market regardless of what is done in other territories, and as such we can expect the series to be spread across 6 discs as opposed to the 7 on the US release. Another license that is in some ways niche but has a bit of potential is Patlabor, which they're gearing up to release in the both a regular edition and a special edition mimicking Bandai Visual USA's release. Also on the horizon is Panda-Z, to be released on 2 discs (as opposed to the US release's 6!) hopefully with a figure for each. Later in the year will also see the release of Eureka 7 and Gundam SEED Destiny (disc counts for both are yet to be decided, but will hopefully be 10), and Fantastic Children has been officially confirmed as a future release. All in all things are looking promising for Beez as 2006 continues on.
Naturally Manga were eager to find out the response to Naruto, and as you'd expect it was fantastic. As mentioned, they'll be releasing the series on DVD starting in August, uncut and in four boxsets (to start with) of 13 episodes, on the back of a TV airing on Jetix. Hopes are very high for this series and judging from the overall reaction from the event, it will do very well. Certainly the series has big potential if it really catches on as the likes of Pokemon and Dragonball Z did, although unlike with those two series, Manga will be looking to capitalise on the popularity with a DVD release.
The past year has seen a bit of a change at Manga, as after being very quiet on the licensing front outside of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex they suddenly went out and started picking up several series. Anything Ghost in the Shell will always do good business, and with the release of the series as well as Innocence it continues to be a strong property. Some perhaps lesser shows have been released with varying successes, with the likes of Robotech, Heat Guy J and Tokyo Underground flying under a lot of peoples' radars. Manga are very excited about some of their current shows though, in particular Tetsujin 28 (both the anime, currently in release, and the live action movie) and the forthcoming Otogi Zoshi. Coming up they also have the release of Tactics to look forward to, which is currently unscheduled but will definitely be released a bit later in the year.
Manga also have a new grass-roots type of group called Manga Team Go!, to help promote Manga releases, cosplay, and anime and manga in general. They say it's a great way to make new friends, get some cool freebies and get into some gigs and festivals for free throughout the year.
MVM have unquestionably had the strongest and most diverse line-up of series over the past year or so, and despite some unexpected and unfortunate setbacks (what with the fire at their replicator throwing off their schedule and all) they have some very strong series. Their most successful release is, as you would expect, Fullmetal Alchemist and they feel that it's probably the best anime currently running in the UK. But with so many series having started at the end of 2005 and start of 2006, such as ROD The TV, Gungrave, Samurai Champloo, Samurai 7 and Burst Angel they are inevitably in a period of completion as they finish them off.
They do have a lot to look forward to in the near future though. Le Portrait De Petit Cosette was announced just prior to Expo. One-off OVAs Twin Signal and Gestalt will be coming over the next few months, and by the last quarter of the year they will have started the long-time-coming Spiral and the under-appreciated Requiem from the Darkness, as well as be releasing some boxsets in time for Christmas. There's far more hiding in wait too, with previously announced series like Kodocha, Tenchi Muyo (both the third OVA series and the GXP TV series), Saiyuki Reload amongst several others. Some people seem to forget how many series they still have in the pipeline, so it's no surprise that they're waiting on announcing any more new acquisitions while they finish of some of their currently running shows.
Overall Expo was an interesting and fun show to visit. I was quite disappointed that, due to other commitments and my visit being a last minute arrangement, I wasn't able to stay for more than a few hours on the Saturday, but the setup of Expo makes it easy to drop in and out and still get a full experience. They're even gearing up for JapanEx London, a Japanese orientated version of Expo. This is a really well run show and the anime companies get a lot of exposure thanks to the huge attendances, which can only be a good thing. I'll definitely be heading off to the next one in October, where it's likely we'll hear a few new title announcements from a few of the companies as well.
Extra special thanks to Hugh David at ADV for his help in making my attendance happen " he's a great guy! Additional thanks to Jerome at Manga, Andrew at Beez and Tony at MVM for their time.