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Interview with Charlene Ingram, FUNimation Anime Brand Manager
By Chris Beveridge
September 21, 2010
Birdy the Mighty: Decode
After coming on last year as a Brand Manager for FUNimation Entertainment, Charlene Ingram took on a few shows that stood out from the norm at FUNimation such as Rin and made the push for booty shorts for the Dragonaut release. Since then, she's continually added new titles to her body of work as well as plenty of involvement in promotions and conventions, so we sat down and talked with her about the experience, some of the upcoming titles she's working on and a look at what's gone into some of the past promotions.
Late last year and early this year saw several of the titles that you were working on come out to positive reaction and reviews across many places. We’ll touch on those titles later, but what do you think will be the strongest of the titles that you have set for the end of the year that you’re working on?
Now, I definitely can’t speak for all the titles FUNimation is releasing as a whole, but for titles I’m working on that have a DVD release this year, definitely Eden of the East and Hetalia Axis Powers. Both are vastly different, to say the least, and that’s what makes them so exciting. Eden, especially, is a great breath of fresh air in the genre and a real harbinger of things to come in the world of Anime if works like this are supported. From the moment I saw the first episode I fell in love and knew I wanted more than anything to be able to work on it. For anyone even remotely interested in anime as an art form, Eden of the East is a must own series.
Hetalia, I somewhat see is to anime now what Avenue Q was to Broadway when it first hit the scene. It’s a lot of fun, can be crass and perhaps a bit uncomfortable at times, so it’s good if you can laugh at yourself. Much like Avenue Q, it’s certainly not for everyone. Both the Japanese and English language versions have quite a charm to them and the series is definitely popular for a reason. Also, the bite-sized episodes offer a nice change of pace.
Though it is an early next year release on DVD, the big one to watch for is Summer Wars. Mamoru Hosoda is truly a master at weaving a completely engrossing story and this film is going to become a classic. We’re working on the theatrical campaign now, so if it comes to your area go see it with someone, even if they aren’t into anime. This isn’t just a great anime movie, Summer Wars is just a wonderful film and suitable for all ages. Just recently I had a chance to hear some of the English dub and it honestly gave me goose bumps!
Hetalia has certainly gained the most exposure and groundswell from a casual fan perspective since it’s one that’s definitely easily accessible and available in such bite-sized episodes. How has it been seeing this throughout the convention season, with the costumes, the word of mouth and the general enthusiasm for it?
Hetalia has been nothing short of a phenomenon in anime fandom and something I feel so excited to be a part of. The core fan base for this particular series has been especially passionate and very well organized as a community (Livejournal community, Twitter and otherwise). I love how they care so deeply for their favorite shows and are not afraid to share their opinions and ask constructive questions. When I was assigned the series, I knew it was something many fans care for deeply and would be a huge responsibility.
As a longtime anime fan even before my role as a brand manager, it would break my heart to see series I cared for not get the attention I felt they deserved. Keeping that feeling in mind, I vowed to do whatever I could with the resources given, no matter how hard I’d have to work to make it happen. I take that vow very seriously for all the shows given to me to work on.
As for this convention season, the response has been absolutely electric, culminating in the big events at Otakon and the Hetalia fan cards campaign. One of the happiest memories for me at Otakon with all the voice cast and cosplay helpers was seeing the autograph sessions before and after the premiere. The first autograph session was mostly ladies, but after the showing, a LOT of guys were there saying they really enjoyed the series as well. That’s one of the great things about anime conventions- fans will take chances on new things and aren’t afraid to be open minded. It’s beautiful.
The fan card campaign has had an overwhelming response, to say the very least. My office was filled with piles of cards sorted by type and, yes, I read through each and every one. The care and detail put into these makes me so very happy and proud to be an anime fan. It proved very difficult to pick winners because I (and all of Team Hetalia) have so many personal favorites. We’ve had cards come in from as far away as Hungary and New Zealand and so many of them are true works of art. One of the cards even featured an intricate, hand woven tapestry!
FUNimation ran what I thought was a fun way of introducing the voice cast for the show since Hetalia makes it so easy to work with each character. How did that roll-out get decided, such as which countries/characters got their own video introduction and how did the actors like that?
Thank you! With Hetalia having such a big online fan base (the series did start as a webcomic and net anime, after all) I knew I wanted to do something with the FUNimation blog and YouTube and have it lead into one of the big summer conventions (Otakon) since the release date was in September. After deciding the direction I wanted to go, I ran the ideas by Lance Heiskell, FUNimation’s Marketing Director, and worked with both Justin Rojas and Adam Sheehan to help make the blog posts and videos happen. A series of videos and what was essentially a nine day blog takeover takes a lot of work and planning, to say the least, and this crazy experiment would involve a lot of extra time and care to make sure it was just right.
It was very important to me on this release to involve the creative team in the rollout and showcase all the cool stuff they do for our releases. I can’t say enough how awesome and hard working these guys are! This is how Hetalia World Buffet was born. I wanted to announce the main 8 countries with clips of the dub and, for a few of them, take out members of the creative team to lunch and talk a bit with them about what it was like to work on such a project. The whole thing was pretty guerilla and Adam and I worked over the weekends and evenings editing the videos. The initial video and Epilogue were filmed in my office after I made the crayon images with stickers, paper and a set of Hetalia cards I had from my personal collection. Lance was especially awesome for supporting me in doing such crazy stuff!
For the actors, from talking to everyone at Otakon, it seems like they got a kick out of it, getting a special day to focus on their character. To the actors I’d see around the office beforehand, I’d let them know when their day was coming and be excited right along with them. J. Michael Tatum and I shared a lot of squee-ing over his being on Bastille Day. The best part was watching the fan reaction to each of the voices and seeing the excitement. That made all the work so completely worthwhile. The whole thing was like a big online party.
With the first two seasons of Hetalia set for release this year and the announcement of the next two seasons on tap plus the movie, how do you plan to carry the enthusiasm between both of them with however much time there is between releases?
The great thing about Hetalia is it’s a comedy based on history, so the material is pretty much endless. Hetalia World Series will have streaming starting September 13th, too. Though the feverish pace on promotions will surely slow down a bit after the initial releases, you better believe we’re still going to keep goodness going throughout World Series and the Hetalia feature length movie, Paint it, White. I have some fun stuff planned, so you’ll have to stay tuned! All that said, we are currently running a Hetalia themed survey on the FUNimation Update blog, so if you like the series and there is something you’d love to see, take the survey and tell us. We love all the honest feedback.
Eden of the East has garnered a lot of attention since its licensing announcement due to the material itself but also because of the music related issues. With FUNimation having dealt with a host of music related issues with the Beck release, how did this one come across and what was the final resolution for dealing with the Oasis song?
Eden is very special series to me, being first talked about in the office very shortly after I started my position as a brand manager. It completely captivated me and I wanted so badly to be given the opportunity to work on it. I knew the OP was a potentially big issue and securing the coveted music would involve a lot of work from a lot of people on top of their already heavy normal workload. Even then, success would not be guaranteed. The music industry and securing rights for even a non-popular song can be daunting and expensive at best and impossible at worst.
After a lot of dedication, negotiation and hard work, we were able to secure all the rights to use the song on the first episode of the DVD and Blu-ray release. Episodes 2-11 and all digital episodes will use the international version of the theme, which is a beautiful song as well. This is because each playable instance of a recording, even on the same disc, incurs a set royalty to the original publisher. On top of this, music rights in North America work differently than other countries. The cost is high and multiplies very quickly. As for streaming and download to own rights, these were not able to be negotiated at all and believe me, it was not for lack of trying.
That said, when the contract was finally complete, I, quite literally, cried tears of joy at my desk looking at it. When the series releases this fall, I highly recommend picking it up, and when you pop it in your player, don’t forget to play the OP at full blast, sing along and enjoy it!
Having personally not seen Eden of the East yet, how would you sell it to someone in two sentences?
Eden of the East is Jason Bourne, the anime. What would YOU do if you woke up naked in front of the White House with a cell phone loaded with near limitless cash in one hand and a handgun in the other?
One of your titles that has been flying a bit under the radar is Birdy the Mighty: Decode. With the series having such a strong background, both in its original source material and in the production team with Aniplex and A-1 Pictures behind it, what kind of approach are you taking to getting it into the fans’ consciousness that it’s out there? We’ve had the cast list announced and a teaser trailer so far and a couple of months to go to release in October.
Birdy is one of those series that is so hard to describe without diluting the story. There’s a lot going on in both parts (Decode: 01 and Decode:02), especially with the main character’s back story and I feel the team is doing an amazing job harmonizing the two. Even the packaging, if you look closely on the two halves, reflects Birdy’s attitude change. I feel it is very subtle and beautiful in the way it was done with the clean flashes of color. You can see this theme echoed in the trailer as well.
As we roll into the fall conventions, look for more goodies like posters, postcards and even a really cool art mouse pad. The mouse pad will be available as a gift with purchase at conventions and through our good friends over at Right Stuf. Promo-dubbed episodes are also now available on the FUNimation video portal, YouTube and Hulu and short clips of the series will be soon on YouTube soon, too. If you love a good sci-fi story, especially one with a strong female lead, you need to check out Birdy!
While you’ve been in the fan scene for quite some time, as we recently reminisced about an Anime North convention from much earlier in the decade we both attended, how has it been this past summer season being out to so many of them as the brand manager for these titles? What’s been the biggest change in your con going experience?
Definitely, one of my favorite things, as a fan and a member of the industry, is going to conventions. Being a guest, booth staff or attendee, it’s all awesome! You may think I am crazy, but it is something I’ve never tired of and it continues to genuinely fascinate me. You meet so many people from many walks of life and they all love to talk about anime, manga and Japanese pop culture in general- completely and totally amazing. Over the years I’ve formed some of my closest friendships with those I have met at conventions. After going to one, I feel so energized, even if my voice is shot after talking a full weekend straight.
Now, being a brand manager is a little different. For one thing, conventions are very hectic with events and special guests, leaving hardly any time for cosplay. A costume can be awkward and cumbersome, so if you have to rush around to get to all the events you have going on, being stopped for pictures or being uncomfortable is not good for efficiency. So, I guess the biggest change would be that- the transition from being known as a cosplayer, dressing up like the shows, to being a brand manager, marketing the shows. Both are ways to do what I really love, and that is spreading the joy of anime. Being a brand manager just involves a lot less makeup and more comfortable shoes.
Late last year and early this year your name was out there more as you were handling titles such as Dragonaut, Baccano! and what I thought was the best way to start off the year with Rin ~Daughters of Mnemosyne~. Each of those had particular challenges to them and little quirks to try and make them stand out on release, such as the booty shorts for Dragonaut or the skin-like cover for Rin that we also saw on this summer’s Blu-ray release. How did those approaches work and are there others you have in mind?
One thing I truly believe and keep in mind is that every single series is the absolute favorite show for at least one person somewhere. That simple fact deserves a lot of respect and, being a fan of some pretty niche stuff, it is very important to me. Within time and resources, I always do my best to give all the titles I’ve been tasked with something special. Like them or loathe them, the Dragonaut booty shorts are special!
My very first day at FUNimation, when I walked into my office, there was a certain item on my desk- a towel (made of ShamWow type material) featuring some risque art from RIN. I immediately hung it on my wall- my first assigned title. That, the Baccano! Box set and Dragonaut were the first shows I launched with FUNimation. All titles continue to do very well thanks to all the fan support.
For the RIN skin box, that was originally an idea of Kris Pierce, the graphic artist, after feeling some new paper samples. It’s especially fitting because, while it feels somewhat like skin, it lacks the life of skin itself, somewhat a reflection on the character Rin. She has eternal life, but is the pain of immortality, with seeing loved ones grow and die over and over, a little deadening in itself? Even without thinking about all that, the feel of the cover is mysterious and alluring. It’s different. RIN is different. A tactile cover is unique and makes this little gem stand out in a crowd.
As for stuff in the future, you better believe it! I love it whenever it is possible to do interesting fan events and have cool items available. One of my favorite things so far was the Eden of the East events at Anime Expo where fans had a chance to play a game evocative of the show’s scenario. It was tons of work and involved a lot of support staff, including a cosplayer of the character, Panties (Pantsu)! The best thing was seeing the fans participating and watching the creative team from Japan get excited about it, too. That and the creator, Mr. Kamiyama, enjoying it was very cool! Seeing the Japanese Eden of the East creative team have a good time at Anime Expo made me very happy.
With a strong cosplay background and a background in all things fanciful, you’ve done a fair bit of writing about that side of fandom on the official FUNimation blog. How has reaction to that been and do you still manage to get out and cosplay as much as you’d like during conventions now?
I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe anime, so even the long, hard days at the office aren’t too bad at all. Writing about fandom things, cosplay being one of them, is also a passion and it keeps my finger on the pulse, so to speak. The reaction has been phenomenal, especially since the FUNimation Blog reaches a wider fan audience then just hardcore cosplayers. It’s my goal to continue to showcase cosplay and fandom in general in a positive light and blog posts and YouTube videos are a part of that.
As for my own cosplay? Well, with the big chunk of releases of mine this fall, and all the focus it takes to promote them the best I can, it has cut into my sewing time a bit over the last few months. This summer I did manage to compete with my cosplay group at San Diego Comic-Con as a Spider Splicer in our Bioshock presentation, though! Cosplay is still a great source of joy for me, so keep looking for fresh costumes in the future. As long as there are awesome shows and cool designs out there, you better believe I will want to sew them!
From what I can see, you’ve got a lot of SAVE titles on your plate. Are there any particular challenges with marketing these and making them desirable?
Yep, the S.A.V.E. line happens to be one of my initiatives and while it comes with some challenges, it also has a lot of freedom as well. This is another one where the creative team has been especially outstanding! I’m very happy the line has been doing so well and gaining more exposure for the titles included in it.
When it comes to selling a discount line, there’s sometimes the perception of lack of quality. This is definitely not the case with S.A.V.E. All the discs are the same as the previous release and if the lime green spine’s not your thing, there’s series art right there on the other side of the wrap. Just flip it and you’re good to go! The really great thing with this line is there’s something for just about every type of anime fan and they are all at an amazing price.
There are a lot of wonderful titles in S.A.V.E., some of which are among fan and critical favorites. On top of that, the price is just right to try out some new titles or even a new genre you might have been thinking about. It’s a fabulous way to stock up on lots of anime and be light on the pocketbook!
And conversely, with license rescues, where you have shows like Kaleido Star which has been a personal favorite and one of the more popular ones among readers at my site, how difficult is it to take an existing property that’s a known commodity and try to breathe a new life into it?
Kaleido Star is one of my all-time favorite anime series and I bought every single volume of the original release right after it came out. A couple of my coworkers even tease me and call me “Kaleido-Char”! It’s such a treasure and a fantastic story, so if you’re a little uncertain about all the sparkles, dazzles and gymnastics don’t worry. Junichi Sato, the director, is a masterful storyteller and this show has you rooting for the characters all the way through. Kaleido Star is a fantastic show and worth watching. Even better, the second season release coming out in December includes the never before released here OVA, Legend of the Phoenix.
License rescues tend to have limited budgets, but there’s no doubt at all that this one is getting love from everyone involved. Rescues do propose some difficulty because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. However, a good show deserves to be available, so I’m very happy FUNimation is making sure so many classics are out there to buy for fans who may have missed them the first time around.
Lightning round: If you had to include hash tags to summarize these upcoming releases you have, in under 140 characters, how would you do it?