The Cool Japan Forum — held on 11th November 2011, was the initial offering of Anime Festival Asia for 2011. Composed of lectures and discussions by academics and top-level execs from the Japanese pop culture industry, Cool Japan offers new insights on anime, manga, gaming, and figure collecting that are otherwise unexplored by run-of-the-mill fans. The event was emceed by Culture Japan host Danny Choo, and features pop culture luminaries such as screenwriter and novelist Ubukata Tow (Mardock Scramble), and character designer and manga artist Mikimoto Haruhiko (Macross).
One of the interesting things we picked up at this year’s CJF was a case study of the Freedom Project, presented by Miyano Haruhiko of Dentsu Singapore. The Freedom Project is a sci-fi OAV series from some of the same people behind Akira; its production is funded almost entirely by Nissin Cup Noodles. Set up like a big-budget commercial OAV release, the Freedom Project enjoys pretty much free reign in spending Nissin’s money. In turn it increases the market cache of the iconic cup noodle brand — generating millions in direct sales and sales of related merchandise.
Another intriguing statement gleaned from the forum was from Aki Takanori of Good Smile Company: “Piracy is a form of advertisement”. He declared that although they experience a significant loss of income due to piracy, the fact that fans love their products enough to want to get them by legal means or otherwise, is deeply gratifying for them as figure designers and manufacturers. He also places some of the blame on the shoulders of the toy manufacturers themselves, saying that the proliferation of pirated toys was because the manufacturers were too slow in exploiting demand.
The highlight for the event for me as a fan was the presentation of Mikimoto Haruhiko — character designer for Macross and comic artist for Macross The First, on the importance of character design and characterization in the success of a franchise. He likened character design to casting real actors for roles, saying that it its crucial to make them as human (his actual words were “to elicit empathy or pathos”) as possible. And he certainly applies this philosophy to his work — in case you haven’t noticed, Macross was one of the first and is currently one of the few anime that actually make their characters go through outfit changes — as opposed to wearing the same thing from the pilot episode to the season ending.
The Cool Japan Forum was followed almost immediately by the sold-out performance of Hatsune Miku and the rest of the Crypton Vocaloids at MIKUPA in Singapore. The first major performance of the I Love Anisong Series for 2011, MIKUPA created such a huge buzz that people from as far away as Europe and Australia flew in to catch the concert. The event was also featured in major media networks and news publications in Singapore (for Pinoys who flew to Singapore on PAL, Miku was also featured in the inflight magazine Mabuhay).
The Cool Japan Forum was highly educational, and is a great way to stretch your legs before hitting the ground running at Anime Festival Asia. I certainly enjoyed myself (if my copious notes are anything to go by), and will definitely attend the next one given half a chance.
Thank you very much to Sozo and the Anime Festival Asia 11 Staff for my Media Pass.