FanimeCon 2014: Noir Q&A Panel

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A couple hours after the ‘Making Anime’ panel, I attended the third and final panel I went to last weekend, a Q&A with Gainax marketing adviser and producer Noir. As a producer for Gainax she does a wide variety of jobs for the studio, from organizing warehouse merchandise to working on the anime series themselves. She’s involved in just about everything except for drawing. A former actress and member of the musical unit maRIONnetTe, She’s also recently become interested in the Japanese tea ceremony and is writing a manga centered around that, Sadon desu, which is currently being serialized in Weekly Young Jump.

Keep in mind that while I try to keep these questions and answers as closely worded to what was said and written in my notes, it’s still technically paraphrased.

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Q: Could you explain what it’s like working at Gainax?
A: Well, Gainax was founded almost before I was even born, and so as a kid I grew up watching Evangelion and their other shows. Sometimes I wonder why I work for an anime company when I can’t draw, but I do my best.

Q: Since becoming a producer, do you still do any voice acting or singing?
A: Not right now, but maybe if I’m ever given the chance.

Q: How did you end up collaborating with Hiroshite Onde, and how was it working with him?
A: Our three person unit, maRIONnetTe, began by working with the novelist Novala Takemoto, who did the novel Kamikaze Girls. He loved anime and wanted to do something like that. When thinking of what he could do, he figured we could make a music number and hopefully someone would want to use it. He wanted a professional to help us, and he happened to know someone from Jerry & Merry who could help, Onde. At the time Onde had already done a song for Rurouni Kenshin, but it was written before it got chosen for the show and had nothing to do with it. So he thought he could maybe try writing a song for an anime, and make it so the lyrics actually had something to do with the story. And that’s how he ended up making “Yes Prisoner” (the ending theme to The Mystic Archives of Dantalian.) (Admittedly I’m not 100% sure if I got the story her written down correctly, so take this particular answer with a grain of salt I guess.)

Q: What’s your favorite Gainax character?
A: Captain Nemo. He’s very dandy and cool.

Q: Could you describe how often you work with the directors and other producers of Gainax?
A: I didn’t start working with Gainax until Gurren Lagann, and so I haven’t worked on too many series since then. I started out as just a marketing adviser, and so I wasn’t in charge of how the anime was made. I was thinking what sort of character goods would sell, and what fans would want. For The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, I thought of how cosplayers would try to imitate the characters, and so I thought it would be a good idea to bring an actual fashion designer onto the project to help design the clothes for the characters. That way it’d be easier for the cosplayers, since artists and anime director tend to make fantastical stuff that would be impossible in real life. So we got the lolita company Our Stars Shine Bright on board for the project. It was probably the first time in the anime industry that someone wanted to create characters with the cooperation of a clothes company.

Q: What’s your opinion of the titles for the Rebuild of Evangelion films, particularly the whole naming scheme with the “not” in parenthesis?
A: I’m sorry, I wouldn’t know much about that since Studio Khara are the ones working on those.

Q: A while back you cosplayed as Namaka. Have you had any other cosplay experiences?
A: They don’t do it anymore, but it used to be a requirement at each of Gainax’s end of the year parties to go in cosplay. The year I went as Lum from Urusei Yatsura was probably my favorite cosplay that I did, though everyone else seemed to really enjoy my cosplay of Adiane from Gurren Lagann.

Q: How often does the marketing department work directly with the pre-production process?
A: We don’t really talk to them during the pre-production phases, as it’s a very insular process. So we just work with whatever they give us.

Q: When can we expect a second season of Panty & Stocking with Gartbelt?
A: If there is one, I would want to see it too.

Q: Do you focus mostly on the products, or on promoting the anime as well?
A: Products are part of the anime, and so if the anime isn’t popular, the products won’t sell well. So we have to focus on both.

Q: Could you talk more about the process of finding out what fans want, and what goes into it?
A: I try to think of myself as one of the fans, and then think of what I would want to see. And even if it’s what I like, other people are different, so I’ll also go to different anime stores and places and observe everyone’s reactions; see what the latest tastes and trends are.

Q: What is Gainax’s most popular franchise? And what strategies do you use for marketing to international countries?
A: Judging by the cosplays here, Gurren Lagann would be the most popular show. Though as far as marketing internationally goes, there’s not really anything we specifically do. Though for my manga Sadon desu, I figure it might have some international appeal, and show foreigners what Japan is like.

Q: Could you give an example of implausible cosplay, and is there any advice you would give to cosplayers today?
A: You can make just about anything.  This isn’t one of our shows, but I’d say it’d be difficult to do the Fullmetal Alchemist arms, yet everyone still makes those anyways. This isn’t advice, but something I like a lot about cosplay is how there’s a lot of characters who wouldn’t have black hair in real life, and how cosplayers use wigs to present that.

Q: How do you determine which shows get a second season? I ask since I notice some popular shows don’t get a second season, while less popular shows sometimes do.
A: There’s a lot of different answers for that. A lot of times though people will decide from the beginning whether it’ll have one or two seasons, but with a little break in between each season.

Q: How did you feel walking around places and seeing the shows you’ve worked on all over the place?
A: I have a little sister who’s a junior high teacher, and it was a strange feeling when she told me one of her students was singing one of our songs.

Q: How much of Gainax is comprised of writers and animators?
A: (For this question, they had one of the other anime professionals in room answer it, though I’m not sure who it was.) Most of our works are partially animated by other studios. A lot of companies and studios in the anime industry are connected to each other, that’s just how it works. Sometimes Studio Ghibli will give us work to do, while other times we’ll give them some of our work. It’s the same for studios in Korea and Taiwan as well. For any given series of ours with 100 people working on it, about 50% we don’t see.

Q: Do you watch a lot of anime and manga yourself, and if so which are you watching/reading right now?
A: I’m not watching a lot of anime at the moment, since in Japan many of them air late at night between 1:00 and 4:00 A.M. For manga, a couple that I particularly look forward to each week are Black Lagoon and Tokyo Ghoul.

Q: What genre would you describe Sadon desu as?
A: A serious comedy.

Q: When can we expect it to release in Japan?
A: The first volume is already on sale.

Q: A lot of anime have a distinctive style to them. How do you get animators to conform to a certain style?
A: People have things that they’re good at and things that they’re not so good at, so we choose people and assignments based off of that.

Q: When writing manga, do you think of how the character’s voices sound, and have any idea what seeyuu you would choose if it were adapted?
A: Even from the beginning I was thinking of who I would want, and in my heart I’ve already decided who. For the faculty adviser, I’d go with the voice actor for Mouri Motonari in Sengoku Basara—I can’t remember his name, and if it were live action I’d go with Masato Sakae. (As he was walking back to his chair, the person who asked the question exclaimed “Nakahara Shigeru!”, remembering the voice actor Noir had in mind.)

Q: Do merchandise companies go to Gainax asking to make products of your shows, or does Gainax usually go to them to make products?
A: Both. If there’s a brand who comes to us wanting to make merchandise, than it’ll be because they love the anime, and it can be difficult to calm them down. On the other hand, if we approach them to make merchandise they’ll say “we haven’t seen it,” and so we’ll have to convince them how it’s a great show and why they should make merchandise for it.

Q: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was very differently stylistically than the typical anime. Was there any challenges in marketing this to Japanese anime fans?
A: Since it’s more like an American cartoon we wondered if Japanese fans would like it, but we figured the story would keep them interested. Plus in Japan, cartoons like The Powerpuff Girls and Spongebob are very popular, so we also figured we’d be able to attract fans from those series.

Q: With shows made for a Japanese audience, how do you figure out how to localize it for an international audience?
A: Instead of saying “this would be good for a U.S. or French audience,” we just try to make something interesting, or else it wouldn’t feel Japanese.

Q: What ways has Gainax changed over the years, and what can we expect from it in the future?
A: I haven’t been with Gainax from the start, but I know now there are a lot of girls working there who draw a lot of boobs, which is interesting. And from what I hear, in its early years Gainax was mostly comprised of men.

Q: So you would say the major change would be who’s working there now?
A: Artistically men and women just have different aesthetics, so it’s different.

Q: Evangelion was intended for children, but ended up being a huge hit with adults. What do you do when that sort of thing happens?
A: Just having it be popular with a lot of people watching it makes the creators very happy.

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And that concluded the panel, which I’d have to say was equally as fascinating as the Kanbe panels. It was cool to hear from the perspective of someone on the producing and marketing side of things, so it complimented the Kanbe panels rather well. I also find it incredibly amusing that Gainax used to have cosplay parties, and that nowadays its largely girls who draw lots of “oppai oppai.”

At the end they also had a rock-paper-scissors tournament where it was everyone against Noir, just like with the “Making Anime” panel, in which the last five people standing would get tickets to have tea with Noir. And just like the “Making Anime” panel, I lost in the first panel. Fun times.

Thank you Noir for the panel and FanimeCon for organizing it!

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