Here's the first of those interviews: Bandai Entertainment's Marketing Director, Robert Napton, who talks at great length about Bandai Entertainment's history at conventions (I remember Akon 2008, man-- I was pretty dead on my feet then too).
Anime Vice: Bandai's presence at NYCC was pretty small this year: panels for individual shows as well as an overall panel, but no booth. Will Bandai be cutting back at most/all cons this year?
Robert Napton: I love NYCC, I’ve attended every year from the beginning and I think Lance, Peter and the folks at REED put on a fantastic show. We’ve never exhibited at NYCC in a big way, maybe we did one small booth once, same for CCI in San Diego, we stopped exhibiting in the 90s and have never come back. We typically don’t spend exhibit dollars at comic book conventions, we do that more at anime shows, so it’s not abnormal for us to have not had a booth at NYCC.
AV: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is "going the way of the dodo" and 10 is "printing money on command," where would you put the anime industry right now? How do you think Bandai Entertainment is doing relative to that?
RN: It’s hard to quantify right now, we're in such an unusual time – if you believe the pundits, we are getting a taste of the depression that was experienced in the 30s, so that’s just thrown everything off. I think anime has always been a 5, with exceptional mass titles like the Pokemon’s of the world, really getting crazy turns with the public and achieving mass market status, but that’s been rare. Most anime is still very niche – it’s not really mass, but it certainly has more mass awareness and acceptance than it did 20 years ago when I first got into this business. Downloading which none of the downloaders likes to hear, has hurt anime’s growth. It doesn’t help. When we sell a DVD or a Blu-ray, a big chunk of the sale goes back to royalties to Japan and to the studios and creators. When it’s downloaded from free money is being taken out of the pockets of the creators in Japan-- creators downloaders profess to love. It’s ultimately a hypocritical practice.
AV: Do you think you reach a different audience at New York Comic Con compared to an anime-specific convention, or do you think you still mostly see the same set of fans?
RN: No, it’s fairly different. At an anime show, there’s a lot more anime cosplay, almost 70% of the crowd is in costume – it’s a younger crowd at an anime show for sure. Comic cons tend to skew older – guys my age who have been reading comics since the 70s and 80s -- less cosplay, more comic and media fans, anime is more in the minority at a comic show. So it’s very different, but I love comic book conventions. I got into anime profressionally in 1988 at a company called Books Nippan – I was there for six years, worked for L.A. Hero, then I left to be a comic book writer, so I have both comics and anime in my blood. It’s quite fun when they come together – as they do when I work on manga. I love sequential art – I’m glad manga has made sequential art accessible in a way that it has never been before in the U.S.. I think its good there are kids in book stores sitting there reading manga – kids who would never foot inside a direct sales comic shop either due to inaccessibility or some bias about comic book stores. Sequential art has found a new voice in the U.S. thanks to manga and I think it makes American comic books more approachable then they have ever been before. Young Girls read manga for example--whereas American comics have largely been the turf of young boys, so we see a whole new audience embracing sequential art and storytelling. It’s been great to see the blending of comics and manga.
AV: Bandai recently laid off a number of employees, most of whom reportedly remained on as contract employees. Will fans see any change in Bandai's release pace or anything along those lines as a result?
RN: We are working hard to keep the schedule the same. We never like delaying things, who would? It’s frustrating for the consumer, but I promise you, it’s even more frustrating forthe companies. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Ghost Slayers was delayed because of a technical flaw in a master that was discovered late in the process and it had to be replaced from Japan and things like that can take weeks and weeks…and things shift. But we never want that to happen, and we’ll continue to fight the good fight to ensure it doesn’t.
AV: In the last year or two Bandai has licensed more and more manga versions of its anime titles-- Code Geass, Lucky Star, Gurren Lagann, now Gundam 00 as well. Might we see Bandai go back and pick up some of the other spinoffs, such as Code Geass' "Knight" and "Queen" anthology series, or Gurren Lagann's "School Version"?
RN: We're looking at ‘Knight’ and ‘Queen’ – there’s an abundance of Geass manga we’ve already scheduled for U.S. release, so we’ll have to see how the other spin off manga like “Suzaku of the Counterattack” and “Nightmare of Nunnally” perform – we’ve tried to stagger them in a way that makes sense for the retailers and fans in the U.S. so they aren’t having to choose between what to buy -- obviously the market in Japan is different and can bear a great deal more in terms of multiple releases of the same brand at the same time. The U.S. market is different. The same goes for GURREN – you could release multiple series and volumes and it could be effective in the U.S. or you could cannibalize your own sales, so one has to be careful and not flood the market with more than it can bear. The Naruto’s of the world, multiple volumes released at once that can be sustained is a rarity, it’s not the norm in the U.S. manga market.