Aniplex producer, Atsuhiro Iwakami, made his way to Otakon this year for the US premiere of Puella Magi Madoka Magika. His previous works include The Garden of Sinners (now available to rent via Playstation Network video-on-demand) and Oreimo (coming to DVD from Aniplex of America October 18). During this panel they showed the trailer for his series set to air in Japan this October, Fate/Zero.
The first question from the panel was about any thoughts he had on the titles he's worked on up to this point. "All of the titles are important to me, but I might be most fond of Garden of Sinners. It was a big hit in Japan and because of that, it let me assemble staff and do projects that I wanted to do, based on that success."
Regarding his new project Animebunko, Iwakami explained, "It's going to be a video series in collaboration with Ufotable [Note: Ufotable did some claymation for Garden of Sinners]. [...] TV and theater can be sometimes limiting, and you can't do much experimental material. I think Animebunko will be a platform for that." The official website is already up here.
When asked about his impressions of fans from Japan vs. abroad, Iwakami said, "One thing I noticed is that, looking at Otakon cosplayers, you show a lot of diversity in what you like, and a longer memory, too. A lot of Japanese cosplayers do what's most current and what's the trend, and you see a lot of change between what's current and not. The cycle is much more rapid in Japan."
Iwakami cited Minky Momo (pictured above) as an influence for Madoka, but also noted, "….if I was going to do an original, I thought that I wanted to do a giant robot or magical girl. I believe that giant robots and magical girls are particularly suited to the anime format because they come to life in the media, and when you have magical girls transforming, you need a story, and I've been impressed Gen Urobuchi…" [who ended up being the writer on Madoka].
A fan asked what it was like to work with director Akiyuki Shinbo (Arakawa Under the Bridge, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, Negima!?), who apparently has a reputation for drinking a lot. "He loves his alcohol, so after pretty much every production meeting we go to dinner and drinking, but he does not feel comfortable in front of crowds, so he doesn't go to anime events in Japan or do interviews. He has a mystery about him, but he's a nice guy. […] as a director he's a tough guy, and he will say no to a lot of things that he won't compromise [on], which allows the Shinbo flavor to come out in every show. And one more thing about him, he also has a producer-like mentality […] so I've learned a lot of things about what it takes to be a producer from him."
A Cardcaptor Sakura fan asked if the show was in mind while working on Puella Magi Madoka Magika, noting various similarities. "There was nothing intentional, but we can look at Cardcaptor Sakura as one of the classics in the genre, and there might be some superficial similarities, but I always thought Madoka was going to be different from any magical girl show, so there wasn't any pre-existing show that we intentionally went close to."
Iwakami had a pretty upbeat response to a question about piracy and the health of the industry: "I do understand the feeling that there are a lot of Madoka fans, that not everyone has legal means of watching it. Even in Japan, Madoka was broadcast on Thursday in Osaka and Friday in Tokyo, so there were fans in America who got to see episodes before Tokyo did. And in the age of the Internet, it is interesting to see this phenomenon, but you do need to protect your product or you can't sustain your creative endeavors. [...] we'd like to guide fans and industry to a healthy relationship. So what we'd like to do with Fate/Zero this October, we'd like to do a North American distribution simultaneously with Japan."
Before the panel ended he hinted that the North American release of Madoka would have special packaging "so even Japanese fans will want to buy it."
All images © respective authors.