Otakon hosted the world's first Tiger & Bunny panel this morning, featuring the producer of the show, Masayuki Ozaki (Sergent Keroro, Gintama - The Movie).
The first question from the panel was how they decided to have sponsored superheroes. "The idea came up three years ago. [It was] determined that we would do an original show with the director Keiichi Satou, and Keiichi Satou said he wanted to do a superhero show, but as a producer, I know just doing a plain superhero show wouldn't fly too well. So, I knew we needed a new gimmick, and as a producer, I wanted to include a lot of human drama [in] the story.
"This was just around the Beijing Olympics, and for swimming, the British swimwear maker, Speedo, had a new swimsuit that allowed swimmers to get new records. I saw a Japanese swimmer do a press conference in tears saying he [didn't] have a speedo sponsorship so he [couldn't] wear it—and that's the drama! So the idea came to me, sponsors, and the athelete…change the athlete to the hero. I think that's an interesting story, maybe."
Some issues during production were revealed. "If I start talking about the problems, 90 minutes won't be sufficient. And one big problem we [had]….there was a certain financial crisis that originated in the states back then that propagated back to Japan, and so the project was going ahead, but we had trouble getting real life sponsors, so we were considering putting it on hiatus."
They also had some anxiety about character designs. "It's been considered that any character with facial hair will be a bust. Apparently, Japanese women do not feel attracted to men with facial hair. And in addition, Kotetsu is so old, and he has a daughter. So the main character has facial hair, [is older], has a child, and it's about super heroes, which [aren't] that popular in Japan, so this was filled with elements that were mostly considered busts. That was another big problem."
Regarding the target demographics of the show, "We had two in mind: former anime fans, the old school people who used to watch anime, but no longer; and the other [is] Japanese viewers of American prime time live action TV shows, those who [are] mature and in the workforce. So that's why I wanted to add other elements [to] the show to appeal to them. For one thing, the script had to be well written—we had to have elements of comedy and witty dialogue. And then we wanted to appeal not to a Japanese audience, but a worldwide audience, so the show takes place in a new future-like Manhattan city, and the characters are racially diverse." Ozaki added that they were struck that women who are into yaoi were following the show, "I did not care much about the fujoshi, so I am so surprised at the situation."
Ozaki elborated on the choice of sponsors for some of the characters. "So one is Fire Emblem; he is, as you know, gay. And at first one company was interested in Fire Emblem, and at that time, that company did not know the scenario or the character, and after that, the company [found out] that Fire Emblem was gay and at that point the company said, 'Sorry, we cannot sponsor him.'" It ended up being the FMV Fujitsu logo instead.
For some of the characters, they had sponsors in mind early on in the design process. "For example, Rock Bison. As you know, his motif, is [a] bull, bison. And when [we were] doing character design work, he was always going to be based on the ox motif for his design. As a producer, I knew his corporate sponsor had to [have] something to do with bovine themes. So, the first corporate sponsor we sought was Gyu-Kaku, the Japanese Korean BBQ chain, and they were very happy to sponsor him."
In at least one case, the name of the hero was chosen based on the sponsor. "As you know, Blue Rose has a Pepsi logo, and the Japanese agent for Pepsi is Suntory. Suntory was actually the company, the first successful in the world, to engineer the impossible, a blue rose. I definitely wanted this character to be sponsored by Suntory, so in order to entice [them], her name was to be Blue Rose."
Ozaki said they weren't too worried about the product placement because it's already contained and explained within the world of the show, it's the superheroes themselves that are sponsored, so fans could accept it easier.
On the challenges of doing an original show, Ozaki commented, "As a lot of you may know, it's much more difficult to do an original story and make it successful. In order to do that, you need to catch the fans offguard and make them notice the show. One gimmick to entice the audience was the sponsor logos, and I think that was a successful device for the show. I knew that once someone [caught] an episode, they would be hooked, but conversely that meant if they didn't look at the show, it would be forgotten…" But the success strategy is not all gimmicks, you still need strong characters and plot. "In my opinion, to grab the audience's heart, you don't need the curveballs, you just need a straight-on attempt, and that's exactly what it does."
A Sunrise rep on the panel broke character to ask a question on a personal note about the future of the show and characters. "This seasons is 25 episodes, only 25. I want to make [a] next story, and this isn't anything that I've brought up, but it's a personal aspiration. Even with the 25 episode run, there is a jump between the cours [Note: A "cours" is about 13 episodes.] I think there is room to explore what happens between the two stories […] And there are characters that haven't received enough attention in the story yet—Origami Cyclone, Ouroboros, Sky High, I want to make their stories. So currently, 25 episodes is what we have on the plate. The after story is something I'd like to develop if possible." Ozaki polled the audience to see if they would be interested in an episode focused on Lunatic, or a live action version of the show.
Interestingly, it was mentioned that in future localization efforts, they are looking to have more global sponsors ("Currently, the product placements are a hodgepodge of Japanese domestic and international companies"), including more US specific sponsors, "It's something we need to work out with Viz."
One fan asked how much control sponsors have over the show, with a point about how Pepsi is very protective of their logo, and then about whether or not the sponsor companies have noticed a difference in sales. "It's not just Pepsi, but we do keep the corporate image of all the sponsors in mind, and we keep that consideration when we develope the script. So we communicate with the sponsors; we send them the script and storyboard before it goes into production so we can keep up a good relation. […] Companies like Pepsi, Gyu-Kaku, and Bandai have seen revenue growth thanks to Tiger & Bunny."
When asked why the Japanese release has English subittles, Ozaki replied simply, "because we wanted a global audience such as you guys to see it. […] it is possible to purchase the DVD and Blu-Ray through Amazon.jp and [have it] sent here, but Volume 1 is already completely sold out in Japan, and on the Internet it's selling for two or three times MSRP."
Fans asking about figurines and action figures were told that Bandai will be putting them out. It was also announced that Bandai Namco is developing a videogame.
One of the last questions was which character personifies Ozaki, and which is his favorite. "Difficult question, I love all [of the] heroes, but I'm closest in age to Kotetsu, so I do find him to be the most sympathetic. But I love them all, Sky High, Cyclone, Bison…and Dragon Kid is cute. But there is another character, which si the same one that the script writer has a fixation on, and that's Dr. Saito, the mechanic. We are very fond of Saito as production staff. As for myself, I like Ben, Kotetsu's former boss; he's my personal favorite."
Finally, a fan inquired after the brand of Barnaby's cologne, since apparently fans have managed to guess Kotetsu's. "Kotetsu's cologne, that is a common topic of intense speculation among the fans, but there will be issues if I make an official announcement of what that is, so it is for you to speculate and have fun."
All images © respective authors.