Although there have been some stupid intermittent posts here about random BS over the past week, I think it's about time for a better bit of Japanese catch-up...
Tokyo Day Two began with an early hook up with Aki, who also works for Marvel in several different capacities in Japan, and we went and met a few popular manga artists who will hopefully soon be collaborating on a new project for Marvel in 2009. We worked everything out and the future looks bright, but their names have to be withheld pending a formal future announcement unfortunately. Sorry!
After that we headed over to Baker Bounce for what Aki promised was one of the best burgers in Japan, and he wasn't wrong. As I posted previously, it was one of the four best burgers I've ever had anywhere in the world. Simply incredible! It was one of those burgers that you did not need any condiments on. It was perfect just as it was as it came off the grill. The texture, fat content and flavoring of the meat really did make it a burger that will not soon be forgotten! For those who read Japanese, you can check out more about the joint and its food here: http://bakerbounce.com/
After checking in on the Chesterfest Tokyo restaurant reservation, we popped over to what's become known as Japan's geek paradise, Akihabara. We started in Radio Kaikan and made our way from shop to shop looking for manga and toys. I actually didn't buy too much this time around. The trend in Japan now leans towards these sexily-posed, panty-showing female figures and that's not my cup of tea. We dropped by the Kotobukiya store and the Kaiyodo shop as well. Kaiyodo's big push these days is for Assemble Borg, which is an action figure line that's a cross between Micronauts, Transformers and model kits, where you can take them apart and build them back in any form you want, combining man and machine. They're actually designed by Trigun's very own Yasuhiro Nightow. (You can find more Assemble Borg info here.) Kaiyodo also has a big Oh My Goddess display up with was surprising as you don't tend to hear too much about that series anymore.
Next we made our way over to the new Mandarake Akiba Superstore which was huge! Here I found a rare Japanese Star Wars Fan Club membership kit that I picked up for $80.00 which I thought was cheap. Then disappointment set in as we found my favorite dojinshi shop was no more. Dojinshi are technically fan-produced/self-published comics, but several big name manga artists also create them, kind of like U.S. artists putting out sketchbooks in the States, and they usually contain exclusive images and such. However, we then visited a different shop, another manga megaplex and had more luck. I was able to get new dojinshi from Range Murata, Yoshitoshi ABe, Hakua Ugetsu, Akaikiba and a few other folks I'm a fan of. After that, Aki wanted to check for some old school video game cartridges, so we made the rounds there and bumped into plenty of fellow gaijin. With Akiba and otaku in all the news of late, the area has become a mecca for international geeks and you could see it everywhere you looked.
Then we hooked up with Kei Kobayashi, artist of Spider-Man Fairy Tales and Marvel Ai, who I truly believe is one of the finest illustrators working on the planet at the moment. And I truly mean that. His new work was mind-blowing! He also brought along two other artists who wanted to show me their portfolios and I was damn impressed. Then it was on to Chesterfest Tokyo 2008!
I think this was the fourth year I've been doing my annual Chesterfest bash in Tokyo and it was bigger than ever. Marvel artists, like Gurihiru, Sana Takeda, Takeshi Miyazawa and Kei to name a few, all come and get to mingle with Marvel's friends and partners from the Japanese toy, anime, publishing and video game industries. We had over 30 people this year and it was a wonderful and productive night of sharing plans and ideas for the Marvel characters over a meal, chanko nabe this year, in a more relaxed environment. And much like any Japanese bonenkai, Chesterfest was followed by an after-party, a nijikai as they say, and even a sanjikai, which went till the wee hours of the morning. Rumor has some folks getting home well after 6AM!!
Tokyo Day Three, Saturday, was pretty much a personal day for me. After being out till after 4AM I knew I'd be sleeping in and didn't plan much for the day till well after noon. Then hooked up with another old friend manga-ka for a nice ramen lunch, went back to the hotel and wrote a little, caught up with few other Tokyo folks via phone conversations, and then met a prominent manga artist for dinner. And again, I'm sorry I can't name names just yet but I assure you people are going to be surprised by some of the Japanese artists you'll see working at Marvel this coming year!
Tokyo Day Four began with me going to meet Wolverine SNIKT! artist Tsutomu Nihei and his family for lunch. Hadn't seen them in about two years so it was a lovely afternoon of catching up and reconnecting. Man, kids grow up so fast! After that we went over to his studio, talked some business, he showed me some of the new BioMega pages he was working on, and gave me some insider info on what he's going to be doing next in Japan. Hopefully, you'll be seeing more of Nihei-san's work at Marvel as well in the coming months. Also scored a copy of his new full color collection of "BLAME! Gakuen: And So On..." which is a must for fans to see how one of Japan's ground-breaking artists is using the digital medium to the fullest extent in his work!
I noticed two interesting things on the way to and back from Nihei's place. To get out to where he is, you have to take the Odakyu line, which is a smaller private train line out of Tokyo. As I glanced out the window as the train rolled on, it was hard to miss the graffiti painted everywhere along the tracks. Tokyo has strict laws about graffiti and you usually don't see much, but here, as we moved from station to station, the walls along the line were covered with tags and simplistic spray-painted art. It wasn't anywhere near the level of street art you see in NY or LA, but it was clear here was a rebellious underground culture in this area.
The other thing that surprised me about the Odakyu line was that it was infested with bible thumpers. As I stood there on the train minding my own business, FIVE different people approached me out of the blue. That in itself is strange in Japan as people tend to keep to themselves on trains and also never want to talk to gaijin anyway. But these complete strangers all walked up to me one-by-one at different times during my round-trip ride and had the exact same MO. They started by asking if I spoke English. When I confirmed I did, they asked me if I was Christian. When I replied I wasn't and went to turn away in an attempt to ignore them as I knew what was coming, all five individuals then tried to hand me English literature about how God and the Bible will save my soul. Each time I politely declined and walked away as they pleaded for me to consider Christianity, each time a bit more pissed off by it all, to be honest. But I got curious about it after the fifth time it happened and wondered what was so special about this line that they trolled it looking for converts. I later asked around about it, but everyone I spoke with seemed just as baffled as me. Still, I'm left pondering what it is that brings out these religious zealots in droves on the Odakyu like that...
Next I headed over to one of Japan's newest anime companies, David Productions. One of the folks that runs this quickly growing studio is Taito Okiura, who used to work at anime power-house Gonzo. I met Taito when I was working with Gonzo on Afro Samurai: Resurrection last year and we've kept in touch since. When he heard I was in Tokyo he invited me over to check out his new venture and I was damn impressed. There's confidentiality involved in a lot of what I saw, but I can tell you that David is soon gonna be a major player in the anime industry. One project I can mention that they showed me that blew me away from the anime for the Ultra Jump manga series DOGS! by Shiro Miwa. DOGS! has been a favorite manga series of mine for a while now and they are doing an incredible job of bringing it to animated life!
I then ended up meeting some old friends for a nice Korean dinner, and quick night-time look at Tokyo Tower, and some drinks at a place called Sobar, where they specialized in whiskey and home-made soba noodles. Nice joint!
And before I knew it, it was my last day in Tokyo. I started the day early with a breakfast meeting with one of the Gundam artists who's expressed a desire to do work in the States. I outlined for him how our work-for-hire system differs from the Japanese manga system and left him with a lot of mull over. Fingers crossed...
Then it was off to a lunch meeting with Sana "Drain" Takeda and Ryusuke "Compass" Hamamoto. We went out for some amazing black sesame ramen.
Both Ryu and Sana have schedules that are freeing up soon and both are leaving room for more Marvel and Image work, so you'll be seeing more of them in the States very soon! And be sure to check out Sana's SOULFIRE series with Vince Hernandez from Aspen Comics that's on sale now!
After lunch we all headed over to Nakano Broadway, which is a better place for geek shopping than Akihabara in my opinion. It's still somewhat of a secret location, mostly undiscovered by gaijin, and the prices are cheaper than Akiba, but I have a feeling all that's gonna change soon. There I did a little shopping and finally found my Marvel repainted gashapon (although I didn't get a full set), the new Spider-Man gashapon (another incomplete set), my Evangelion Santa figurines, my Swedish flag Bearbrick, my Die Hard and Predator Bearbricks, and most importantly, a full set of the Pepsi Nex Star Wars Bearbricks! Most places had the full sets for around $150.00, but one stand run by an old woman had hers going for only $25! SCORE!!
I ended the day, and my Tokyo trip, by meeting up with my old buddy Yasuhiro Nightow for dinner. We were also joined by Ultra Man designer Yasuhiro Nitta, who's always a blast to hang out with. They took me out for an amazing and amusing seafood dinner, where you get a grill and some charcoal dumped on your table and then just order whatever seafood you like to cook yourself. And they didn't skimp on the neta on their sushi either!
It was wonderful way to unwind and catch up with Nightow-san, although the poor guy hadn't slept much as he'd been working to hit a deadline for his new manga series coming from Jump SQ. But he soldiered on, wearing a great T-shirt to boot, and an enjoyable time and unforgettable meal was had by all!