MangaGamer had a large presence at Anime Expo this year, starting with a full page ad on the back of the program guide. They also set up a large booth in the exhibition hall, held 3 mini-concerts and held a panel on the third day, where they announced their future plans. Of note was that they announced both Higurashi no Nakukoro ni and SHUFFLE! as future titles.
MangaGamer took out a full page ad on the back cover of the Anime Expo program guide, featuring a shot of Suika as the background, and advertising the products they were selling at the convention, as well as a list of Japanese “studios” (Circus, HOBIBOX, Navel, NEXTON, OVERDRIVE, the NEXTON brands, mashroom.jp, unidam, SOM, HanimeZ.net, HgameZ.net), free giveaways and a description of what bishojo games were. They shipped in a lot of goods for sale at their booth, including pillow cases, sheets, t-shirts, music CDs, mousepads and karuta sets, although a large portion of these weren’t available on the first day due to shipping issues. In terms of guests, MangaGamer brought Circus CEO tororo-danchou, illustrator Yuka Kayura, singers Aina Kase, miru (from Cy-Rim rev.), yozuca*, and OVERDRIVE illustrator Shinji Katakura. Representatives from HOBIBOX, SOM and HgameZ.net were also present.
The booth was enclosed on all sides and required people to be 18+ to enter the booth. Upon entering the booth, people were offered a MangaGamer demo disc (which includes trial verisons of Da Capo, Suika A.S+ and KIRAKIRA, and a translated version of SHUFFLE’s Japanese website) as well as a MangaGamer fan. There were posters, pillow cases and sheets adorning the inside walls. The first table offered Shin Koihime Musou t-shirts for sale, and the second table was mostly occupied by the artists, who would do custom drawings and signatures for $20. Next were CDs for sale from HOBIBOX, as well as some Japanese versions of the Higurashi no Nakukoro ni doujin release. Finally, the last table had running demonstrations of SOM’s products as well as a section for the HgameZ.net people.
Outside the booth was a small stage with a large flatscreen TV running some game openings as well as some concert footage from Dream Party. There was a small rehearsal on the first day, and three concerts were held, one on each of the remaining days. The first two concerts had Aina Kase and miru each performing four songs and yozuca* performing five, followed by the passing out of vouchers for free autographs. The concert on the last day was shortened due to time constraints, but was also the most attended since it was promoted at their panel on the night of the third day. At the end of the last concert, a rock-papers-scissors contest was held to raffle off goods and was followed by an impromptu signing session. One enthusiastic fan offered an electronic glowstick and Anime Expo plushie to each singer.
MangaGamer’s panel “The Future Trend of Bishojo Games,” was held on the third night of Anime Expo in a room that held hundreds of people. The interpreter first introduced the panelists, starting with the multi-talented head of Circus, tororo-danchou. Next was Yuka Kayura, illustrator for some of Circus’s games, including the Da Capo series and Suika. The performers were then introduced, starting with yozuca*, who is a singer-songwriter for many games and anime series and was guest of honor at Anime Expo in 2006. She was followed by singer-songwriter miru from the group Cy-Rim rev., who had performed the theme song for Circus’s game Da Capoker, and Aina Kase, who performed songs for Sora wo Tobu Mittsu no Houhou. Both Cy-Rim rev. and Aina Kase performed at Anime Expo last year. Finally, Shinji Katakura, illustrator from OVERDRIVE, was introduced. He was dressed up as a ninja, and he explained that since Japan is quite peaceful, there’s not much work for a ninja, and thus he has been working as a video game illustrator instead. He had to remove his mask before his explanation since the microphone wasn’t picking up his voice properly.
After introductions, tororo-danchou moved onto an explanation of the tie between music and games. Before he started, he also asked the audience “how many people here know bishoujo games?” The huge response in the affirmative made him gasp in shock. He then went on to explain that amongst bishoujo games, moe games and “naki” (crying) games are games where the music plays a very important part, especially during emotional and passionate scenes. The singers for these games are apparently called “utahime” in Japan.
The presentation then continued with the Suika A.S+ opening movie, followed by tororo-danchou’s one-phrase explanation of the game: “the nostalgia of one summer.” He then explained that “obon” (Bon Festival) was celebrated in Japan in August and that it is supposedly when deparated ancestors return, hence evoking a sad feeling and this is the feeling that the game brings. This time, only a few people raised their hands when he asked the audience “who has played Suika before?” He notes that Suika was what made Circus into a popular company in the beginning, but Da Capo was what introduced a lot of fans, and hence there may only be hardcore fans who know about Suika. Then, tororo-danchou tells the audience that this game is available as a download through MangaGamer and is currently available in English, although they would like to do different things in the future like different languages. He notes that since MangaGamer is based in Europe, they have to have prices in euros. However, he says that they have been talking to a lot of makers in Japan and hopes that the breadth of titles will make up for it. Lastly, he acknowledges that they had a “bit of difficulty” with localisation in the beginning, but says that the translators have been working hard and they are striving for quality that will please everyone.
The next segment of the panel featured MangaGamer’s latest release, KIRAKIRA. After playing the opening movie, the presentation moved onto illustrator Shinji Katakura’s comments about the game. He says that many bishoujo games are about memories of youth and romance that blossoms during that time. However, there are different types of memories, and KIRAKIRA in particular is about a group of students who form a band. Katakura also pointed out that the experience of forming a band might actually be more familiar to people in America than Japan. While he was explaining this, the singers all broke out laughing. When asked, they say that it is so bizarre that Katakura was being this serious, since he normally isn’t and that he was totally drunk two days ago.
Following Katakura’s segment, tororo-danchou was then asked to talk about MangaGamer’s future titles. He says that MangaGamer will be releasing games from Navel, as some of the attendees might already know from having visited the booth. Shuffle! will probably have a release date in late summer, but he told the audience to stay tuned to the website for more details. Other games from Navel are also in the works as well. tororo closed out the announcements section with “we’ve also acquired that famous doujin game. It’s a very popular title in Japan, called Higurashi no Nakukoro ni.” He notes that this is not an erotic game, but also feels that games don’t have to have erotic content to be 18+. He feels that if it’s a title adults can enjoy, then he would want to bring it over. The release is most likely going to be in two parts, with the first four chapters, the question arc, being released first, and then the last four chapters, the answer arc, being released later.
In response to people’s complaints that the games were too expensive, tororo-danchou asked the staff to offer a buy-one-get-one-free promo, where a key code on the back of the demo disc packaging would allow a customer to add two games to the shopping cart and not have to pay for the cheaper one. He noted that MangaGamer is still in the red and would appreciate it if people told their friends to buy their games online.
The last part of the panel presentation was a video of ai sp@ce, a “metaverse similar to Second Life.” In ai sp@ce, the player lives in a 3D rendition of the world of Da Capo, Shuffle!, CLANNAD and Akihabara. The player supposedly “lives there… with… bishoujo.” It was noted that there was talk about creating an English version, although they’re still in the process of deciding what to do.
There was enough time for a short Q&A section at the end of the panel. When asked about Da Capo II, the reply was that there are plans to release Da Capo II. When asked about their view on the recent EOCS regulations, the reply from tororo-danchou was that “I think there should be some sort of regulations, but I think it’s about making restrictions about avoiding extremes. Right now there’s talk about child pronography law applying to images and it might apply to anime as well. I think that’s going too far,” to which the audience erupted in applause. The final question was about whether MangaGamer was putting in any effort to work with fan translators, due to the presence of a sizeable number of fan translations of bishoujo games. The reply was that each game must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and that they have no preconceived notions that fan translations are inherently bad. Furthermore, they would be interested if they are able to work with fan translators and if they can obtain translations at a relatively affordable price and thus might be able to release games more cheaply. After the panel, we enquired about the current status of Higurashi, and it appears that translation on it has started already.
The panel ended with a raffle. Each attendee at the panel was given a raffle ticket and the panelists took turns drawing tickets from the box of raffle tickets. Unfortunately, Katakura’s ninja moves seem to have damaged the box, as tickets were falling out the bottom when the box was shook. A KIRAKIRA poster signed by Shinji Katakura was raffled off, along with a KIRAKIRA body pillow, CDs and a Da Capo 2 body pillow.
We managed to approach tororo-danchou afterwards for some questions. When asked about plans for Shin Koihime Musou, he notes that this game has a different engine and may might be hard to localise. We also asked him about users having problems reading the text due to a thin font in KIRAKIRA and he says that he will take that into consideration.
UPDATE: A tentative release schedule has been posted on Akihabara Channel.