Sakura-Con 2017 – Making of The Reflection by Hiroshi Nagahama

This second panel focused on Hiroshi Nagahama’s upcoming work with Stan Lee, The Reflection. After attending his impassioned discussion on American comics in his first panel, I was excited to see how this second one would proceed. Instead of a projector, large posters for the new series stood on panels in front of the guest table. Promotional videos for DEEN and The Reflection appeared on the large side screen. Nagahama-san returned with his excited tone of voice to discuss behind the scenes details for the series.

I’ll be honest and admit that I am not the biggest fan of American comics. While I do enjoy the occasional U.S. film, I find the flood of superhero movies a bit overwhelming. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of an anime posturing as an American comic, but Nagahama-san convinced me otherwise. After listening to him, I am now looking forward to trying The Reflection. I don’t think I would have felt this way if I had not seen and listened to him in person, so thank you, Sakura-Con, for inviting him!

*Any transcription below is provided first through a translator’s words, then paraphrased as needed by me.*

Hiroshi Nagahama: Thank you for gathering together today for this panel. I certainly hope I didn’t miss out on anyone at the autograph session. Hopefully, I got through everyone? I was quite busy at that session as you might imagine.

We prepared these posters just for today. These character visuals are appearing for the first time ever, for the most part. For each character, we only have five posters each. I’ve got a couple going at the charity auction. They’re extremely rare. The poster with the greener tone I had intended to be printed in a more yellowish color. We’re still in the adjustment phase for the color. This may be the only time you see it in this color scheme.

If you look at the orange poster, the character depicted is going to be the main character for this work. This might not be an accurate comparison. If you think about the X-Men comics, oftentimes you see girls featured in the signature art, like Jubilee. You can think of this character as the equivalent of those characters for this work. If you look at the now green, next time yellow, poster, this character is Lisa and is also a part of the main heroine group. If you look at the robot in the background, that is her hero form, if we may. Please look forward to how that transformation is actually depicted.

I was going to ask whether there was anything else, but I realized since you are all here for this panel, maybe some of you may not know what [The Reflection] is. Let me give a brief description of what the work is about. This work, The Reflection, is a joint project between myself and Stan Lee, who you may know as the creator of Spider-Man, X-Men, the god of American comics. He and I are the co-authors of this work, a Japanese anime series.

The general story goes that there are these incidents happening all over the world, maybe a natural disaster, where many people die. After those deaths, we see characters arise and become superheroes. The basic story line may feel cliche or typical, but that’s basically the general idea there. If you look at the story a bit closer, these incidents referred to as “reflections,” as the story progresses, you’ll start to know the truth behind the incidents. Some may become clear that–oh, that’s how it is–and others with deeper backgrounds. That’s how the story will flow.

Instead of me just putting out the story in front of you, I may want to form this into a Q&A and hopefully…answer some of these questions. Let us introduce Noguchi-san here from studio DEEN.

Noguchi: My name Noguchi from Studio DEEN. With Nagahama-san, it was maybe six years ago we started working on this project. I traveled with him to the states to meet Stan Lee. When Nagahama approached us about this project, I felt honored to work with both him and Stan Lee. All of you here I’m sure are big fans of Nagahama-san, and I am one of you. I’m doing this work because I want to see his film. I’m sure I’m much more excited about this than you in watching this film. That’s why we’re striving to make this a great work.

Here’s an announcement: in Japan, we’re airing this series on Sogo Channel starting in July. In North America, we’re airing through Crunchyroll on their simulcast at about the same time. Please let your friends know and spread the word! We’ll be showing a series of clips here and there, starting off with a 2-minute clip about studio DEEN works, then later clips from The Reflection. Please enjoy..

Q&A

Q: Given the fact that a lot of comics, DC, Marvel, have been around almost 80 years now, what steps have you taken to make sure your series lasts just as long?
A: That’s a really excellent question. We have been thinking about that while creating The Reflection. You can think of the The Reflection as the peek into a long-running comic series. We’re going to turn it into a single arc of the story. But a lot of stuff happened before and after the arc we are creating. It could go in many directions after. Similar to Star Wars where a whole bunch of stuff happens before and after. We’re creating an entire timeline, not just the one animated now.

Q: I understand your’e a huge fan of Daredevil. As a fan of that, how do you feel about the version on Netflix? And how do you keep your passion for American comics from leaking into your work?
A: The Netflix version of Daredevil was excellent. I loved it. But there’s one improvement I’d like to request, if I may. The nose. Daredevil’s nose. See, the Netflix version has a Batman-esque shape. That is the correct way to do it when protecting the nose. But looking at Captain America from Avengers, his nose is out in the open. So I would have liked to have Netflix’s Daredevil show his nose, as well. I’m not going to ask for too much like representing the D on the chest, but at least the nose!
My passion for American comics are expressed through Mushishi, Aku no Hana, etc. in any work I try to express as much as I can. As far as The Reflection is concerned, I feel like I am making an X-Men work.

[Start video of DEEN works]

The works shown in this clip have been released in the past six months. Starting in July, we’ll be showing The Reflection. We hope you’re looking forward to it. While we tweak more on the settings, coming up next are some promo videos of The Reflection.

[Video on The Reflection narrated by Stan Lee]

That figurine in front of Stan Lee is the character I-Guy. The upcoming footage is I-Guy in motion in the animation. I-Guy was actually a one-hit wonder singer back in the 80s. The music was produced by Trevor Horn, a British producer. He created music just for I-Guy. Does anyone know Trevor Horn?

Audience member: “Video Killed the Radio Star!”

Yes! He was the vocalist for the British band The Buggles. They also worked on a band called t.A.T.u. and Seal, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. He’s the producer for those works. We got him to sing with a bit of an 80s twist. Please have a listen!

The animation style you just witnessed, this is the exact style we want for the rest of the work.

[Applause]

I’m really happy you guys like it! The feel I was going through when this was all printed out is that it should feel like a comic book. We’re not using any of the lighting effects, gradations, blur effects, those effects–we’re not using any of that. Granted, we see all of that so much in anime nowadays. None of that for this one. While this is a challenge, concerning Mushishi, Detroit Metal City, Aku no Hana, they were all different styles. I wanted to that for this work as well. There’s also no concept of shadows for this work. Like an American comic, it’s all blacked out. When we’re actually creating the animation, there are so much restrictions, and we’re still abiding by them and creating them. If you really did like this art style, I’ll be very happy.

As far as the character I-Guy you just saw, Stan really likes him, too, and says he’s really cool, fun. How many of you have seen the movie Unbreakable? I love Unbreakable. I felt like it was using a variety of new expressions for the comic world. What I’m doing with some of the color schemes is I’m filling it with American comic conventions. When looking at the colors, they might look evil, or might look good or like something inside of them is evil. I noticed this was also evident in Unbreakable, though the bad guys tended to wear blue. In The Reflection, it’s purple.

What we’re about to show you now is extremely special. It’s the first time we’re releasing a character design. Please refrain from photographing. Put your phones away, cameras away. This is I-Guy. And more I-Guy. The designer is very talented, if you look at the body details as well. He was also the character designer for Mushishi.

And this is the another main character, X-san. This might be a bit reminiscent of Cyclops, one he was wearing at some time. It is completely coincidental. Upon discovering the X symbol on Cyclops has a different meaning, I decided not to alter my design. Cyclops’ design has the eye glass look away from this dirty reality, a bit of diversion from the real world. He hides everything that comes into sight. X-san, he’s actually looking through that bit of x right there. Here are more designs of X-san. I’m going to keep secret his super powers.

This is the main character, Eleanor. She’ll be the centric figure in the story. And this is how she is. Coming from a Japanese animation production standpoint, this is a very difficult, and different taste of art style. We decided we’d take on the challenge and incorporate as much as we could of the American comic taste.

Going through all of this, some of you might have noticed the faces matching their names (X-san, I-Guy). This is something I was fixated on and was determined to go with in that style. When you think about it, the face of Spider-Man, even little kids can draw it. But no one can really draw from Transformers. We’ve deliberately chosen this design so every little kids can draw an I or an X and make it look like these characters. We’ve also distinguished the colors, blue for I-guy, red for X-guy. A kid might pick up a blue crayon and draw an I, and that’s I-guy. The simplicity is what we’re going for. Little kids to older people can pick up a crayon and draw them like they’ve known them for years. I’m designing these character as if they’re actual American comics. We’re going under the assumptions that designs in the older days were simpler. When this turns into an movie, it’ll get more complicated.

Q: There have been some anime that have kind of overlapped with American superheroes: Tiger & Bunny, Boku no Hero Academia. Have you looked to those for inspiration? If you have or haven’t, are there things you are taking in consideration with them in terms of overlapping American elements, superhero elements to make it accessible to everyone?
A: I wouldn’t say there’s been much of an influence of those works on The Reflection. I did enjoy those anime, but saying that there’s something I took as study when watching them…what I actually thought, I can still see traces of Japanese style and pacing in other aspects on how they were produced. I studied those to make sure I took them out of The Reflection

Q: Will we see a comic book rendition?
A: Yes, I would love to do them. But we’re still in a discussion phase. Stan said he’d like to do it, too.

Q: When you had I-Guy flying, I noticed the inking style looked a lot like Jack Kirby. I thought this is what his work would look like animated. Good job. My question: you know we have anime cons here in America. In Japan, do they have American comic conventions like our anime conventions?
A: Last year, for the first time, we had Tokyo Comic Con in which I actually participated and handed out flyers for The Reflection. We did a bit of promotion with an idol group called 9nine who did the ending theme for our work. I feel the Comic Con in Japan is still under work. Maybe next year that hype will get going. I did feel like there are a lot of American comic fans in Japan, as well.

Q: As you know, American comic stores can run for decades, even 100 years. Where would you like to see The Reflection end up?
A: I’d love for it to last for decades, or however long. I’d even love to see someone, not myself, take this and do their rendition of The Reflection. I hope this will serve as a base or foundation to create their own derivatives.

Q: Since Stan Lee appears in his works, and we can expect to see him this time in The Reflection, should we also look for you in the anime? If not, is there anything we as fans in America should pay attention to?
A: Stan will of course make his appearance. Trevor Horn who did the music will appear. Since the story is set in America, I or any of my co-producers on the Japan side will not make an appearance. We do want to treasure some friends we met in American and other states, so there may be a single shot of the Space Needle so Seattle fans can say, oh! There’s the Space Needle!

Noguchi: One last word: the promotion video of The Reflection is available on YouTube. Please look for it!

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