AnimeNEXT 2016 – Sekai Project panel

Publishing Manager Evan Pago hosted the Sekai Project panel. He opened by noting that everyone who worked with Sekai Project started working with other parts of the industry. He shared his love for Idolmaster and noted that all who work in the company need to like Idolmaster. A bit of history, founded in 2013 by a group of anime fans and headed by Raymound Qian and Chris Ling. Met in a restaurant and decided that the industry can be alot better since there was very little overseas fan representation from and to Japan. Their main goal is to make sure that visual novels get a shot in the US as well as show Japan that there is a viable market overseas. Also, Sekai Project would like to give smaller Japanese creators a chance to market their games overseas.

Going into their lineup, the panel opened with The Fruit of Grisana where a male student Yuugi enters a school with only five females with painful pasts. The game allows Yuugi to unlock their pasts and unfold their story. Rabi Ribi is a shooter, side scroller all-in-one type of game. The game was open to be played at Anime Central with a large screen and each boss fight was a “bullet-hell shooter” with thousands of bullets.

Nekopara is described succinctly as ‘cat girl.’ *audience laughs* The characters are not static in the game, bouncing around and smiling. The game is not very long and the second volume is currently being released.

Clannad was shown with quite a fanfare from Pago. Highly anticipated prior to the release with since there was alot of apprehension from both the Japan and US markets. Since there was always a stigma that only ero games would sell, pure titles such as Clannad remain unreleased by publishers. To test the waters, Sekai Project released Planetarium which was very short. Japan was doubtful because the game was very old and short in Japan. “Would people even pay money for it? The first day we released it, we smashed their expectations.” Since Planetarium did so well, Clannad and others were able to be released in English.

Maitetsu was licensed shortly after it was released in Japan. Sekai Project is working very closely with Lose on the US release.

Aside from games, they will be releasing the Gate manga for a end of the June release. To prevent yellowing so quickly, the release with be made with artbook paper which is heavy stock and is white. There will also be dustjackets and everything from the Japanese will be translated over. “Except for the ads.” Since there were also some missing screentones from the Japanese release, they fixed them.

Titles coming soon include Wagamama High Spec is going to be released. The anime short is currently on Crunchyroll and the demo for the game is going to be released soon. For fans of visual novels and military tactics, Just Desserts is going to be released on 7/11/16.

For Clannad fans, Clannad: Side Stories is out.

A surprising title is 2236 AD. There is a world where everyone uses telepathy except for a single girl. A real world correlation would be if everyone is talking except for her. A boy follows her home and discovers something strange. The trailer was shown…which is a art student’s dream project with flashing pictures.

Ne no Kami aka. The Two Princess Knights of Kyoto trailer was shown next. Ongoing project being funded on Indiegogo.

New mascot for Sekai Project! Drawn by artist zpolice who won awards for his work. Zpolice works on light novels, character designs, card games and more.

    Name: Aozora Sena
    Age: 19
    Height: 158 cm
    Weight: 45 kg
    Birthday: May 7
    3-size: 81/54/79
    Theme Color: Blue

Pago adds that Bloodtype was originally on the list since it’s so important to the Japanese. A quick search shows:

    Blood Type: A
    Hobbies: Traveling, singing, stargazing

The Rabi Ribi trailer was shown. CEO of CreSpirit, Sirluma, translator, Ian Lee and artist Saiste will be at Anime Expo. To cater to fans who are not able to get to the west coast, a limited quantity of the limited edition goods including the bags will be available on the website from 7/1 to 7/4.

Ling was introduced and welcome on stage before they show a teaser trailer to Fault. A very different type of game where the story starts with the main character’s town getting burned down. The visual and music ties together to create an ambiance that is unique to the game. Limited edition goods are being worked on for release on the site with the developers during Anime Expo.

Another teaser trailer for Nekopara was shown as Sayori, the creative head/illustrator/designer for the game will be at Anime Expo. Pago noted that it was very difficult to schedule Sayori in since his schedule is packed. Definitely will be an awesome weekend on the west coast!

For those who asks questions, there are a ton of awesome gifts including a copy of Spice and Wolf vol. 11 signed by author Hasekura Isuna-sensei. (Sekai Project has also released a game with the story written by Hasekura-sensei set in the future, World End Economica.

The question opened with the one they always get asked: “Will you ever release Type Moon works?” Pago noted that it is such a common question and it’s unfortunately one that can’t really be answered properly. “Unless it is agreed to by the Japanese company, we cannot speak about it. All we can say is ‘We love to, we’re working on it.’” Pago encouraged fans to keep supporting the industry so that more games will be released. Another fan asked if the lack of a Type Moon release was due to the fan translation being available. Pago disagreed. He noted that Clannad also had a fan translation and they proved that people are still willing to pay for an official release.

A fan asked about projects which caused emotional stress while working on it. Ling responded that Visual Arts originally did not think Clannad was going to succeed in the US. “We approached Visual Arts for Planetarium and later asked them for Clannad when the first game sold well. We launched a Kickstarter for the game since the cost for translating it-all 1.6 billion characters-was staggering.” The Kickstarter project with the side story, a comic which was just created for the project had so much work involved including hundreds of e-mails and trips to Osaka to confirm details about the released. “Is the box the right color? Is this the right size? Can we offer this?” One year after the Kickstarter, Ling noted that they had about finished shipping out the last of the funding items. However, with only a dozen or so staff working on the project of this scale, it was a project that they loved, but it was one with alot of “heart breaking pain.” “It shortened my lifespan.” *audience laughed*

The next question asked about their favorite game to work on. Ling noted that he enjoyed working on the Nekopara series since it was a series of perfect timing. He spoke about Japan contacting him about the game. Ling explained Steam release to the Japanese company and they considered it for a few months before accepting the offer. He noted that Nekopara was a surprise hit and has a strong following now outside of Asia. Ling continued to speak about the April Fool’s joke, Nekopara Live which was a simulated concert with the girls from the game. The joke promoted merchandise like the tote bag. Only sold at Anime Expo and online!

A fan asked about the status of the Witch Boy Magical Piece Kickstarter which ‘failed’. Ling noted that he can’t speak much about it since they are still in talks over the project. He added that it wasn’t necessarily that it failed, it may just be a timing of the game release. Since there is still a market for these types of games, Ling ask fans to keep looking out for it.

The next question was about Sakura Spirit which Ling noted did surprisingly well which proves that there is a viable market in the US with the right produce. Another fan asked about it was working with the company, Winged Cloud on the releases. Ling spoke about flow of developers who may decide to work with other publishing companies which he felt was good for them since they could branch out and try different things. He noted that Winged Cloud has been working with them for some time and things have been working out between the two companies. Ling noted that they try their best to work with the company.

Concerning releases outside of Steam, Pago noted that it is difficult to make physical releases, getting the design for the box, shipping, translating the instruction manual etc. He noted that a simple game with a box and cd rom would be run over $5,000 for the manufacturing cost for 1,000 copies. Chris added that it is a possibility if the fans would let the company know. If there is a fanbase for hard copies for certain games, then they will see a calling for it. “Let us know.” This started a call from the fans for soundtracks and artbooks. ‘Cat plushies’ was met with some laughter.

Chris stepped off and Pago continued with the Q&A. Immediately, a fan asked to buy the bag. “How much for the bag? Right here, right now.” *audience laughs* The next question was about the title that they couldn’t bring over. Pago noted that he really likes the game Muv Luv. Although it was something he was hoping Seki Project would release, their publishing friend, Degica got the license. Although it wasn’t something he could have worked on, he was very happy to see it released by Degica.

Favorite visual novel? Pago noted that Muv Luv was the visual novel he almost got fired from. He ended up playing 40 hours straight of Muv Luv Unlimited and played it again on Black Friday. He was supposed to be in sales and told his office that he “was too busy crying.”

Pago commented about the disconnect of what Japan thinks will work in the US and what doesn’t work to the reality of what really caters to overseas fans. He refers to the branch office of Sekai Project in Tokyo (stating that they are probably the only visual novel company that has one currently,) since they need to work with the Japanese companies closely with these releases. Pago noted that Chris travels to Japan 6-7 months each year to make sure that the Japanese companies know what fans want in the west.

To the question concerning the types of titles Sekai Project undertakes, Pago noted that it must appeal to a certain type of audience in the west. Other things affecting the licensing of titles include the cost of manufacturing and programming. Pago continues to explain the problems with programming since Japanese games are created on different programs and it’s not as simple as replacing the Japanese with English. He alludes to a game where “putting a comma in breaks the entire engine.” Sometimes people leave the company and there is no information about how that program. There are also issues with pictures where the sprite and the background is one layer and can’t be separated or they have to redraw a character over 300 times…. A single editor needs to look over perhaps a few translators’ parts to make sure there is consistency. There is alot of background work which goes into a single title. If the cost of creating the work is expensive, the price towards the release would be expensive which the company does not want to happen.

Marketing also includes being in contact with the Japanese company. Getting permission to use a picture properly, make changes to a picture, a part of the picture takes alot of time and communication. Pago details about the company and publisher relationship, respect and trust between the two. Using keigo, proper Japanese with the companies, being warned about appropriate usage of words and being able to maintain a level of confidence so that they’ll trust the publisher to release the title properly. “Not only is the title good, to be able to represent the partner company in the way that they want to be represented.”

Concerning genres which Sekai Project is interested in. Pago noted that he is interested in strategy and fighting games. Rabi Ribi is a good example for a good fighting game. He noted that QA usually clock in 3-6 hours before stopping in between. For Rabi Ribi, people were working 12-13 hours straight. “We had to tell them to stop since there were other games that need to be worked on.”

More licensing stories. Pago noted the seriousness of Japan when speaking of licensing titles. He noted that there was a manga company that was suppose to license a title. The artist of the title was suppose to make an appearance at the convention and announce the license as a surprise. The artist’s appearance was announced as a joke on April Fool’s joke and the license was pulled from the company. Without naming anything specific, Pago noted that any company the fans are probably thinking about, the Japanese branch of Sekai Project has already most likely spoken with them about something.

Best waifus in Nekopara? Coconut and Azuki. The fan disagrees and Pago noted that all the merch for the game series will be these two girls.

Another really good question was concerning titles that Japan thinks will work in the West, but Sekai Project had to disagree. Without naming anything specific, Pago noted that there were titles that they turned out. There were times Pago felt that they were wrong and they will admit to it. In the newsletters, there are polls where fans can respond to. Those results are shared with the Japanese companies. Those results are also reasons they show why Sekai Project is not working with a certain type of title. However, he added that in the future, they hope to work with the company again. Since the US has a history of releasing fanservicy titles, the creators of the game like Fault had their apprehensions. For a series like Fault, there is no fan service. There is only a very deep story about growing up. When the creator saw the fanbase for deep stories, he was excited for the US release of the game.

Another question turns to Visual Arts’s announcement that they will actually release Harmonia in english first and whether or not simultaneous release is possible. Pago noted the difficult and issues with simultaneous release. “It’s not just about the translation, it’s only part 1.” Pago noted that VA able to do that since they developed their own engine. Even if Japan prepares for an English release first, there is still alot of programming involved first. There is also alot of work that is needed, 100,000 of characters that needs to be translated. Pago reminded fans that their goal is also to release titles from companies that need exposure and showcase that there is a market for them.

The possibility of releasing limited edition sets. Pago noted that there needs to be a demand for it and the costs for manufacturing the items. He detailed that printing cds and books is so cheap in Japan. “That’s the only reason why Comiket works. If I had to print 1000 doujins, it would cost $500 bucks [in Japan.]” He explained that the Nekopara artbook for the release in Japan and the US. The cost for 1000 artbooks in the US was over $2000. Pago reminded fans that cost needs to work for both the company and for the fans. “If the cost is high, we would need to pass it on to your guys. We have to make sure that it still looks good and is cheap enough for you guys to afford it.” It’s awesome to have a company be so close to the fans. Pago also detailed the shipping costs since it cost for people to sign for it at the warehouse along with the actual shipping cost. Pago thanked the fans for attending the panel and the staff sent us out.