I was lucky enough to catch an interview with the wonderful Charlene Ingram of Viz Media. You may know her from the Viz Media industry panels at San Diego Comic Con, Otakon, or any other huge con. She’s a busy woman with a real passion for the industry and had some really insightful comments to share with our readers.
We snuck away from the Viz Media booth and found a place to sit and chat about the anime industry! Charlene is the Senior Manager for the Animation Marketing team and she runs the animation marketing department. She works on all of the titles that Viz puts out. That means everything we see – advertising materials, packaging, cosplay events, convention plans, and post cards, etc. go through the marketing team before they make it to the consumer.
I asked her how she got involved in working with anime and Sailor Moon in particular; she explained to me that she simply started out as a big anime fan who put in a lot of hard work and had some good luck. Now she’s at a place she can feel at home.
“I just was exposed to conventions, I was volunteering at conventions and I was working at another company as a brand manager and I just made the leap out to the west coast… I never thought in a million years that I would get to work on a title that was so influential in my fandom. It’s something that I hold close to my heart and take very very seriously. It’s a beautiful fandom…”
Charlene also shared with me her earliest memory of Sailor Moon, which was a bit hard to answer since she said that she always had a little bit of exposure to some anime. Her first anime was actually Ranma 1/2.
“I remember the comic book shop I was going to in Greenwood, Indiana. They had a couple of little anime booklets they were selling in the shop, I didn’t know what they were but it turns out they were Sailor Moon... I thought wow these girls look really, really cool and I just bought it. I didn’t know what it was. I thought oh wow this anime stuff is pretty cool.”
A little bit later on, in college she said Sailor Moon was on Toonami and she’d go back to her dorm between classes and watch it, then go back to class. She said she eventually got super into it, began to cosplay, and it was all downhill from there. She got into everything Sailor Moon, including the musicals!
We then moved onto business talk. As fans of Sailor Moon know, quite a bit of time has passed since the 90s show and today despite the fandom remaining strong while the show was off the air. I asked her why the revival was happening now instead of earlier or later. She provided me with a very insightful answer that only a business professional could give:
“…it came around at the right time… there are a lot of moving parts on an anime. I like how Crystal tried a lot of new things, a new way of broadcast, a new way of doing it. I think it just feels right it came around exactly when it did. If it were a little too early there wouldn’t have been time for nostalgia to build up, if it had been later, I think the opportunity would have passed by…”
She went on to explain that she thought Sailor Moon was destined to be revived at this time and that she was very excited about Crystal and the work on the classic series. She also expressed how the timing of the dub premier for the second half of Sailor Moon R happened on the same day as Sailor Moon Crystal episode 26, “you see the two worlds collide. You can’t plan that, it’s like destiny.”
This led me into my next question – how does Viz determine which franchises to revive? I asked this since I have a fan’s perspective on the industry. I imagine a group of suits sitting around a table rubbing their hands together while they try to figure out the next cool thing to roll out based upon popularity and marketing studies. Apparently it’s not like that at all as Charlene informed me. “It’s whichever titles are the best fit for the company. We’re a publisher, we do anime, and we tend to latch onto titles that bring people into anime. We don’t take a huge amount of titles but we take the ones that we feel will make the best impact for us and of course every company wants all of the shows… but we have a really good mix and we’re so happy to be working on Sailor Moon, One Punch Man, the new season of K…” Happy with this answer, I followed up with the one question I’ve been asking since we covered the news of Hideaki Anno’s rant about the decline of anime. I told her some industry professionals fear that anime quality and consumption is falling. I asked if she agreed or disagreed. Charlene gave me an answer so unique, I won’t paraphrase it.
“I absolutely disagree. A change in style is not a change in quality. It’s not a change in content. Things appeal to different people in different ways. I remember way back when I was just getting into anime in the late 90s, really getting into it. There was always an older fan, ‘oh you you don’t know about the stuff in the 70s and 80s. All you kids are coming in with Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball and Pokemon. You’re not real fans.’ It’s almost like we’re seeing that again. So many are coming in through Sailor Moon Crystal, Attack on Titan, through Naruto, Naruto Shippuden and I see people in my generation go ‘oh well anime was much better back then… we had Sailor Moon, we had Ranma.’ It’s really funny to me because when we entered the fandom we got the same backlash. Things are changing and evolving in a beautiful way…”
She continued on to say that musical anime, which is wildly popular at Otakon this year with shows like Love Live!, was originally thought to be the kiss of death. Musical anime seems like it would be unpopular from a sales perspective but because it has a soul and passion, it resonates with the fans. She then referenced Ranma 1/2, “who knew back in the 90s a martial arts slapstick comedy about a guy who turns into a girl and a dad who turns into a panda would be a mega hit. It had a heart and a soul so they got into it.” She added on that these same people love the newer stuff too and that’s a good thing.
“That’s not bad, that’s not lack of quality… that’s the taste of this generation and it’s beautiful. We also live in a time when just about everything coming out of Japan is licensed for simulcast. There has never been so much choice for free for the anime fan. When you get everything there’s gonna be some good stuff and some not so good stuff. Having choice is so powerful the things should be classic will rise to the top…”
She then referenced people walking around in classic Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Ranma 1/2 cosplays, staying that they still wear those cosplays because those shows are classics for a reason.
“Anybody who thinks that anime is declining, I really encourage them to have an open mind and check out a few new shows each season. You will find something you like.”
I purposefully bold-faced the quote above because I think it is a powerful statement to the nay-sayers who are turning their noses up at all of the new stuff available.
I asked Charlene about the demographic Sailor Moon is currently targeting. Based upon the Proplica products, Figuarts dolls, and other collectable items, I have concluded that these items aren’t intended for younger audiences. I also feel my age when I talk to children 11 and under and they know Attack on Titan but not Sailor Moon or even Sailor Moon Crystal. That brings me to wonder what is being done to attract young people to the fandom? Is this a problem? Charlene said it best,
“I don’t think it’s a problem because it’s a chance for this generation to express our love. We never had the high-end props before. As for the next generation, it’s exposure. Sailor Moon for us in America in the 90s was on syndicated tv but everyone watched tv back then… Now with this new generation, Internet is the new tv. When they see Sailor Moon Crystal on Hulu, and Crystal ranking so high weekly on all episodes, Internet is the new tv. As the kids grow up and they start watching programming on the internet, they’re going to get exposed to it more and more. I think Sailor Moon starts latching on to hearts right around 12 and 14 years of age…”
She explained that the middle-school years are when people begin to gravitate towards anime and manga. The fandom really starts going off when children begin to read things they weren’t assigned, she stated.
Finally, I asked Charlene for some anime suggestions for fans of Sailor Moon. She said you first need to ask yourself why Sailor Moon appeals to you. If you like a big ensemble cast, she suggested Naruto and Naruto Shippuden along with Inuyasha and Ranma because they have a lot of characters to love and the series are longer so there is plenty of time to bond with the show. She also suggested Love Live! which is about teenage girls making their own productions – perfect for any Glee fan. For animation and flow, she advises growing Otaku’s to check out K or Attack on Titan. She says just watch a few episodes and if you don’t like it, you can move on until you find something you like.
To wrap up, I asked her if Viz had anything Sailor Moon planned for New York Comic Con and she said their big thing will be Naruto because Kishimoto-sensei will be a guest so they plan on really supporting the series; however, it wouldn’t be a convention without Sailor Moon so she says stay tuned to find out what fun Moonie stuff may happen at NYCC 2015.
Many thanks to Charlene Ingram for taking the time out of her busy schedule at Otakon to answer my questions!