[SDCC 2015] ‘Spotlight on Yu-Gi-Oh! & Creator Kazuki Takahashi’ Panel

July 18, 2015 at 9:43 am | Posted in English dubbed, Japanese, Konami, The Dark Side of Dimensions, Yu-Gi-Oh! | 5 Comments
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Schedule posted on the door of room 7AB at San Diego Comic Con 2015
Sadly, photography and videography were prohibited during the panel.
But I assure you, with all my heart, that the panel that took place beyond this door was nothing short of a magical experience.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 11, around 480 people packed into a corner room at the San Diego Convention Center. They had come to see one of the most influential and beloved artists and storytellers in the world of Japanese manga and anime, a man who rarely makes public appearances. His name is Kazuki Takahashi and he is the creator of Yu-Gi-Oh!.

“This is going to be a very special presentation. This is going to be a panel that you will not forget,” promised an excited middle-aged gentleman standing at the lectern. He was this panel’s moderator and this was his first emcee job. “This is the very first time — the very first time — that Takahashi-sensei has been to the United States and will address the fans at Comic Con.

“I’m going to tell you what. The timing couldn’t be any better because next year, 2016, is the 20th anniversary of Yu-Gi-Oh!. And that success we share with you fans. And this panel today is our way of saying thank you to each and every one of you for your support in making Yu-Gi-Oh! truly a global franchise.”

And with that, the historic “Spotlight on Yu-Gi-Oh! and Creator Kazuki Takahashi” panel of SDCC 2015 was underway. The room was filled with fans from around the globe, eager to see the man who has made such an extraordinary impact on their lives with his stories of epic gaming and themes of bonds and friendship.

But before the panel could really begin, the moderator needed to make sure that the audience was really ready for what was to come. And what better way to pump up the crowd than with some chanting?

“We all want to make Takahashi-sensei feel a warm U.S. welcome,” said the moderator. “Now, as many of you probably know, he doesn’t speak a whole lot of English, but there’s four words that he does know. Anybody want to take a guess?” The audience of course knew the answer.

“It’s time to duel!”

The moderator led the crowd for two rounds of synchronized “It’s time to duel!” shouts. Neighboring rooms probably wondered what sort of madness was taking place on the other side of their walls. All the while, a Japanese camera crew working with the Yu-Gi-Oh! licensors was on hand, capturing every thunderously loud moment. The footage and photographs from this panel would be used to market the new Yu-Gi-Oh! movie and maybe even air on Japanese television.

“You guys are going to become international superstars,” the moderator joked.

Press Conference

The panel kicked off with a short press conference. Five of the top Yu-Gi-Oh! business and production experts were on hand to offer their knowledge about the franchise. They were:

  • Shoji Dewa, corporate officer at Konami Digital Entertainment
  • Takahiko Aikawa, editor of Shueisha’s V Jump magazine (“I am a duelist!” he proclaimed, with cheers from the audience.)
  • Arthur “Sam” Murakami, producer at 4K Media and the panel’s translator (“My favorite monster is Kuriboh.”)
  • Teruaki Jitsumatsu, producer at NAS and of the new movie (he is also a producer of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s and was present at the SDCC 2008 panel where that show premiered)
  • Shane Guenego, producer at 4K Media, who was sporting a Duel Disk (he, too, was at the SDCC 2008 panel)

The moderator did not introduce himself, but noted that he’s the Hollywood PR agent for Yu-Gi-Oh! and had business cards at the ready for potential new clients. Who knows whether or not he was serious.

Kazuki Takahashi’s seat on the panel was empty. He was not in the room.

V Jump Editor Takahiko Aikawa began the press conference by providing a brief history of the Yu-Gi-Oh! property. Yu-Gi-Oh! began running in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1996 and became a huge sensation in Japan, he said. In 2001, the TV series began airing in the United States and would subsequently be broadcast in over 65 countries across the world. Aikawa later tweeted two photos of the panel and the excited crowd.

Next, 4K Media Producer Shane Guenego reminded the listeners that a big Yu-Gi-Oh! announcement was made at Anime Expo the prior week: English-subtitled episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX were coming to Crunchyroll. He then dropped a bombshell that no one saw coming: the original Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series was now available in Japanese with English subs! The first five episodes would be posted immediately after the panel, he said, and new episodes would be added each month.

Konami executive Shoji Dewa next lauded the success of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game, which has sold over 25.1 billion cards in over 60 countries, and which entered the Guinness Book of World Records in July 2009 as the best-selling card game of all time.

Yu-Gi-Oh! has also been branching off into other products aside from trading card games, added Guenego, and the franchise is looking at new opportunities down the line. Already available are the miniature figures game Yu-Gi-Oh! Heroclix and the dice-rolling game Yu-Gi-Oh! Dice Masters, he said. Both products are produced by WizKids.

“Wow, that’s a lot of stuff, a lot of success there,” said the moderator. “Why don’t we introduce the person behind it?”

The original Yu-Gi-Oh! theme song began to play…

Kazuki Takahashi Enters

“I’m sure you all realize what a rare occurrence that this is today,” the moderator further teased. “To actually see and hear our sensei, who still prefers to walk among us without being seen or recognized, perhaps to get honest reactions to his art, or maybe he’s just terribly shy. But we can all recognize his work in a heartbeat, can’t we?

“We know his characters, his storylines as if they were part of our own story. That’s why he has risen from being an unknown manga artist to our hero and teacher. The success was not overnight. It took a lot of sketches and projects before he finally found a voice that would resonate with all of us.

“And like that voice, he never game up, he never stopped trying, and he always believed that he would find the voice that would touch us all and that would launch a truly global phenomenon. Ladies and gentlemen, Sensei Tashahaki [sic].”

Yes, this was the moderator’s first emcee gig. And now, possibly his last. Some of the audience giggled at the gaffe, but that was quickly forgotten as everyone rose to their feet and shouted exhilaratingly as the man of the hour entered the room.

Kazuki Takahashi was wearing Cospa’s black “Start the Game of Darkness” T-shirt, a black blazer, and a stylish white sports watch. His jet-black, wavy hair was neatly cut. The stubble on his face was greying. His kind eyes and shy, gentle smile reminded me of Yugi. He took a seat next to 4K Media Producer Arthur Murakami.

“Thank you so much for coming,” said the moderator. “I know this is the first time you’ve been here on a panel in the United States and we are extremely happy to have you here hosting us today. How do you feel about seeing this crowd and witnessing the popularity of Yu-Gi-Oh! in the United States?”

“I’m very thankful to all you fans from the bottom of my heart for bringing me to Comic Con here in San Diego,” Takahashi responded. “The fact that Yu-Gi-Oh! has spread worldwide and everybody has supported Yu-Gi-Oh! and kept me propped up and supported me and showed me love, I’m very thankful from the bottom of my heart.”

Questions and Answers with Kazuki Takahashi

At the end of June, 4K Media launched the #yugiohQA Twitter campaign, amassing questions from fans to ask Kazuki Takahashi on the panel. Takahashi said he welcomed the questions.

The moderator started off by asking what Takahashi’s inspiration was in creating the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga.

“I really love American comics, especially fighting comics,” said Takahashi to the delight of the Comic Con attendees. He recounted his earliest experiences working on manga and how this influenced the development of Yu-Gi-Oh!.

Takahashi had been working a part-time job at a game company and submitting manga to Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. He had been trying different story concepts but none of them were successful. When he was suddenly fired from his job, he no longer had an income and everyday life became a struggle. Takahashi used that as a catalyst to try doing manga again.

During that time period, there was a lot of fighting and martial arts-types of manga. And though Takahashi loved the genre, “I felt that I could not defeat Dragon Ball.”

The listeners understood and laughed ecstatically.

“So, I thought that incorporating fighting and incorporating gaming together and combining them into one — maybe that will create a new kind of genre, a new kind of fighting genre, that hasn’t been explored before,” explained Takahashi. “And that’s how Yu-Gi-Oh! was created.”

* * *

“There’s a lot of fans out there that want to know what you’re particularly careful about,” the moderator stated. “What are your sensibilities when you’re looking and you’re creating manga?”

“For Weekly Shonen Jump, I had to draw 20 new pages every single week,” said Takahashi. “So the very most important thing, the most important first thing is to have a good idea. And if that idea can surprise and shock the audience, that’s what makes it really good.

“Also, are the characters fully lively? Are they brought to life on the page? Are the monster battle scenes drawn really coolly? Those are the things that I focused on.”

* * *

“A big milestone for you and the characters was when it became an animated TV series. How did you feel when your manga became an animated TV series?” asked the moderator.

“I was very excited to see that what I created on the page was now moving around on the screen,” replied Takahashi. “Because there’s also voices, there’s also the sound, there’s also the music.

“When I draw my manga, it’s always in black and white. There are times when I looked at the show and said ‘Oh, that’s what it looks like in color!’ for the first time.”

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions Unveiled

A lot of people on Twitter and in the room want to know what’s next for Yu-Gi-Oh!, said the moderator.

“Are you asking about the movie?” Takahashi asked with a slightly suggestive smile on his face. They audience started to cry out. They wanted to know anything and everything.

“Takahashi-sensei is going to be the executive producer,” revealed the moderator. The audience erupted in cheers.

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions was the name of the new movie. Producer Teruaki Jitsumatsu used this opportunity to reveal the movie poster on the projector screen, explaining that Takahashi personally created the image himself specifically for the film.

“Sensei, how did you feel when you drew this image for the movie?” asked Jitsumatsu.

“If you look at the image, Kaiba is at the center of the image,” replied Takahashi. “So in this story, Kaiba is going to do a lot of things.”

The audience cheered approvingly.

“The storyline for this movie takes place after the end of the original manga,” he continued. “Because of the manga ending, what I couldn’t draw then, I can write about now. I left the series with a lot of mysteries still open so I want to answer some of those.

“It might be hard to see this image but Kaiba is wearing a new Duel Disk. So in that way, I think I can show new types of dueling.”

Takahashi’s Roles in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions

“I have written a script for this movie,” explained Takahashi. “Also, new character designs, new monster designs. Pretty much everything.”

“And we’re assuming there’s new monsters, right?” the moderator asked.

“Yes, there is,” Takahashi replied. “Without getting too specific, I did a lot of new monster designs. For example, a new Blue-Eyes.

“The sponsors were saying, ‘Hey, I want to see Blue-Eyes evolve even more.’ [But I replied] ‘I can’t anymore, I can’t anymore!’ […] With that back and forth, that’s how it progressed. I also designed very powerful-looking monsters for the new villain.”

Konami executive Dewa chimed in with some welcome news for Yu-Gi-Oh! card game players and collectors.

“For the new monsters that are going to appear, I’m of course looking to turn them into cards for you to have,” said Dewa. The crowd cheered.

“He’s the sponsor,” Takahashi stated, drawing laughs from the listeners.

The Return of the Original Yu-Gi-Oh! Characters

“So are our favorite Duel Monsters characters coming back too?” asked the moderator.

“Yes,” Takahashi replied. “Of course Yugi will come back. Of course Kaiba will come back. And also some of our favorite characters will come back.”

A line drawing appeared on the screen and the crowd burst into cheers. It was Yugi Muto — a more mature-looking Yugi Muto — that Takahashi had created for the movie.

“When I was asked to draw Yugi again, I was just naturally drawing him. When I was designing the character, he naturally became more older,” Takahashi explained, referring to Yugi’s slightly more sophisticated facial features. “Since the story takes place six months after the end of the original manga, that’s why he looks a bit older, or more mature.”

* * *

Line art of another fan favorite character drawn by Takahashi appeared next: Seto Kaiba.

“Kaiba kind of looks a bit villainous,” said Takahashi. “Kaiba plays a very prominent role at the center of the storyline of this movie.”

Line art of Kaiba wearing a new type of Duel Disk followed. It has multiple small parts covering the forearm, shoulder, and side of the face (similar to the Duel Gazer seen in Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL). The functionality of the Duel Disk is complex, said Takahashi, and he didn’t want to get into it at the moment.

* * *

Next, new line art of Téa was shown. She is sporting a new hairstyle and has a rather particular update to her wardrobe.

“Téa is now a bit, um, more sexy. In Japan, socks that go above the knees are kind of trendy,” said Takahashi, with some giggling and applauding from the audience. “She’s more powered up than what she was in the past.”

* * *

The crowd broke out in cheers and screams when line art of Joey appeared next.

“For Joey, to be honest, his personality hasn’t changed very much,” said Takahashi. The crowd whooped with approval.

“He’s very passionate about friendship,” Takahashi continued. “In the past, it was hard to kind of animate him, so I kind of drew him with less lines so he could be animated better.”

* * *

As amazing as these line illustrations were, Takahashi felt that they wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the audience, so he brought some “top secret information” with him. The audience would be the first people to see the storyboards for the new movie created by the director!

In the storyboards, Yugi is shown drawing his cards. Then, Kaiba is shown facing off against Yugi. Bright lights and mysterious, obscured characters are shown. What could it all mean?! The audience wouldn’t be handed the answers so easily.

World Premiere of the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions Trailer

At any other venue, being the first to see just the line art from the new movie would have been incredible. And not only had Kazuki Takahashi and the other panelists brought the line art, they also brought the storyboards. Still, they knew that the storyboards would not satisfy the thirst of the crowd. This was Comic Con, and Comic Con just wouldn’t be Comic Con without its incredible exclusives. But they were ready.

As an exclusive world premiere, the audience would get to see the trailer for the new movie! The room erupted into the loudest screams since the panel began.

The audience turned its gaze to the screen and saw the Blu-ray player firing up… but nothing happened. Everyone mumbled anxiously. You could almost hear the pounding hearts of the fans.

Hopefully get to see the trailer,” quipped translator Arthur Murakami. People laughed, and within a few seconds, the disc was playing.

A loud boom startled some of the audience. Suddenly, here it was. Ominous music. Strings. Choric chanting. Large text filling the screen. Yugi and Kaiba gesturing dramatically as they dueled. Yugi’s friends looking on in a crowd. A door opening suspensefully. Footsteps. Bright lights. Long shadows. The animation was gorgeous and so fluid. The shots were so theatrically styled. Shrieking throughout from the audience. Then silence. And more cheering.

One minute later, it was over.

4K Media and everyone else had been calling this a “trailer,” but it was really more of a teaser. Still, it was no less impactful or meaningful to the viewers that wanted to see all of their original Yu-Gi-Oh! friends in a new adventure. Clearly, great things are coming, and they are coming from creator Takahashi himself.

It took a few moments before the room settled down.

“We promised you a very special presentation so we’re going to continue to keep going at it here and reveal even more information about the new movie, if that’s okay with you guys,” stated the moderator. Of course it was. The room quickly composed itself.

Great Expectations

“The title is The Dark Side of Dimensions, so what can we expect to see in the movie? Can you give us a hint?” the moderator asked Takahashi.

“Like I said previously, this story takes place after the end of the original manga,” responded Takahashi. “And this story is going to be a little bit dark. There will be Kaiba, Yugi, and a mysterious third person. In this current dimension that we all live in, this person is going to kind of cause a disturbance within it. I think it’s going to be quite impactful. Please look forward to it.”

The other panelists confirmed that the film will be released in the Spring of 2016 in Japan. Outside of Japan, they are targeting a late 2016 release but the exact date is going to vary from country to country.

Takahashi concluded by reminding fans that they’ll get to meet their favorite characters in the movie and asked everyone to look forward to it. The moderator thanked Takahashi for bringing so much information about the new film, then returned to doing more Q&As.

A Special Request

“Takahashi-sensei, when you draw manga, can you tell us a little about your work process?” asked the moderator. “For example, can you tell us what your workroom or desk looks like and how it’s changed over the years?”

“My desk is not clean,” Takahashi stated unabashedly, prompting laughs from the listeners.

“When I was working on the manga, when the manga was being serialized, I was working with my staff,” he continued. “But I have switched over to digital so, more often than not, I work alone.”

“So does that mean that you won’t draw in front of a crowd?” the moderator asked. The crowd gasped.

“You know, since you’ve come all this way.”

What’s this now…?!

“It’s one of the most requested questions/comments from our fans, if you could please draw Yugi for them,” the moderator added.

The crowd gasped again. They knew something very special was about to happen.

“Yes,” Takahashi answered. The room erupted with screams.

Kazuki Takahashi Draws Live

A member of Comic Con’s tech support staff brought out a camera that had been hiding beneath the panel table. Takahashi took out his canvas and pens. He had brought two boards with him to draw on, he said, in case he messes up during his first attempt. The crowd laughed, but quickly quieted down as Takahashi put his pen to paper and began to draw.

For the first time since the panel began, the audience was almost completely silent. They recognized the significance of the event that was unfolding right in front of them.

“You might be surprised but when I draw Yugi, I start with the eyes,” explained Takahashi as he worked.

“Is that because that’s the hardest part to draw?” asked the moderator.

“Yugi is pretty much determined by his eyes, so if I mess up on the eyes, then I will start over,” he replied. “So when I draw the eyes, please don’t say anything because I have to really focus.”

Takahashi continued to work on the eyes, then paused and gazed thoughtfully at his progress.

“When I’m looking at it right now, I’m thinking, ‘These look like Yugi’s eyes,'” he said.

“Next is the nose,” he said as he continued drawing. “Next of course is the hair. A lot of people ask, when it comes to Yugi’s hair, why is it so wild? I thought of this hair because I wanted to create an impactful character.”

There are two sides to Yugi’s design, explained Takahashi. One, the good side, is that Yugi is identifiable just from his silhouette. But the bad side is that his hair is so unique. Too unique. When Takahashi needed to design enemy characters’ hairstyles, he had to make them even more outrageous.

So with every new Yu-Gi-Oh! series that is developed, “the hairstyles have to get more and more impactful,” said Takahashi. “Therefore, I’m willing to take submissions on hairstyles from you.”

* * *

“I’m curious who your favorite characters are to design and draw,” asked the moderator.

“My favorite character to design is Yami Yugi,” answered Takahashi.

At this point, Takahashi had been drawing Yugi’s hair. The design of the hair is enormous and the audience chuckled as he drew in the long, pointy lines.

“I have to be careful about this section right here,” said Takahashi. “When I draw the hair up like this, sometimes I extend out of the paper. Today, I was barely able to fit it in.”

The audience got a kick out of that, but Takahashi smiled and appeared genuinely relieved, commenting that he thought “it went really well this time around.”

More Questions and Answers with Kazuki Takahashi

Time flies when you’re having fun. The end of the panel was fast approaching, so the moderator used the last remaining minutes to squeeze in a few more questions for Takahashi as he continued to work.

“Which do you prefer to draw,” he asked. “The Blue-Eyes or Dark Magician?”

“Kuriboh.”

The audience laughed and applauded.

* * *

“What do you think your favorite part of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga storyline is to write?” the moderator continued.

“It wasn’t in the animated series, but in the manga, there was a storyline called Death-T,” Takahashi replied. Many people howled enthusiastically.

“In that storyline, Yugi’s Exodia clashed against Kaiba’s Blue-Eyes. I believe that that’s what determined the style of Yu-Gi-Oh! at that point.”

* * *

“What character do you identify with the most? Or which character do you think you have the most in common with?” asked the moderator.

“I really love Yugi but I wanted to be Joey,” Takahashi said. “I feel that as I get older, I would be like Grandpa Muto.”

The listeners laughed adoringly.

* * *

“And how long did it take for you to come up with the idea of Yu-Gi-Oh!?”

“[From] when I first started conceptualizing the idea to when it started being serialized, it took about a year,” said Takahashi. “I worked alongside my editor to make that happen.

“The original concept was that [Yugi] would defeat all these enemies with all these different types of games, but then this became a lot of work. So when I had this image of monsters emerging out of cards, that’s when I felt like a new type of Yu-Gi-Oh! style had been determined, and then the structure of Yu-Gi-Oh! suddenly formed from all this.

“There’s times when I was just writing stories and then new ideas would just come to me.”

* * *

The moderator wrapped up with one final question: “How much research did you do about ancient Egypt when working on Yu-Gi-Oh!?”

“I learned, when I was studying the history of games, that games originated 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt,” Takahashi explained. “I went to Egypt once before I started this series, and then I was inspired by all of it.”

San Diego Comic Con’s Inkpot Award

As Takahashi put the final touches on his drawing, the moderator used the remaining time to announce some good news.

In recognition of his contributions to the worlds of anime and manga, San Diego Comic Con had selected Kazuki Takahashi as a recipient of its Inkpot Award this year. The award is bestowed upon “individuals for their contributions to the worlds of comics, science fiction/fantasy, film, television, animation, and fandom services” and has been awarded to the biggest names in the industry since 1974.

Adam Liest, the assistant to the director of programming at SDCC, presented the award to Takahashi. A photographer accompanying him asked Takahashi to stand in front of the SDCC backdrop banner to be photographed. A deluge of blinding flashes emanated from his camera while the audience cheered.

Takahashi looked painfully uncomfortable from all of the attention, but did his best to smile. He then held the award in one hand and gave the camera an awkward thumbs up with his other.

The announcement, presentation of the award, and photographing drew the longest and greatest amount of applause from the audience out of the entire panel. The Japanese camera crew seized the moment to record the enthusiastic crowd one last time.

Farewell, Kazuki Takahashi

No sooner had Takahashi been presented with the award than the panel was called to an end.

“Fans, fans, they’re kicking us off the stage,” said the moderator. The audience wailed disappointingly, then gave the panelists a big hand.

The attendees were asked not to rush the stage and directed to a side exit door. On the way out, everyone received a small Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions poster.

Kazuki Takahashi exchanged a few quick words with the panelists, members of his entourage, and the American execs who were accompanying him. As the next panel began to fill the room, they filed out quickly and disappeared into Comic Con’s massive crowds.

5 Comments »

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  1. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful write-up about the panel! Thank you so much. I really like how you included so many details, including the audience response (you lucky fans! ;o;) and how the poor MC messed up when saying Takahashi’s name lol.

    And aaaaagh, you got to see Takahashi draw live OMG. I’m hoping Comic Con or the Japanese press will release an official video of this. They don’t even have to show Takahashi’s face, just his hands~ I do think it’s very interesting that he starts with Yugi’s eyes — another great detail. :)

    And yay for the Kuriboh love! <3

    Thanks again for taking all this time to write about the YGO events at SDCC! All of us fans who couldn't be there appreciate it a lot! :)

  2. Thanks for reading! And you know what? I didn’t even consider the possibility that footage of only the live drawing (showing only his hands) could be released. I hope it happens some day. Takahashi is a master and his skills are truly worthy of being showcased.

  3. How did you remember this much detail? Jesus. Did you have a Macbook and a fishing hat on looking all hipster in secret at the back or did you note things down on a notepad? Wait. I got it. You’re a wizard. That must be it.

    Keep up the work. Long live and hail to our supreme leader “ravegrl” (sic 2007)

  4. Correct on all counts. I am a Macbook-using, fishing hat-wearing, note-taking, hipster wizard.

  5. We are all in gravy danger.

    hide the children.


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