Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 2: Autographs

March 22, 2019 at 9:00 pm | Posted in Other Stuff, Yu-Gi-Oh! | 4 Comments
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Close-up of Yugi's face on Kazuki Takahashi's MAGIC 2019 shikishi

Autographs from Kazuki Takahashi are always in high demand, even in the world’s second smallest country. But when the creator of Yu-Gi-Oh! came to Monaco to attend MAGIC 2019, few people could have predicted just how competitive the autographing scene was, not only for Takahashi but also for all of the other guests.

All autograph sessions at MAGIC were first-come, first-served. And even though MAGIC isn’t a large event — its sole panel room seats only 400 people, and the organizer caps attendance at 3,000 — there was no telling what the crowds would be like. There might also be a language barrier; most of the staff and attendees would certainly be French speakers.

So how did things go? This is my story…

I arrived at the convention center, the Grimaldi Forum, at 6:30 a.m. knowing full well that the doors wouldn’t open until around 9:00 a.m. and that Takahashi’s autograph session wasn’t until 4:00 p.m. There were already four people waiting at the entrance. Alongside them was a row of almost a dozen backpacks on the ground, each reserving a spot in line.

One person, a friendly gentleman from Paris in his late 30s or early 40s, greeted me. I was relieved that he spoke English. He had been queuing since 1:00 a.m., making him the…second person to arrive. He came to MAGIC to get the autograph of Leiji Matsumoto, the creator of Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. He talked about how rare it was to see Matsumoto and how he didn’t want to miss this chance to attend his autograph session at noon.

Friendly Parisian pointed at the row of bags on the ground. He explained that among autograph seekers in France, there are unwritten rules about the importance of respecting each other and the line queuing procedure. The reason for these rules, he said, is because there is often poor queuing etiquette in France. I didn’t really understand but I happily placed my bag in the line to hold my position. When I told Friendly Parisian that I was here to see Kazuki Takahashi, he warned me to be careful. There would be a lot of young people wanting to see him too, he said, and they might not be mindful of queuing etiquette.

Even before sunrise, more men and women gradually began to show up. Almost all of them were French speakers who seemed to know each other; I could tell because they all greeted each other by kissing. Friendly Parisian explained that most of the people who had arrived so early were members of a clique that specialized in collecting autographs. That’s why they were familiar with one another. Most of them had come to meet Matsumoto too. Soon, a woman from Japan showed up with a modest Captain Harlock ita-bag. Later, a boy, probably around 9 or 10 years old, lined up. He claimed to be a serious Yu-Gi-Oh! card collector. Drat. Competition.

Everyone was very friendly toward one another. There was an understanding that we all there for a common goal. Even though not everyone spoke English, I felt comfortable and upbeat among these like-minded people. I told myself that this would be a great event.

By the time the venue opened at 9:00 a.m., there were maybe two hundred people in line. After checking in, I hurried over to the autographing area, but that part of the convention center wasn’t open yet. Friendly Parisian and other autograph seekers were already queued up to enter. I evaluated the situation. The crowd wasn’t that big and most of the people there were interested in Leiji Matsumoto’s and other guests’ autographs anyway. No one seemed to be there for Kazuki Takahashi’s. I decided to leave and go to the opening ceremony instead.

MAGIC 2019 welcome message image shown on the big screen

Minutes later in the auditorium, Friendly Parisian took a seat near me. I was surprised to see him. What happened to the line? He explained that, rather than continuing to queue for hours on end, the autograph seekers decided to keep track of their positions in line by writing a number on the back of their hand.

Very smart. These attendees were resourceful and experienced. They understood how to deal with potentially stressful situations like autograph queues. What a relief. Once again, I felt comfortable, like I was in good company. I decided to stay in the auditorium past the opening ceremony to watch Leiji Matsumoto’s panel.

At 11:00 a.m., I headed over to the autographing area. I was mortified by what I saw.

Huge lines. Everywhere. Some weren’t even lines. They were just…clusters of people. There must have been close to two hundred people crammed into the very small waiting space. Lines were extending out of the autographing area and spilling into the adjacent exhibition area. Convention staff members were busy repositioning the lines so that they snaked around the perimeter of the area. There was a lot of yelling among attendees as people tried to jump the queues while they were being rearranged. A handful of intimidating suits kept a watchful eye on the area, ready to stomp on anyone misbehaving. All the while, guests were busy at their tables in the center of the autographing area. There were of course more lines in front of their tables.

I spotted Friendly Parisian at what appeared to be the front of a cluster. What happened to the organized numbering system? He didn’t know. It was chaos. Other attendees wouldn’t respect the numbering system. Staff wouldn’t recognize those as official lines anyway. Attendees didn’t know what was going on. Would Friendly Parisian still get to meet Leiji Matsumoto? He didn’t know. Everyone there was just standing around waiting for answers and hoping for the best.

I immediately felt a sense of urgency. I had become too complacent and forgotten why I had arrived early. Did I mess up? Was I too late? My pulse started to rise. I desperately tried to find someone who knew what was going on. Pardon, parlez-vous anglais? Parlez-vous anglais?

Finally, I found an English-speaking staff member. As luck would have it, she seemed to be in charge of the autographing area. I asked about Kazuki Takahashi. She said there was no line yet for his autograph session. It looked like there was no space to start a line for a session that wouldn’t even take place for another five hours, and the crowd only continued to grow in size. The staffer was very busy managing the area and bolted.

In a short period of time, I had become very tired and stressed. There were four guests signing in the next hour, including Leiji Matsumoto. At the moment, crowd control was obviously a problem. Maybe things would cool down later, I thought. Maybe the organizers would have a better queuing system in place later. There was nothing that I could accomplish anyway standing in this sea of madness. I made a critical decision. I decided to leave.

I’m glad I did because I instantly felt better. Some lunch should do me good too.

I returned to the autographing area at 1:00 p.m. and saw a some Yu-Gi-Oh! cosplayers queuing on a narrow ramp that led down to the autograph tables. The line looked short. I approached them and asked who they were waiting for, even though I already knew the answer. Kazuki Takahashi. At last. I counted the number of people in line. There were maybe 30 people ahead of me. I’m in a decent position, I thought. The line was filled with almost all teens and young adults, all very excited and taking out their Yu-Gi-Oh! goods to decide what to get signed.

It seemed like I arrived at just the right time because within five minutes, the length of the line had almost doubled. Things must have begun to get dicey because shortly after, a staffer showed up at the front of the line to address the attendees. It was the same woman who I had spoken to earlier.

She explained that Kazuki Takahashi had brought a shikishi — a Japanese autograph board — to give out at his autograph session. He would only sign the shikishi and nothing else. She said that she would hand out the shikishi right now and that only those who received one would be allowed to attend his autograph session. There were a very limited number of shikishi, she emphasized.

Instantly, I felt someone breathing down my neck. A young man was behind me and I could feel him attempting to squeeze past my left side. Oh for goodness’ sake. Why, Friendly Parisian, did your prediction have to be so accurate?!

I positioned myself in the middle of the ramp and held my left arm straight out to my side.

“No. You are behind me,” I told him sternly in English.

“Oh,” he muttered. Did he speak English? I don’t know, but he backed off.

Immediately after that, another voice further behind me called out, demanding that people stop pushing. I turned my head to look. It was a man, probably in his 40s. A member of Friendly Parisian’s autographing clique, maybe? I felt a sense of relief. Like-minded people.

As I neared the front of the line, the staffer was still handing out shikishi and reminding everyone to return at 4:00 p.m. to take part in the autograph session. When I approached her, she handed me the shikishi. It was printed with a new illustration of Yugi by Kazuki Takahashi.

Success. Relief. Joy!

I looked at the box she was carrying that contained the shikishi. It had “50” written on it. I peered inside. It was almost empty. There were maybe three or four left at the bottom.

Are. You. Serious.

I did not stand around admiring the artwork. I immediately packed away the shikishi and left the area. I did not want to be there to see what would happen when the staffer announces that there were no more.

Kazuki Takahashi signing for fans at his autograph table at MAGIC 2019

I returned to the autograph area a few minutes before 4:00 p.m. I saw some familiar faces queuing in a line up against a wall. The Yu-Gi-Oh! cosplayers were there too, posing for passersby while waiting. I joined the end of the line.

While I waited, I spotted Friendly Parisian walking around. I waved and asked him if he was successful in his quest to get Leiji Matsumoto’s autograph. Yes, he was successful, he said. I felt so happy for him.

Kazuki Takahashi’s interpreter, Sahé Cibot, approached the queue and asked each of the attendees their name. She then transcribed their name into katakana — the Japanese writing system used for foreign words — on a small piece of paper and gave it to the attendee. Takahashi would be personalizing each shikishi, and writing the names in katakana would be quicker and easier for him than writing in English.

Kazuki Takakashi arrived shortly after 4:00 p.m. He was accompanied by Sahé Cibot, Shonen Jump deputy editor in chief Naoki Kawashima, and one other assistant. In small groups, attendees moved from the waiting area against the wall to the center of the room where his table was located.

From the queue, I watched him smile as he greeted each fan who approached his table. He was using a silver pen to sign the shikishi. The ink must have been very wet because he repeatedly wiped the pen on some scrap paper before and after each signature.

One attendee gifted Takahashi a Funko Pop! figure of Hellboy, an American comic book superhero by Mike Mignola that he loves.

Kazuki Takahashi receiving a Hellboy Funko Pop! figure from a fan at MAGIC 2019
Kazuki Takahashi smiles as he receives a Hellboy Funko Pop! from a fan

Soon, it was my turn. I handed his assistant a card that autograph-seeking attendees are required to carry. The card was used by the convention to stop people from lining up multiple times in one autograph session to score multiple autographs.

Not that it was possible to do this during Takahashi’s session anyway.

MAGIC 2019 visitor badge and autograph card
Despite what the card says, Kazuki Takahashi did not hold a morning autograph session

The assistant punched a hole my card and gave it back to me.

I greeted Kazuki Takahashi and handed him the shikishi with both hands and the paper with my name on it. He read my name aloud and dabbed his pen on the scrap paper again, wiping away the excess ink. He began to sign.

“Mr. Takahashi, thank you so much for coming to Monaco,” I said anxiously while I watched the quick and elegant strokes of his pen.

“Oh, thank you,” he replied, his voice deep and calm.

In my mind, I will always have more to say to him. About what a big part of my life Yu-Gi-Oh! has played. About how happy I was to see him doing so well. About what an honor it was just to be in his presence. But he was already done signing and there was no time for chitchat. I thanked him again for the signature and left.

Days after the event had ended, MAGIC announced on Facebook that, for the first time in its five-year history, all the attendees had arrived in the morning and stayed until the end of the event in evening. Presumably, that meant that in the past, there were larger numbers of attendees who came and went over the course of the day.

Such an increase in traffic might explain why the staffers had difficulty managing the crowds. Combined with the fact that MAGIC was hosting such high-profile guests like Kazuki Takahashi and Leiji Matsumoto, I sympathized with the organizer’s predicament. It was messy, and there were certainly many things that MAGIC could have done better, but I’m not oblivious to the the challenges of managing autographing events and meeting attendees’ expectations.

Anyway, I would happily welcome a first-come, first-served autographing experience like this any day over, say, having to be selected via a random lottery.

Kazuki Takahashi's MAGIC 2019 shikishi and signature

Close-up of Kazuki Takahashi's signature on his MAGIC 2019 shikishi

Yesterday on Instagram, Kazuki Takahashi posted his shikishi artwork and left a message for his followers: “I participated in a manga awards event held in Monaco. It was a lot of fun meeting foreign Yu-Gi-Oh! fans! Thank you!”

No, thank you, Mr. Takahashi.

* * *

Next:
Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 3: Interview

Previously:
Kazuki Takahashi at MAGIC 2019, Part 1: Manga Contest Judge

4 Comments »

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  1. Oh my goodness, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I was stressed out reading this, so I imagine you must have been 100x more stressed! I’m glad it worked out for you in the end (and for Friendly Parisian!). Congrats on the autograph! It’s interesting to see how his style of drawing Yami Yugi has changed since your SDCC autograph.

  2. Thanks for reading! I tried my best to capture the cheerfulness that I felt at the beginning of the day and how it morphed into uncertainty and anxiety. I’m happy that the emotions in my words came through. This was quite the experience!

  3. This was very sweet. I’m so glad he had such a warm reception, he deserves no less. I’m jealous of that autograph. If there is one mangaka I’d love to get a signiture from, it would be him. Treasure it forever.

  4. I will treasure it forever, for sure. If you want to meet Kazuki Takahashi, please let your favorite anime convention know. If enough people request him as a guest, who knows what might happen!


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