CALIGULA, a new anime by Satelight, airs tomorrow, April 8, 2018. But those of us who attended Sakura-Con had a chance to watch the pilot on March 30, alongside voice actor Sawashiro Chiharu and producer Matsuoka Takanori. This was followed up with a Q&A with Sawashiro and Matsuoka.
I must preface this post by saying these events happened on the first day of my first-ever anime convention. I was overstimulated, uncharacteristically excitable, and temporarily impressionable. My excitement showed in my choices post-panel, as I hurried from the panel to the autograph session at the Pony Canyon booth. Don’t worry; I’ll try to keep this post more organized than my mind was that afternoon. I will still, however, include plenty of personal comments about my experience of the panel as a whole, the premiere itself, and the autograph session after.
The Panel—Lines, Hype, and Details
The rules state that you can’t line up for a panel more than 30 minutes ahead of time. So, the moment my phone’s clock hit 12:00, I briskly walked toward the above sign, outside the room where CALIGULA was about to premier. I wasn’t a moment too soon. Within a few minutes, the con staff had us lining up three-by-three, shoulder-to-shoulder, in order to cram as many people as possible into the space leading to the room. Because I was early, I was in the front, where I could breathe—and the gentleman next to me let me take the outside edge, since I mentioned my overstimulation. (I’d broken down crying just an hour and a half before, thanks to the overwhelming noise/activity/visuals of the opening ceremony.) There were a few people with press badges who tried to get into the room ahead of the line, but nope—they were directed to the back.
We shuffled into the panel room at about 12:30 and received a flyer and a free sticker. Thankfully, I’d mostly recovered from the earlier overstimulation at this point, so I had no trouble sitting between people in the second row of the audience. The main panel host introduced CALIGULA and the special guests. Before she said much, she showed us the OP, which got my attention right away. See, I came into this panel knowing very little—only what the press release on ANN told me. The action in OP sequence, as well as the music itself (“Paradigm Box,” with the voices of VAs Sawahiro Chiharu and Shikishima Ritsu) had my full attention—probably thanks largely to the big screen and hype.
At this point, I learned details I should probably have looked up before. The production company is Satelight, CALIGULA is based on a game for PS Vita, etc. They gave us a summary, too: Basically, a virtual idol, μ (Myu), wants to make people happy… by trapping them in a “happy” virtual reality, free from suffering. You can read a fuller description on ANN. (But first, please tell me: is this giving any other Naruto Shippuden fans some Uchiha vibes?)
We heard a little from the guests before they started the episode. Sawashiro, who voices main character Shikishima Ritsu, and the producer, Matsuoka, spoke a little about what to expect and pay attention to. Matsuoka noted that we should focus on the protagonist—Ritsu is now a full character (unlike in the RPG, where the protagonist is… well, just a plain RPG protagonist, whose character comes from the player), and he hoped we would be interested in the way he’s fleshed out through his interactions with other characters. He also mentioned, to quote/paraphrase the translation best I can from my scrawled notes: “I’m sure you’re going to have a lot of questions; [I hope] to show you more in later episodes…. I’m excited to hear everybody’s feedback.”
We ended the intro portion by hearing that this would be Sawashiro’s first time watching the episode, too. I recognized his words “doki doki” before the translator did her work—his heart was beating quickly in excitement.
The Pilot: Philosophy, Psychology, Glitches
“What I wanted was a peaceful world without suffering…”
Sawahiro’s voice opens the pilot, and we are introduced to his character, Ritsu. We don’t see his face as he logs onto his computer to listen to Myu. [Correction, April. 8: After viewing the episode again, this time with the ability to pause and rewind, I note that the opening voice sounds different. I’m not great with voice recognition, but based on voice and desk setup, I’m pretty sure that was another character, not Ritsu.]
“What is happiness?” muses Ritsu later in the episode. The ability to acknowledge the mundane as a source of happiness? Perhaps it is, if the ramen-obsessed side characters are to be believed. But Ritsu isn’t the type to be satisfied with a simple answer. He’s interested in psychology, a fact that quickly becomes clear when he explains the Johari Window to his friend on the way to school. The window has four quadrants—the most significant in this conversation being the “Unknown” window quadrant. This quadrant represents details about a person that even they don’t know about themselves, perhaps because they don’t want to know those truths.
I’d rather not say too much about what actually happens in the first episode. I think you will enjoy it more if you watch it as I did, with very little foreknowledge, able to appreciate Ritsu’s philosophizing and the glitches in “reality” without the slightest spoiler. Still, if you’d like to get a better feel for the first episode—and enjoy a taste of the opening theme—here’s the preview on YouTube.
My overall impressions: I enjoyed the first episode quite a bit. Yes, I’m sure that the big screen and the excitement of the premiere influenced my opinion. Anime is always better on bigger screens than it is on my laptop. But still—I enjoyed the music, and I’m interested to see how the story unfolds. Even on its own, the first episode’s direction captures me. From the way it opens with Ritsu logging on, to a focus on ramen that even I must admit is a tad unnatural, to its showy final scene, it has my mind engaged. The more critical part of me enjoys noticing motifs even as the fun-loving part of me enjoys the surface stimulation of action, visuals, and music.
During the Q&A, Sawashiro-san continued slowly making me into a low-key fan. When asked about his process, he said that his character, Ritsu, is his opposite: “I’m not very intelligent; I’m pretty dumb,” he said, self-deprecatingly. So when he voiced Ritsu, he acted the opposite of himself. I somehow doubt Sawashiro is as “dumb” as he claims, even if he’s not an intellectual, but it was cute of him to say. His other statements showed his professionalism in his approach to Ritsu, his first role as a leading character in an anime.
Autograph Session: In Which this Rookie Con-Goer Learns Lessons
I didn’t plan to get Sawashiro and Matsuoka’s autographs, but I truly enjoyed that premiere. I weighed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get their autographs against my tentative afternoon plans (the K-pop dancing panel). Caught up in the moment, I chose the autographs. I walked alongside another CALIGULA-panel attendee to the Pony Canyon booth at the Exhibit Hall. (I was still too disoriented to get anywhere on my own.)
Remember, at this point I was still slightly over-stimulated—my nerves were better, but my mind was working rapidly to sort new information, and it was only barely succeeding. I arrived at the booth knowing two things: I kinda wanted something special for Sawashiro and Matsuoka to sign, and I rather liked Sawashiro’s voice. I’d heard them mention that we could have Sawashiro sign a CD or a poster. There were two CDs left with the words “A3! First Autumn EP” on it. I didn’t know anything about this CD except that Sawashiro’s voice was on it. In my confused state, part of me expected it to include the Caligula OP, an idea I realized was ridiculous shortly after buying it. That’s right, I dropped $20 on something I didn’t understand—an extremely uncharacteristic act that I almost immediately regretted. On the plus side, while I was waiting for Sawashiro and Matsuoka to arrive and the autograph session to begin, a girl cosplaying as Todoroki from My Hero Academia was able to enlighten me. It turns out I bought a CD connected to a mobile game that Sawashiro acts and sings in. This provided an opportunity for “Todoroki” to share her passion for the game with me, and I learned about a game that I may eventually try, once I have the time and the space on my phone.
So, Lesson 1: I shouldn’t buy anything in the first several hours of a con, when I haven’t adjusted to con-level stimulation and can’t think straight.
Thankfully, I had enough awareness to take my phone out, unwrap the CD, and locate the CALIGULA sticker. Sawashiro and Matsuoka can’t (or didn’t) speak English, but it was still fun to come up to them and get their autographs. Matsuoka asked, through a translator, whether I enjoyed the show. The answer? Yes, very much! They thanked me, I thanked them (in English, as I had too little confidence or presence of mind to even mumble arigatou).
I almost immediately blurred and scratched Matsuoka’s autograph on the sticker. Lesson 2: Be careful with freshly autographed items! Carefully air dry them before letting them touch anything.
My rookie con-goer mistakes aside, the CALIGULA premiere, the overall panel, and the autograph session made for a great experience. I’d like to check out more of Sawashiro’s work—Matsuoka’s work, too, for that matter. I will certainly be following the show on Crunchyroll, and likely rewatch the first episode when it streams on April 8.
So, what do you think? Are you excited about CALIGULA? If you’ve seen the pilot—whether at Sakura-Con or the day after this goes up—what did you think? And do you have any first-con stories to make me feel better about my uncharacteristic, wasteful purchase that probably deprived a true fan of the CD she wanted?