Anime Central featured numerous special guests of honor in 2016, but none were perhaps more surprising than the staff of VisualArt’s/Key. For those that don’t know, Key is an incredibly prolific and famous visual novel studio whose works include Kanon, Clannad, Angel Beats!, and many more, while VisualArt’s publishes Key’s titles. In attendance at Anime Central was CEO Takahiro Baba, composer Shinji Orito, and illustrator Na-Ga, and together they provided a surprisingly impressive showing for the studio.

VisualArt’s held no punches with their involvement at the convention. The company had a booth selling merchandise in the vendor area, held a panel on Friday, participated in a press conference on Saturday, and had several opportunities for fans to get the autographs of the members present at the convention. At the vendor area, t-shirts, posters, CDs, and a variety of other merchandise featuring characters from various Key works were available for purchase.

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The panel Friday afternoon was held in one of the larger rooms in the convention center, and a substantial line of fans were waiting by the time the room opened. It featured a presentation by Baba, as well as a live drawing by Na-Ga of Kanade from Angel Beats!. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed (which makes sense, considering the live drawing), so we were unable to record the panel. The presentation went over all of Key’s series individually, and periodically Baba and Na-Ga would engage in amusing banter over Na-Ga’s progress on the drawing. After the presentation, there was a Q&A session and prizes were given out, including the now-complete Kanade illustration. Towards the end of the panel during the Q&A session, Baba announced to the audience that VisualArt’s was planning to release Angel Beats!’s first visual novel, Angel Beats! -1st beat- in English.

On Saturday, VisualArt’s participated in a press session that AniTAY was a part of. For an hour, Takahiro Baba and Shinjo Orito answered questions from various press outlets. Some highlights included:

  • Key’s new work Harmonia, while delayed, is actually complete. However, the sound effects aren’t quite up to snuff so Baba has postponed release to ensure quality. It will still release in English first.
  • Rewrite+, a new version of Key’s visual novel Rewrite (which is receiving an anime adaptation this summer) will be released in English.
  • Angel Beats! -1st beat-, the visual novel adaptation of Key’s famous Angel Beats! anime, is not only coming west but is also about 50% translated already.

AniTAY was permitted to record the press session, so about two thirds of the conference can be watched here:

Unfortunately, our camera malfunctioned about ten minutes before the end. However, we had auxiliary audio, so the rest of the interview has been transcribed for your convenience (thanks Rockmandash):

AniTAY: I know that Angel Beat’s Visual Novel is being released in parts. With the release of the first part of the visual novel, how are the prospects of the English translation looking, and what does the schedule look like for the other parts?

Baba via Translator: Well, the english release is within our plans and I believe about half of the text has been currently translated. However, as for the progress of part 2 and part 3, you have to ask Jun Maeda (the writer) for that. I’m not in change, I don’t have a grasp of how the progress is.

Q: This question is to whoever is able to answer it: in a recent interview, Lia said that she was discovered at a studio in Los Angeles and that another was intended to try out for a singing role, eventually for Tori no Uta (the opening for Air). How did you determine she was the right person for the position?

Orito via Translator: We got several demo tapes from a production company called Hive and Lia’s demo tape was the best. So, that’s how we decided with her.

Baba via Translator: Back then, we were planning on recording in LA, and one of the advantages Lia had was that she was living in California at that time.

Q: Are there any aspects in the gaming industry that you feel has untapped potential still, or anything you’d like to see developed further?

Baba via Translator: What we make is the visual novel, and I think the visual novel is more novel than video game. The style of the visual novel is to have several female characters and and each of them have different stories. The player is the main character and the player goes through each story differently and comes to the ending. There’s also the visual novels for female players, and that’s the one where the player would play a female and there would be boys, boys, boys in the story, and they are both group stories but there hasn’t been a engine where we could have multiple, switchable main characters. For example with our main character, might be switchable between male and female, so that I can write/progress through the same story from a different perspectives and that is something I’m looking forward to see developed. So, having changeable main characters that could be the gender or the age, that’s one thing that could be potentially explored.

Q: So, I have a simple question. I was wondering who came up with the Dangos, from Clannad.

Baba via Translator: That is Itaru Hinoue. (An artist who was one of the founding members of Key) She’s very talented at coming up with those kinds of fashion and ideas.

AniTAY: With the upcoming Planetarian Anime, what are you most excited about?

Baba via Translator: Action.

Q: Speaking of the potential for both the male or female character, have you considered, or has there been any instances of homosexual characters, or other transexuality within Key’s works or possibly in the future?

Baba via Translator: That kind of main character has not been pitched yet, but depending on the gender of the actual main character, if you have the feature mentioned, it should be possible to have characters act differently: so you might have one [male] character that is very generous to a female main character but is very strict to a male one, or conversely it might have a female character who might be actually very affectionate or less to a female main character but those could be something that we look forward [to]. But in order for the actual player to realize that or experience those kind of differences in reaction to the main characters, the player would actually have to play twice as different genders, and we think that would be very difficult to create as a title.

Q: To Shinji Orito, Have you ever composed a song which has been very difficult for you to continue on, where you have experienced many roadblocks that you had visioned and tried to continue with it anyways? [Note: On Kazamatsuri’s site, they intended to phrase the question differently than they actually asked. You can check out their post to see what they originally intended, (even though it’s pretty much identical.)]

Orito via Translator: For me, it’s actually not Tori no Uta... my experience is that the more I write, when I write pieces and songs, I tend to open up my mental drawer and I have less and less new ideas that I can draw on. But, a recent example of a very difficult composition for me would be Orpheus. This was a song that was written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Visual Arts, and so, it was considered to be something very very important, and so the pressure was very very intense on me, and I had to rewrite it many many times and the lyrics to Orpheus was actually written by Mr. Baba.

Q: I just wanted to know, your games are very emotional and I was wondering for each of you what you think the most emotional moment for you was from your games.

Baba via Translator: I do think that all of our titles are moving and my personal favorite is Air.

Orito via Translator: For me it was Planetarian.

Q: Orito, since there is a major difference between music that is released as only for the sake of the music and music that is written specifically for anime or game titles, do you approach the creative process differently, or how does it [the creative process] look for music for the game or anime medium?

Orito via Translator: When it comes to music that is written for games, the game comes with artwork and a story, and the music is there to enhance the experiences, so there’s a trinity that has to be formed. Where as music that is there for the sake of music is different because there are no restrictions, there are no conditions imposed on what it is. So, I do feel that I have much more freedom in doing whatever I want to do for music, that’s pure music.

Note: any questions from reports whose organizations are unknown to AniTAY are labelled as “Q”.

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Throughout the convention, and particularly during their panel and press session, VisualArt’s gave a consistent vibe of caring about their work and their fans. Of course, from the get-go it was evident that quite a bit of thought was put into their appearance as there were a substantial amount of Key-related activities. However, it was the enthusiasm of of Takahiro Baba that really helped sell Key’s works to the English audience present at the convention. It was made consistently clear that Key and VisualArt’s valued their Western audience, from the events themselves to the numerous announcements to various comments made by Baba. There was definitely an air of creative passion emanating from Baba that made even attendees inexperienced in Key works excited for their projects.

If VisualArt’s goal in attending Anime Central was to promote their brand in the west (which it was), then needless to say they did an excellent job with it. Anime Central’s collaboration with VisualArt’s in setting up the events and Takahiro Baba’s consistent energy made the company exciting for fans and also made a worthy addition to the ever-growing convention.


AniTAY attended Anime Central 2016 as members of the press. Stay tuned for the rest of our coverage, including exclusive Q&A events and more!