Bringing Japanese animation to a global audience using a solid foundation of skills cultivated at ICU
The charm of anime: a source of inspiration that transcends borders
I work at Sunrise Inc., an animation production company known for numerous properties, most famous of which is probably Mobile Suit Gundam. Since April 2020, my responsibility has temporarily shifted to an office integration initiative involving Sunrise and three other companies in our corporate family. But most of my time since I began here in 2003 has been as part of the International Sales Department.
Sunrise doesn't just produce anime. We're also heavily focused on licensing our properties, expanding the range of goods and services available to fans, including plastic model kits and other merchandise, as well as publications and events. Those kinds of deals require carefully-designed contracts between Sunrise and its licensees, as well as supervision to ensure that the products being created meet our quality standards. When a property is licensed to a company located outside of Japan, those duties fall to the International Sales Department. It also manages numerous aspects of the overseas release of the many series we produce.
One project I'm particularly proud to have been a part of is the worldwide simultaneous release of Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) from 2010 to 2014. It was a huge initiative and, at the time, something that had never been attempted in our industry. We were arranging theatrical releases, Blu-ray home video sales, and internet streaming options, not just in Japan, but all over the world, and all in tandem.
But it paid off in spades. Mobile Suit Gundam UC was an instant global hit, selling record numbers of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It's so beloved by fans, in fact, that the Unicorn Gundam--the eponymous mecha piloted by the story's protagonist--became the second-ever model to be recreated as a life-size statue in Odaiba, Tokyo. Also, our work on that series formed a major asset for our company, setting a new standard in terms of our promotional work and how we go about expanding on licensed properties. And it was a huge experience boost for me personally. It was the first time I'd ever been seriously involved in the localization process, or the creation of an English dub, as well as subtitles for numerous different languages.
And I've had so many other memorable responsibilities, from organizing events with voice actors and creators at overseas anime conventions, to drawing up contracts with Hollywood studios hoping to feature Gundam cameos in major motion pictures. In our 2016 fiscal year, the International Sales Department recorded its highest profits ever, and in 2018, we were named the company's Department of the Year. Those two milestones brought a major sense of accomplishment.
What motivates me most in my job is the knowledge that the things I help create might go on to inspire others, or to bring them courage when they're struggling in life. Growing up, I watched anime occasionally, but it wasn't something I was really into. In fact, I hadn't seen anything set in the Gundam universe until I applied at Sunrise and was scheduled to come in for an interview.
My interest in anime as a possible field of work was actually sparked by an experience I had as an ICU student. I took part in a study abroad program, during which time I lived with an American roommate. My roommate was really into a particular Japanese anime, and there was a logo reading "Sunrise" in the credits. For whatever reason, that logo stuck out to me. As I got closer to graduation and it was time to start job hunting, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. But one day, that logo popped back into mind. I looked up some information on Sunrise and realized that they produced a bunch of the shows I enjoyed watching as a little kid. Anime transcends borders. It inspires people all over the world. Sharing feelings like that is all it takes to bring countries together and achieve peace. It's an incredible quality and something I found myself drawn to. So I kept an eye on Sunrise during my job hunt, and pretty soon I spotted a listing for a position in the International Sales Department. I managed to snag the job, and here I am today.
A gut feeling that this is the school for me
When it came time to choose a university to apply to, my main goal was to find somewhere I'd be able to really dedicate myself to my studies. As a high school student, my grades had been slipping. My teachers expected us to simply memorize the information they gave us, and I didn't see the point. It got so bad that for a while in my life, studying began to feel like a chore. But somewhere inside, I still believed that learning was supposed to be fun. I felt that if I just kept exploring new fields, I'd eventually come across something I was passionate about. And as I continued to think over my future options, my mom happened to mention ICU, and I decided to request some pamphlets for prospective students. When they arrived, I was drawn in by ICU's emphasis on small student-faculty ratios and English as an academic pursuit. I liked the freedom the school offers students to switch majors as desired,* as well as the way it encourages students to pursue a broad education and take initiative in their studies. So I decided to visit the campus over the summer in my final year of high school. And when I got there, I knew it was the place for me. It wasn't a decision I'd worked out logically, but more like a gut feeling--this was where I wanted to be.
* Refers to the university's six divisions system, which was phased out in 2007. All students now matriculate into the Division of Arts and Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts.
But when I applied and took the ICU entrance exam at the end of high school, I didn't pass. Still, I was so certain that ICU was the right school for me that I decided to try again the following year and finally managed to make it in. And as my new life began, I remember feeling so happy looking around at the other new students and realizing they were just as eager to learn as I was. Of course, I was still in for a few surprises. The type of learning I encountered at ICU was a lot different than the rote-memorization that dominated my life as a student up through high school. At ICU, there was much more emphasis on understanding the concepts we encountered. School was no longer about stuffing information into my brain. It was about logically thinking things through until they clicked inside my mind. And to be honest, that shift in learning style was a huge struggle at first. But I watched my peers intently, saw what they were doing, and slowly learned to adapt. And once I managed to do that, everything changed. I started enjoying my classes more and more. All throughout high school, I'd clung to the belief that learning is supposed to be fun, and now it was. I was finally cultivating a passion for study.
Another big part of ICU was its focus on English language skills. Having grown up in a fairly rural part of the country, I was looking forward to becoming more fluent in English and using it to discover other cultures. English was one of my favorite subjects, and up through high school, I had believed I was pretty good at it. But when I arrived at ICU, I saw how much talent there was among my peers. I suddenly felt way out of my league, and I worried whether I'd ever catch up to them. But I pushed onward with one particular goal in mind: I was determined to go on an international exchange program before I graduated. At ICU, there are very stiff grade requirements for study abroad programs. Wanting to ensure my eligibility, I worked hard to get straight 'A's in all my classes. All that effort paid off, and in my third year, I spent ten months as an exchange student at Grand Valley State University, in Allendale, Michigan, USA. My study abroad experience showed me just how different other cultures can be. I could have never expected how often someone else's values, ways of thinking, or common sense could vary from my own. My interactions were an endless source of culture shock--but in a good way. And my host school provided me with a very demanding environment. I don't think I've ever studied as hard as I did as an exchange student, either before or since. But thanks to all that work, when I returned to Japan, my TOEIC® score had jumped over 100 points. My experience as an exchange student simultaneously broadened my horizons and enhanced my language abilities. And, of course, it connected me with that roommate whose interest in anime would ultimately set me on the career path I'm on today. I'm so glad I went.
My senior thesis was in linguistics, discussing the different ways words are perceived in Japanese based on which of the language's three writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) is being used. I decided to major in linguistics because of how much I enjoyed the course I'd taken in that subject during the second semester of my first year at ICU. Again, some gut feeling told me that I should transfer departments, so I made the leap from the Division of Humanities to the Division of Linguistics and started filling my schedule with classes in that discipline. My linguistics professors were all incredibly passionate about their subject; I always appreciated how stimulating their lectures were and how much time and effort they clearly poured into every one of our classes.
Lifelong skills cultivated during the college years
My time at ICU equipped me with all kinds of important lifelong skills. They've of course served me professionally, but I think they've helped me on a more fundamental level as well, in what I'm able to accomplish as a person.
I learned to understand things instead of simply memorize. It showed me how fun studying can be and equipped me with an appetite and mindset to continue learning in any situation I encounter. That's been a major asset to me throughout life. For example, when you're in the process of forming a contract with an overseas licensee in the International Sales Department, you can actually learn a lot just by reading through the clauses one by one instead of shying away from the documents because you're not a legal professional and the language is unfamiliar. So that's what I did. And by working to understand the content of those agreements until things clicked, I think I was able to make a lot of sound decisions, identifying stipulations that might not have been in our best interest or details we could revise to everyone's benefit.
Additionally, as an adult, I'm expected to be able to convey my thoughts clearly in all kinds of different situations. Doing so effectively requires objectively evaluating those thoughts, looking at them from multiple angles, and finding the best way to put them into words. Those are all skills I polished during my time as a student at ICU. It might seem like a fairly obvious thing to say. Of course adults should be able to communicate their thoughts effectively. But in my own experience, it's surprising how often communication with others doesn't go smoothly in the real world. I was selected to be a part of the Mobile Suit Gundam UC team because one of the people in charge of the project happened to remember a report I'd once compiled and submitted to company executives. I'd written up a proposal describing my thoughts on how we might address our overseas market, which was stagnating at the time. When I was compiling that proposal, all the essay-writing skills I'd acquired at ICU were on full blast. When you take the time to organize your thoughts, turn them into words, and put them out there, you'll find they're around to help you out later, sometimes even a few years down the line. And as an working professional, you'll frequently be asked to explain things on behalf of your company and department. So I'm positive that having the abilities to observe things objectively from all angles and effectively express your thoughts is critical to a successful career.
The four years you spend at college are rife with opportunities to hang out with friends or to work part time and make a little spending money. But in my opinion, the way to get the most out of college is to prioritize studying as much as you possibly can. If you're the kind of student who gets excited about learning new things, you can't go wrong with ICU. I think you'll find the culture to be a great fit, and I think you'll really enjoy your time there. And if you're the kind of student who isn't quite sure what to study at college, ICU can guide you. The variety of choices available as part of ICU's Liberal Arts provides an excellent opportunity to explore different fields and locate your passion.
Sunrise Inc. Deputy General Manager New Office Relocation Project, Administration Division
2003 B.A. in Arts and Sciences (Languages)
After graduating from ICU, Akane Hagino began her career at Sunrise Inc. She was a part of the International Sales Department until March 2019 and was selected as a project member in the worldwide simultaneous release of Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn) beginning in 2010. In 2016, she was promoted to Manager, responsible for coordinating efforts across her entire department. In April 2018, while continuing her previous responsibilities, she was further named Deputy General Manager and took over decision-making responsibilities for all practical affairs in the International Sales Department. She assumed her current role in April 2020.