JAM Project, one of the biggest anisong “supergroups” in the industry, was founded in order to further the genre of anime songs specifically. Consisting of a number of veteran anisong singers, today it now comprises founding members Masaaki Endoh and Hironobu Kageyama, as well as Masami Okui, Hiroshi Kitadani, and Yoshiki Fukuyama, who all joined between 2002-2003. They are best known for songs for shounen action shows such as Cardfight Vanguard, Nobunaga the Fool, GARO, and New Getter Robo, as well as video games like Super Robot Wars. Their operatic rock seems to fit those genres especially well.
Unfortunately, the audio for our transcript recording was sometimes fuzzy so not all attributions were 100% clear. Apologies for lack of clarity on those questions and answers.
We started by asking Masaaki Endoh about his famous predilection for bringing instant noodles with him on tour.
Endoh-san, what kind of instant noodle did you bring this time?
Masaaki Endoh: Six different flavors of mini-sized ramen! But I don’t have a water boiler due to luggage weight limits, and unlike in Japan, they don’t have hot water dispensers in every room.
Your stagecraft and style of music is very theatrical and almost operatic. Is that a reflection of the sort of anime that you do music form or is that your natural style?
Hironobu Kageyama: Actually it is influenced by the type of anime the songs are for. So if it’s anime that has robots, like Super Robot Taisen where there’s a lot of fighting and energy, the songs will be influenced by that.
How do you think your style has adjusted over the past 15 years?
Kageyama: We don’t so much change our style as look for something new to do.
So would you ever do a song for a moe anime?
Kageyama: If someone ever asked us to, sure. We have girls in the band. [looks at Masami Okui] But we don’t ever get asked to do that sort of thing…
How do you relax when you’re off jam project? Individually? Or collectively?
Kageyama:We always like to talk together sometimes. Outside of music…well, we always thought about making our own jam. Jam Project jam!
What flavor of jam?
What secret hobbies or hidden talents do you have?
Kageyama: I’m the oldest, so working out is my hobby. Recently I’ve been cycling and scuba diving. And this year, I’m challenging myself to train for a short distance triathlon. Hiroshi Kitadani: The fans on twitter probably already know this, but my hobby is cooking. I do it every day, and when I make my own dish and drink alcohol, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic.
What’s your favorite dish?
Kitadani: Oden! It’s easy to make. Masami Okui: As for [my hobbies], in Japan or all over the world, I like to visit “power spots”–places with spiritual energy. In Japan, that would be shrines or temples I love. When I’m off work, I go there a lot. This year, though, I want to go to Mt. Shasta. Yoshiki Fukuyama: I have no hobby. So my hobby now is to look for a hobby. Endoh: I love animals, so I have a lot of pets. It’s a dream that I want to be surrounded by animals in a big place.
Kageyama-san, you said last year at Anime Boston that you started the band when anisongs were in decline . Do you think the anisong industry has revived since then? Where do you see it going?
Kageyama: Anime songs are much more popular popular in Japan compared to 10 years ago. There are a lot of live events and concerts now and the audience has increased a lot. And variety of artists have shown up. So, it has changed a lot over the course of 10 years.
Who is the first musical artist that grabbed your heart?
Kitadani: I love Kiss. Kageyama: I love Motley Crue. Fukuyama: I love Deep Purple. Okui: I love Kageyama’s vocal band, Lazy. Endoh: I love the Beatles.
You’re all at Las Vegas now, do you plan to gamble and do you feel lucky?
Okui: Living is a gamble. Kageyama: I don’t feel the urge to gamble. But if I was, I’ll pull a slot machine handle once. Kitadani: It’s a little scary, but I would like to try roulette. Try betting on black. Ehh, really but what about red? You can split it 50/50, like your hair! [Laughter–ED: Kitadani had colored half his hair red, as in the picture at the bottom.] Fukuyama: I never tried gambling, but I have seen it a lot in movies, so I like to try it like they do it in the movies. Endoh: I like hitting the jackpot.
You’ve done a lot of songs for sentai series. What are your sentai colors?
Kitadani: [points to Kageyama]: He’s red. Kageyama: Oh, I’m red, huh? Okui: I’m pink. Endoh: I like red, but red’s been taken, so I’ll be green. Fukuyama: I’m blue. Kitadani: I’m yellow.
The interview was conducted by Jeremy Booth with additional questions by Michael Huang. Rome Yamashita, Raymond Hu, and Linda Yau translated from the audio for this transcript.
Yoko Ishida has been actively singing anime songs since her recorded debut in 1993, Sailor Moon R’s ED “Otomo no Policy.” She has sung songs for series as wide as Ai Yori Aoishi, Strike Witches, and most recently the first OP for Shirobako. At the Lantis Anisong Festival in Las Vegas, in addition to her own songs she also covered the Haruhi Suzumiya insert song “God Knows.”
When did you decide to sing anime songs?
When there was an anime singer contest. I auditioned for that–and won!
The Grand Prix 1990, right? What was your winning song?
The assigned song was from Maple Town. And the free song I chose was by Imai Miku.
What was like to prepare for your recording debut with “Otome no Policy” (the Sailor MoonR ED)?
At the vocal booth, I entered alone. It’s a solitary process, so when I record a vocal, I imagine that I’m singing in front of a huge audience.
Were you nervous?
I get nervous every time!
You’ve done a lot of songs. How do you choose which ones to do at each performance?
For example, like this performance in Vegas or elsewhere abroad, I choose whatever songs are popular in that local area. And I also take into account what songs fit in outdoor or indoor venues.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I don’t have any…[but] I love traveling abroad privately. Now I go abroad for work, but since I love traveling, I still feel happy.
Can you tell me which anime moved you emotionally?
My debut song was in Sailor Moon, but recently I was moved by Strike Witches. Those girls work so hard. They fight hard and build their friendship, and that kind of story moves me.
How do you translate those feelings into a performance?
Many times that the lyrics tells a story and the girl’s emotion, so when I sing, I put emotions into the lyrics, and I remind myself of the first scene [in the story], which raises the right emotions.
I love your opening for Shirobako, “Colorful Box.” Based on what you know, how realistic is that show in showing the anime production process?
The people I know in the industry say “oh yeah, that’s true, that happens!” when watching that show. So I think it’s close to reality.
What other anime you watching?
I don’t watch a lot recently, but I did enjoy watching Strike Witches.
Who is your first music love?
My mother loved old Japanese pop songs. Lyrics were sung very clearly in the old days, so now I sing lyrics very clearly too.
Do you plan to gamble tonight?
Yes, on the slot machines!
Are you feeling lucky?
Yes I will today, since I lost yesterday. (Laughs)
Michael Huang conducted the interview, with assistance by Jeremy Booth. Raymond Hu provided on-site translation. The full interview was translated by Rome Yamashita.
ChouCho is the singer of many recent anisongs, including songs for Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya, Heaven’s Memo Pad, Glasslip, and Mashiiro Symphony. She got her start singing Vocaloid covers on Nico Nico Douga and quickly established a successful solo career in recent years.
We started off by asking her about a sandwich from the Hard Rock Cafe (the concert was held there) she tweeted a picture of the day before, marveling at the size of it:
What do you think about size of the food here in the US?
It’s double the size of Japan’s.
Aside from American food, we understand you’re from Osaka. What kind of food from Osaka do you like?
I want to eat takoyaki sometimes!
Let’s go back to the start of your career. You sang anisongs even as early as high school.What anime did you like back then?
I used to copy J-pop songs then [actually]. After graduating from high school with the band I had, that was the first time I copied anime songs.
Any particular ones?
Evangelion and Aquarion–songs by Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto.
What inspired you to post videos on Nico Nico Douga?
When I was in an anime song cover band, we entered a local anime song event in Osaka. And the other band’s vocalist was posting their songs on Nico Nico, which was the first time I heard about anyone doing that. That inspired me to do the same.
Any particular Nico Nico artists you liked?
Vocaloid composers, like supercell.
Any favorite supercell songs?
The most played song on Nico Nico was “Hajimete No Koi Ga Owaru”. [ED: Below is her cover of the song.]
Did you feel you were adding something unique by covering Vocaloid songs? They start out as a software voice, after all…
Hatsune Miku is a machine, so it doesn’t have emotion. Even without vocals, the song itself has enough charm to convey [emotions] directly, so when I did the cover, I was thinking a lot about how to convey the charm of the songs through my performance.
Tell us about how you got chosen to do the KamiMemo OP.
They were looking for a singer to do OP for KamiMemo, and I was selected from various candidates. They saw my NicoNico videos and that’s how I got vetted, and I feel I was very lucky.
How do you prepare for a performance like the one you just did?
I practiced at home a lot, and practiced English MCing. I studied English in Canada for a half year. But that was 5 years ago, so I almost forgot all my English. It’s been a long time since I went over English and I was nervous about it.
The anime you sing for features a lot of cute girls. Who are your favorite cute anime characters?
It’s difficult to say! I put a lot of energy into each anime I sing for, so it’s hard to choose. If I have to choose, it’s Alice from KamiMemo.
Do you have any image in your head when you sing?
Since it’s main theme song, I have to become the character’s feeling, in order to express.
We had the privilege of talking to prominent voice actress Saori Hayami, who is best known today for her role as Miyuki in Mahouka (The Irregular at Magic High School), as well as Ayase in Oreimo, Sawa in Tari Tari, and many other leading roles.
You decided to become a voice actress in elementary school. Why did you decide to pursue that so early in your life?
Well, looking back—I really did start very early! But I think that was the time when I had the most energy about my dream. I didn’t think so much about the process of getting used to it, but I was thinking more like “Oh, there is this kind of job. Wow, it must be fun!” So I decided very quickly to pursue it that way.
You play piano and draw well, we heard. Have you ever won any awards for them?
(Laughs.) I never actually entered a contest, but I did have piano recitals. As for drawing, as you might have guessed from my laughter….I’m really not that good at it. But when I was in elementary school, I had private drawing lessons and the drawings from those lessons were shown at the Ueno art museum. I mentioned that once on a radio show, and for some reason that was picked up and included as part of my profile. But my drawings are totally opposite from the ones you might imagine.
You’re very modest.
See, the picture I drew was like this boxy square building on this size of paper with eight windows on it. It wasn’t very good, and I was rather bad at it, but it entered the museum. I’m still wondering, what was all that about?
You like “Aibou,” a detective drama. Why do you enjoy police dramas like that?
I’ve liked detective dramas since I was a kid. In Japan there are a lot of two hour dramas, and I was watching them from my early childhood. [In fact] I watched them more than anime. So, I feel really close to them, and that has culminated in Aibou somehow.
So every once in a while, during the noontime program, I saw a rerun of Aibou and thought, “oh, this is interesting.” And that happened many times, and so I finally started watching the show. I could go on and on about it…so what appealed to me about Aibou? Maybe the kizuna (special bond) the characters shared. And the side characters around them are deep too, and that’s what I liked it about.
In Mahouka, you play a sister who has strong emotional feelings toward her older brother. They almost act like lovers. What’s your opinion on brother/sister relationships in anime?
I don’t have brothers or sisters—I’m an only child—so I don’t know what it’s like to have siblings at all, let alone falling in love with them! I can imagine if I had a brother, but to fall in love with him, I couldn’t ever see that in my life. Still, my close friends who have siblings don’t think they can have romance with their them, so perhaps if I ever had a brother, I don’t think I would have romance with a him either.
Was “Database” written especially for Log Horizon? The lyrics fit so well. We did think about the message and the concept of the animation but it wasn’t really totally made just for the story. But we’re really glad that it fits and matches.
Do you play MMORPGs like Log Horizon depicts? Which ones are your faves? I don’t know much about MMORPGs but if you’re talking about what’s my favorite RPGs the Final Fantasy series rule.
If you were stuck in the world of Log Horizon, would you still want to be wolves? Would you start a wolf guild? We’re ready to get stuck in that world anytime. Wolf it should be.
Many of your songs, like “Database” and “Emotions,” are sung predominantly in English. Did you plan on having an international/English-speaking audience right away? We’ve always wanted to spread our music throughout the world and English is the most common language. Singing in English was a natural thing for us to do. But we both like Japanese and English. I guess it only depends on what kind of message we want the song to have.
Finally–you mention in your story* that the Principality of Zeon was behind some of the evil int he world. Does that mean one day you are going to fight against them? In a Gundam? Woah. Do I have a chance to become a pilot? I’ll definitely do that. But I think we’re done with fighting. We’ll stick around and play music to see how much people can assemble and share the feelings we have in music.
*Their official bio notes the following:
In the year 19XX the earth was engulfed in war. Nation pitted against nation, human against human. Every living thing on the planet was locked in a chaotic battle to acquire each other’s wealth and power. In the meantime, in the farthest away land of “Ladyland” there lived a genius biologist named Dr. Jimi (hobby: guitar) who was about to conclude a mad science experiment for a pack of superior creatures that would be called MAN WITH A MISSION (MWAM).
Are they human? Are they wolves?
Their looks may be deceiving and even comical at first glance, but they have incredible brain power and a superhuman physique. Such superb abilities enabled them to carry out the planet’s most challenging top secret missions, and made them untouchable by the world’s fearsome and powerful leaders including Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and Ivan the Terrible. The Principality of Zeon had them work in the dark shadows of history in various locations around the world.
Dr. Jimi was plagued by guilt and regret that his creations had contributed to some of the most evil deeds in history and decided to put an end to it. He wanted to ensure that they wouldn’t fall under the spell of evil again and so he froze them into eternal sleep in a far edge of the world. Determined not to let his creativity potentially bring more evil into the world the Doctor burned his guitar. He managed to escape the hands of evil and cheat death three times, but he couldn’t avoid his destiny. Retribution for his death was to keep MWAM frozen under the glaciers in the South Pole. Jimi’s last words were, “I’ll try getting a straight perm in my next life.”
Time passed by and it was now the year of 2010. The planet had gone through worldwide economic crisis, numerous political and social tensions across borders, and was slowly being destroyed by pollution induced global warming. The warming and deterioration of the planet then melted the icy caskets that Dr. Jimi had jeopardized his life for. MWAM awoke from eternal sleep!
Are they working for justice for this world, or are they nothing else but evil?
Either way “MAN WITH A MISSION” is now back on the mission around the world!
In a follow up to our 2012 interview, we were lucky enough to talk to the amazing Yaya Han again this year at Anime Expo 2013!
Wearing her strikingly beautiful Chun-Li costume, Yaya discussed with us not only some fun tidbits about her history with costuming, but also her thoughts on some of the recent cosplay controversies that have popped up over the past couple years, including harassment, appropriate boundaries, and respect for women.
So what are you waiting for? You can check out our exclusive Anime Diet interview right here!
We had the privilege of speaking with noted anime director Makoto Shinkai at Anime Expo 2013. Noted for his lush background work and wistful themes, Shinkai first came to fame with the home computer produced Voices of a Distant Star. He has gone on to make several acclaimed anime films such as The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Five Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. This year, he has released his latest work, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa), which is perhaps his most refined statement about romantic longing (koi) yet. We decided to speak to him about that movie, its vision and the casting, as well as his artistic approaches and influences and what he thinks about his place in the anime world.
NOTE: this interview contains very mild spoilers, or at least hints, about The Garden of Words.
You seem to have a unique ability to capture the beauty of ordinary life. What things around you make you say, “Wow, I want to capture that!” in animation?
It’s not that there is always a particular moment, so, it’s hard to answer in a one word…it’s not that I’m always thinking that “oh, this scenery is beautiful so I have to cut that part out and make it to art.”
And speaking of The Garden of Words…the first thing you make is a story. Then you decide where the location of the story will be, and how the story will develop. And then, when you think how the visuals will be in this process, then you finally think about how you take something from the setting and use it, how to depict it, and how to make the setting beautiful. That’s when you begin to think that. So the story always comes first.
So the visuals come last in the process.
Yes, that’s right.
The way you use lighting is a distinguishing feature of your work. How do you approach lighting, and do you have any influences in that area?
There is a famous Japanese director of live action art film, Shunji Iwai [director of All About Lily Chou-Chou, Love Letter, and star of Hideaki Anno’s live action film Shiki-Jitsu]. And his films are not anime, but he shoots beautiful scenery, so I think there is some influence from Iwai-san.
And being 40 years old, I am part of the 8-bit video game generation, like the Famicom, or in America, Nintendo Entertainment System. (You call it the NES, right?) My generation loved Famicom and PC games, but at that time the computers couldn’t use as many colors as today–[some] PCs could only use 8 colors, and the Famicon only had 64 colors. I think there were many ideas of how to depict nature or characters with limited colors, and I think I was influenced from that as well.
How have you changed as a storyteller since your early works?
I want to believe I am getting better with my storytelling skills. I don’t know what the audience thinks about me, though.
Well, compared with 10 years ago when I was making She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star, I have come to be more aware and conscious about the structure of the story, or what the driving force of the story is. What’s the engine, what elements moves the story forward? So I think I am more aware of that compared with 10 years ago.
You’ve done both sci-fi/fantasy works as well as contemporary “slice-of-life” stories. Do you prefer one or the other?
I like both. For Garden of Words, I made the film about really ordinary life, but I have a desire to make an SF story my next film. Before Garden of Words, I made a fantasy story, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and since I made a fantasy film then, I made a film about ordinary life this time. So, there is always a pendulum of desires: since I made a realistic film this time, I want to make a different film next time.
So what genre do you want to do next?
But I always think that there are many movie directors, and many animes, so there is no need for one director to make all kinds of films. Everyone has something they’re good at, and what I’m good at is depicting the tightly focused relationship seen in The Garden of Words, as well as scenes from contemporary life. So The Garden of Words is like my speciality. I’m playing in my home turf, using skills that I excel at. Sure, I still do have a desire to make SF and fantasy; I’m interested in them. But if I try to do mystery or comedy or anything else, I think that will be beyond my powers. That’s how I feel.
What kind of emotions did you depict that you hadn’t previously in The Garden of Words?
To put it simply, I hadn’t really depicted characters screaming out their emotions at each other in my previous works. I think I had a lot of works where you might carry a lot of emotions inside but you suppress them; you can’t say what you want to say. But this time, at the climax of the film, I wrote a scene where the boy screams at his crush Yukino-san. He throws his emotions hard at her, and personally I think I hadn’t made something like that before.
Also, [another] difference from my previous works is that they were about the characters searching for who they are inside, for their self-identity. I had wanted to write stories that explore the kind of inner emotions a character might have. But on reflection, this film became not so much about self-discovery as about discovering the other. So Takao [the male protagonist of Garden ofWords]is not trying to find out who he is, but is trying hard to find out who Yukino is instead. That’s one significant difference from my prior films.
We heard from [screenwriter] Mari Okada yesterday at her press conference, and she said that she wrote scenes of characters shouting at one another in AnoHana to send a message to the current youth that they need to be more honest and expressive, not repressed. Did you have the same agenda with your climactic scene?
Mari Okada is here at Anime Expo?
Yes, she is here too.
Oh, okay. I have met her before. I don’t feel the same way as Mari Okada, that youth should be more expressive. Rather, I think the opposite. My impression is different, and while I don’t think you can hastily generalize about all “youth,” I think young people [especially] in online communities express inconsiderate snap judgments too much. Like, “that’s creepy,” “I love this,” that is BS.” They say that stuff so easily and without hesitation; that’s my impression at least. So don’t scream your thoughts right away; digest them first. I want them to have more thoughtful communication as a form of expression. That’s how I feel about youth.
Well, if I must say one more thing about Mari Okada…I love Toradora, which she wrote the screenplay for, a lot. And I think that Garden of Words is influenced by the way the characters express their emotions in Toradora. I really do think that.
Well, one thing about Toradora is how well it depicts the longing of the characters for love and friendship. I see a similar thread of longing, koi or ko-hi, in your own work. What continually draws you to that theme?
I’ve been asked this question many times…why do I keep going back to that theme? Hmm. It’s like asking, “Why do you make sad stories more often than happy stories?” It’s hard for me to explain even to myself, why do I keep depicting this strong yearning or unrequited love? Well, if you want to psychoanalyze me, there might be various reasons, but even I don’t know what they are that clearly. I just seem to be constantly drawn to it.
Speaking of ko-hi, are you influenced by the “Tora-san” series of films? They are about a man who is always turned down by the main woman in the end.
No, actually I’m not influenced by Tora-san either, I have never watched those movies. But I do love stories where the character always get turned down. Speaking of getting turned down, there are a lot of novelists that I like who write that type of story, but if I had to choose one, I love Mitsuyo Kakuta, a female novelist. She is a writer of “real” or “pure” literature—not light novels, but “real” prose novels like those by Yukio Mishima. Kakuta has a collection of short stories where a character gets turned down, and I love it.
But the thing about getting rejected is that you reflect and think and analyze about why you got turned down. You learn a lot more from stories about getting rejected than stories about becoming happy. That’s why I prefer those stories.
How was Kana Hanazawa chosen to play Yukino? Did you write the part with her in mind from the start, or did she audition for the role along with others?
Well, we just had a typical audition, and we had about 20 people come in. We chose the one that we thought was the best among them, and it was Kana Hanazawa. But I heard a lot of opinions that casting her as Yukino was an unexpected choice. Hanazawa is 24 years old right now, but Yukino is 27 years old. So Hanazawa’s voice playing the role of an adult woman might sound too childish. That’s what I heard often.
But during the audition, Hanazawa’s childish voice—actually it sounds more like a teenager’s voice—I thought it was very charming or appealing. And she can do not only childish voices but, since she is a woman in her 20s after all, she can do a mature woman’s voice too. In fact, when she is off screen, she doesn’t sound like an anime character at all in daily conversation. Instead she talks with a calm, rather low tone of voice, as one might expect. Moreover, I thought Yukino’s character had both a childish side and an adult side, which Hanazawa reflected well—so we chose her.
Where do you see yourself in the anime world today—someone who belongs more to the otaku fandom side of things, or someone who stands outside of the scene, like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Oshii? Personally, I see you as having one foot in both…
Perhaps that’s what it looks like when you see me from the outside. But I have a question for you instead How am I seen on the outside, like overseas, in America? if we suppose that there is a fine line between those two sides as you just described, which one do people think I belong to?
Well, you’re regarded as one of the most promising directors in anime—the most common comparison is that you are “the next Miyazaki.” I remember that Voices of a Distant Star made a splash among hardcore fans, the moe and SF type. However, I also know people who are not hardcore anime fans, like animation students, who know about She and Her Cat (but not much else).I think people who know your name tend to be hardcore fans, but there are still people who like animation in general who also recognize your talent. Hence my thinking about both sides.
To me, I don’t think I belong to either side, and personally, I want to make films that belongs to neither one. Maybe, for lack of a better term, there’s a “Miyazaki side,” or [Mamoru] Hosoda or [Mamoru] Oshii side, and there’s is a deep maniac anime fan side, but there are people that don’t belong to either side and I want to do things that neither side has done.
For example, there’s groups who don’t usually watch anime—like working women in their 20s or 30s that usually only read women’s magazines, and I want to make anime that makes this group feel “oh, I didn’t realize that Japanese animation was this beautiful!” or “Oh this anime is interesting!” At the same time, for the chuunibyoupeople who love Kyoto Animation’s works, who are very deep hardcore fans, I want to make them feel “oh, there is also that kind of expression or depiction in anime”—that there isn’t just KyoAni-like or Macross-like anime, that they get to know or discover my style of expression and come to love it. Ultimately it’s not about deciding where I come down on; I want to make work that reaches an audience that’s neither on the “Miyazaki” or “hardcore anime” side.
Photos by Shizuka and Laszlo Dudas. Translation and some questions by Rome. Thanks to Makoto Shinkai and David Del Rio and Kim McKee from Sentai Filmworks for making this conversation possible.