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.
We had the privilege of interviewing longtime animator, character designer, and animation director Hidenori Matsubara. A longtime colleague of Hideaki Anno, he’s worked on most major Gainax projects as well as the recent Evangelion Rebuild movies. His work goes back to the late 1980s and includes titles like Oh My Goddess, Steamboy, and the upcoming film At the Corner of the World.
This transcript is based on the on-site translation, and has been edited for clarity.
Computers have changed the animation process a lot. What are some of the benefits of using digital and what was it like using a computer to do animation for the first time?
[With digital processing,] I guess there is less deterioation in the final processing. Before, when art was transferred to a cel, there would be some decay. That’s the best part [of using digital]: there is no more shifting of the art when it’s transferred to celluloid. There’s no more dust, no more scratching. Before, there used to be this gigantic camera that takes a picture of the cel, but with computers there’s a lot more freedom of expression.
As for modern techniques, it’s more like I didn’t have a choice, so I just went along with it. One day in 2000-2001, when doing illustrations for magazines, I was given the company’s final celluloid. That was it for cels; there was just no choice.
Has the use of digital processing changed his own day to day work greatly?
It hasn’t really changed. For me, it’s still pencil and paper. Some people work on tablets and with the computer, but I haven’t. I never tried it, so I don’t even know if it it’s easier or not.
Do you think one man animation projects like Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star are where things are headed in animation? Or is this a temporary thing?
That type of person and production exists, but there’s a variety of productions out there too. [After all], Shinkai works on regular anime now. Everyone’s different; like, Shinkai is really into doing backgrounds himself, whereas [Hideaki] Anno likes doing the layouts himself. Each director has a way of doing things. It’s not like a self-animation would be the only thing out there.
Speaking of Anno, you’ve worked with him for a long time. How has Anno changed or stayed the same over the years?
Nothing’s really changed. He’s like a big shot now, but basically nothing’s changed.
What was it like working for Gainax in its early days?
I started [at Gainax] on Wings of Honneamise; I was a total newbie back then. Then I was an in-betweener, and promoted to key animator for Gunbuster—which was Anno’s first directorial work. After that there was Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, where I became an animation director for the first time. And after that was Otaku no Video.
Since Nadia was a TV series, I was one of many animation directors. But for Otaku no Video, there was only 2 animation directors, so I was happy to be chosen for that one. As for the Evangelion TV series, I was busy with a lot of other things, so I only contributed to a part of it, but I did have a lot of fun.
So just how accurate was Otaku no Video as a depiction of Gainax then?
It’s not wrong! Maybe it softened up our image a little. [Gainax] basically started as people in their early 20s in a nameless company making a movie, and all those people are basically big shots now, so that’s impressive.
You mentioned in an earlier interview about how courageous Wings of Honneamise was and how perhaps a project like that wouldn’t have been greenlit now. Do you think courage plays a large role in the creation of anime?
It’s really up to the individual, to personal feeling. Maybe I did have courage back then, but when you’re young, you just don’t think about things like that.
Katsuya Terada is a Japanese illustrator and character designer, perhaps best known as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire and also an illustrator for Nintendo Power‘s early issues. He spoke to me at San Diego Comic Con 2013, as he was nominated for the Eisner Award for Best Painter and Multimedia Artist that year and also had a 10 year retrospective of his work .
The interview was done courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, and was conducted at their booth at SDCC.
How does it feel to be nominated for the “Best Painter and Multimedia Artist” Eisner award this year?
What inspired you to do a darker version of the Monkey King/Journey to the West (Saiyuki) story, and what do bring to it that’s special or different?
Everyone grew up with the tale of Saiyuki; even Osamu Tezuka did his version. When Son Goku is put in a cave…someone who’s been crammed up for years in a mountain is naturally going to tend you towards violence—a natural reaction to that situation. I don’t think that’s really been depicted before.
You have a philosophy of illustration called rakugaki (short illustrations or doodlings wherever you go). How have you developed that philosophy over the years?
It’s an impulsive thing…I’ll take a pencil and think, “that’s a cool thing,” and especially being able to depict things to exist or don’t exist that are or would be three dimensions in a two dimensional way. That excites me, being able to go around and say “I can depict that, I can depict that.”
Recently a 10 year retrospective of your work was released. How have your thoughts about art changed over the past decade?
I haven’t changed that much…maybe I couldn’t draw as much 10 years ago, perhaps, not because I was a worse artist, but there were things I couldn’t depict then that I can now. I do feel more satisfied with my art now, personally. I want to be able to look at things 10 years from now, 20 years from now, and be able to say to myself, “I’m impressed.” A lot of what I do, especially the rakugaki work, is for my personal entertainment, but I want to be able to draw things that I can show to other as well.
You are perhaps best known in the US as the character designer behind Blood: The Last Vampire. Have you been approached by other anime studios to do other designs, and is that something you’d like to pursue further if given the chance?
I did character designs before and after Blood: The Last Vampire, for games and anime. I don’t think I would gravitate toward doing just character design…ultimately character design is just drawing pictures, and that’s always just part of my work. There’s some work that perhaps you may not have heard about, like for Korean games that you might not be able to access in the US…but it’s just a part of drawing pictures for me.
You’re also well known for doing illustrations for the older Nintendo Power issues, and they were very impressionistic. What do you see the role of a game illustrator being in a time when video game graphics have become so sophisticated?
It’s still very necessary. Back in the day, due to the limited graphics, you were kind of projecting the characters from the art onto the game…now, the process is just more direct, but it’s the exact same thing in many ways. It’s like in the movies where the graphics are so good that you can’t tell the difference anymore. It’s like the importance of having a movie poster.
What would you give as advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?
When you are young, you have all this ambition, you can’t think you can fail. But when you get older, sometimes all you can see is where you’re lacking, which is kind of unsatisfying. So when you’re young, find out what’s out there, find out what needs to be done, and pursue that.
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!
Anime Diet was privileged to interview singer/songwriter Chiaki Ishikawa at Otakon 2013. Perhaps best known for the OP of Bokurano, “Uninstall,” which she also performed in concert at the convention, Ishikawa has written many anime songs in the course of her career: first with the band See Saw (where Yuki Kajiura was her partner), and later solo. Her most recent work is with the mecha anime Majestic Prince.
The Paper conducted the interview, with Shizuka taking a few pictures. Questions were written by gendomike and The Paper. Translation by Rome.
What music are you listening to right now?
People ask me that a lot. I don’t have anyone in particular–for a US musician, maybe Eddie Vedder, but right now I listen to a lot of samples of new artists that sing anime songs.
How would you compare Anime Expo 2007 vs this year’s Otakon?
Well, Los Angeles had a lot of cosplayers and the hotels were a mess.* Otakon is more otaku oriented.
How was working with young Yuki Kajiura? Did you think she would be as big as she became?
The first time we met? Did I think back then that Kajiura would be this huge? Well, we got successful by doing anime songs. By the standards of the mainstream J-pop industry, we weren’t good at all. The current singers who are around Kajirua practice singing with her because Kajiura is so big, but I’d thought Kajiura was great since I started singing with her. I mean, I simply loved her songs. It’s not surprising to me at all that she’s become so famous. I thought she would from the start.
Do you plan to work with Kajiura again?
Well, we don’t have the opportunity. We never have time to get together and do songs.
Was your musical approach influenced by Kajiura apart from See Saw?
Well, I’d say we both influenced each other. She composed songs based on things I sang too. We were working really hard when we were together.
How do you write lyrics without music for anime?
I think it’s based on the flow of the anime. First you have the anime itself: you have the director’s opinion, and a good-enough scenario…so then I get the synopsis. And I write song based on the synopsis. And while there are people who write music first and then the lyrics, I write lyrics first and then the music. But since I don’t know how the ending is going to be, I imagine the plot myself and then write lyrics. By keeping a certain good artistic distance from the production, I can create a good song.
Your songs tend to sound melancholy, often written in minor keys. Why?
Since I wrote “Uninstall” for the anime Bokurano, where 15 kids die, that image has stuck to me…after that, people only bring me those sad animes where some character always dies, and nobody brings moe anime to me to write songs. So, once it’s known that I am doing the ending song, people say that means the anime is going in a depressing direction. (Laughs)
*This was in reference to reports that at Anime Expo 2007, guest of honor hotel rooms were sometimes not prepared when the guests arrived from Japan. Haruko Momoi in particular complained publicly about it and other problems, spawning controversy.
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.
We had the privilege of speaking to Natsume Yuujinchou, Hotarubi no Mori e, Durarara!!, Baccano!, and Kuragehime director Takahiro Omori along with Brains Base producer Yumi Sato at Fanime 2013. Below is a transcript of our interview with them. Questions were asked by Jeremy Booth; transcript translation by Rome. Video (shot by gendomike) is forthcoming —gendomike
Jeremy: do you have particular works you like that you’ve been involved in? Why?
Omori: I like all of them, [but] the one I worked really hard with challenge with the sense of achievement was Baccano.
Sato: I also like all of them, but the first anime that got approved as my project that I submitted was Natsume Yujincho. So, it is Natsume.
What is like working on a project together, day by day?
Omori: If we are making something together, we fight, and there are a lot of hard feelings. It is pretty common. (Laughs) But if we finish perfectly and get good reviews, then that is great.
What happens when you have differing opinions? Do you decide with rock-paper-scissors (jank-ken-pon)?
Omori: (Laughs) We don’t do jankenpon, but we do discuss a lot. If we have to decide in an either/or situation, then the final decision will be mine, but of course we talk a lot.
What are some points of conflict?
Omori: Well, regarding the story, the scenario writer will be the center of the discussion, A lot of people are involved, so it’s not about conflict between me and Sato. The discussion between us is more about staff to choose for production and work processes, arrangement.
You’ve often directed two works by the same original author.* What keeps you coming back?
Omori: First, we get good reputation from works, and original manga writer and editor that arranges original manga writer function as a same team for production, so it’s already established the team work. For Hotarubi, it was Sato-san, she had a strong desire to do this work.
Natsume and Hotarubi are about people being friends with spirits/yokai. What’s appealing to you about stories with yokai?
Omori: Through spirit and yokai, we try to depict what happens in real human life. So for me, it is that point when i try to depict that.
Sato: For me, I think it just happens to be a interaction between human and yoke, like these interactions, they get sad and happy, these emotional interactions are just this time happen to be yokai, and i was very touched by that part, and in me, it just touched my koto (japanese string instrument) string.
Which character(s) did you feel a connection to or felt were most important? What did you gain from that experience?
Omori: Isaac and Miria from Baccano!. I made them, but I think they gave me more than I gave to them…of course, they are already defined in the original novel, so I didn’t create them initially. But as I was adapting them into anime, they grew as characters by themselves. I didn’t think they would end up holding the whole series together, until I finally realized that they held the key to almost every story. When I understood that, I was convinced: “this is it.”
Sato: For me, it’s Natsume-kun, but he was very difficult character: how do you choose his clothing, his word choices? Those can makes a huge difference in the viewer’s impression…and how does he interacts? I paid close attention to this character, and I think that was also the case for Kamiya-san, who played Natsume, who was giving the attention while reading the script at the same time. Actually, once, Takada-san, the character designer, got into a huge fight with Omori over that performance. “Natsume is not like this! This is not his personality!”
Omori: If a character is growing, it means that he can’t stay in the same place forever.
Which is more important, the artistic/visual style or story?
Omori: Both story and visuals are important. But fundamentally, it’s important that a character’s personality, visuals, and role in the story not be a mismatch from the original story. So, it’s a balancing act.
What’s the most challenging part of adapting manga to anime?
Omori: As much as possible, I want to recreate the original manga’s “taste.” It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but I want to recreate its atmosphere. That job is more for the character designer though, and my role is just to give a judgement. Rather my struggle was—in manga, it depends on the readers where their mental impression of the work comes from. Especially like Natsume or other shoujo mangas use multiple visual expressions: in the same frame, a character can express two different emotions. But on the motion picture, because the time axis is continuous, I have to cut one of the expressions out. Or, we express those multiple emotions by changing the dialogue. We do that often, and that balancing act is where we always have struggled.
Sato-san, tell us about your first experience as an animation producer.
Sato: My first work as a producer was actually Kamichu!. I had gotten into a fight with the owner of the anime studio, and he assigned me to do this work: “Do this!” And that become actually my first produced work, but I didn’t know what to do. So my first experience was one filled with desperation.
What was the challenge?
Sato: I didn’t know too many things. Everything was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what I did was right or wrong, and that was the toughest. I wasn’t confident, so I couldn’t really lead and direct my staff, and that was the most painful part.
You’ve came a long way since then.
Sato: Ever since I started working with Omori-san, I’ve developed a really thick skin.
*Omori directed Natsume Yuujinchou and the short film Hotarubi no Mori e, both whose manga were written by Yuki Midorikawa. The light novels of Baccano! and Durarara!! were written by Ryohgo Narita.
Tatsuo Sato is the famed director of Martian Successor Nadesico, a classic of the 1990s robot genre and one of the defining parodies of the era, as well as the recent shows Moretsu Space Pirates and Rin-ne no Lagrange. He agreed to talk to us in private just after the press conference—which, in some ways, is really the first part of this conversation. For instance, we had just learned that Rasmus Faber had won the right to do Lagrange’s OP by competition, and started this interview by asking him more about Faber.
Did you ever listen to Rasmus Faber’s “Platina Jazz” arrangements of anime songs? Which songs did you like?
It was played as the BGM at the gym I go to, so I don’t really have an idea which track was my favorite. Sorry about that!
What anime inspired you to enter the anime industry?
While I certainly watched anime as a child, I really just wanted to go into the film business, the visual arts in general: not only anime but live action as well. I didn’t have any connections at first, but my sempai just happened to be already working as an animator. He introduced me to that particular exam, and I got in the anime industry. In terms of my career choice, I wasn’t aggressively seeking to be in the anime business [in particular]. I just wanted to do something related to the visual arts.
So which visual arts in particular inspired you?
As far the decisive elements of visual art [that got me into it]: sure, I like it when stories, drama, and visuals are combined into a narrative film. But the most inspiring piece of work for me was “Powers Of Ten“, which is a science film that starts from the human body and goes down to the microscopic, even atomic level, and then goes up to the universal or galactic scale. I thought it was amazing that it could depict, using a scale of 10s, to go from large to small, and small to large. It was very impressive, and that kind of filmmaking does something even more fundamental than storytelling. From that starting point, I got interested in visual arts, including anime.
Back then, it was on film, so the picture was [perhaps] not as refined. But what it wanted to depict was very clear, and I found this was one way of expressing it.
Nakajima Megumi [as Ranka Lee] said “Kira!” [as her catchphrase] in Macross Frontier. Madoka says “Maru!” [in Lagrange] in a similar way. Was that an intentional response [to “Kira”]? What kind of process went into deciding that?
Well, for that, the producers wanted to have a catchphrase, but we said, “Isn’t that going to be too much like ‘kira’?” At that time, Nakajima Megumi hadn’t been selected yet to sing the OP. I said, “It’s not Nakajima Megumi, so let’s not do that!” But they replied, “This time, it’s a robot anime, so don’t worry.” At that time, Nakajima Megumi’s name wasn’t even on the list. But when we started to produce the music, we thought her songs were great, so she got selected, at which point we said, “It won’t overlap [with Macross], will it?” In hindsight, it was coincidentally similar. While we didn’t intend it, I think it’s alright if people think we did it intentionally!
Well, among otakus, it was alleged that it was an ambition or even a conspiracy for “Maru” to replace “Kira.”
Well, in the anime world, a lot of things that pile up coincidentally can get seen as being inevitable. For example, a lot of anime have overlapping seiyuu casting, and so people wonder, “Why are all the seiyuu the same?” But it’s just a coincidence. A very talented seiyuu, prior to becoming famous, might have a lot of openings in her schedule, so before she knows it, her schedule quickly gets filled up with offers and jobs. Her management doesn’t fill up her schedule with jobs because they think she is a famous seiyuu, but rather, if there is a good seiyuu with lots of opening, they want to make sure she gets more work. That pattern is more common. It wasn’t about deliberate imitation.
Where do you see the anime industry going in the next 5 to 10 years? Do you see any upcoming trends? What do you see for the future?
In the press conference, I said I wanted to focus on TV. I think there will be more movies. The 13 episode cour is so weak as a series, so hard to sell and market [as a whole]. If so, then it’s better to make films to keep the TV series longer, and approach to sales or marketing is what a lot of people are thinking is the better way.
Last: where can I buy your T-shirt?
I bought this in Japan, it just recently came out. Probably you can get at Amazon.
Gen Urobuchi needs no introduction and the moment I stepped inside the interview room, I sensed a unique atmosphere filled with the promise of a memorable conversation. Urobuchi-san exudes a professional demeanor where one could easily discern that he takes his job seriously even before he spoke. He often had a thoughtful look.
The Paper: Thank you for allowing Anime Diet the opportunity for this interview. Let’s start with something light. What was the last anime you watched?
Gen Urobuchi: Do you mean one that I have completed or still ongoing?
TP: Good point. Finished please.
GU:Kids On the Slope and Tsuritama, only because they showed them back to back on TV.
TP: You’re known for “darker” stories. What compels you to explore thus? What message are you hoping to convey?
GU: I got into anime during the 80s. Back then, there was no moe. Just about everything was “dark”. I am just trying to bring old sense into new styles.
TP: We heard you had the idea for Madoka for years. Why did it take so long for it to get produced?
GU: It wasn’t intentional. Studio Shaft was already fully booked at the time.
TP: The ending to Madoka has theological undertones. Tell us a little about your own religious philosophy and how it influences or guides your work.
GU: [He looks rather thoughtful] Hmm….As a genre, magical girls is a world view filled with emotions and kindness and happiness. Madoka came about as if emotions are not part of the girls but stood alone by themselves.
TP: There are a lot of aspiring writers. Unfortunately, most of them lead busy lifes…jobs, family, etc. What advice do you have for those with so little time?
GU: It’s not about having the time. It’s up to destiny. Screenwriting doesn’t take a long time. It’s inspiration that takes time. [He touches his temple upon the word inspiration] Time and training won’t give you inspiration. It’s almost luck. Writers are people just like you and me, people from various fields. There is no formula.
[Interpreter finishes translating and I am still busy note-taking when he continues.]
GU: One thing is for sure. If the chance arises and inspiration hits, you must seize it. In fact, having a busy life would lend itself to better writing. Put life experiences towards the writing.
[I am looking at my list of prepared questions and I hesitate because I had one asking about his impression of moe which he touched upon earlier. But I am running out of time so I went with something lighter.]
TP: Do you get much fan mail? What was the most memorable?
GU: It’s not often that I get fan mail. When others mention my work or praise them, I consider those fan mail.
TP: Again, thank you so much.
[He smiles and bows slightly.]
As I am standing to leave, I gesture to my shirt and remark that he’s wearing Rider’s tee. The interpreter translates and he nods rather charmingly in a solemn fashion almost as if it’s his duty to do so.
The small press conference with Moretsu Pirates, Rinne no Lagrange, and Martian Successor Nadesico director Tatsuo Sato—as well as the follow-up private interview—is one of the richest dialogues we’ve ever had with an anime creator. We hope you enjoy this inside look behind Sato-san’s thought process in making Moretsu Pirates, Lagrange, and other shows. Some tidbits that perhaps have never been shared, like the origin of Lagrange’s OP, are here.
Translation by Rome. Our questions, which compose the vast majority of them, are in bold.
How do you feel the anime industry has changed over the years? Well, the biggest change was when I went from being a producer to a director. The job has become mostly about how to communicate with people, so I came to be able speak like I’m doing now.
In Moretsu Space Pirates, there seems to be a deliberate upending of expectations in the way the show is paced and the characters built. What was your process in deciding how to adapt the original novel into an anime? Was there an eye in particular to recapturing certain approaches that are less common today? The original work was a novel. Each episode advances the story, but [since the anime has to come to an end before the novel’s story ends] it’s weird to have to say “stop” to the main character’s growth, right? The main character becomes a high school student, and from there the [anime and novel stories] run alongside each other like parallel lines. But the story goes on past that; if you read it in a long run, that would have been okay, but if you adapt an anime in parallel with the novel, you don’t have the freedom to deviate. This anime series has 26 episodes, so rather than just simply adapt the novel, it has to build up to a rising climax to end the story. That’s how I restructured the story, making sure that the character will end her growth after 26 episodes of the series.
So the anime series only focused one part of the story. Well, this I directed is “moretsu” (gung-ho, bodacious), but it’s not moretsu in the beginning. The story is about how Marika becomes a “moretsu” pirate.
Nadesico was one of the first shows to use certain “meta” techniques in anime: Gekiganger-3, the parodies of contemporary anime, etc. Now these techniques have become widespread. What is your opinion of that trend? Well, speaking of Nadesico, the meta is heavily involved is the first part of the story. But to tell the story all the way through meta techniques is difficult in terms of the structure. Although it is now used a lot, it is really difficult for the meta to be involved with the core of the story.
If you could collaborate with another great director in the anime scene, like you did with Masaaki Yuasa in Cat Soup, who would you like to work with? Yuasa is a guy who entered the anime industry at the same time as me, so he is like a close duplicate of mine, so I know his greatness. Well it will be rude to say it like this to him, but I was interested in “what if I make anime based on him?” so I did it. This type of person is rare; although I have some people that I’d like to work with, it is rare for me to create works with that in mind.
Can you talk about Rin-ne no Lagrange and the degree of your involvement as the chief director? Well, the production is still going on. When Morestu Pirates just started, I was asked to also join the Lagrange project. So it was impossible for me to fully participate. The main part I did was in directing the construction of the project. The basic form of the series, scenario writer, and director are under me, but the real filmmaking was done by them.
The original work has two cours with a total of 24 episodes. Of course as the story goes on, it will deviate from the original plan. When they lose track of what the goal and wander into dangerous territory, you advise and support them. Very much like—well, it’s weird to say “from above,” since I’m not involved on set, as it were, but that was how I was involved.
Do you have any specific examples? [The basic concept is that] a girl rides on a robot and fights the enemy. First, there was already talk that we’ll make a robot anime with a girl as the main character, but it wasn’t concretely clear what form and what kind of a girl, and everyone was thinking about how to do it. They said “let’s do something that’s never been before,” but they can’t come up with any idea. Well, if we want to have a girl that’s never been seen before, let’s do a “disappointing beauty” (zannen-bijin or zannenkei-bijin; think Chihaya from Chihayafuru). She is cute, but can’t be too [cute in the usual way]. So, for example, let’s put a jersey/tracksuit on her. Let’s tie her hair with a rubber-band. She’s not like the typical “good girl” that is liked by everybody, the everyone might want her to be, but she’s more merry, out of the ordinary. So what happens if this kind of girl is the main character? That’s how it started.
Lagrange seems to have some similarity to Evangelion: you’ve got a blue uniform girl, an orange/red uniformed girl, but Madoka is very different from Shinji. Was this intentional? After all, Nadesico had parodies of Evangelion. It’s not so much a parody of Evangelion…actually Evangelion is very much a summation of the whole history of robot anime, where a boy that has never ridden on a robot [learns to] ride it and look for his purpose. It started from Mazinger Z, whose plot is the “royal road” of robot anime. Evangelion took the same road: what if you put a boy like Shinji in the robot? That’s how Evangelion was made. So, in terms of that, this is similar: what if we put a jersey girl [in a robot]?
Anime is still stigmatized in USA as being for kids. What about Japan? Shouldn’t anime appeal to all ages and all walks of life?
There were many people from the prior generation before mine making anime for kids, but with messages for adults inserted along the way. And we watched them and grew up, so of course, we adopted those tastes and we don’t really care if it is targeting the kids. We learned much that as a format that anime might be for kids but with messages for grownups—but we have a sense that kids are also getting our message anyway, so I think continuing in this mode is okay.
How did you approach Shigofumi? It was deep and philosophical.
Shigofumi wasn’t for kids so much, but rather for late teens, like high school students to college students. [It was] an anime that those kind of people will watch. But despite that, we didn’t make an excessive depiction visually. But, indirectly we had to depict the anger that can be understood. So we intentionally did that.
What was the most difficult making the characters and environment?
Well, the most difficult part was that the character should not be swayed, but at the same time had to grow up. So, how to depict his growth, it’s kind of contradictory. He can’t be swayed, but not being swayed doesn’t mean he can’t change in some way. So, the hardest part was how to balance that.
Do you find it more difficult adapting anime from a novel or manga than creating original anime?
Even for original works, it depends on taste. Speaking of light novels, there are already illustrations, so the novel and illustrations together already create a preset image of the story. Reconstructing that into anime is very tough. Readers are very narrow. so if you make it into anime, the leeway given to it can be very narrow. And we have to work with that and explore it, and we have to bring out the unique qualities of anime. We have to make visuals very precisely, so it’s very tough. We can’t do location shoots!
The anime industry has changed a great deal since Nadesico. Do you think today’s industry environment makes it difficult to tell the stories you like to tell? (Clarification requested by translator.) Well, since Eva, we’ve seen the rise of the otaku subculture, the moe culture. Moretsu seemed different from that trend. Is it hard to make an anime like Moretsu today? On the contrary: since the time of Eva until now, the anime cycle is getting faster, so how do you not get sucked into that trend? And what is the best thing to do? And the conclusion I drew was to make it the orthodox way, and that was it. And I thought that instead [people] would see a new thing, to see characters growing tremendously through 24 episodes: to see how the characters make decisions, to show the process of growth. I had a keen sense that would become the tastiest part of the anime, so this time I’m glad I made anime in that manner, and it was great to know that people really digging that kind of stuff are increasing.
What is the most important element to make anime? Well, anime in this case is TV anime or… all anime? Ok, the most important thing in anime is basically that it is a medium that is bound by a running time, so there’s a [limited] sense of time (temporary art). So, for example, if you structure 26 episodes at 30 minutes each, then you have to think about the flow, and even with the artsy anime has to fall within the structure of what should you depict in that set time.
Was it your idea to bring Rasmus Faber to write the OP of Lagrange (“Try Unite”)? Well, in this case, we had a competition. There were several contestants, and among them there was a foreigner whose name wasn’t familiar, and I was like, “who is this dude?” And I was told he was Rasmus Faber. And Lagrange’s music production company was Flying DOG from Victor Records. Victor Records have released Rasmus Faber’s CD albums, and that’s how we had connections through that. And Faber personally dearly loves Megumi Nakajima’s voice, and he particularly wanted to compose a song with Megumi’s voice. That’s how he appealed to us with that story, and he entered the competition, and that was really hilarious. So, [I said], let’s give him a shot! That’s how it was decided.
What role has technology played in making anime? Is it easier to make anime now? Oh yes, certainly, it makes you feel that you can do anything with it. However, along with those benefits, you have to really make sure you know what you want to do with it, otherwise you will be distracted with the flow. So, you always have to ask yourself what you really want to do each time technology makes progress. And that is very important.