Interview: Kenji Nagasaki and Wakana Okamura of “My Hero Academia”

Kenji Nagasaki and Wakana Okamura
Kenji Nagasaki and Wakana Okamura

Anime Diet had the privilege of interviewing the director and producer of the current anime version of My Hero Academia, Kenji Nagasaki and Wakana Okamura, at Anime Expo 2016. This was an extensive discussion of the inspirations and process behind the creation of the hit show.

Jeremy Booth conducted the interview. This interview was translated by Nami Kodama, and was edited for clarity and concision by Michael Huang. Photos and video subtitles by Lily Huang.

How did you get your start in the anime business and what is your most memorable moment as an aspiring young worker in the anime field?

Nagasaki:When I first saw the movie “Castle in the Sky (Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta) ” by Studio Ghibli, I hadn’t watched an anime until then. The film inspired me very much and showed me the possibilities for artistic expression in anime, and led me to join the industry. I started by working for “MADHOUSE Inc” [even though] it didn’t make that film!

Do you have any other influencer besides Hayao Miyazaki that you would like to tell about?

Nagasaki:Another director I was inspired and influenced by is Kon Satoshi, who was at Madhouse at the time. When I first saw Perfect Blue I thought that he told the story almost like a live action film. But, at the same time, the anime actually does add extra expression than live action, so I really enjoyed working on that at Madhouse.

When you were a child, did you ever dream about a superhero? If so who?

Nagasaki: I grew up with reading “Dragonball”. So, every week when “Shonen Jump” came out, I rushed to a store to buy it. Goku was my hero. Everybody liked Goku at the time.

Okamura: Usagi-chan, the main character of Sailor Moon, was my hero. Generally speaking back then, boys liked , and girls liked Sailor Moon. We (girls including myself) used to play with popular toys like stickers.

What was the most challenging part of adapting this anime from the manga?

Nagasaki: The original story is very passionate. So, we really paid close attention to capturing the original story’s worldview, using sound and music [as well as drawing]. This is probably the most difficult part of interpreting from the manga to the anime. I worked hard on it from start to finish.

Okamura: The main focus was trying to keep the fans happy, because they have strong followings. So, that was probably the most challenging part, by using art and music (as the director just mentioned) attractive as anime. Bringing that special essence into the anime was challenging.
But also, at the same time, we wanted to reach beyond the fan base and gain more fans to make them happy. That was probably [another] challenging part.

How closely did Kohei Horikoshi, the manga creator, work with the project?

Nagasaki: Basically he left us in charge of that. He extended help where we needed some extra background/setting art and/or specific characters that we asked him to help us on.

Okamura: Horikoshi was very excited about the anime and was supportive. One of the reasons why he did was that Nagasaki was director and that it was being done by Studio Bones. So, he was very excited and often tweeted about special episodes and more about the anime; he was personally and emotionally involved.

There is a clear message of never giving up in My Hero Academia. However, is there any else that you hope fans take away from the show?

Nagasaki: The story is not only about how Deku tries to “not give up”. Through the relationship between All-Might and Deku, I hope that the fans would get the sense that though Deku did not have any powers, he became responsible while growing up. I want fans to see that Deku works hard toward his goals and be encouraged by his example.

Okamura: Nagasaki’s eyes were glued on Deku’s growth.

Was All-Might’s character based on any other real person or American superhero already in existence?

Nagasaki: Probably only the original author knows.

Okamura: Horikoshi is really a big fan of American animation. He often refers to the American animation in his drawing, so he took some of the essence of American animation to create All-Might.

If you were able to have a Quirk, what would it be?

Nagasaki: I’d like to fly.

Okamura: If I were to have a power like Toru Hagakure’s, I would like to sneak into the studio to make sure if the director is working! (laughs)

Who would you like to see All Might face off in a fight?
Nagasaki: The Hulk. I would think (hope) that All Might probably wins.
Okamura: I would like to see that All Might involved in something like the Marvel Civil War.

Do you have any routines in your creative process/good-luck habits? Could you share any stories, if any?

Nagasaki: In the process, when I read scripts I am always consciously thinking about music, about where would I put certain types of music in to fit the scene–and how much and how long to make the anime sharper. This is what I am always thinking about.

Okamura: Each director has own way to create a work. Nagasaki is probably the best director, among the ones I know, who consciously thinks about music. He always has his vision from the beginning.

As a producer, when I look at the story I decide which stories are well-suited when turning into the anime. As a process I always look at the attractiveness of the character. The most important thing I care about is that the anime can be better than the original manga. This is the essential process that I am always thinking about….I never want to let the audience down by giving them that negative impression: “the manga was so much better, the anime was really boring.” It’s not always the case that the same style from the original manga can work well in an anime. Anime and manga each have their own best way to depict stories.

How did you become aware of My Hero Academia when you decided that I really wanted to do this?

Okamura: When I first saw the first chapter (I didn’t even know how the story was going to turn out), I was instinctively sure that this could be a great anime. The first chapter was enough to feel that way, because that chapter told me that the story was great. Deku met All Might and then the story began to illustrate how Deku works hard to achieve his goals. That first chapter touched me, and I felt that the story had a very strong emotional power and would impress not only children but also adults. The story further introduced many characters who support Deku.

As I said earlier, the attractiveness of characters is very important for me. That was the my decision making point.

Could you tell me about the process how you became involved in the production?

Nagasaki: A producer from Studio Bones told me to work with this anime, and then when I read the original manga I said yes, because it was very interesting.

Okamura: For the producer side, while we were in discussion, we believed that we needed someone who could serve as a director and who had skills and experience to create an anime not just for otaku but also mass audiences. Then we came up with Nagasaki, who had successfully made great anime such as Gundam Build Fighters.

Are there any characters whom you most identify with?

Nagasaki: For me, it’s Deku. This is his hero’s story, but it’s not only about the hero. This can translate to any circumstance where you are working hard to achieve your goals. I always try hard to attain to my big goals, and I found a similar attitude in Deku, who is always trying to make that happen. The story is not just limited for children who dream about becoming heroes, but it’s for everyone who is working hard to make their dreams come true.

Okamura: For me, it’s the girl characters. In this story, girls are not only supporting roles but are heroines. I feel this story is more modern that way: girls aren’t just side actors but are reaching their own goals. The girls even fight against the boys. Among the five boy characters, the girl is also a heroine and is trying to save the world. I want to grow old like Recovery Girl!

What is your ultimate goal?

Nagasaki: My own goal is to make each anime I make better than last one. I want more people to enjoy anime.

I thought you were going to say “taking over the world” or something.

Okamura: (laughs) But, our anime is watched by many people around the world. This is another way to say “taking over the world”, and he is probably trying to take over the world by the anime coming the U.S.

Is there anything you are looking forward to seeing besides the convention center in Los Angeles?

Nagasaki: The atmosphere is pretty good, and I really like it. I think I don’t have enough time to sightsee this time but want to visit here again on a private trip. If I have time, I want to go Santa Monica, which is a different side of LA.

Video: nbkz Sakai panel @ Anime Expo 2016

Mangagamer, a localization company bringing top selling Japanese visual novels to the English-speaking market, held a panel at Anime Expo 2016 with their guest nbkz Sakai (伸和酒井).

The CEO of the Japanese visual novel company minori,  nbkz Sakai has produced many famous pretty and shiny games, such as ef ~a fairy tale of the two~ and eden*, some of which have received anime adaptations. Ever since 2010, minori has worked with Mangagamer to bring the original visual novels to the Western market.

Anime Diet was able to capture almost all of the panel in the video, and a transcript (which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity) is available below the video for those who prefer to read it instead.


Mangagamer Staff: Hello everyone, thank you for coming to the nbkz Q&A panel today. I’m Kai, great to see everybody, we have with us nbkz Sakai. So if you didn’t know, nbkz is the president and artistic developer for Minori, a Japanese visual novel developer, who did ef ~a fairy tale of the two~, eden*, Supipara, and hopefully many more to come! I have a few questions for nbkz. In just a moment, we’re going to show you a cute little video!

MG: So that was ef ~a fairy tale of the two~. nbkz, could you give us some insight into your experience working on ef?

nbkz Sakai: ef was made in 2006, so about ten years ago, but that was the release date. We started working on ef about three years before, in 2003. So watching it again right now… it feels kind of old. So reflecting back on that brings back memories, of working together with the director, Mikage, though he isn’t with Minori anymore. I remember all the fun days we had arguing with each other.

How many of you here have already played the game ef? A lot!

ef has five characters: Miyako, Kei, Chihiro, Mizuki, and Yuuko.
It was originally planned to start off with the first three characters, and then have Yuuko towards the end, but it actually starts with Yuuko at the beginning and Mizuki at the end.
In the end, what you played has Mizuki incorporated with Yuuko. We decided that this was the best way to showcase the story to the reader. Minori is a game company that involves a lot of staff in the decision making process, and everyone gets together to agree upon how best to showcase the story.

ef was sold into two chapters: the first tale and the latter tale. I believe ef is still the #1 Japanese game in volume of text and images used. And if anyone tells us to make a game like that again, we’ll probably say, “Nah!” We’re not that young anymore!

MG: What does “ef” actually mean?

nbkz: We really didn’t give it much thought. We just decided it might be an abbreviation for anything! We just pulled out the dictionary and the letter “E” could stand for anything, like “everything” or “eternal” or whatever. The original title for this game was actually “Angel’s Sunday”; we decided to use that as the fandisc title. We already decided upon what phrase to use towards the end of Angel’s Sunday. In the latter tale, the ending theme is called “Ever Forever”. This was actually the first thing we decided upon when we created the game. So, since we’ve decided on the song name, let’s make it “ef” for the rest of the game. For the animation, the opening theme was called “Euphoric Field,” so that also stands for “ef”. We made it seem like everything was tied to the abbreviation “ef”. There’s a lot of wordplay going on in the anime version of ef. For example, if you line up all the titles of the anime episodes, they become lyrics. There’s a lot of hidden easter eggs.

MG: Do you have any memorable or noteworthy experiences from when you worked on ef?

nbkz: It was really tough and very busy while we were creating this game. We worked on this game for a very long time, and we couldn’t see the goal or the end of this game. I still have nightmares about making this game. A hellish nightmare I’ll never finish this game on time.

MG: We’re going to our next title, eden*.

nbkz: It’s been a while since I’ve seen that too.

MG: What made your team make a kinetic, all-ages visual novel about an inevitable apocalypse? What sparked this idea?

nbkz: Jump back to when we were creating ef. Once we finished, we all got together, and concluded that ef was a really long game; let’s make our next game a bit shorter. We decided to do a more experimental type of game, which isn’t set in the stereotypical high-school setting. We wanted to do something very different. While ef was the best-selling Minori game in Japan, eden* was the best-selling Minori game in the foreign market. Eden* has become Minori’s most famous title for foreign fans, and through this title, we were able to learn a lot of things about the foreign market.

We’d like to create a new title similar to this! How many people here have played the game eden*? Thank you very much. It’s being sold on Steam for a very generous price. Please try it out!

MG: Similar to ef, did you have any memorable experiences with eden* as well?

nbkz: We worked on eden* very hard as well, and we put a very heavy emphasis on the visuals. For example, a typical visual novel has static backgrounds. If we are the characters and the audience is the player, from your perspective, the background would be this wall behind me. But if it was eden*, we have backgrounds created for all four sides as well. We call this the Pokemon depth of field… like Spielberg. So it’s a camera angle thing, where you can have two characters on screen with two different cameras, so you can see a characters from different camera angles.

This is a really good technique to use to switch around the perspective of the player. And a camera has bokeh, ie. to blur out backgrounds when you are very close. It’s a technique used in a lot of movies where two characters on screen can be individually focused on for emphasis, leaving the other blurred out, so you know who to pay attention to. If you switch around the camera angle, you might be able to see sunshine shining through from the other side.

Because we decided to go to such extreme lengths, the amount of work wasn’t much less than ef. The story itself is only about 1/4 the size of ef, but since we focused so much on visual quality experiments, it took about the same amount of work as ef. The staff was very angry at me.

When we saw the eden* opening, the girl, Sion, ran across the water. When you are drawing an anime, it’s very difficult to draw characters with their feet on the ground. If you watch anime, you will notice that they try to cut scenes where characters’ feet touch the ground. I was reminded by watching this opening animation that we took on this challenge! And yeah, I understand why all the animators say that it’s very difficult to do.

MG: Would nbkz want to share any further insight into eden* before moving on?

nbkz: So we’ll next move onto showing Supipara. Mangagamer will be selling this game on July 29th. Can you pull up the panel?

nbkzSupipara is still an unfinished work in Japan. We only released chapters 1 and 2. The entire game is five chapters long. We decided to release the first chapter for the US and European market. I believe, based on sales of eden*, we’ll definitely release Supipara chapter 2. As for chapter 3, 4, 5… we’ll probably not sell in Japan, due to low sales. However, with the foreign market, depending on sales, we may release chapters 3-5, specifically for your market. Please purchase chapters 1 and 2 and we may be able to release the remaining chapters. I believe this game will be sold on Steam, so please purchase this. It’s got the most recent techniques and our specialties in creating our games, what you would call the Minori technique, all squished into Supipara!

Just reviewing the Supipara opening, I was very impressed with the way we able to animate the sequence with Alice, the little witch, flying across the sky. We did the animation where Alice flies from her house to her destination in just one cut. We created a 3D model of that and an environment so we could animate her flying in different directions. Supipara is set in Kamakura, a city in Japan,
and we simulated how the city would look like from multiple perspectives in the 3D scale model.

Unfortunately, the Japanese PC game market has been stagnant, so it didn’t sell very well and we’re deeply in the red on Supipara. It was very very bad, the company was almost about to go bankrupt back then. After reflecting on the video, I’m very satisfied how it turned out. It was really great that we were able to do this game. We’re probably not going to release chapters 3-5 in Japan, but story, and everything has already been completed. It’s just a matter of how much revenue we can get from the foreign market, and if it’s good enough, we can do the rest of the chapters.

I guess this is it for my take on Supipara… do you have any questions?

MG: How difficult would it be to assemble the original Supipara team for future chapter development?

nbkz: Actually, it won’t be that difficult. Very few people left minori after Supipara. All the tech guys and people who did key animation sequences are still here. It won’t be that difficult. Most of the storyline and the artwork is already done for chapters 3-5, we just need a little tweaking, adding more illustrations, and polishing up. It will still take a little more time to complete Supipara. We still have to eat and we need revenue to make Supipara. If eden* didn’t sell that well, we probably wouldn’t have been able to release Supipara.

Japan demands games that have a long storyline, but Minori games have compact storylines. This has more to do with minori’s style, because we want to focus on the scenes and visuals instead of the story and the text. In a very typical visual novel, you usually have two characters standing there with very few movements of their hands or faces. It kind of looks like a puppet show, like something you show to little kids. Minori tries to stay away from that as much as possible.

If you really think about it, you feel odd playing a typical visual novel because you really do not see any situation in real life where two characters just stand in front of you with very few facial expressions or hand gestures. It feels kind of weird. Minori tries to stay away from these “unnatural” techniques commonly used in visual novels. With Supipara, we tried to use techniques like characters with lip synced mouths and blinking eyes. Because of that, the staff had to draw a lot of animation sequences and drawings. The staff got angry at me again.

Even though the staff gets angry: “why do I have to do all this?”, I tell them that, “No one else is doing it, it’s fun and interesting, let’s do it!” The staff accepts that. In the end, they do what I ask, and they are happy, and I am very satisfied at how much effort the staff has put in. It’s kind of like Minori is a “black company” like Wal-Mart where people are paid very low but expectations are high. In Japanese, we call these “black corporations” because they are very dark… and black…

All jokes aside, all of our staff, including myself, want to showcase the best game we can ever produce, to all the fans and consumers who purchase our products. We have a secret where we want to surprise everyone every time we bring out a new game. We’d like to continue that tradition as we go along.

Supipara will be going on sale July 29th, so please purchase it.
And that’s about it for Supipara.

MG: We’d like to open up the floor for a very short Q&A session!

Interpreter: One rule: if you want to ask nbkz a question, tell him your name, and your favorite game.

Questioner: Minori game?

nbkz: Any game!

Questioner: Kevin, favorite game is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.
In every minori game, the sound track is done by Tenmon. What is it like to work with him, and what do you think of his work in general?

nbkz: Since I know his personality (we’re close friends), it’s very easy to work with him. Compared to Makoto Shinkai, it’s much easier… Even though I might ask him to do several retakes if I’m not satisfied, he probably deep down hates me, but he pretty much gets along with me and does his job really well. My belief is, despite how that might sound, he gives it his 100% best, and that’s the biggest motivation for him to keep on making better and better music.

The strongest advice I’d probably give him is, don’t ever take shortcuts or cutbacks to anything, I want him to give us the best that he could, otherwise, everyone else will start to slack off and cut corners. We don’t really want to do that.

Questioner: Raymond, favorite game is The Fruit of Grisaia.
You seem to have a lot of tech in the backgrounds and the scenes, like in eden*. Do you see anything in VR?

nbkz: We have a lot of ideas in mind, but virtual reality isn’t one that we think is possible at this point. We are mainly focused on adapting and portraying techniques similar to those used in anime and Hollywood movies in our games.

Questioner: Winston, favorite game is ef.
Prior to ef, you worked on Wind ~a breath of heart~ and Haru no Ashioto. Was there anything from those two games that led to the creation of ef?

nbkz: Before that, there was also a game called Bittersweet Fools. Our first game was Bittersweet Fools, our second game was Wind ~a breath of heart~, and our third game was Haru no Ashioto. Every time we finish one game, we celebrate that we’ve made the best game ever. Like everyone else, we take a day off, sleep, etc. And then we reflect back on the game that we’d just produced, and we start regretting. Why do we do this? Every time we finish a game and take a short breather, we come back regretting saying, “Man, I really want to scrap everything and start from scratch!” That’s not possible, because once it’s being sold, it can’t really be recalled.
Since we can’t recall those games back, we can only use that motivation to be more successful with future titles.

I guess you could say that if we are satisfied with our own product, that probably means it’s game over for minori. Please continue supporting us until… we reach our “game over”!

Question Guy: Constantine, favorite game is Tsukihime.
In ef, there was a pretty big change in style from Wind ~a breath of heart~ and Haru no Ashioto, where there was just this huge increase in highly-detailed, very gorgeous CG artwork. What was the process in deciding on taking such a huge undertaking in making ef?

nbkz: Our focus on CG artwork predates Haru no Ashioto and actually begins with Wind ~a breath of heart~Haru no Ashioto was actually produced with very limited staff members. Haru no Ashioto was actually a testing ground for future graphic artists and sheet designers who worked on ef.

The game Haru no Ashioto is 100% complete, from my perspective. For all of the storyline, storyboard, plot, effects, and cinematography of Haru no Ashioto, I made all the decisions by myself. But at that time, the new graphic artists and chief designers didn’t quite understand what I wanted to do at that time. It’s kind of difficult to explain that on a piece of paper, or even through the words from my mouth, so they actually had to create a game to understand what I wanted to do. So the game Haru no Ashioto was made.

To put it in another way, Haru no Ashioto became a stepping stone to ef, which is what I really wanted to do. And that’s how the beautiful CG of ef came along.

MG: We wanted to move onto something very special to nbkz Sakai, if he’d like to introduce it…
This is his new game, Trinoline!

nbkz: One more thing, this is our new game Trinoline. For all the special people who are here, this is first time anyone has seen artwork for Trinoline; not even Japan has seen it. The reason why I wanted to show this at Anime Expo is because we want to sell this worldwide as well. I’d like to consider Trinoline to be a compilation of everything we’ve done so far…

Eden* sold very well worldwide, and we think we might want to do something very similar to eden* [with Trinoline]. I completely understand that the Japanese market has different tastes. Therefore we decided that we should make a title that incorporates both aspects of what sells in Japan and sells worldwide. That’s why we decided to give the Trinoline project a green light. We anticipate our release date for Trinoline will be early 2017 for the Japanese market.

Usually the translation of visual novels happens after the Japanese release, but that leads to differences in release dates because translation takes time. In contrast to that, we want to close this gap, so we are working closely with translators to translate as we make the game. So we can release the worldwide and Japanese versions with a very short gap between the two. That responsibility falls on Mangagamer, so I really hope they do a good job translating Trinoline. So if it doesn’t come out soon enough, complain to their staff and give them more pressure… and Mangagamer will become more like a “black company” like minori!

I’d like to release this game in Japan as quickly as possible, and hopefully you will get it quickly as well. This illustration will be shown in Japan sometime around July 20th, so you are the first to see this. I guess everyone will be wondering what nbkz was talking about at Anime Expo, as some people here are already sharing this picture on social media, so [Japanese fans will] know what I did!

It’s been about ten years since Minori started looking towards the foreign market. We started off by creating a blockade wall. It took a huge leap of faith to walk over that wall to see the outside. I believe when we first put the IP block on our website for foreign fans, I mentioned that we would like to tear down this wall in the future. Although it took about ten years, we finally started to tear down that wall, thanks to Mangagamer, and we’d like to work together and provide more of our games to the foreign market.

I truly believe in spite of the Japanese gaming market shrinking, the US and European market seem to be growing. It’s still smaller than Japan right now, but it’s growing at a nice pace, so we look forward to that. Market growth is based on fans who want to share what they love to other potential fans, and that’s how the market keeps growing, so: thank you, fans. Hopefully you’ll keep on supporting us to see more and better titles for the foreign market.

Interpreter: That just about concludes our panel, thank you very much for coming and visiting!

Interview: Momoiro Clover Z

We had the privilege of interviewing Japan’s biggest idol group currently, Momoiro Clover Z! What kind of pets do they have? Which one of them has an “infinite sneezing technique”? And what anime crushes do they have? Find out in this exclusive video interview!


Videos: Ami Koshimizu and Ryoka Yuzuki Fan Panel @ Anime Expo 2014

Ami Koshimizu and Ryoka Yuzuki–the voices behind Ryuko Matoi and Satsuki Kiryuin from Kill La Kill, respectively–took the stage at their fan panel at Anime Expo 2014 and gave a highly entertaining, energetic look at their work. We captured most of the panel on video!

Ryoka Yuzuki was especially lively, gladly doing her Satsuki voice as well as other characters such as Neco Arc from Carnival Phantasm. Most infamously, she repeated her “pigs in human clothing” line from Kill La Kill to the delight of masochistic otakus everywhere:

She also obliged a fan who always wanted to know what Satsuki would sound like if she had Neco Arc’s voice:

Ami Koshimizu, in turn, was also the voice of Maou in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, and she happily provided her voice for a fan:

Here are some more things we captured–like Yuzuki declaring she likes doing it “soft and hard”:

And a couple of clips, one in which they declare that they woud like to see a Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill crossover:

Interview: Yoshiki Sakurai @ Anime Expo 2014

We had the privilege of interviewing anime screenwriter Yoshiki Sakurai at Anime Expo 2014! Sakurai is perhaps best known for being one of the screenwriters for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but he’s also done work for many other Production I.G. titles such as Seirei no Moribito and xxxHolic. More recently, he’s done screenwriting for anime films such as Redline and Giovanni’s Island, the latter which received the Jury Distinction Prize at the Annency Animation Festival.

Sakurai, trained as an economist and media environment scholar at Tokyo University, brings a genuine depth to his talk with us about the ideas behind “Ghost in the Shell” and other works, along with his thoughts about cyberpunk, the Singularity, and why the movie “Her” is so unoriginal! He also talks about his latest project, Giovanni’s Island, and how that film may help bring about the future of animation.

This interview was conducted in English, which Sakurai speaks with near-native fluency.