This is the full transcript/translation of Madhouse’s Chihayafuru production team at their press conference during Anime Expo 2012. The team consists of Asaka Morio (director), Kunihiko Hamada (animation director), and Takuya Tsunoki (producer). Morio did most of the speaking, and is known for directing other shoujo works such as Card Captor Sakura and Yawara! A Fashionable Judo Girl and others.
Was there anything about Chihayafuru that made you want to take on this project?
ASAKA MORIO: The idea was just to make the original manga into an anime. Since the manga was about karuta, we simply had to do it. In so far as we had to do an anime about karuta, even if it was difficult, it was necessary.
Has the anime spread knowledge of karuta and made the game more popular?
MORIO (translator paraphrase): well, basically there aren’t a lot of people who play karuta in Japan, but because of the anime, there were more people playing karuta than before.
Do you play karuta yourselves? How good are you?
MORIO: I don’t play at all. I’m terrible.
KUNIHIKO HAMADA: Same.
TAKUYA TSUNOKI: Sorry, but I also don’t really play karuta… At first, when we started making the anime, we were all talking about making our own team and joining a competition, but that never ended up happening. We instead put all of our passion into making the anime. All three of us are basically newbies.
Chihayafuru is billed as a shoujo anime, but it has appeals to boys as well. Why do you think that is?
MORIO: Well, the original manga is serialized in a publication for girls, but what is being told is a story about high schoolers deeply passionate about their afterschool activities. I think that part reaches out to both guys and girls.
What is special about the character of Chihaya and what draws you to her?*
MORIO: I see… This may be different from what the original author is thinking, but in terms of Chihayafuru, the main character Chihaya is incredibly straightforward, which is an incredibly important axis for the entire series. I think that might be why it’s her.
Do American action movies have an influence on your scenes?
MORIO: Well… Er, I do like movies, so I might be influenced by them unconsciously. We don’t make an anime with the intent to draw from some other work, but I do think that there are influences from what we normally watch. What I mostly watch— in Japan, there’s a lot of American films shown, so there’s probably some influence there.
Last year Madhouse lost director Osamu Dezaki. How has the studio taken his passing and what influence, if any, did you take from his work?
MORIO: Dezaki-san is someone that everyone in the industry respects, so there’s a lot of people who’ve been influenced by him in addition to us.
Did you ever expect Chihayafuru to get such a warm international reception?
MORIO: Nope, we didn’t expect it at all. See, we didn’t even know the best way to get Japanese to like it, so difficult a theme it was. To come to America and talk to people about it something was far from what we were thinking.
The anime was incredibly well done in terms of moving the plot and developing characters while explaining karuta. How did you balance all these elements?
MORIO: Oh, so people see it as being executed smoothly. That’s pretty… *laugh* “Honestly, did people here see it as smoothly done?” I wonder.
What is the most important element to make a good anime series?
MORIO: It might depend on the type of work involved, but for producers and directors, we think the most important thing is… probably, how well people can be drawn into the anime’s world. I think our job is to create a believable imaginary world. For example, with Chihaya, we want people to feel like they can see the characters and look all over the place, along with telling that to our staff. So, getting people sucked into the world is very important.
You created different works with a female characters as leads, but it seems that men seem to get into your shows more than others. Why do you think that is?
MORIO: Well, as me mentioned earlier there’s that part about the character’s passions, but… Even though I’m a guy, I like girl’s manga. How do I put this? I don’t really think it matters that the main character is a girl.
(Card Captor) Sakura was the first winner of SaiMoe competition, and the show was one of the very first series to popularize moe culture. What’s your reaction to being one of the formative influences on the current moe trend?
MORIO: Um, I don’t really know that much about moe culture, but Cardcaptor Sakura was a show for little girls and their mothers. So, um… I wasn’t aiming to make a “moe” product or anything, so I don’t really understand moe.
How would each of you define your own artistic styles?
MORIO: I’ve never thought of trying to put a piece of myself into a piece of work before. Depending on the show, the style is going to change, so each one is unique. We emphasize that when we work, so… Personally, I haven’t tried to put a part of my personality in my work. I think it’s something that’s within the work already. However, from other people’s point of view, there might be a semblance of something, but I don’t try to do it myself.
What are your feelings about the late Satoshi Kon’s unfinished film? (Dreaming Machine)
MORIO: We knew about his condition from even before he passed away. I think his passing was really unfortunate because he had a lot of talent. Um, it’s really a shame [a waste]. He should’ve been someone to continue living and making interesting anime….We do know that was in the middle of a project before his death, but unfortunately, nothing’s been done to it due to his passing.
How did you come up with the musical motifs in the show, and how much was the composer’s input vs yours?
MORIO: Well, the one who made the music was our composer, but what I ordered to be done was… Since the show is about the youthful times of high schoolers, I ordered lively music to be made.
While Chihaya is the main character, Kana Oe is very popular among fans, the one they want to be their girlfriend. Which one of the girls do each of you prefer?
MORIO: You’re asking me about my favorite girl character? [Translator: Yes.] The only two choices are Kana-chan or Chihaya. Not a lot of options are there? From those two choices, maybe Chihaya. Kana-chan sounds like she would be annoying. She has big boobs though.
HAMADA: I– If I had to choose, Kana-chan I think. If it was Chihaya, it’d be a bit hard to get on the same page with her. So, I definitely if I had to pick it’d be Kana-chan.
TAKUYA: I like Kana-chan too. My wife is short, but… well, her breast size is a secret. But I do think some of her traits resemble those of Kana-chan’s, she’s my pick.
When did you decide to use certain directorial techniques in each scene, particularly motion scenes?
MORIO: It differs from scene to scene, but for that first scene, there first poem that’s read in the Hyakunin Isshu (100 Poets)—Naniwazu ni. There’s a poem that starts with that, and the poem talks about a flower. That flower is the Sakura, so we decided to animate Sakura.
Did you deliberately try to correlate the flowers in the poems to the visuals on screen?
MORIO: At first, we did try to match the flowers in the poems with the scenes. Other than that, the characters. Like flowers blossoming behind Kana-chan or something. We didn’t do it for male characters though. That part was based on the atmosphere as a girl’s manga plus the character themselves.
Did you get any help or cooperation from the official karuta league or organization in Japan?
TAKUYA: Um, there’s a group called the All Japan Karuta Organization. Even in Japan karuta isn’t that big, but there are groups that want to make it popular and we did get some help from them. We learned things like the order to place the cards, so they helped us in those areas.
Are you thinking of any co-branded marketing, like, say, branded card decks?
MORIO: We haven’t thought of something like that at all. What’s used in competitions already has a set design, so they can’t create their own.
Madhouse is known for darker works like Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, etc. You tend to do lighter works. Which one is closer to Madhouse’s identity?
MORIO: None in particular. Some of the stuff I’ve worked on before is dark, like one where the characters may be bright and happy but the story itself isn’t. It’s not like I’m always picking light-hearted shoujo manga to adapt.
*This was not the original question asked, which was: “What draws you to making stories about strong female protagonists?” It was lost in translation.