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“Thunderbolt Fantasy” Q&A by Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews & Articles)

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Thunderbolt Fantasy” Q&A @ Sakura-Con 2017 (L-R: Yi-Tsun Hsaio, Koh Kitaoka, Liang-Hsun Huang, Takanori Aki, Gen Urobuchi, Chen-Ching Ting and Digitarou). Photo by Michelle Tymon


In Japan, “Thunderbolt Fantasy” has amazed viewers all over the world.

A 13-episode Japanese-Taiwanese glove puppetry television series created and written by Gen Urobuchi, the series is a collaboration between Nitroplus, Good Smile Company and Taiwanese Puppet production company, Pili International Multimedia.

The series aired in Japan back in July 2016 and with a series which aired in Taiwan, China and Japan, two manga adaptations have followed.  And a sequel is currently in production.

The series is set in the East and is a fantasy setting.  The story focuses on Dan Fei and her brother, guardians of a sword known as the Tian Xing Jian.  And they are being pursued by the evil Xuan Gui Zong clan who are seeking to obtain the sword for their master, Mie Tian Hai.

Recently, J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon had the opportunity to take part in a media Q&A for “Thunderbolt Fantasy” at Sakura-Con 2017 in Seattle, Washington with Gen Urobuchi (writer and PC game maker from nitroplus and best known for “Fate/Zero”, “Magical Girl Madoka Magica”), Digitarou (President of nitroplus), Koh Kitaoka (producer of “Touken Ranbu”), Aki Takanori (Good Smile Company) and Pili International Multimedia – Liang-Hsun Huang (Head Puppeteer, 5th gen), Chen-Ching Ting a.k.a. “Uncle Cat” (Star Senior Puppeteer) and Yi-tsun Hsiao (Lead Puppeteer and Instructor).


How are you all enjoying Seattle and Sakura-con?
Urobuchi: This is actually my second time in Seattle. Four years ago when they first invited me here, it was also my first time in America. So up until then, my only impressions of America were through “Gotham City” and “Grand Theft Auto.” Because of that, I was so surprised at how beautiful and quiet Seattle was. The event and being in Seattle basically completely flipped my impression of America and being in Seattle again, I’ve been reminded of its beauty. It also may be one of the most memorable cities for me.
Pili: This is my first time coming to Seattle and America, as well as my first time attending an anime convention outside of Asia. I feel that the atmosphere is rather different. In Asia, I feel like the convention attendees seem like they’re more going to an exhibit. But here, it feels more like a carnival, where everyone is sharing the fun and love for anime.

I grew up in Japan, so I would see Japanese puppet show serials on NHK for like “Saiyuki,” so I was excited when I saw the promotional video for “Thunderbolt Fantasy.” Was the story of “Thunderbolt Fantasy” something that was on your mind prior to seeing Pili and what they can do, or was it created after you saw the puppets?
Urobuchi: This was a new story that I created, so that we could use the puppets.

Season 1 has an absolutely amazing voice cast. When I saw the pv, not only was I excited about the use of puppets, but Everyone who appeared were legendary status. If they can talk about it, can we expect another great lineup of voice cast members and can they mention any names yet?
Urobuchi: We haven’t even started the auditions yet for the voice cast for season 2. So currently, we really can’t say anything about it. We’re just getting started on all of that.
Good Smile: Actually, who would you like to see in it? Do you have anyone that you can recommend?
Urobuchi: The thing with “Thunderbolt Fantasy” is that unlike anime, all of the expressions of the characters are presented through movement, since their facial expressions don’t change. So for the voice cast, we also looked for voice actors who are known to be very expressive in their acting and filled with emotions.
J!-ENT: Actually, if I could recommend one person for the cast, I would recommend Akira Ishida.

In episode 0, I saw how much work went into making these beautiful puppets but I also saw them being thrown around and treated rather roughly for some of the action scenes. Was there any particular time that any of the puppets broke so badly that production had to stop?
Pili: For the puppets, we would make different ones for each of the characters. We would have one for the quiet and calmer scenes, where they would just be talking and moving around normally, and we would make one for the fighting scenes, as well. The reason being that inevitably in the fighting scenes, some of the puppets might get damaged. So usually, we would make three of them. We also did the same with the weapons. We had multiple ones made for all the puppets.

Now that you’re done with season 1 and you’re working on season 2, is there anything you learned during season 1 that you are doing different in season two?
Urobuchi: Well for season 2, we’re trying to see if we can get the puppets to do even more expressions. And other than that, we’d like to go even more all out with the action scenes in season 2.

Were any one of the characters harder to control than the others. I know that Lǐn Xuě Yā (Rinsetsua) was always smoking a pipe so that seemed to take more attention but…
Pili: The difficulty actually depended more on what motions the characters would be making, rather than one character being more difficult than another. It all depends on what kind of things they need to do, what kind of poses and what kind of movement. Normal actions just require one puppeteer using both hands, but some actions require two to three puppeteers to do the actions. Difficult motions would include like squatting down, or kneeling down to pick something up. In those cases, you need to move the knees, legs, feet, and everything else.

Just one final question, but is the TMR puppet going to make an appearance in the show?
Urobuchi: That is our intention, yes. We’re planning to make him a very important character.


For more information on “Thunderbolt Fantasy”, please click here.

Photos by Michelle Tymon

J!-ENT INTERVIEWS PUFFY AMIYUMI (2017) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When I first discovered Puffy AmiYumi (known as “Puffy” in Japan), they took Japan by their storm with their simple style of t-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers.  Bucking the fashion trend and dance choreography of other Japanese female music artists during the 1990’s, Puffy AmiYumi impressed audiences with their style of music and presentation.

The duo consisting of Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki burst into the Japanese music scene back in 1996 dominating the charts.  And while Puffy AmiYumi would release their debut album in America and perform in the U.S., it wasn’t until their music was featured in the Cartoon Network animated series “Teen Titans” that the duo would receive recognition internationally.

In 2004, the duo would have their own animated TV series titled “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”, would be featured on a GAP fashion ad and performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

And as I have interviewed Puffy AmiYumi for the next few years, our last interview with the ladies, was back in 2010 to celebrate the duo’s 15th Anniversary (view our 15th Anniversary Puffy AmiYumi special).

And here we are in 2017, celebrating the duo’s 21-year anniversary and knowing that there are not many female Japanese music artists that have had the same level of success of Puffy AmiYumi and continue to perform for audiences worldwide.

Starting on March 31st, the group will be performing at Anime Boston 2017 and on April 4th, the group will be performing at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles, followed by a performance on April 6th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco and on April 9th at Trees in Dallas, Texas as part of their Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “#NotLazyTour”.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Puffy AmiYumi about their upcoming U.S. performance:


I interviewed both of you when you made your debut in the United States and I have listened to your music when you first made your single debut “Asia no Junshin” in Japan. What is the biggest difference in your approach to music today versus when you first started out.

Ami: When we debuted, we really didn’t know anything. We were always surprised by how our producer, Tamio Okuda, and other musicians made music and the various things they concentrated on. But now, we really understand how that feels.

Very few Japanese acts were able to penetrate the American music scene, yet Puffy AmiYumi was able to create an audience thanks to the theme song for “Teen Titans” and you eventually had your own animated show in the United States. You had a GAP ad and performed on the Macy’s Parade on national TV. Looking back at your success and knowing that you accomplished something that many Japanese have not done, was there a lot of pressure on for the both of you to continue that success?

Yumi: There wasn’t really any pressure. We always make sure to have fun with anything we do as a part of Puffy’s style, so when we did all of those things, I believe we did while having fun. And those were all experiences that most Japanese people aren’t able to experience much, so we are very honored.

Last year, Puffy AmiYumi celebrated their 20th Anniversary and the music scene has changed a lot in the past two decades. One difference is the popularity of social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do you feel that social media has changed the way for the both of you to communicate with your fans?

Ami: I believe that the spread of social media over the last 20 year is definitely huge. I personally have my own Instagram, and because of that, I’m able to directly receive messages of support from fans. And since we can see how our fans our reacting with so little time lag, it’s very helpful to us.

You are about to embark on another tour which includes performances in the United States (for Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “NOT LAZY”). It’s been awhile since you performed in the U.S., how does it feel to be coming back?

Yumi: Even though we hadn’t traveled to America for a while, we had been constantly doing concerts in Japan, so I think we’ve powered up even more since our last visit. So right now, we’re very excited!

As you celebrate your 21st year, after all these years…Ami, what are your top three songs that you love performing in front of a live audience?

Ami: “Asia no Junshin,” “Akai Buranko,” and “Circuit no Musume.”

I’m curious to see how your musical tastes have changed.   In our very first interview, Yumi you said you were listening to Nirvana, Eels, Hole and U2 and Ami said Red Hot Chili Peppers. But what about now?

 

Yumi: Of course, I still love all of those groups. When I listen to the albums that I love, I remember things from when I first heard the albums, or feel very nostalgic.

Back in 2002, for our second interview, I asked each of you to describe each other in one word. Yumi, you said of Ami, “Serious” and Ami, you said of Yumi “Young”. In 2010, Yumi said of Ami “Relax” and Ami said of Yumi, “Older Sister”. Ami, if you had to describe Yumi, what would you say today?

Ami: For Yumi…“Hanashi ga Tomoranai” (She doesn’t stop talking)

Yumi, you told me you were playing the video game “Ryu ga Gotoku” (known as “Yakuza” in the U.S.) a lot back then.  Ami you were playing “Dragon Quest Monsters Joker II”. Any certain games that you are playing now?

Yumi: I still love “Dragon Quest” even now and continue to play. Right now, I’m trying to figure out if I want to buy a Nintendo Switch or not.

Both of you told me you love tea! But I didn’t get to ask what kind of tea that both of you enjoy? So, I have to ask…what is your favorite tea? And if there is an area in Tokyo that serves the best tea, which area would you recommend?

Ami: We like tea… Did we actually say that? Either way, I do like tea. I like chai. I think I’d recommend the café next to Saigoyama Park.

It’s funny because in our 2010 interview, both of you said that you wished Taco Bell would open a store in Japan and now you can find a Taco Bell in Japan. And now there are more Mexican restaurants in Tokyo. But with you returning back to America, is there a certain food that you have wanted to try but never yet had the chance?

Yumi: While we weren’t in America, I can now eat some foods that I couldn’t before. For example, cilantro and lamb. Because of that, I’d like to try out some places that I never got to try before.

What final words do you have for your fans worldwide?

Ami: This year, Puffy is now in our 21st year. The reason that we’ve been able to continue for so long is the countless support we’ve received from people from various countries!! We’ll continue to work even harder so we can someday hold concerts in countries we haven’t been to yet!

Yumi: Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and we are grateful to all of our fans! The upcoming concerts should be a lot of fun. Please come out and see us!

For more information, please visit their official website or their Facebook Page.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan


Read our complete J!-ENT Puffy AmiYumi interviews and articles from 1996-2010 (Click on image)


Aki Con 2013 Report – Article and Photos by Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

November 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Aki Con 2013 was held at the Seatac Airport Double Tree Hotel in Seatac, WA from October 25-27th.

Although it’s not big like Sakura Con that’s held in Seattle every year, attendees definitely had a great time cosplaying, attending panels, interacting with and getting autographs from the guests, and sharing the love they have for anime, manga, video games with fellow fans.

I’ve been attending Sakura-Con here in Seattle every year since 2004, but this year was the first time I attended a smaller local anime con, Aki-Con. Though it’s a much smaller con than Sakura-Con, the attendees seemed to really enjoy themselves.

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The con last year had gotten a lot of negative reviews because of what happened with Artist Alley and the dealers’ hall, but it was very apparent that they were doing their best to make this year’s con the best they could, and I think they did a good job… and I think the attendees noticed as well.

Like most other days in the fall, the weather was rather wet here in the Seattle area during the con, but driving up to the hotel, you could see attendees all around, proudly wearing their cosplay as they headed to the nearby Taco Bell, Subway or Dennys for food.  The venue, the Seatac Airport Double Tree hotel, was a great choice for a smaller con, as it wasn’t a huge venue, but was just big enough to hold a con of this size… though there were a few times it started getting overcrowded in the hallways.  Overall, everyone seemed to have an excellent time.

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The guests at Aki Con this year definitely brought in a huge number of the attendees.  Guests of Honor for Aki Con this year were voice actors Johnny Yong Bosch, Monica Rial, Lisle Wilkerson, David Vincent, and Josh Goring.  Other guests included reality TV personality, Molly McIssac, cosplay groups such as the Living Dead Girls, and the featured band was Johnny Yong Bosch’s own Eyeshine.  (Click here for the complete guest list)

Attendees had plenty of activities they could enjoy throughout the weekend.  They had huge cardboard cutouts of characters from various video games and anime throughout the hotel, and even had a room with various scenes set up where cosplayers could take photos using those as backgrounds.  The venue itself had tons of parking, so that didn’t seem to be a problem.  The hotel was pretty scenic and also provided various areas for photographers and cosplayers to hold photoshoots.  The dealers’ hall was about the size of two panel rooms, but attendees were able to find plenty of stuff to buy.

“Attack on Titan” was definitely a huge highlight for cosplayers and the dealers’ room had no shortage of “Attack on Titan” goods.  Artist Alley was held in a few rooms upstairs, and it seemed that the artists this year were much better accommodated than last year and each time I passed by, the rooms were full with attendees.  There were a couple rooms dedicated to gaming of all kinds (old school arcade, console, etc) and there was even a room where they had a Hetalia Cafe.  Anime viewing rooms were showing current anime that could be found on Crunchyroll.com and there was also a manga library.  And of course, there were panel rooms and main ballroom for events with the guests such as panels, concerts, masquerades, and more.

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The voice actor guests had a few panels together where they answered questions and fulfilled requests from the various fans that came to see them.  They also had multiple signings, where each of the guests took their time and interacted with their very eager fans.  One of the biggest events of this con that everyone was excited for was the Eyeshine concert Saturday night.  The band performed a full set and stayed around to sign merchandise and take pics with their fans after the show.  Possibly one of the biggest highlight for many of the attendees was the fact that because this was a smaller convention, the guests’ schedules weren’t as tight and they had a lot more time to interact with all of the fans.  All of the guests took time to give autographs and take pictures with fans that randomly came up to them outside of their panels if time had allowed.

For individual panels, Johnny Yong Bosch answered various questions about his career, the voice acting business and told a few funny stories that had happened to him on his way to work.  David Vincent held a panel where he not only gave tips and answered questions on how to get into voice acting, but he had people come up on stage with him and had them do various voice acting exercises and gave them personal tips and praise.  After the panel, he even stayed around for quite a while and took pictures with fans, signed autographs, and continued to answer any questions fans didn’t get to ask during his panel.  Monica Rial did a similar panel where she just opened the floor to the fans and she answered various questions about the industry and even called a friend of an attendee to surprise them.  At each of these panels, all of the guests were extremely approachable, friendly, and down to earth, which I’m sure the fans all appreciated and it was apparent they all had a lot of fun.

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Despite all of the things that may have gone wrong at last year’s con, it really was apparent that the con staff was working extremely hard to do a much better job at this con.  The venue they got was great, the con staff was friendly, they booked guests that the attendees loved, and they did their best to make sure everyone had a great time.  I think they did a great job, but I do have a few minor complaints…  The lighting in the main ballroom where they held the opening ceremonies, the concert, and other big panels could have probably used better lighting.

During the opening ceremonies, the cosplay contest, and the concert, they turned off the house lights and had very odd red spot lights only on stage.  It may have been for artistic effect, but it was incredibly hard to see anyone unless you were up close to the stage.  Also, I thought that the registration was set up in a very awkward spot.  It was located in one of the hallways and so when lines had formed, the whole hallway would be blocked.  They did have it roped off, but at times it really was hard to get around.  Also, there was slight overcrowding, especially on Saturday, but overall that is a good thing since that means they got that much of an attendance and I don’t think it ever got too bad that it wasn’t bearable.

 

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Though it’s not the biggest anime con in the Pacific Northwest, Aki Con was a great con to go to for people who want a smaller convention, or want another event other than Sakura Con to go to since that’s only once a year.  It’s also a great con for those who want to be able to interact with the guests more and not have to be around 10,000+ people like you would at Sakura Con.  A smaller convention doesn’t mean that it’s not as great and fun.  Both big and small conventions have their pros and cons and I thought that this year’s Aki Con was a great convention to visit for people who wanted another con to go to.  If they are able to book the same venue again or a similar sized venue (if not a bigger one), I highly recommend fans in the area to check it out next year.

J!-ENT Interview with Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interview and Articles)

June 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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For many anime fans, Aoi Eir (note: Eir is her first name but for the label, Aoi Eir is used) is a name that many remember for her songs featured on “Mobile Suit Gundam AGE”, “Fate/Zero” and most recently with “Sword Art Online”.

But what is fascinating is how Aoi became a music star.

Originally hailing from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Aoi was first noticed through her music videos posted on the Nico Nico Douga video sharing site.

As a person that has been interested in music at a young age, in high school, Aoi used to have a high school band.  After graduating, she continued to pursue music and by 2011, she released her debut single “Memoria” that was used on the series “Fate/Zero”.

By 2012, she would have two hit anime theme songs with “Aurora” which became the fourth opening theme song for “Mobile Suit Gundam AGE” and her third single “Innocence” was released in November 2012 and was used as the second opening theme song for “Sword Art Online”.

For music artist, Luna Haruna (note: Luna is the first name and Luna Haruna is used by the label), she is an anime fan and loves gothic lolita.

Her song “Overfly” was featured as the second ending theme to “Sword Art Online” and recently debuted at #7, a pretty solid showing since her debut single “Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau” (which was used for anime series “Fate/Zero”).

A big anime and music fan, by the time she entered junior high, she became obsessed with gothic lolita manga characters and Western clothes. By the third year of junior high, Haruna Luna was auditioning for the Internet radio program of “Renta Magica” and won the opportunity to perform the opening theme.

And from that point on, her life would immediately change. Haruna Luna would become an imoto-kei amateur model for “Kera” fashion magazine and modeling for “Marui” but with anime as her passion, she would become popular for competing and becoming a finalist for the fourth All-Japan Anime Song Grand Prix.  With this new found popularity, she was signed to SME Records.

For both Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna, with their work on “Sword Art Online” and “Fate/Zero”, both performed in concert in April at Sakura Con in Seattle.  Their very first performance in the United States.

J!-ENT recently had the opportunity to talk with the duo alone and also take part at the Sakura-Con press conference:

Here is our brief interview and a transcript of the press Q&A with Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna:

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J!-ENT: Many people are probably wondering how your stage names came about. Can you please tell us?
Aoi Eir: “Eir” is actually the name of a Norse goddess. It has always been my childhood dream to become a singer, but there was a time that I had given up on this dream. And at that time, I thought about becoming a nurse. I had even started studying to become a nurse and so I became very fond of the goddess Eir, who was the goddess of medical skill and healing. So I got “Eir” from that, and as for “Aoi”, I had always been very fond of the name “Aoi” or “Aoi-chan” and always thought it was cute, and my username on the computer had always been “Aoi”. So it’s always been a nickname that I liked a lot, so I combined the two and came up with “Aoi Eir”.
Luna Haruna: As for me, I have always admired the name “Luna” since I was a child. And I have always liked the moon, so I chose “Luna”. I was also using the name “Luna” while I was a magazine model (dokusha model) and got the name “Haruna” added when I started singing. The head of my agency was the one that came up with “Haruna”, because I thought it was would nice for people to refer to me as “Luna Luna” someday, so that’s how we got “HaLuna Luna”. Also, the kanji for “Haruna” means good luck, and that was another reason it was chosen.

J!-ENT: Did you know there were many people in the US who listen to and are fans of Japanese music? And are you pretty surprised to see the support that you are receiving from fans around the world?
Aoi Eir: I had heard about it, but I had never seen it until now. I was able to experience their love of anime up close. There was a person that said they had learned Japanese through anime, so I felt their love for anime very strongly. I go to Winter Comi and Summer Comi quite often and had seen people from overseas there, so I had known that it was popular to some point. But I had never imagined the love was so very deep as I found out here… I’m very moved and I felt that I had to step it up a little myself.

J!-ENT: Is there any American food you’d like to try or places you’d like to visit while you’re in Seattle?
Aoi Eir: Starbucks is really famous, so I had some Starbucks coffee. I’d like to walk around as well, but haven’t had the chance to just yet. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do that tomorrow, and then I’m hoping to enjoy various American style foods. I was rather surprised to hear that it’s very common to eat sandwiches and potato chips together, so I’d love to do that.

J!-ENT: The first Starbucks is actually in Seattle, at Pike Place Market, so please check it out.
Aoi Eir: We totally will!
Luna Haruna: I love Subway, and I really love their oven potatoes (Note: they’re like french fries and not available in the US) and I’m wondering if they’re different in the US. I eat them all the time in Japan. So I’d love to try the US version if they’re available. I’d like to conquer that. I heard that it’s the biggest fast food chain in the US, and that there are even more Subways than McDonalds.

J!-ENT: What kind of students were you in high school? The artsy student? The book worm? The prankster? The athlete?
Aoi Eir: I wasn’t the smart kid at all (laughs). I played basketball quite a bit, but I also loved music and had started getting more interested in it while I was playing basketball in high school. But I never really explored it until I got into high school. In high school, I formed a band. I started playing the guitar in junior high school, and then in high school I started a band, doing the vocals and playing guitar. I even studied the bass guitar a little bit. So it was in high school that I really started to explore music.
Luna Haruna: By the time I was in high school, I was already a complete otaku. The thing was, everyone in my class was an otaku. Not to mention, it was an art class, so everyone was really good at drawing and everyone was able to draw manga. So it was completely normal for everyone to be reading manga during class. You pretty much couldn’t find text books in our desks… so it was a very interesting class. We were able to express ourselves to the max, so it was a very fun high school life.

J!-ENT: Both of you had the opportunity to have your songs featured on two popular anime series. How was that first experience when you heard your song on an anime series?
Aoi Eir: It didn’t feel like it was real at all at first… So every week, I would be watching the episodes just to confirm that it was real. Yet still, I felt, “Is this really happening?” Now I’m a little more used to it, so now I concentrate on what I can do to repay all of my fans and how I can express myself even more.
Luna Haruna: I feel the same way. When I first saw the anime footage going along with my own song, I was so moved. My overall goal in life is to become one with the anime world, so I felt that I had come closer to that goal, and I took a picture of the footage with my phone… Even though you can’t hear it.
Aoi Eir: I did that, too! (laughs)
Luna Haruna: And then, I uploaded that to my blog.
Aoi Eir: I took a picture of when my name shows up in the credits.

J!-ENT: If there is one word to describe yourself, what word would that be and why?
Aoi Eir: I think the word “fun”. I’m always having fun. I’m having fun when I’m performing, and singing. I’m having fun all the time.
Luna Haruna: It’s not one word, but rather one phrase: anime otaku. I really believe that anime is my life. I believe that anime is the only way that I can truly express myself. So I intend to keep pulling through as an otaku.

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Last night at your concert, people seemed to enjoy your song from “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, the collaboration, what made you pick your songs last night and do you two plan on doing anymore collaborations in the future?
Aoi Eir: I personally love ClariS and ClariS and I are actually from the same hometown. I look up to and respect them very much and so I’d like to do more collaborations with them.
Luna Haruna: I also like doing collaborations. Since I usually sing by myself, singing with various other artists is always stimulating and is also a learning experience. It’s also very exciting so I’d love to do it again.

American Robot Records has recorded various artists and found that most artists have a routine. What are things that you concentrate on before recording or during recording?
Aoi Eir: I actually work out. I think that having a strong core is very important, so I get a good night’s sleep, drink a lot of water and then do a lot of sit ups. Then I try to imagine the world of the particular song I’m recording and then I record.
Luna Haruna: Expression is very important to me, so I read the lyrics and let my imagination go to work. I love anime very much, so it’s very important that I don’t ruin that world. I keep that world very important to me and imagine the lyrics, and then go into recording with that image in my head.

J!-ENT: Before performing to an American audience, was it a bit stressful, scary, exciting? How were you feeling when you found out that you would be performing in America?
Aoi Eir: I was a little nervous, but the people of Seattle are very passionate and there are many people who are very good at having a great time. So I was also able to have a great time and perform. In the end, I was a little nervous, but my feelings of excitement were much, much greater.
Luna Haruna: I was also very nervous and excited at first. This is my first time anywhere overseas, so I was very excited about what kinds of environments I would see. And last night, I was able to perform at the concert and it almost felt like it wasn’t the first time I was here. Everyone welcomed me so warmly and I was very happy that I came.

So how have you evolved as a singer? Since you both have been singing since a young age, has your presence in the anime world changed you?
Aoi Eir: Before I debuted, I had always just worried about my pitch. But as a singer, I want to express something, to say something. That is vital in being a singer, but before I debuted, I hadn’t thought of that at all. But since I’ve debuted, I’ve always considering how much people would be accepting my songs in their hearts and how I can excite the people who come to my concerts more and more. I think about those points very much now.
Luna Haruna: I have always loved anisongs and singing in general. Now that I’m a singer myself, I am able to experience bringing smiles to the people who listen to my music and see that there are people who feel something when they listen to my songs. So I want to become an even better singer and I was able to really understand the wonderfulness of songs, so I actually feel like I was given an even bigger dream to pursue and I’m having a lot of fun. So I’d like to become an even better singer.

Aoi, how does it feel to have two top ten singles so early in your career?
Aoi Eir: Honestly, I never thought that would happen, so I was very surprised at first. It actually felt quite unreal. But I feel that was able to happen because I have so many fans who support me and I’m currently trying to figure out what I can do next so I can repay all of them for their support.

Luna, how was it working with the legendary Kajiura Yuki on your debut song?
Luna Haruna: Well, I loved the TV anime series, “Gundam SEED” which Kajiura Yuki-san did the music for and I have always loved the worlds she was able to create through her music. So when I was told I would be able to work with someone has amazing as her, it was very surreal. When I listened to the song I was going to sing, I was able to really get a feel for the world that song created and I was very happy.

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What do you like to do to relax when you’re not singing?
Aoi Eir: I play games. I absolutely love the Xbox 360, PS3, PSP and Nintendo DS and I’m playing all the time. And among all of those, the thing I’m most into right now is online gaming.

What types of online games? MMOs? Shooters?
Aoi Eir: I mainly play FPS’s. For example, I love “Left 4 Dead” and “Gears of War” very much. Well, I guess “Gears” isn’t technically a FPS, but I also like “Call of Duty” as well.
Luna Haruna: I’m very much an anime otaku. I love watching anime and walking through Akihabara. I go to a lot of events and even get on the first train to do so, so I’m very passionate about being an otaku. Anime is my everything.

Now that you’ve worked in anime, is it something you’re eager to continue with? Is there any particular anime you’d like to work with in the future? If not, what is your true passion in music?
Aoi Eir: I have always loved and grew up with anime since I was in kindergarten, so I’m very honored that I’m able to sing anime theme songs. I’d definitely like to continue singing anime songs. Also, I’d like to try even harder so the audience overseas will continue listening and enjoying my music as well.
Luna Haruna: I feel the same. I would love to continue singing anime songs. I believe that anime is a vital part of Japanese culture and I was able to feel the excitement of becoming one with anime. So I’d like to continue to convey those feelings and worlds that anime creates to the other anime otakus.

Are there any other Japanese or Foreign artists you’d like to collaborate with?
Aoi Eir: For Japanese artists, I’d have to say I would absolutely love to collaborate with Mizuki Nana-san, Nakagawa Shoko-san, and Hirano Aya-san. As for American artists, I really love rock music, so I’d love to collaborate with Linkin Park.
Luna Haruna: I would love to do a collaboration with ALI Project. I had been able to collaborate with them before for an event for KERA, a Harajuku fashion magazine, called GothLoli Revival. But this time, I’d like to collaborate with them musically. I love the fashion and the world of gothic lolita so I’d love to express that with them. It would make me very happy.

For the songs you did for “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, how much input do they give you and how much input were you able to give? Do you try to read as much of the source material as much as possible or do you just try to go with a general feeling of the material?
Aoi Eir: Since I got the song before it’s actually an anime, I go back and read the original work and try to imagine the feelings of the characters and try to convey those into the lyrics, since i also write lyrics myself. So I do use the source material to heighten my feelings for the song I’m about to sing.
Luna Haruna: So far, I’ve been singing the songs that appear in the second season so there is already a story that’s been created. So I go back and watch that, read the original material, and if there are prior series involved, I go back and read or watch those as well. Being an otaku, I really like to delve into that world and I love each individual character and try to keep in mind what they are trying to express as well as the world of that anime itself. I then take that and imagine how to interpret that into the songs.

How does it feel to be able to start out as an anime fan and now be able to do work that is involved in these anime? Does being an anime fan give you a different perspective doing these songs?
Aoi Eir: When I was watching anime, I didn’t think much about it, but now that I’m on the side that’s involved with making an anime, it can be hard to find the right feelings, words and voice that I’m trying to express. For example, thinking about what wording would impact the fans the most and in the songs, thinking about what parts should be softer in singing to help convey certain feelings. So I discuss all of this with the director and it’s a lot of fun going through this creative process and there is also a difficulty doing so. I believe that this has all been learning experiences for me.
Luna Haruna: Up until recently, I was on the side that was watching the anime. But now that I’m on the side that is creating anime, and expressing the worlds it creates to other fans, I think it’s only natural as an otaku. Seeing my voice being connected with the visuals of an anime, I feel like the real world and the anime world have finally connected, and I feel that a lot of dreams have been answered.

Haruna-san, you’ve mentioned that you walk around Akihabara. This question is for the both of you: have you been recognized on the street, and if fans approach you, how do you react?
Luna Haruna: Well, when I walk around Akihabara, I’m dressed very plain. So it’d be pretty hard to track me down, but if a fan were to find me, I think we’d be able to get excited together about anime and such so I’d be very welcome to that.
Aoi Eir: When I had gone to Akihabara in search of a brand new game that had come out, and my album came out on January 31st so there was a very big sign with my face on it… but no one had found me. I was even eating a crepe in front of that sign, and even then, no one approached me, so I’d like to try even harder.

With both of your successes with “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, what other series are both of you aiming for to contribute your voice to?
Aoi Eir: I love fighting and in games, I love fighting games and even when watching anime, I watched alot of shows with a lot of fighting in it. For example, “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon”. So just like “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, I’d like to work on even more series filled with intense fighting.

If you had a chance to work on “Accel World”, would you have done it?
Aoi Eir: I would have loved to! I love ALTIMA and when I hear their song from “Accel World”, I get very excited.
Luna Haruna: As for me, as long as it’s an anime, I’m very happy. As long as I can sing anime songs, that itself is a dream come true for me. So if I can work on any anime, it makes me very happy.

Are there any American or western artists that have influenced your works?
Aoi Eir: They may not all be American, but Marion Raven, Slipknot, and Evanescence. Other than that, because of my father, I love Whitney Houston. I sing her songs a lot at karaoke. Also, on our way here, I was watching Eminem’s music video.
Luna Haruna: I mainly listen to ani-songs, so I don’t listen to very much western music. But when I want a slight change of atmosphere, I listen to U2, and I used to listen to Britney Spears quite often.

For more information on Aoi Eir, please click here.

For more information on Luna Haruna, please click here.

Single/album images are courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan

Convention photo of Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna was taken by J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon

Media Q&A with Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro, Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada (of “PSYCHO-PASS”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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In Japan, Katsuyuki Motohiro is a respected director.  From directing the popular “Odoru Daisousassen” drama and film series (known as “Bayside Shakedown” in Asia and the U.S.), “Udon”, “Shaolin Girl” and “Space Travelers”, Katsuyuki Motohiro was given a chance to work on an anime series.  And in this case, become the executive producer for Production I.G.’s series “PSYCHO-PASS”.

Working with director Naoyoshi Shiotani (“Blood-C”, “Blood-C: The Last Dark”, “Tokyo Marble Chocolate”) and producer Joji Wada (“Guilty Crown”, “Kimi ni Todoke”, “Robotics;Notes”, “Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings”), the three were invited as guests at Sakura Con 2013 to promote “PSYCHO-PASS”.

The following is a transcript of the press conference with Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro, Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada, a few of the key names behind the Production I.G. animated series, “PSYCHO-PASS”:

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Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro (of “PSYCHO-PASS”)

Since you started working in anime, how have you evolved and what would you say is your greatest lesson that you learned.
Shiotani: The first thing I thought about was how I could make that piece different from everything else. For example, while talking to the executive director Motohiro-san yesterday, instead of what would be popular, we like to make something we enjoy. That would be the priority.  For example, using a very unique design, since the story takes place in the near future. And as for romantic situations, we didn’t put a spotlight on that too much and let the audience think about that on their own.  We wanted to make it a piece concentrating on strong male bonds/friendships and I think that the audience enjoyed that very much.
Motohiro: My job for this project as the executive director, was to stand in between the director and the producer, so I left most of the creative side of the work to them.  I also protected the director from the producer, to protect their creativity and to protect the script.  I think this is what the position of executive director has evolved to.
Shiotani: He really did protect me quite a bit in all sorts of situations. For example, it’s required in TV animation to play an ending song but in “PSYCHO-PASS”, we used arrangements that fit with the story.  For example, there were times where we had cut out parts of the song.  But of course, the producers of the song would be concerned about this, because of one of the sponsors is Sony and it’s sung by an artist from there.  So there were many times that I would be called down to talk to the producer and I would ask Motohiro-san if he’d like to come along and he’d stand in between us.
Motohiro: That was very specific. (laugh)
Wada: Maybe a little too specific, and they won’t understand. (laugh)

 

This is primarily for Motohiro-san.  You are known for your live action work, like “Bayside Shakedown”, but how did that experience play into animation and what were some hurdles you faced transitioning to animation?
Motohiro: When I’m directing live-action, there are many references and homages to animation and this is ended up helping create popular live action series.  As a way of giving direction, I would have the actors act things out like they were in an anime from the past.  So this time around, I was able to actually able to see the world of anime, since I don’t really know much about it personally.  So I was able to go in and work with everyone and get to know more about things I thought were rather mysterious to me.  And as for my involvement working with people on the ground level, such as the animators, and the script writers, my primary job was to be their support.

 

Akane’s appearance evolves from a sweet and innocent girl to almost haunted in the final episode without any physical change. Was it difficult to plan this into the character?
Shiotani: This definitely wasn’t decided as we were going along.  From the beginning, one of the aspects of the story was how the heroine, Akane, would evolve and grow.  She as the heroine comes in between the main character, Kougami Shinya, and his main rival, and enemy, Makishima Shogo.  And up until that point where she goes in between them, they’re both veteran detec, so to have her grow and mature enough that she could actually stand in between them was a big part of the story.  That was intended from the start.
Shiotani: And another thing was Akane exists to be the audience’s perspective into this show.  So when Akane questions certain things or wonders about certain things, she is doing so from the audience’s point of view and the more the audience understands, the more Akane grew herself and eventually works herself into the standpoint of one of the main characters herself.

 

For students pursuing to become future directors, I’d like to ask Motohiro-san to give us a message.
Motohiro: The reason I decided to become a director, simply put, is because I love doing it.  So to do something that I love as a profession, there are many misfortunes, but as long as I keep it as my hobby, I can think about it happily.  But as soon as I make it into a job, I have to consider the fact that many people are going to be viewing my work so I have to make it something that many people can view and laugh and cry when they see it.  So for students, and this is how I pursued it myself, but I think of it as pursuing your dreams, I think will make you happier in the end.  I have no regrets and I think I’d be content with dying at anytime.

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Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada (of “PSYCHO-PASS”)

Episode 16 was the true highlight of the series, but then in episode 17 and 18, there were animation issues.  How do you feel about the transition between those episodes.
Shiotani: You have stumbled upon something that is rather hard to talk about.   This is a bit difficult.  The reason that episode 16 was such a success…
Wada: This really is sort of hard to talk about…
Shiotani: You must have watched very closely to point out that very sort of thing. I do agree that episode 16 was the best episode in the series and an episode that I am very proud of.  But one thing that you should be aware of is that everyone involved in “PSYCHO-PASS”, was really pushing things to the very limit.  And this is something we did at the limit of our abilities. Right before I started working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I was working on the movie “Blood-C: The Last Dark”, literally right up to the point where I started working on “PSYCHO-PASS”.  So just three months before starting on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I had been working on a the film, so I had to just jump right into the new series that was in full on production and there was not enough ramp up time there.  So from there, I kept concentrating on how to make this series that would run for six months a great series.   However, there was just one moment where I had run out of stamina, which was during episode 17 and 18.  And a bunch of people ran out of stamina after pushing for episode 16.  And I knew that might become apparent, so we had clear plans to work extra hard to make things great again from episode 19.  However in the end, episode 17 and 18, we ended up having to leave much of it to luck and had to ask everyone to just do whatever they could.
Wada: Episode 17 and 18 is what is great about making a TV series.
Motohiro: Are they going to get that?
Shiotani: It’s the “loose” part of the series.
Wada: Yes, the “loose” part.
Shiotani: If we want to go into some details, episode 17 and 18 were made outside of our team, and we had asked another company to help us out with those two episodes.  There was probably the aspect of us not being able to support them very well.  They might not have been able to use the same techniques we were using or may not have been able to express the near future world of “PSYCHO-PASS” very well since we were lacking in schedule time as well as being able to communicate things.  So we were able to pick things back up from episode 19.
Shiotani: But as for the retail product, we are completely remaking episode 17 and 18, so they’ll be completely different.

 

What do you like to do on your off time?
Motohiro: I love to watch movies.
Shiotani: If I consider the time working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I’d have to say that I didn’t really have any free time.  So I would sleep for a little bit, wake up, and then continue working on “PSYCHO-PASS”… that’s how I spent a whole year.
The one thing that I think slightly comforted me while working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, was to listen to the songs of the most popular idols in Japan right now and I would even go see them live even though it meant I would lose some sleep.
Wada: I think you can mention their name.
Shiotani: Momoiro Clover Z, who is popular among our workplace staff.
Shiotani: And right at the time where I felt that I couldn’t go on anymore, Motohiro-san took me to meet Momoiro Clover Z.
Motohiro: I had gotten platinum tickets.
Wada: Indeed, he is the executive director.
Shiotani: Thank you very much for that.

 

Do you feel that “PSYCHO-PASS” is an anime series that can receive a live-action film or drama series adaptation?
Motohiro: Of course!
Shiotani: He told me from the beginning: Please don’t make anything that we can’t make into live-action.
Motohiro: Now that we have 22 episodes of the animation complete, and now that it’s being distributed in the US as well as the series being novelized, but I believe this is all material for my live films. (the three are laughing hard)

 

What actors would you consider for the live-action?
Motohiro: There’s already quite a bit of buzz on the internet on who should play who.
Shiotani: Do you look at all of that?
Motohiro: Yes, I do.  But right now, with the Japanese economy, I don’t think a live-action would be possible at this moment, unless Hollywood wanted to step in.

 

Now that you’re here in America, are there any foods that you have wanted to try or any shops that you have been wanting to visit in Seattle?
Motohiro: Right now, I feel… like I’d like to have some more seafood.  Especially the crab where you have to actually smash it with a hammer.  It was really good!
Wada: There is something the three of us are currently regretting.  When we got the clam chowder, we all ordered a cup, but we should have gotten the bowl! (all three are laughing)

 

Is there any American media that influenced your work?
Motohiro: One of my favorite directors is George Roy Hill, who directed such movies like “The World According to Garp” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Shiotani: I have many, many influences, but for “PSYCHO-PASS”, one of the biggest influences was “Seven”.  I like David Fincher a lot, so in the opening, there is some influence from “Fight Club” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.

 

If you recieved more funding to produce more episodes of “PSYCHO-PASS”, would you create more episodes of “PSYCHO-PASS” and include a fan service episode, for example when they all go to the beach?  Also, I heard that you wanted to lose “moe” so you purposely made the world of “PSYCHO-PASS” a rather dark world with very little cuteness.
Shiotani: In Japan, we call that the “Onsen Episode”.  It pretty much happens because things get hard on production, so if we put in an episode where they go to the onsen, it’ll get high ratings and it’ll be easy to work on.
Motohiro: Would we do it if we had money?
Shiotani: Those episodes are made because of the lack of funds.
Motohiro: In a similar case for TV dramas, we take all of the cast and staff to an onsen and we wrap up all the shooting in one day.  Since the actors take off their clothes, the ratings go up and the staff gets really excited as well because they get a short vacation.  However, this was the first time I heard that it was done in anime as well.
Motohiro: We did want to lose the moe and focus on a show where the guys could be passionate about something.  But because the guys were so passionate and on fire, in turn, the female audience totally got into the show.

 

This is a question for Motohiro-san, but what is your next goal as a director?
Motohiro: Right now, I have a lot of kouhai/juniors right now, so right now, I’d like to give them some great movies to work on.  Mr. Shiotani is one of those people as well.  Right now, the directors that are making hit movies, are all my juniors, and so I start to feel a sense of urgency as well and work harder as well.  Then I start to feel that I need to make an even better movie and feel like I need to liven up the Japanese movie and entertainment world.

 

Where did your limits come from in limiting the violence in the show?  Were they clearly defined going into production and how did that affect your execution of the series.
Shiotani: The story itself is quite violent and involves a lot of body horror, for example, like a person’s legs and arms being attached oppositely and a head being within a head, or there being a face on a stomach.  So as to how to deal with that in the TV series, Gen Urobochi-san just let us deal with it.  The reason any of that is in the series is not because we wanted to make a violent series, but we wanted to make an artistic series that just happened to have some violence included in it, and we wanted people to view it like they were looking at some piece of art.  There were parts that were done off camera and if it needed to be seen, it was seen as well.  And when it involves the main characters, we wanted to do it very beautifully and dramatically and make it very memorable.  However there were two instances we were told by the TV station that we had gone overboard and so we had to fix those instances so they could be aired.

 

If you three had the chance to collaborate again in the future, would you like to and what genres and projects would you like to explore?
Motohiro: Well right now, if we were going to do something again, “PSYCHO-PASS” is doing rather well and gaining quite a bit of popularity, so I would like to work on a continuation of the series.
Shiotani: I feel the same.  That was the short answer. (laughs) The series is an original and it finally felt like what we had all worked very hard on had just taken shape and we had created something very big.  And the way the story was written, it feels like we had only covered just a part of a story that has much more episodes that have yet to come to light.  So it’d be great if we could pick up the series from any of those other episodes.

 

What type of personality does it take to do the jobs that you all do?
Motohiro: As a director, I need to make sure that things aren’t too concentrated but not too loose, either.  There are aspects that I personally concentrate on, but I know there are parts I can leave up to the rest of the staff and I think that is very important.
Shiotani: There are many different kinds of people so it’s hard to say, but I think having a very distinct on and off switch is very important.  I think people who can become idiots are great.  I think it’s best when people are super serious when they’re working, but when they’re not, they can totally turn that switch off and dumb themselves down, otherwise you sort of lose your mind.  I think your body holds up better when you can separate the two, working seriously and having fun, and can think about it positively.  If you become an idiot, those around you will do the same, and it’s easy to get along and then you can see what they are like on the inside and it’s something that can be applied to my work.  So in the end, it’s actually a very serious approach.
Wada: The most important thing about being a producer, is to not give up.  I had heard that many people wanted to create an anime with Motohiro-san and he has had a lot of offers, but I think we’re all here now because I was the only one who didn’t give up.

 

What sort of process do you go through to achieve the results that you want on a project?
Wada: The most important process or procedure is in the beginning, all of us: Motohiro-san, Shiotani-san, Urobuchi-san, and Amano-san all decide on what exactly we want to work on together and to not forget that up until the very end.
Shiotani: I usually make sure I say, “Yes, I can.” to whenever I’m asked if I can do something, but then I go and panic about it when I’m by myself.  I make sure to try not to decline anything.  Accept everything… and then worry about the details later. (laugh)  I think there are a lot of people who say they can’t do something because they’ve never done it before, but I think it’s more fun to do things that you’ve never done before.  It’ll be super hard, and you might be killed, but it’s super fun to do.
Motohiro: In Japan, there’s a saying, “Accept those who come to you, and do not chase pursue those who leave you”, so I accept all of those who come to me, and make sure I just say goodbye to those who leave me and see them off.  I think this is important in many aspects.  This means that many people with a lot of talent come to me, including Shiotani.  And there are also a lot of people that things don’t work out with and they end up leaving.   This way, I end up making great things with other people that can see eye-to-eye with me and I think this process has been very successful so far.  I always make sure I have a beacon or antenna up, looking at and studying various things, I think that’s important as well.  That would be my process.

 

What’s your criminal coefficient?
Wada: Yesterday, a fan of PSYCHO-PASS calculated this for me, and I was told it was 300.  Apparently there is an app out that can calculate this..
Shiotani: While I was making “PSYCHO-PASS”, I would have to say it was too big to measure, judging what those said about me and how I looked making it.  But right now, I’ve calmed down… but my dream is to be so calm that it can’t be measured, like Makishima.  That is my goal.  I want to become just a brain. (laugh)
Motohiro: I’ve reached the enlightenment level.  Once you reach the enlightenment level, your criminal coefficient becomes unreadable.  So no matter when I’m measured, it will be low.  I am always calm and never get angry… I make sure that they can never find out the coefficient.

 

I know that “Odoru Daisousasen” ended with the final movie in 2012.  But what are the chances of a spin-off series with the characters of Shunsaku Aoshima, Shinji Muroi, or Sumire Onda?
Motohiro: Sadly, there are no plans for any spin-offs.  The movie that was released last year was indeed the final of the whole series.

 

For more information on Psycho-Pass, please visit the following website

Photos are courtesy of Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

Media Q&A with Animator/Director Atsuko Ishizuka (of “Nana”, “Supernatural: The Animation”, “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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In Japan, most of the time when you meet an animator or director of anime series, those in the industry were big fans of anime or are very familiar with the genre.

For animator/director Atsuko Ishizuka, she is the opposite.

Studying at the Aichi Prefecture University of the Arts, Atsuko never watched anime and her interest was more in music and graphic arts.  And how she would work in the anime industry was not for an interest in anime but for the sake of art.

While at art school, Ishizuka would create short animated films tied to music.  One of these animated shorts titled “Gravitation” was featured in the 2005 Tehran International Short Film Festival which would capture the attention of NHK and Madhouse.

Madhouse would offer Atsuko a chance a job as a production assistant, while NHK would contact Atsuko to animated a video segment for their “Minna no Uta” program, which highlights upcoming independent animators and musicians.  But because she was already employed by Madhouse,  the studio allowed her to work with NHK and in the process, she created her first professional film titled “Tsuki no Waltz”.

This video would give attention to Atsuko Ishizuka and not long after working for Madhouse, getting her chance to work in the animated series such as “MONSTER”, her first assistant director role for “NANA” followed by “MapleStory”.Then episode director for “Top Secret ~The Revelation” and “Moryo no Hako”.  And in a few years, she was directing two episodes for “Aoi Bungaku”, co-directing for “Supernatural: The Animation Series” and in 2012-2013, her major directorial role for “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo”.

On April 1st, Atsuko Ishizuka attended her first anime convention in the U.S. in Seattle as a Guest of Honor for Sakura-Con 2013 to promote her work for “Supernatural: The Animation” and “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo” and took part in a media press conference.

The following is a transcript of the press conference with Atsuko Ishizuka which J!-ENT took part in.

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J!-ENT: Before we discuss your career, let’s get to know you a little better.  I read that you didn’t watch much anime growing up but you listened to music and were into design.  Were there any designers that inspired you?

Atsuko: I don’t have any awareness of any specific thing or artist that inspired me.  I attended a technical school, so the things that I saw and heard there inspired me.  So, I built experience overtime of things that I made myself and saw how they turned out.

 

Because of your different background in art and music, how does that education and background in graphic design affect animation.  Especially styles and concepts since they are different from animation.

Atsuko: When I entered the company, at first I thought it would be a weakness because of my unawareness of animation.  But now that I have progressed in my career, I now consider that as a strength.  So I can create these new experiences and adventures with a point of a view of one who hasn’t had exposure to anime and I think  it was best expressed in the “Tsuki no Waltz” short film that I did.

 

Building upon that, of all art forms, which is easier for you to work on now?

Atsuko: I think the easiest for me is expression through animation.  I did try my hand once in live action, but it turned out that the things that are in my head can only be realized through fantasy and pictures, so for me it’s drawing of what I am imagining is the easiest way for me to realize my vision and realize what I wanted to do.  So, for me it’s not limited to a certain particular genre.

 

What challenges did you face in creating the “Aoi Bungaku” series for which you were director, writer and storyboard artist?

Atsuko: She strived for vivid and clear images, not so much old looking but something fresh and vivid and clear for the images and backgrounds.

 

As you have never watched anime growing up, now that you work in the field, do you now have a favorite?

Atsuko:  For anime, even now that I am part of the industry, I don’t watch much anime. I do for study but not really for just a hobby. I personally think that there is a lot of people in the anime industry who don’t really watch much anime when they are creating it.  At some point, you won’t be able to enjoy it for its own merits.

 

J!-ENT: In 2010, you had the opportunity to co-direct “Supernatural: The Anime Series” with Shigeyu- ki Miya. Because the series was based on an American drama series, were there strict rules that you had to face on working on the anime adaptation and how was the experience to work on this anime version?

Atsuko: For the “Supernatural the animation”, there was a great deal that I left to the scenario writer.  In an overseas drama outside of Japan has very dense scripts and 45 minute plus running times.  In Japan,we have only 20 minutes, so it was very difficult that the scenario writer faced many challenges.  But I gave the person my full support and told them to do their best.

 

Being a person in the industry who wasn’t a fan before and even now of anime, are there any series or any franchise that you really want to work on now as an animator?

Atsuko: “Doraemon”.  Please promote that I would love to work on a theatrical version of “Doraemon”.  I think it’s a great work with real vision!

 

Are there any works in classical literature that you want to work on?

Atsuko: Works by Kogo Abe,  to read his stories and novels, I would think those would be great visual works.

 

Since you don’t necessarily watch anime, do you read manga or friends and family who reads manga and suggest titles for you to work on?  Or possibly reading manga that you get ideas in your head of wanting to create an anime?

Atsuko: One in particular was Chie Shinohara’s “Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori: Anatolia Story”, which is a very unusual work that I would love to revisit some time.

 

J-ENT: Is this your first time as a guest at an anime convention in America? Now, that you are in America. Is there a certain food that you always wanted to try? Or certain shops that you are excited to visit?

Atsuko: This is my first convention as everything up until now has been more interviews and events.  This is a world that I can not enter, it’s all people who know much more about animation than me.  I feel I should apologize, even though I am an animation director.  As for food, in Seattle, clam chowder which was recommended by Takahiro Yoshimatsu (character designer and animation director for the “The Slayers” and “Future GPX Cyber Formula” films), who is a regular of Sakura-Con and he recommended to try the clam chowder.  So, I tried the clam chowder and it was great!

 

You worked in a lot of horror genre and supernatural. Even your first “Minna no Uta” video was creepy but in a good way.  Is that a genre you would like to continue working in?

Atsuko: People ask me that a lot. Maybe it’s because of “Tsuki no Waltz” because it has that supernatural style to it.  I do think it’s a genre that I’m good at.  But it is something that when I pursue the supernatural world, it feels I am pursuing the art world almost.  And it can be very exhausting.  I feel that sometimes I am trying to wring something out of myself, that maybe I don’t have enough of.  So, I want to continue doing it from time-to-time, but it’s very draining if you continue to do it.  Recently, I started to think that maybe I should continue to pursue this kind of warmth which is only possible through anime with works such as “Pet Girl of Sakurasou” and in between pursue areas that I’m good at in regards to art and fantasy.

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I really loved your episodes of “Aoi Bungaku”.  Would you ever consider possibly doing “Yotsuya Kaidan” or classic kaidans?

Atsuko: Japanese horror is very interesting.  I think it would be interesting to try and express the fear and horror of Japanese classical horror through these visual works because there is no reality, it would be a challenge!  Very good question…thank you!

 

What are your future goals as an animator?

Atsuko: There is a lot of people that hoped that I would create supernatural worlds but I’m currently searching for my next project and I think it may diverge away from the art world, for kids or some other genre where I can use my strengths.  So, one thing I am aware of recently is to not fully pull out from my own work.  To really go into areas and not do things that I have done in the past.

 

How have you evolved as an animator from the beginning to where you are now.  And what lessons have you learned?

Atsuko: So, my career actually started not as an animator but part of production of Madhouse.  It was actually through “Tsuki no Waltz” which was through a personal connection at NHK, a  producer,  that I was able to realize and move on to my current direction.  I’ve learned so much.  So, when I was faced the challenge to work on a storyboard, I didn’t know how to approach it, so I took Masayuki Kojima’s storyboard, because he’s such a good creator and set it down right next to mind and created what he had done in the past. I really have built my experience by imitating other work of people but I always love drawing.  So, I’ve always loved drawing and there is no special direction, so I’m good at drawing illustrations.  The quickest shortcut is to imitate people.

 

Has there been an artist that you imitate the most?

Atsuko: Not really so much of an artist but Morio Asaka, the director.  I really find myself looking at his works.  And also Aya Furuichi at that area for influence for storyboards.  And it seems that from time to time and I see something that I need.  So may it be photos or movies, I’ll gradually build experience from the things around me and once that new world has been created inside of me, that’s when I begin production.  And so I will build up so much information so quickly that there will be movies that I will see that I don’t remember the title, the cast or director of the film but I will absorb it.  And so there are things in films that I have to capture all this information, but I forget what the title is, so I will not be able to see it ever again.  My folder is full of images and my PC is a total mess.

 

Because you have all these ideas, if you have an unlimited budget and wanted to create something you really like, what message would you like to convey?  It may be difficult to achieve, but it’s still back in your mind?

Atsuko: So, thinking about the viewer, I think that 90 minutes is long enough to do anything I want to do.  Or a TV series that will go on forever and will be 30-minutes long.  And as far as the content, the hero must be energetic and maybe a touch of fantasy, psychic powers or supernatural elements.  And I think the story would be a hero who is helping people and following his own dream.  A hero following the straight path.  So, the viewer would protect him in his journey and grow along with him.  So, this is something that I want to do, so I will do my best to create this original work.  I don’t think it would be an expensive project or something flashy but something that is well loved for a long period of time.  If you have high production values, then it will go 3D (laughing) and end up being a very popular and using actor that would be motion-captured and put real into a visual work.  Another aspect of animation is that it’s not done in real time or live, but it would be great to create animation that feels like it’s live but in order to do that, it’s better not to expect too much from it.  Animation from live painting maybe?

 

Do you drink anything to get you through a deadline?  What is the longest that you have not slept?

Atsuko: Caffeine.  I continue to take in caffeine.  After consuming your caffeine, then you don’t sleep, so you can stay there for days and not take any breaks.  My maximum is three days, if I go more than three days, really strange images start to appear.  Like with “Tsuki no Waltz”, that was a state I was in, so that’s why the world looked like that.

 

J!-ENT:  If there was one word you can describe yourself, what word would that be?

Atsuko: I wonder… I absolute have no idea.  What am I really?  I can say with conviction that I am an earthling.

 

Your next anime can be “What am I?” and a character that takes a lot of caffeine.

Atsuko: Yeah, you can really make something unique and strange.

 

Do you have any final words?

Atsuko: I will try to find myself through making a lot of new animations, so I thank you so much for your support!

 

For more information on Atsuko Ishizuka, please visit the following website

Top photo courtesy of Sakura Con / Bottom two photo by Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

Media Q&A with Reki Kawahara (creator of “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Reki Kawahara has quickly became one of the most popular figures in the anime industry thanks to his light novel and manga work for the hit series “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”.  With both titles receiving anime adaptations, both series have quickly become a big hit in the United States, especially “Sword Art Online” (SAO) because of its MMORPG storyline.

But Reki’s light novels are so popular that accumulative sales for his books have exceeded one million copies worldwide.

In March, Reki attended his first anime convention in North America at Sakura-con in Seattle.  The following is a transcript of the press conference with Reki Kawahara which J!-ENT took part in.

If “Sword Art Online” was to be turned into a real MMO, would you play it?
REKI: As long as I don’t die when my HP becomes zero, then yes.

Sakura-Con will be your first convention appearance in America.  Is there some type of American food you always wanted to try or something you have wanted to experience but haven’t had a chance to?
REKI: This morning at breakfast at the hotel, I had a real oatmeal for the first time and it was delicious.  I would like to try a real American-size T-Bone steak.

In a recent interview, you said that having characters stuck in a MMORPG was the easy part, but finding the mechanism was the difficult part and you admitted that the Nerve Gear system had its faults, thus creating plot holes.  So, my question if you had time to go back and add or fix the little things that had faults what would you do with anything or would you create an additional version that had additional sections?
REKI: One of the things I heard was wouldn’t it be possible to instantaneously destroy the Nerve Gear that the players are using to make it inactive in time before it would kill the player.  And so, to solve that problem, one of the ideas was to have Kayaba announce should anybody attempt this or succeed, another player will randomly pay for that action.

Asuna’s sort of a tricky character: she starts off as an incredibly strong fighter, important to the political system of SAO, but in the Alfheim arc, she’s assaulted and replaced with women half of her ability in depth.  What would you say to the critics who find her role problematic, especially given often misogynistic climate of anime and gaming?
REKI: When I created Asuna, she was a little too perfect and when she was together with Kirito, there really wasn’t anything they couldn’t solve together.  She became a little too powerful, so in the next arc, I needed to put her in a position where she was unable to help Kirito and because of that, I do have some regrets about putting her in that situation in order to build up the sense danger in Kirito’s adventure in the second story arc.  Because of that regret, I wrote an arc called “Mother’s Rosario”… and if there was to be more of the anime made, I would like that arc to be animated.

How much of Kirito’s character and personality is based off of your own personality or characters you have played in other MMO’s?
REKI: I don’t really ever project myself into my characters, but as for a similarity between Kirito and I, we are both terrible at creating parties and prefer playing solo.

There is evidence that shows some kind of connection the “Accel World” light novels and “Sword Art Online”.  Were these similarities intentional?
REKI: Well first, I’ll explain the picture in episode 22.  The person who drew that illustration was the person who did the mechanic designs in “Accel World”, Yousuke Kabashima.  And because he drew it, he decided to be a little playful, and that’s why Kirito and Leafa’s swords looked similar to those in Accel World. And the connection between the two stories, the two stories are separate, despite their being some similarities.  I haven’t officially said that the two stories were on the same world, just at different times, but if I can figure out some of the problems, I may be able to write a new series officially linking the two.

Between 2002 when you submitted your submission for Dengeki Game Shosetsu Taishou, and between your actual publication in 2008, what were you doing?
REKI: I continued publishing SAO on my homepage during that time and eventually that was picked up for publication, after being re-edited and reworked and was eventually released in 2008.  And in the novel series, I still have a lot I have to cover from what I originally wrote.

Explain to me the process of how your work got turned into multi-platform media property – the series, manga.  How did it all start?
REKI:  If I had originally intended my work to be made into anime versions, I probably would have made the main character from “Accel World”, Haruyuki, a lot cooler looking.  At first I really was just concentrating on becoming an author, so I hadn’t even considered my work being turned into various multimedia versions.  So when my editor told me that there was going to be an anime version, I was extremely surprised and very happy.

The “Sword Art Online” is not available in English, how does Reik feels about people translating his light novels and publishing his work online?
REKI: I am very happy to hear that fans overseas are that eager to read my novels, to the point that translations are made.  When I asked my editor if there were plans on an English version of my work that was going to be released, and I was told that as soon as we could get an offer from a publisher, it could happen at any time.

Yesterday you touched upon the fact that there really wasn’t that much cut out from the anime compared to the light novels, but there were a few things like the Underworld arc (and a few other examples mentioned).  Do you feel if there was anything missed?
REKI: Well that came about because it wasn’t originally included on the series on my webpage, but I put it in the novelization because i didn’t have enough material.  So if it were to be in the anime version, it would feel rather tacked on, so it was decided to be taken out.

So obviously “Sword Art Online” delves heavily into MMO’s, so what’s your experience with MMO’s and which one is your favorite game in general?
REKI:  The one I have played the most is “World of Warcraft” and more recently, I started playing “Diablo 3.” I really love Blizzard games, but lately, there haven’t been Japanese versions of their games, so I’m very saddened by this.

We heard that you felt very fortunate meeting with your editor, Miki Kazuma-san, is there anything you couldn’t agree on at certain times?
REKI:  Miki-san never gets angry with the writer, but if we disagree on something, he never backs down either.  So whenever we don’t agree on something, our discussions tend to get very long.

You left Kayaba out of the “Gun Gale Online” arc, but if you were to redo the arc, would you have given him more importance?
REKI: If Kayaba kept ending up as the mastermind in each arc, a pattern would form and it would become redundant.

How are you able to craft such a believable virtual game in your stories?  In many other shows, such efforts are more unrealistic.
REKI: I was able to make the virtual world of “Sword Art Online” watching and reading various American movies and books that deal with virtual worlds and incoporating factors from that into my own work.  One of the titles I really enjoyed was “Realtime Interrupt” by James P. Hogan, and I got a lot of ideas from there.

In “Accel World”, Black Lotus’s(not sure about this name) name is never revealed.  Was there a reason why it was never revealed and are there plans in the future to reveal that?
REKI: When I originally wrote “Accel World”, there was no plans on writing a continuation.  So when volume two came out, I felt like I lost the opportune moment to reveal her name.  I do have plans to reveal her name in the very last volume.

You are currently very busy with two very successful titles, “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”, but what do you like to do when you’re not busy working?
REKI:  Other than online games, I love riding bicycles and recently bought a Trek road bike.  And recently, I was very saddened by the fact that Lance Armstrong was revoked of all of his records.

In an interview, you stated that you tend to use strategy guides for RPGs.   If you were to create one for “Sword Art Online”, what would you include and what kind of advice would you give other than to not die?
REKI:  Other than “don’t die”, I’d have to say don’t leave the city.

What influenced the difference of the main characters of “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”?
REKI: I actually thought up Kirito first, who’s a character who’s very close to being perfect, and then thought up Haruyuki later.  Kirito may seem perfect, but on the inside, he can be rather weak at times.  Haruyuki may look a little flawed on the outside, but is extremely strong on the inside.  So I had never really thought about which one may be more superior overall.

When was it that you decided to become a novelist and that this is the career you wanted to pursue?
REKI:  Even from childhood, I had always wanted a job where I could create stories.  Originally, I wanted to be a game scenario writer, but I was unable to attain that dream.  So because of that, before I knew it, I had wanted to become a novelist.  I didn’t know how to become a game scenario writer.  When I was a student, I found out that to become a game scenario writer, I’d have to get a job at a gaming company and that was a pretty high hurdle that I couldn’t get over, so I changed my goal when I was in my twenties.

What were difficult story arcs you had to write for “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”?
REKI:  In “Accel World”, the setting was time would be a thousand times faster in the virtual world in comparison to the real world.  So as I was writing that, if ten hours had passed in the game world, I’d have to figure out exactly how much time had passed in the real world, and that became rather difficult.  It was then that I wondered why there are sixty seconds in a minute rather than a hundred.

Looking at the sales figures for various media for the two titles, “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”, there is a distinct difference in which “Sword Art Online” is selling much better than “Accel World”.  Why do you think there’s such a discrepancy between the two titles when it comes to sales numbers?  A theory is that “Sword Art Online” is more girl friendly because they like Kirito.
REKI:  It’s true that in the terms of fanbase, “Sword Art Online” has a lot more female fans as well as younger fans, so I believe that the difference in numbers is coming from that.  But personally, I had always written “Accel World” with a younger audience in mind, so in a way, I do find the difference in numbers a little unfortunate.  But the job of worrying about numbers really falls on the editors and anime companies like Aniplex, so I try not to think about the numbers too much.

What did you expect coming into Sakura-Con, and now that you’re here, what do you think?  What are some of the good things and some of the bad things?
REKI:  I was able to meet many more Kirito’s than I had ever imagined, so I was very happy.  And the venue itself is a lot bigger than I had imagined and the anime fans seem to be having so much fun and I think that’s great.  In Japan, if they had such an event like this in the middle of the city, I highly doubt that many fans would show up.

When you were creating the Alicization Arc and lengthening the foundations like time is set up by thousand and will power was the key to everything, was that foundation carried over from “Accel World” used in “Sword Art Online”?  You said there was no directed connection to “Accel World” and “SAO” but the technology used in the “Alicization Arc”, was that used as a foundation?
REKI:  It’s true that the technology used in the Alicization Arc could be or is the foundation of the technology being used in “Accel World”, there are some similarities but nothing has been made clear that they are indeed the same world.  If I were to say for sure that the two worlds were the same, the list of things I have to resolve would be multiplied quite a bit and I don’t think I’d be able to resolve everything successfully.  Recently, there was a movie released called “The Avengers”, and I highly respect the staff behind that movie because they were able to successfully take so many different properties and combine them into one movie.

The changes in the Alicization Arc where it focuses on will power than skill, was that to bring Kirito to a more manageable level?

REKI: That may have been the original intention, but after this arc, it puts Kirito at an even more godlike state.

In Alicization Turning, Kayaba has been personified as a NPC/AI, from an all powerful program to a program that is unable to undo its usual function, what was your intention?
REKI:  In the original “Sword Art Online” story arc, the story was about Kirito vs. Kayaba.  But at the same time, it was a battle against the system itself.  So in order for Kirito to combat the system, it became necessary in the Alicization story arc when he was going up against the system and having it being all powerful without a personality, became rather difficult.  So in order to create the story battling the system, it became necessary for me to give it a personality and make it something that Kirito can face.

 

For more information on Reki Kawahara, please visit his official website

Top photo courtesy of Sakura Con 2013

Media Q&A with Toshihiro Kawamoto (co-founder of Japanese animation studio, Studio BONES) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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In Japan, Toshihiro Kawamoto is one of the anime legends that fans just can’t get enough of when he comes to the United States as a guest of honor at an anime convention.

While in high school and after graduating, Kawamoto became interested in becoming an animator thanks to the “Macross” and “Mobile Suit Gundam” series.  Inspired by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s character designs, after graduating at Tokyo Designer Gakuin College, he was offered a job to work on the 1986 animated film “Arion” supervised by Yoshinobu Inano and mentored by lead character designer Sachiko Kamimura.

During his earlier years, Kawamoto had worked on some of the highly regard classic titles such as “Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, “Metal Armor Dragonar”, “Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack” and “Venus Wars”.

Three years later, in 1989, Kawamoto was the animation director for “Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket”, “Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory”, “Mobile Suit Gundam F91”, “Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Last blitz of Zeon” and “Super Dimension Century Orguss 02”.

While Kawamoto has a long list of anime that he has worked on in his oeuvre, for American fans, he is best known for his work on “Cowboy Bebop” as a character designer and animation director, “Wolf’s Rain”, “Golden Boy” and “Kurau: Phantom Memory” as an animation director.

Toshihiro Kawamoto is also known for his work with the animation studio, Studio BONES, that he co-founded with Sunrise staff members Masahiko Minami and Hiroshi Osaka in 1998.

And in the last five years, Studio BONES have worked on anime series such as “Darker than Black”, “Skull Man”, “Soul Eater”, “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0”, “Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto”, “Un-Go”, “Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean” and many more.

On April 6th, Toshihiro Kawamoto took part in a media Q&A at Sakura-Con 2013 in Seattle.  The following is a transcript of the press conference with Toshihiro Kawamoto which J!-ENT took part in.

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KAWAMOTO: I can’t announce the two titles right now but there are two anime series being created by BONES.  So, I really wanted to announce these two upcoming titles, but we have to put off the the announcement for a little while, so I am unable to answer any questions about these two titles right now. But if you like to ask me questions about my experience as an animator or about BONES, I’ll be more than happy to talk about that.  Thank you very much.

 

With your contribution to the Gundam universe and seeing the transition of the character designs, for example, “Mobile Suit Gundam” originally to “Mobile Suit G Gundam”, what are your thoughts about the transition of the character designs?  Is there anything you want to add or improve on?

KAWAMOTO: So, I worked on “Cowboy Bebop” in 1998, and after that, the producer at Sunrise, Masahiko Minami, who was the producer, decided he wanted to go independent and so he invited me along and that was the trigger for the creation of BONES.   I think that Minami-san wanted to work on creating something new rather than previously existing work, so that’s why he left Sunrise and left to go independent.

 

When you established BONES 12-years ago, were you confident in starting it up the animation studio?

KAWAMOTO: So, I joined BONES and joined my friend Minami-san and because I had the same thoughts as Minami-san, as far as what I wanted to create and becoming an independent animator, I wasn’t really thinking if it would be successful or not.  I was just thinking about what I wanted to create and the things that I wanted to make.  And I was very happy that many of the people that worked on “Cowboy Bebop” that were freelance animators, were able to move and join BONES as well. I was really happy about that!  And so we were able to create “RahXephon” and the actual feeling of where we were working, didn’t really change that much from “Cowboy Bebop” because we had the same staff working on it.

 

My question is the reception of “Cowboy Bebop” in the West.  And by many Western anime fans, “Cowboy Bebop” is one of the most well-regard anime.  Were you surprised by the Western reception to “Cowboy Bebop” was?

KAWAMOTO: When we made “Cowboy Bebop”, it was hard to get broadcast slots, so we didn’t know if it would become a hit or not.  So faced with all these difficulties, we shortened it from a 26-episode series to a 13-episode series.  But now, even ten years later, even outside of Japan, it’s almost a strange and surreal feeling.  With regards to a sequel, you saw the last scene, so there are no plans at this time.  I’m not part of the staff, but I heard there still may be a possibility of a live-action version.  So, we may see a Hollywood version of “Cowboy Bebop” in the future.

 

Can you please elaborate more on the difficulty of  the broadcast slots?

KAWAMOTO: When we were trying to find broadcast slots in Japan, we were facing challenges of some of the violence such as the “Bloody Eye” episode which had a lot of drug references and also the violence made it hard.  Also at the same time, there was a real-life incident known as the Pokemon shock when a youth was wielding a knife, so we had to remove a knife digitally from a particular scene because of the social impact at that time.  So, the bloody eye episode was episode #1, so we had to start broadcast episode #2 because of those kind of issues.  But the episodes #1 and #5 were released in their original format, so I was glad to be able to take care of those.

 

Who were your inspirations as a child in becoming an animator?

KAWAMOTO: There are many!  There are not so many people but their creations and the anime I was watching in high school that inspired me.  So, for example the Gundam designs fromYasuhiko Yoshikazu  and from Yoshiyuki Tomino , as well as from Hayao Miyazaki’s films.  And Shoji Kawamori of “Macross” fame and “Urusei Yatsura’s” Mamoru Oshii.  It was their work and watching their creations that I decided to join this industry.

 

Speaking of “Gundam”, for “Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory”, featured many different characters of different ethnicity, how important was that for you in being a director?

KAWAMOTO: “Stardust Memory” has a Hollywood movie feel to it, there was a request from the developer to include people of many different races. I think we became more aware of that over time, “0083” was made in the similar style of the first Gundam. I’m sorry, I’m not to familiar with the recent Gundam, so I don’t know what direction they are taking.  But my memory of “Gundam 0083” is that we thought about the different characters that the actors were representing, and we based the character design on that.  And “Cowboy Bebop” was like that as well, we thought about the characters first as well.

 

Studio BONES has done a lot of really awesome animations and there have been some that were original creations from BONES.  How does BONES approach pre-existing titles vs. anime series that you created yourself?

KAWAMOTO: For projects such as “Fullmetal Alchemist”, it was a creator at BONES named Yoshiyuki Ito  who thought it would be great to make an anime series, so he talked to the producer at BONES and then we talked to Square Enix who owns the IP.  And that’s how we created the anime for “Fullmetal Alchemist”.  And that’s how it was decided that Yoshiyuki Ito would become the character designer and main animator for “Fullmetal Alchemist”.  And of course, there are times when sponsors or the original creator of the work will sponsor the creation of an anime.  So, a recent work that I worked on was “Towa no Quon” was also based on an original work by a creator who created that work.

 

How do they choose whether or not the next project is pre-existing work or original?

KAWAMOTO: It’s all up to the President.  Whatever he says goes.  However, we all do have input in the direction the company is going.  So, we have the feeling that we do want to create our own works, and so that is a possibility.  Although it can be difficult to do that some times.  But I think there are possibility for original work from BONES.

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Given that you worked with prolific titles such as “Gundam”, “City Hunter” and “Venus Wars”, was there any fears of you working on established series?

KAWAMOTO: No particular concerns.  But there is a strong way of thought in the industry in terms of a business standpoint, it’s easier to be successful with known properties.  So, there is a tendency to prefer sequels over original works if they are already known.

 

Given that, are there any series that you haven’t worked on yet that you wanted to work on?

KAWAMOTO: No particular concerns.  But there is a strong way of thought in the industry in terms of a business standpoint, it’s easier to be successful with known properties.  So, there is a tendency to prefer sequels over original works if they are already known.  Sequels…hmm…that really is a difficult question.  I think from a sales or business success standpoint, it would make sense to do a sequel for “Cowboy Bebop”.  But that would violate the director policy to create that, so that would be a bit difficult.  And instead of existing work, creating something new or original work that would have some long term popularity and become a long term series would be great for our company.  So, there was tendency in the past to create a series with 26-episodes, which we call two packs. The tendency now is for 13-episodes or one pack series. So, there is a difficult situation of creating a 13-episode series and make a decision of whether to create an additional 13-episodes, so it’s becoming more difficult.

 

You have been part of the growing industry of constant changing styles as each new generation of anime emerges.  What do you think of animations and character designs today, compare to those from your beginnings, particularly against popular series such as “Madoka Magica”, “Sword Art Online” and “Guilty Crown”?

KAWAMOTO: I think those series that you mentioned reflect to popular face styles and character design, so I think that face balance kind of reflects the current state of the industry.  There will be a tendency where there will be a hit of a particular series with a particular art style and when that’s popular, a lot of similar series will be influenced by that art style and that style will be used and will spread.  But even within those trends, there are an increasing number of original creations and new directions.  So, I really think it’s up to our choice to choose the designs that we like and up to the fans as well to choose the designs they like.  Our job is to create designs that are requested of us by the producers and directors.

 

How does all that change from older series such the original “Gundam” and “Cowboy Bebop”?

KAWAMOTO: It’s hard to be specific, if you look at them side-by-side but you can tell.  The biggest would be the change from creating individual cells to the digital creating process.  One of the effects of digitization, previously when people were doing hand-drawn animation in cells, the width of the lines can vary.  But now with digital, all the lines have to be the same width.  There is sort of a trend to that, but that is one thing that has had an effect.  So, while the screen is clearer, you can get a very clear image.  You lose a little bit in terms of what the creator’s hand drawn works with the new digital process.  The appeal of the hand drawn aspect has been lost to some extent.

 

Do you prefer the old style as opposed to more mainstream current works?

KAWAMOTO: Of course, I’m from the cell era.  I think it’s something we need to challenge and how we can take that same feeling that we created from cells and convey it to fans using the digital process.  Other companies are working on this issue and I think there are various technologies that they are experimenting with.  So, they can reproduce this original feeling of the original cells, but it takes extra effort to bring back what was originally there.  I think another big change is that now it’s possible for individual animators to perform their own animation check digitally, so now a single animator can put something together and check how it flows very easily.

 

How much difference from your other works was it when you were working on “Golden Boy”?

KAWAMOTO:  So, Tatsuya Egawa was the original creator and Hiroyuki Kitakubo  was the director and so meeting their vision was something that I would strive to work hard in “Golden Boy”.

 

Do you have a favorite series that you worked on?

KAWAMOTO: I get that question a lot and it’s hard to say and choose what is #1.  Of course, “Cowboy Bebop”.  And I think “The Cockpit” that I did with Hiroyuki Kitakubo  was an important because it led to “Ghost in the Shell” and “Cowboy Bebop”.

 

I know that Ed from “Cowboy Bebop” is one of the most interesting characters of that anime era and that you based your design on Yoko Kanno.  Why her? And what sort of challenges did you face in matching her to the character personality of the story?

KAWAMOTO: I’ll talk about how the character of Ed was created.  So, the original plan in additional to the characters of Spike, Jet and Fay, there would be a little boy who was a hacker and a girl that would be laying around sleeping.  So, there were five characters.  As planning progressed, it was decided to combine the hacker boy character with the girl who was always sleeping on the sofa to a single character and that became Ed.  And the idea was that the character would be like a cat lounging around all the time, but then the director said, “Like Yoko Kanno?”.  I haven’t met her at the time, so I would have to imagine in my mind but I was told that she was the kind of person who would sleep in a meeting and a a very honest and natural person.  So, although I haven’t met her, I would imagine her character.  I remember the amazing work that she did in “Escaflowne” and “Macross Plus” and it was really hard for me to fill in that gap between those amazing works and this character that I was being described.  So, why did that become Ed? It’s very interesting.  And then after the design was done, then I actually met Yoko Kanno.  Visually, she was a regular, cute and attractive girl. But when I actually saw her fall asleep on the sofa, I thought “oh yeah, that was her”.

 

Final words from Kawamoto

KAWAMOTO: Thank you all for coming today, I really appreciate it.  Thank you for your interest and support in the anime industry and I look forward to your interest in our future works.

 

For more information on Studio BONES, please visit their official website.

Top photo courtesy of Sakura-Con / second and third photo by Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

Media Q&A with Ayumi Fujimura, Voice actress for Audrey Burne/Mineva Lao Zabi of “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)” by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

fujimura

Ayumi Fujimura has become one of the premiere voice acting stars in Japan.

Best known for her voice as Audrey Burne/Mineva Lao Zabi in the popular hit animated series “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)”, Ayumi has done voices for a variety of characters for Japanese animated series such as Chiharu Harukaze of “Hayate Combat Butler”, “Kimiko Nakamura of “Shakugan no Shana”, Karada Iokawa of “Living for the Day After Tomorrow”, Aiko Iwase of “Bakuman” and Haruka Uehara and Ayane Iwa of “Lagrange – The Flower of Rin-ne”, just to name a few.

Ayumi has also done voices for video games such as Elicia in “Luminous Arc 2: Will”, Frederica in “Suikoden IV”, Mylene Wilder in “Tales of Symphonia”, Ibuki in “Super Street Fighter IV” and also for the live action film “Harrie Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” as Katie Bell.

On April 1st, Ayumi Fujimura attended her first anime convention in the U.S. in Seattle as a Guest of Honor for Sakura-Con 2013 to promote her voice work for Bandai Visual’s “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)” and took part in a media press conference.

The following is a transcript of the press conference which J!-ENT took part in.

What was your first ever role? Describe what it was like to go into the booth for the first time.

Ayumi: It was an anime called “Nishi no Yoki Majo”, and I played a maid who was a good friend of the main character, that was my first role.  It was my first role and I was brand new, so I was very nervous when I was standing in front of the mic.  The director would coach me a lot with my acting and I think that experience helped me with who I am now.

 

J!-ENT: What was your favorite manga and anime growing up?

Ayumi:  It was “Sailor Moon.”  As for the manga, I really liked the manga magazine, “Nakayoshi,” which “Sailor Moon” was serialized in, and read it all the time.

 

The project you’re here to promote is  “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)”.  Could you describe the steps you took to prepare to play the role of Mineva Lao Zabi?  What was your mindset and what did you want to convey?

Ayumi:  Well first… Oh, well, this character was in the first Gundam series as a baby and so she has been living through the history of the Gundam series from the first series.  This was for the 30th anniversary, so I went back and watched the original Gundam so I could study the role and the series and get an understanding of her before getting into the role.  The other thing I was very careful about, she’s usually… how do I put it, she’s usually very serious, so it was hard to sometimes match her seriousness with my own feelings, but I make sure I keep that in mind every time.

 

With “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)” and your role as Audrey, did you have to audition for that role against other actresses or were you approached by the production? And to expand on that, do you find yourself auditioning for a lot of roles or are you at a point in your career that you are offered roles more frequently?

Ayumi:  The role of Mineva was an audition, and where I’m at in my career, I am grateful that I am offered roles as well, but overall I still audition.  Also, I believe that no matter how much of a veteran a seiyuu might be, they don’t come to a point where they don’t audition at all.  I do believe that it depends on the project, though.

 

J!-ENT: When you were younger, what anime characters’ voices did you like trying to mimic?

Ayumi:  I did!  I would mimic “Crayon Shin-chan” and Doraemon… and let’s see, what else… I think I did quite a few others as well when I was a child because I really liked anime.

 

So you mentioned before that you actually went back and watched some of the older series, for your role of Audrey.  When you looked at part of Audrey’s history, what part of her past or present do you find most interesting? I’m not sure if you watched “Gundam ZZ” for her childhood, where she was actually a pawn in a larger game, and now she’s growing out of being a pawn.  How do you feel about that transition and what do you think her maturity level would be at this point, now that she’s taking on the role that she was born to have and may be reluctant to accept?

Ayumi:  Well, I think she’s matured quite a bit.  I think her meeting Banagher may have brought that on.  Her feelings of wanting to stop the war are rather strong, but… how do I say this, she had grown up being treated like a princess by the ones around her.  So as for what she wants to do, I think Banagher was the one to show her that.  And because of that, I think she’s able to say what she really thinks.  Because she met Banagher, we get to see the Mineva is a girl before she is a princess.  I’m not sure if her feelings will go as far as romantic feelings, but we do get to see this side of her now and so I think she’s now rather human.

 

Do you often find yourself being cast as characters that are similar to you?  And if so, do you enjoy that?  Or do you find yourself seeking out roles that are a little bit different from how you are in real life for the challenge?

Ayumi:  I do feel like I get a lot of roles that seem rather similar to me.  Well I say that they’re similar… but there are aspects that are completely different.  But I’m rather… hardheaded at times and don’t like to give up or lose and can be rather confident, so I think I get cast as strong, energetic girls quite a bit.  But I will say that it’s easier to do roles that are similar to myself, because I can imagine what I’d do in certain situations and acting out those roles, I don’t have to hold back.  I can have fun with them without being tied down and all kinds of emotions seem to come forth naturally.

 

J!-ENT: We talked about your heroic character roles, but have you ever played a villain character before?

Ayumi:  When I get asked what kinds of roles I’d like to play next, I usually say that I’d like to play a villain.  I don’t think I can’t say I’ve never played that kind of a role… But yes, I’d like to play a role that’d be a completely hopeless villain, with a personality that is completely wretched.

 

Previously done voice acting for male characters as well, like in “Natsume Yujin-cho” you played young Natsume and in Aquarian EVO you played MIX who later gender swapped as MIXY.  What is your approach to playing male characters, the younger male characters, instead of your usual heroine characters? 

Ayumi:  I think the most important thing is the feeling, the emotions.  But in the end if it comes down to the voice, if I concentrate too much on the emotions, the voice starts to sound more girlish.  So I do my best to try to sound like a boy and as for their personalities, it completely varies on the character, and their tone changes as well.  Just because they’re a boy, I don’t think I have a set way of acting them out, I do believe I change it every time.

 

From your perspective as a performer, does the profile or the budget of a project affect how it’s dubbed?  Like for example, “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)” is high budget and high profile.  How is it different dubbing that and then say something like Maid-sama, so like a TV series role?

Ayumi:  There isn’t much of a difference when I’m in the recording studio, and I don’t think there’s much of that which affects us, the actors, and it’s more on behind the scenes on the staff side and there’s more that they can do if they have the money or not.  Events cost money as well, so if it’s a popular project, I’m sure they can do a lot more.  Not just events, but I think in general we’re able to do things like we want to if the money is available.  In the end, the actors aren’t really involved in that part of the project and know very little about it, so it doesn’t really affect our acting.

 

J!-ENT: Is this your first time as a guest at an anime convention?  Now that you’re in America, is there a certain food you want to try or any shops you want to go to in Seattle?

Ayumi:  It is.  We already had some free time to roam around, so I already bought some gifts.  The seafood here is rather delicious.  I got to enjoy some salmon and some scallops so I wanted to enjoy some more seafood.  And as for gifts, I bought some nice smelling lotion.  I had a lot of fun.

 

In your extensive career, which character would you say that you identify with most?  Which is your favorite role, male or female?

Ayumi:  Let’s see… When I played the role of Eiko in the show, “Squid Girl”, in my mind, she feels as though Squid Girl is her little sister.  I have a little sister as well, so I was able to relate and act out the role with that in mind and it gave me a very warm, pleasant feeling.  All of the other roles I’ve done, I love as well, but when I was playing Eiko, I felt that there were many things that were in sync with myself.  The feelings she had toward Squid Girl came out rather naturally, so much so that it actually surprised myself.  So I hope that could be felt onscreen as well.

 

This being your first experience at a western anime convention, do you think American anime fans are very similar or very different to Japanese fans?

Ayumi:  I think there are some similarities and some differences.  I think their passion and love for the shows are the same in either country.  I think they have a shyness about them, but are still able to express how they feel about the shows in their own way.  I think I might feel that that is a bit stronger here than in Japan.  Also, I’ve noticed that everyone is able to communicate with each other easily and in that aspect, I think the Japanese fans may be a bit shyer.  But here, I felt as everyone was trying to enjoy this convention together and it was very free and liberating.

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J!-ENT:  If you are allowed to discuss it, can you tell us what current anime series you are working on that your fans in America can look forward to?

Ayumi:   Well, there’s “Suisei no Gargantia”(Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet) where I play Striker, also “Rinne no Lagrange”(Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne) where I play an operator named Haruka.  And then there’s of course “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)” which is why I was called to this convention, and there is still the final episode left, so I hope everyone looks forward to that.

 

Do you have any special moments that you want to share with your fans?

Ayumi:  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have dinner with the fans.  That was my first time having dinner with the fans, so I think that was definitely a memorable experience.  I couldn’t speak to them directly in English, so I’m a little worried if they actually enjoyed it or not, but I had a lot of fun.

 

J!-ENT: In 2006, your first major role was playing Karada Iokawa in the anime series “Asatte no Houkou”.   This anime did come out in the US but I was wondering how was the experience as a voice actress of playing a major role?

Ayumi:  The role of Iokawa Karada was my first major role, and it might be a little embarrassing to see it now because it was still when I was very new.  But because I played the role at that time, I think that is what made the role what it is, and I think that’s what’s interesting about being an actor.  Of course there is good and bad, but there are things that can only be brought up at that time, so if I were to play the role of Iokawa Karada right now, I don’t think I’d be able to bring out the same charm I was able to bring out at that time.  So I believe that it was a very important experience.  I believe that was the first time I was truly able to delve into a role, and the first time I was able to go face to face with a role.

 

Outside of anime, you’ve had some roles outside of anime, like Fi in “Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.”  Could you describe to me some of the differences that you felt playing a character that’s a little more terse than what you would normally do as a main character?

Ayumi:  Instead of speaking actual words, they were more like sounds, so it was a very interesting experience.  So since there wasn’t actual dialogue, I can’t actually rely on expressing any meaning or feeling through dialogue.  But I still have to convey feeling, so it was a hard role to play, but I felt it was very worthwhile.

 

J!-ENT: Earlier, you talked about going back and watching the original Gundam to understand Mineva Lao Zabi a little better.  Did you watch any Gundam growing up, or was it something you discovered as an adult?

Ayumi:  The first time I had seen any Gundam series was when I had learned that I would be playing Mineva.  Up until then, I had thought that it was an anime that boys watched, so I didn’t have much interest in it, to be honest.  But it is a series filled with history so I thought I should study it and when I actually watched it, it was very interesting.  I was blown away and thought that I should have probably watched it earlier.  It was also great research in the terms of acting.  It’s a pretty old series, so the art isn’t as nice as it might be now, and the lip synching isn’t completely accurate all the time, but the human drama was very well performed and the expressions were very detailed.  The dialogue was filled with emotions as well.  If I had seen it as a child, and I rewatched it as an adult, I believe that my opinion would have been quite different.  It’s a very in-depth show.

 

J!-ENT: Outside of voice acting, what other hobbies do you enjoy?

Ayumi:  Do you know what nico nico douga is?  I love watching nico nico douga and love to listen to Vocaloids on nico nico douga.  I have a cat, so I like to play with my cat as well.

 

You mentioned before that you grew up watching “Sailor Moon.”  Who was your favorite sailor scout and why?

Ayumi:  When I was younger, I liked the main character, Usagi-chan.  Usagi-chan was a very cute, charming, and very likeable girl, but when I was younger, I liked main characters in general.  No matter what the series was, I always seemed to pick the main character as my favorite.  I think now Rei-chan might be my favorite.  When I was younger, I really didn’t like Rei-chan because she was always mean to Usagi-chan.  But now, I think when she was being mean to Usagi-chan, it was out of love and that they did have a strong friendship.  In reality, she was a very nice person, but she had a hard time expressing that, I guess now it’d be referred to as “tsundere” and is rather cute and I can understand that now as an adult.   Also, her red costume is really cute and she’s the only one wearing high heels, at least I think she was… But I think she looks really cool wearing high heels with no stockings.

 

For more information on “Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Unicorn)”, please click here.

Top photo courtesy of Bandai Visual / Bottom photo by Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

J!-ENT Special Feature: One-on-One Interview with motsu (of m.o.v.e and ALTIMA) by Dennis A. Amith (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

motsu

If there was one Japanese group that have entertained fans all over the world with their upbeat, dance music, that group would be m.o.v.e.

Known for their songs featured on the animated series “Initial D” and the video games as well, the group was a big part of the club scene in Japan when they first began in 1997.

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith has covered m.o.v.e via reviews of their music since then and in 2007, J!-ENT did a special feature to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary.

But as the group prepared for their 15th anniversary, fans were shocked in December 2012, when both motsu and yuri announced the dissolution of m.o.v.e.

With their final album released in Feb. 2013 and their final performance coming up a week from now, for their 15th anniversary and for a final interview in regards to m.o.v.e, J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith goes one-on-one with m.o.v.e member, motsu.  And for the first time, this interview will be presented in English and Japanese.

Translations for the 2013 interview is by J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon, while the 2007 interview was conducted alongside with J!-ENT’s Hiroshi Tagawa.

Because motsu is continuing activities in the music industry as a member of the group ALTIMA and also as a fashion designer with his unique eyewear line, GHETTO BLASTA, the focus interview is about the final m.o.v.e album, performance and looking back at the past but also preparing for the future.

Here is our interview with motsu.  Enjoy!

Special Feature is PDF-based, 54-pages and 7MB.

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