Press Q&A with animator and director Hiroshi Nagahama (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

November 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

In Japan, Hiroshi Nagahama is well-known for directing animated films such as “Mushishi”, “Detroit Metal City”, “The Flowers of Evil” and most recently for 2017, Nagahama directed “The Reflection”, which he co-created alongside with Stan Lee.

A hardcore comic book fan, Nagahama was a special guest at Sakura-Con in Seattle, Washington and J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon participated in the press Q&A with animator/director Hiroshi Nagahama.

Press: I want to start off by asking about Flowers of Evil. You chose to do that in rotoscope, and I’m wondering how you managed to convince the producers and sponsors to let you do that.
Nagahama-san: Well… I was first approached with the idea of doing Flowers of Evil, by a producer named Nakanishi from King Records. He told me that they were looking to do an animated version. So rather than me trying to find someone to let me do it, it was actually a project that was offered to me. And at first, I actually declined. I read all of the manga, and it was extremely interesting, but I initially didn’t think this was something that the fans would enjoy in an animated format, so I declined at first. After that, he said that he would try a few other people, and that was that. But I think it was about a week later, and he said he really wanted to meet with me again. So we met again, and he told me that he had thought about it, but really wanted me to do it. He was kind enough to say that if they were going to make a animated version of this, that I was the only person he could think of to work on it. He then asked me what would it take for me to agree to work on this project. What would I need to make this happen. And so I told him that there was a way. He asked me what it was, and so I told him that it was rotoscope. I would film actual people in real life and incorporate that into the animation. If I was allowed to do that, this might be a weird way of saying it, but I thought I could translate everything the original work was trying to get across in animated form. And that’s how we moved forward with the project. So from the beginning, it was decided we were going to do rotoscope. Then I thought about everything I need to do to make this happen. Because we planned it from the beginning, we were very lucky and we never had an instance where we were in the middle of production and realized we were overbudget or anything like that.

J!-ENT: You had come to Seattle and Sakura-con previously, but has there been anything different on this occasion?
Nagahama-san: Well, I think this is one of the best things about Sakura-con… but it never changes. It’s almost astonishing. Nothing has really changed. The staff, the atmosphere of the convention, all of the fans that attend… From my first Sakura-con in 2002, the only things that have changed are the actual scale of the event and the number of attendees. Otherwise, I believe that the staff is able to achieve the kind of event that they are trying to achieve, and I believe the event is as polished as they are trying to make it.

Japan-A-Radio: From the last time you were at Sakura-con and this time, what has changed for you personally in the anime industry?
Nagahama-san: Let’s see… the biggest change is the fact that my project with Stan Lee is finally starting to take shape. When I was here last, this project was still in the planning stages and was something similar to say mist floating in the air. But now it’s finally starting to take a distinct shape and showing itself.

Press: Speaking of Stan Lee, I hear that you are a huge fan of American comics. What do you find so appealing about American comics and superheroes?
Nagahama-san: First, I was drawn to the art. I’ve mentioned this at Sakura-con a number of times before, but when I was a child, I wasn’t a very big fan of the SD art style that was used in Japanese animation. But all the kids around me seemed to love CoroCoro Comic, which serialized series like Doraemon. It was a kids’ comic magazine that all of the kids were reading. And then as you get older, you usually started reading Shonen Jump or Shonen Sunday. This path seemed like it was laid out for us by adults, and everyone just automatically read them. But something about that bothered me. Like the art in Doraemon… or say Ishinomori Shotaro-san’s drawings… I really liked the stories and thought that they were interesting, but I couldn’t help but wonder why the art had to look the way it did. I always couldn’t help but wonder about that. But of course there were more dramatic and serious anime and manga that had a more realistic art style, but it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for. And that’s when I discovered the Spider-man comics. They were translated into Japanese by a gentleman named Kosei Ono, who had also released translations of other American comics at the time as well. When I read that, I instantly thought that the art looked cool. They properly drew details like the nostrils and lips. They drew eyelashes, and even the tear ducts in the eyes. And even then, the female characters still looked cute and pretty and the men looked handsome and cool. As a child who loved drawing, this became my guiding principle. The art was the first thing to leave an impression on me, but eventually, so did the writing. I was a child who read manga in a rather strange way, but it seemed that my way of reading seemed to fit how American comics were drawn and written. With Japanese manga, you read in a structured, chronological format. So it’d go, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And because of that, it’s expected that you buy volume one and start from there, or you wouldn’t be able to understand the story at all. But a lot of American comics continue for hundreds of issues, so most readers inevitably have to start with a random issue. They can’t always read from the part where Peter Parker gets bitten by the radioactive spider. There are some people who read from the part where Gwen Stacy is kidnapped, or some people whose first issue is when Doctor Octopus shows up. But when I was buying Japanese manga, I would always buy the ones with the cool-looking covers… ever since I was a child. And then if the story was actually interesting, I would start collecting from there and go back to volume one. And then I would actually understand the interactions and relationships between the characters and it was very interesting. I would wonder why two characters didn’t get along very well and then I’d find out they fought in volume one. That was all very interesting to me, and I thought that’s exactly how people read American comics. There’s a slightly difficult term in Japanese, “yotei chowa,” which means pre-established harmony. So things that have already been determined progress as they’re intended. You can predict what’s going to happen in the future. And for someone like me, who didn’t like doing everything that people expected, American comics were filled with unpredictability. So I just kept immersing myself into American comics. And the more I read, the more I found things that appealed to me, so I can endlessly talk about everything that interested me about American comics. And I’ll end this answer with the following statement, but there’s one other thing that I think is fascinating… I think it’s amazing and wonderful that a grandfather and grandchild can talk about and bond over the same character. It’s very rare for something like that to be able to happen in Japan. For example, there’s Sazae-san, and also Doraemon, and Chibi Maruko-chan. But all of these long-running Japanese manga series never have any dramatic changes happen. Sazae-san doesn’t get a divorce, Doraemon doesn’t stop functioning suddenly. There are dramatic things that happen in the series, but they’re usually resolved in an episode or two like Doraemon turning red. But nothing happens in the story that changes the course of the series forever. However, that happens in American comics and so the grandfather and grandchild can have conversations about it. The Angel from X-Men that the grandfather would probably know is the one with white angel wings. But the grandchild would probably go, “Wait, no. He has metallic wings and is called Archangel.” And then the grandfather can be shocked and ask his grandchild when Angel’s wings became metallic. I think it’s wonderful that a grandfather and grandchild can have conversations like this. It’s my hope that I’m able to make stories that are that compelling myself.

J!-ENT: This is going to be another question about American comics, but I was wondering if you’ve seen the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, Netflix series and what your thoughts on them that are.
Nagahama-san: Of course! I’ve seen all of them!
J!-ENT: Also, The Defenders is coming out soon so I was wondering about what you thought about that. And if there were any changes you could make to any of the series, what would it be?
Nagahama-san: My thoughts on these series… is that they are wonderful. I never thought I’d be able to experience something so wonderful while I was still alive. When Sam Raimi directed the Spider-man movie, I thought I could die happily. I was able to watch such a wonderful Spider-man movie while I was still alive. I was able to watch the real Spider-man on the big screen. But now, it’s just been one record-breaking experience after another for me. Like this series? Wait, Doctor Strange, too? I was like, there’s no way that people would watch a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with those ridiculous characters! It’s just been one pleasant surprise after another. And out of all of the heroes, Daredevil has always been one of my all-time favorite characters. Daredevil is very bloody. He has a lot of limits. He can’t fly, he can’t see, and has various other limitations. On top of that, he’s a lawyer. As someone has who has to deal with the law, his heart is also bound. He can’t do whatever he wants to all of the villains in court. I think it’s absolutely amazing that they were able to make an entertaining TV series about someone who is so limited and so human. It makes me very happy. In addition, the Guardians of the Galaxy that I knew was from a very long time ago where it was Yondu, the blue guy with the red mohawk, and some other weird characters that were not in the movie flying around the ends of Space, and it was extremely bizarre. The Guardians of the Galaxy now is completely different. In the comics, Yondu came from a different world. He happens upon this team of scoundrels and tells them that they can use the team name “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was the name his old team had used. So it was a completely different team. And I was still reading that slightly lamer version of the comic a long time ago. So when I heard that it was going to be made into a movie, I was very amused and couldn’t fathom how they were going to do it. And when I saw the movie and Yondu, I realized he was on the old team, and was very excited about the whole thing. As for the Netflix series, I like all of them so far. Luke Cage, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist are all great. But if I had the choice, there’d just be one thing I’d like to change… I’d like for them to show Daredevil’s nose. In the Netflix version, his mask sort of makes him look like Batman. His nose is guarded, and I think it’s great that his face is being protected… But no matter how I look at it, he sort of looks like a version of Batman where a lot of things are just smaller. His horns are smaller, and the point on his nose is smaller. If his face was showing a little more, it’d be absolutely perfect. And that’s why I absolutely love the design they used for Daredevil in the Daredevil movie with Ben Affleck, where it was all leather. I thought that the design for his costume used in that movie respected the original design of his costume from the comics to the utmost level.

Japan-A-Radio: With the upcoming release of The Reflection, are there any details that you can reveal currently? What can the fans look forward to?
Studio Deen rep: I can touch upon the broadcast details. I’m from Studio Deen, which is producing that anime. The Reflection will start broadcast in July of 2017 on NHK in Japan on Saturday at 11 PM. I believe that Crunchyroll has already announced it at this event, but they will also be simulcasting this title this title in the US and North America. I’m not sure of the exact time it’ll be available in the US, but I believe it’ll probably be around two hours after it has aired in Japan.
Nagahama-san: The Reflection… What can the fans look forward to and expect? Let’s see… I’m not sure what I can say. It’s an original story that I created with Stan Lee. Even if some of the characters may look familiar or if the premise may be something you might’ve heard of before, I still believe that it will feel like something completely different. This is slightly difficult to explain but… This time, we’re only using part of the whole story. The world of The Reflection is very vast. Just like Stan created the Marvel Universe, Stan and I sort of created our own Stan Lee universe, where we created various heroes and villains within this universe. It’s also set up where we can have various stories from this universe. So I want fans to watch the series and know this isn’t the last time they’re going to be seeing something from this universe. After this story, another story with this villain might start next. They barely touched upon that one hero, but I wonder why they were like that? Why were they dressed like that? Those might all get answered in the future. Just as I mentioned earlier, this is very close to how American comics are read. With The Reflection, I want people to think it was like they happened to grab issue 112 of The Reflection when they’re watching it. And starting from that volume, there’s going to be once incident that starts and comes to a conclusion within twelve issues. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to show the audience the continuing story, or a different part of the story later on. There’s one other thing that I think that the fans can look forward to, so I hope you’ll let me share that. There will be characters in this series that are pretty symbolic to this universe. The idol group 9nine, who sing the ending theme, will show up as superheroes in the show. I think it’ll be fun to see when they might actually show up in the series and what kind of costumes they’ll be wearing. They will actually be wearing costumes and fighting in the series. I was very careful about when and where to use them in the series. The concept behind their characters is the Japanese ideal for superheroes. They look like what Japanese people would think of when they think of what heroes look like. That’s what 9nine will look like in the show. As for the rest of the characters, they all look like they came out of American comics because I enjoy American comics so much. They were all designed with that in mind and while discussing how they should look with Stan. With 9nine, I didn’t really talk to Stan about them. Since they’re Japanese characters, he told me that I could do whatever I’d like with them, and let me bring up the concept behind them. So I think that they can give a special perspective within The Reflection. As for the art style of The Reflection, it’s made to look more like American comics.

Press: You have done a lot of work with the director Akitaro Daichi. What did you learn from him and does he mean to you?
Nagahama-san: Mr. Daichi was someone I had met after being in this business for a while. So instead of him teaching me various things, I’d say that he validified things for me. He would tell me that my way of doing things was fine. If I ever had any doubts about what I was doing, he was the person to tell me that I was fine with how I was doing things. He would give me courage. Also, rather than using words, he would physically show me. He’s always been very supportive of me and is very important to me because of how he’s helped me to develop. Just to add on one last thing, Mr. Daichi said something to me that I will never forget. He told me that there’s really nothing holding me back. If I feel like I should do something, then I should do it because I can do anything. He told me that I was the only person putting restrictions on myself, so if I free myself of them, I can do whatever I want… That there’s nothing that I’m not allowed to do. I think those words still affect me greatly.

Interpreter: There’s actually one question I’d like to ask really quickly if I may. So in American comics, they quite often retcon things that happen. What do you think about that? In Japanese comics, once something happens, it doesn’t really ever get retconned. In a way, this is a freedom that only exists in American comics.
Nagahama-san: That actually might be one of the reason that I don’t really like DC superheroes as much. That happened a lot to DC superheroes ever since I can remember. Superman couldn’t fly at first, and Krypton kept changing over and over. Because of all of the changes, I didn’t know what was true or not anymore in those comics. But in the Marvel Universe that Stan created, there wasn’t as much wavering. The settings for Spider-man haven’t changed much at all from the beginning. And recently, they finally did start changing some things and some characters did come back from the dead. But for decades, they actually stayed dead and there wasn’t much wavering overall. My favorite era of Marvel comics is the Silver Age, where when something happened, it didn’t get retconned. For example, the Green Goblin was dead for a long time before he was finally brought back. I actually liked that era when something happened, it didn’t get retconned. So when asked if I can relate to doing retcons, to be honest, I can’t. But these things really never happened with the characters that I really liked. I definitely have no plans on doing something like that in The Reflection. If I was going to do something like that though, I’d like to do something like Age of Apocalypse where the whole world gets flipped around. Age of Apocalypse was an absolutely amazing crossover. So unless it’s something that drastic, I don’t think I’ll ever do it.

Final thoughts: Final thoughts?
Nagahama-san: From me? I can’t help but feel like I might’ve talked a bit too much about the American comics that I love so much, but I’m very thankful that all of you were here to listen and that I’m in this situation where I can talk about all of this. I feel blessed that I was able to come back to Sakura-con again, and that I was able to walk through the streets of Seattle again. This is definitely a unique experience, and I feel very special to be a part of it. So when I get back to Japan, I know I have to go back to work on The Reflection. And when I think about that, there’s a part of me that can’t help but feel like I want to stay in Seattle a little longer.


Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

August 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Q&A with Kenichi Sonoda (by Michelle Tymon, Dennis A. Amith and Photos by Rhiannan Smith)

When it comes to world renown artists and animators, one man who received international attention before anime would become part of international pop culture was Kenichi Sonoda.

Working for the anime studio Artmic back in the ’80s, Sonoda worked on an anime series called “Bubblegum Crisis” and his character designs for the anime series was a hit among sci-fi animation fans.

Sonoda would go on to work on the anime series “Gall Force”, the OVA’s “Bubblegum Crash”, “Otaku no Video”, “Riding Bean”, “Solty Rei” to name a few.  But he would go on to create his next hit, the manga series “Gunsmith Cats”.

While Sonoda may not have a long string of series listed in his oeuvre, because of “Bubblegum Crisis” and “Gunsmith Cats” and those two being one of the most popular early anime series to come to the United States, Sonoda has earned the respect of anime fans and is continually invited to the United States frequently to appear at anime conventions.

Kenichi Sonoda recently was a special guest at Sakura Con 2017 in Seattle, Washington and J!-ENT recently took part in a Q&A.

The following is a transcript of the Q&A featuring our questions and other questions from press with Kenichi Sonoda’s answers.

Interviewer: Is this your first time here?

Sonoda: Sakura-con is my first. This is my second time in Seattle. Last time, I was here for Emerald City Comic Con a few years back.

J!-ENT: Did you get to do any sightseeing yet, if not, where would you like to go?

Sonoda: Yes, I did. I got to go to Nintendo. I also got to go to Crab Pot for some seafood. The food there was very interesting. They basically dumped a bunch of steamed crabs, clams and other seafood in front of you and give you a hammer and a couple other tools. It was very entertaining.

Interviewer: It’s very messy. They give you handwipes and a bib and it’s kind of embarrassing.

Sonoda: I was prepared because I put the paper bib on and I had a roll of paper towels.

Interviewer: How do you feel about how anime and manga is received in the US? Is there anything noticeable about the American market.

Sonoda: About America accepting manga… I’ve always had this admiration toward the US, and I grew up watching American movies and dramas. So that’s why I had Gunsmith Cats and Riding Bean set in the US. I even set the stories in Chicago because I was influenced by The Blues Brothers. So I am very grateful that the American fans have been so accepting of my work.

As for the answer to the second question, Japanese fans are very quiet overall. American fans are very lively and will approach you to talk and enjoy cosplaying. I think they’re very positive and they’re much more energetic than the Japanese fans, and I think that’s great.

J!-ENT: This is a similar question, but you were one of the very first guests invited to an event in the US. What is the biggest difference between the American fandom then and now?

Sonoda: Fundamentally there aren’t many differences but they’ve gotten smarter with promoting the events, and with how they’re run, and I think that’s great.

Interviewer: Are there any manga and anime series that you’re reading or watching right now?

Sonoda: I like to enjoy reading manga and watching anime quite regularly. But let’s see… Out of the recent anime series that have aired, I really enjoyed “Kemono Friends”. I have a lot of friends who are in doujin circles and at least 75% of them are obsessed with “Kemono Friends”, and we’re talking about men in their 40s and 50s.

Interviewer: It’s a very cute series, and everyone likes cute stuff.

Sonoda: The hype peaked in last two episodes, episodes 11 and 12. I was surprised at what happened myself.

J!-ENT: How did you get into this industry?

Sonoda: Right around the time I was sixteen or so, I started doujin work. And doujin work back then isn’t like the doujin circles who do derivative fan works that we have now.

It was more like a manga school, where everyone was determined to become manga artists. And I was the chairman for this group and got other people to join. After I graduated high school, I continued working on manga in hopes of becoming a manga artist while I went to design school.

One day, I was contacted by someone who worked at Artmic in Tokyo, who had seen one of my doujins. I was told they had a project called Gall Force and asked me if I had any interest in being the character designer.

Gall Force at the time was a 3D photo novel that appeared in a magazine called Model Graphix. They took models of girls that I designed and models of mechas that Kakinuma had designed, took photos of them, and made a story out of it.

At that point, there was no talk about making it into an anime. But not even six months later, I was told that they were going to be making a theatrical anime version, so I realized I was going to have a lot more work to do. Also, at the same time, a company called GAINAX also asked me to help out with some character design work.

So, I thought that since I now have at least two projects in Tokyo, I could move out to Tokyo and make a living over there without having to worry too much. So that was when I moved to Tokyo from Osaka, and I believe I was about 21 at the time.

My first job with GAINAX lasted about a year, and I worked at Artmic as an actual employee and did design work. At Artmic, I was working on the Gall Force series and the Bubblegum Crisis series.

Later on, I was told that if I had come up with a proposal, that it would probably go through. So I came up with a proposal without a script or original story and I went right to just storyboarding and animating it. That project was actually the anime, Riding Bean.

Work wise, things were going pretty well at Artmic, but because I was just an office worker there, my earnings didn’t really grow.

Even if something I created was a hit, I didn’t own the copyright. That was when I figured I should probably go back to my original goal of becoming a manga artist. I went to Kodansha to talk to them about a project and managed to land a deal on a serialized series.

That’s when I became a true manga artist and I quit my job at Artmic. I think I was about 26 or 27 when I started my serial with Kodansha, and my first serialized series, Gunsmith Cats became a hit. Because of that, I was able to become a successful manga artist.

Interviewer: When I was younger, I would watch Gall Force and Bubblegum Crisis on television and they were my favorites. I loved both series, because I hadn’t seen anything like them before. It was actually hard to find anime and manga in the early 90s when I first started watching. But now, anime is so popular and I wonder if you had any thoughts on how anime has transitioned to mainstream.

Sonoda: I’m very happy about Japanese manga and anime being so popular in the US and the world, but I do believe that this is mostly because of the stories being good so if we don’t keep up working hard, the interest in the genre could die down. So I think I need to keep working hard.

J!-Ent: How do you feel about your works like Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force being loved so much after so many years?

Sonoda: I’m very happy about it. But since Artmic sort of went downhill, so that was regrettable. This doesn’t just apply to Artmic, but with the anime industry, if a series does well, you aren’t guaranteed to be provided with a high budget for the next series. Actually, the opposite would happen. They would say that we were able to make a hit, so we should actually be able to make another one with an even lower budget. That wasn’t the case with all the Artmic series, but I feel like if they spent more on the works, I think they would have done much better and been more popular longer.

Interviewer: Lately, there’s been a movement to make revival series, meaning companies are taking something from my generation or even older and bringing it back. Would you be interested in doing a new series for Gall Force or Bubblegum Crisis?

Sonoda: Yes, I would be interested. But there have been talks about doing digital remasters of older series for Blu-ray releases lately. There will soon be a digital remaster version of Riding Bean for the US and I did audio commentary for that. I also designed new cover art for that release.

Interviewer: Do you know the release date for that?

Sonoda: I personally haven’t seen the release schedule, so please check out the AnimEigo website for release information. Also, recently there have been talks about doing another anime of Gunsmith Cats, but I’m not sure what will happen with that yet.

 J!-Ent: Do you have any advice on how to get into the anime industry?

Sonoda: Not really. The only thing that I can say for anyone interested in joining this industry is to draw a lot.

Interviewer: Speaking of drawing, I wanted to know if you have more fun drawing mecha or if you have more fun drawing pretty girls.

Sonoda: Actually, I like drawing the atmosphere of the world of the story more than either of those choices. I’ll draw anything that is needed for that. I’m very good at drawing both pretty girls and mechas so if that enhances the series and makes it popular, that’s great. Recently, there are a lot of series that use pretty girls and mechas… and serious-looking mechas at that, and do it quite normally. I’m getting a bit nervous that my personal weapons that I thought won’t be effective anymore. Thirty years ago, there weren’t very many series that were filled with pretty girls and mechas. So I was able to use my weapons of being able to draw pretty girls and mechas.

J!-ENT: What was the first anime or manga that you latched onto?

Sonoda: The first manga works that I got into are the works of Fujio Akatsuka, Osamu Tezuka and Fujiko Fujio. There weren’t as many anime back then, so I was basically watching everything that was available. I can’t remember if I was in kindergarten or elementary school, but I cried so hard watching the final episode of Tatsunoko Pro’s Hakushon Daimaoh. I’ve also always liked American cartoons. Wacky Races, Tom and Jerry, and there was some cartoon where a Frankenstein-looking character appeared, but I liked that, too. There was also the cartoon for King Kong, too. But what I was most obsessed with wasn’t actually manga or anime, but a couple sci-fi dramas. They were the British dramas Thunderbirds Are Go and UFO created by ITV. I think the reason I started drawing so much mecha was because of Thunderbirds Are Go.

Interviewer: Would you have any interested in drawing a Thunderbirds Are Go manga?

Sonoda: No, because they are treasured memories and I want to keep them as such.

Interviewer: Are there any current American properties that you’re interested in?

Sonoda: There aren’t many American dramas that are on basic cable in Japan right now. They’re all on BS and CS, so I haven’t seen very many, but I think 24 from a little while back was really good. Also, I was quite disappointed with the newer Knight Rider series.

J!-ENT: You had mentioned that you liked America, but are there any places in America that you haven’t visited yet that you would like to?

Sonoda: So far, I’ve been only been to Chicago, Seattle, and San Jose. So there are plenty of places that I haven’t been to that I’d like to visit. I’d actually also like to go to NASA once.

Interviewer: You mentioned that a lot of your work is influenced by America and also takes place in America, but is there a reason that America influences you so much?

Sonoda: I like gun action and car action, so I watched a lot of movies and dramas with that and was influenced by them. Also, if when I draw manga, if America isn’t the setting for the story, I don’t think I could draw very many scenes where people are shooting guns. Guns are accessible in America. If the stories were set in Japan, I can’t easily logically justify the use of guns.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, it’s more believable for there to be gun fights and car chases in America.

Sonoda: In any case, I really love Dirty Harry.

Interviewer: Yeah, Clint Eastwood is really great.

J!-ENT: What are your hobbies outside of drawing and work?

Sonoda: Watching movies, making plastic models, and going out to drink with my friends. There are times that my friends invite me out to the movies, even though I don’t usually go to the movie theater. However, when my friends actually invite me out to the movies, I’ll go see any kind of movie. The movies that I went to see last year include Shin Godzilla, Girls und Panzer, and Don’t Breathe. They’re all completely different genres.

Interviewer: What were your thoughts on the new Godzilla movie?

Sonoda: I actually enjoyed the dull, first half of the movie more. During the climax scene in the later half of the movie, I thought the presentation wasn’t that great. It’s the scene where the train runs into Godzilla and explodes… But if Godzilla was standing in the way where a train as headed, you’d think that the tracks and cables would have already been trampled on, and the train shouldn’t have been running. I think it would’ve worked better if they did something like Operation Yashima in Neon Genesis Evangelion, because there’s a locomotive pulling the train, rather than the train running electrically.

Interpreter: I’m sorry, I have a slightly personal question in regards to movies, but have you seen the movie, John Wick, where Keanu Reeves plays a retired assassin?

Sonoda: Sorry, I haven’t seen it yet.

Interpreter: Honestly, considering your interests, I think it’d be a perfect movie for you, so I wanted to know your thoughts on it.

Sonoda: I see. I’ll try to rent it in the near future then. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, I think I heard a rumor a while back that they were to make a live-action Cowboy Bebop movie with Keanu Reeves, but that just never came to be, right?

Interviewer: We’ve actually had a couple live action adaptation movies of anime that haven’t gone very well. The Netflix live action Death Note movie is coming out and it’s already pretty unpopular, Ghost in the Shell didn’t do well, and Akira actually just got greenlit to be remade. American audiences haven’t been responding to them very well, it seems. I don’t know if I’d want a live action Cowboy Bebop because I love the anime so much.

Sonoda: There was also the live-action Dragon Ball. Also, speaking of Akira, that’s set in Tokyo… So are they going to change the setting to New York?

Interviewer: I heard that they were thinking about setting it in New York.

Sonoda: Also speaking of Akira, did the fact that one of the signs from the movie ended up correctly predicting the future become a popular story? In Akira, they mention that the 2020 Olympics are going to take place in Tokyo. The beginning of the story is the fact that the Olympics are going to happen the next year. Akira takes place in the year 2019.

J!-ENT: Since we’re talking about live action adaptations… In Japan, I think there’s a desire to see anime being made into live action adaptations. Whereas in the US, I don’t think there’s as much of a desire to see them. For example, there was already a lot of criticism over them casting a Caucasian actress to play Motoko in the Ghost in the Shell movie before the movie even came out. So I think that the way these adaptations are viewed are quite different in Japan and the US. In the US, as we had mentioned earlier, series like Cowboy Bebop is very sacred in the hearts of a lot of viewers here and they don’t want to see it as a live action adaptation.

Sonoda: For me, I actually have no problem with the casting of Scarlett Johansson as Motoko in the live action Ghost in the Shell. However, I felt that it was rather awkward that Aramaki was being playing by Takeshi Kitano. He looks nothing like him and he doesn’t talk in the same sharp manner… I thought that was a much bigger problem that I was hoping they’d do something about. Chief Aramaki in Masamune Shirow’s original Ghost in the Shell was actually modeled after a character from the British police drama, The Professionals. Are you able to search on the internet right now? If you search for CI5, The Professionals… I forgot the name of the actor, but he’s the chief in that show. His hair is rather thin, but his face has a very sharp look to it. He’s a very cool looking character. If you can find any pictures from the series, you should be able to find a picture of two younger male agents and a slightly older gentleman who played their boss. I’m pretty sure that Masamune Shirow has mentioned this in other interviews before, but he really likes British police and military dramas and movies. He apparently really liked The Professionals and was highly influenced by it. Also, the same actor who plays the chief in The Professionals plays the lead in a movie called The Final Option. If I remember correctly, Masamune Shirow really liked that movie, as well.

Interviewer: One final question. The genre of anime seems to have changed greatly from the early 90s and 80s. Back then, you had Ghost in the Shell, Mobile Police Patlabor, and Akira, which are all rather serious works. Nowadays, the anime series that seem to be popular are about high schools, and the moe culture. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about these changes and if you noticed and trends and changes yourself.

Sonoda: I think there are still some rather serious and good series out there even now. It’s just that there are indeed a lot more moe genre series now as well. So I personally don’t think there’s anything to worry about. Even with the moe genre series or series that use pretty girls to try to catch the audience, a lot of them have a very solid story at their core and are made quite well. So basically they’re just sugarcoated with the pretty girls or moe, but beneath that surface, there is a great foundation. So if you look for them carefully, you should be able to find those more serious anime series that you were speaking of. For example, Kyoto Animation is known for using a lot of beautiful girls in their series, but they make very serious and excellent series.

Adding onto the last question, with the change of genre, the art style from the 80s and 90s and the art style now has changed. Do you think the art style will ever go back to the way it was in the 80s and 90s?

Sonoda: There are a lot more series that use a lot of CG now as well as computer-aided drawings. This aspect also makes it a lot easier to additional details into scenes. But what’s most important is the direction and the story. So I’m not sure if the key animation is indeed the most important aspect or not. Of course, there are works like the works by Makoto Shinkai where what you’re looking at is also very important. But then there are also series like Kemono Friends which I mentioned earlier. The visuals on that show are extremely cheap looking, but the actual story is extremely well made. It actually became rather popular on the internet. As long as the creators know exactly what they should be presenting, even if their budget is not very high, I don’t think they need to worry too much about what’s visually being presented.

Follow Kenichi Sonoda on Twitter

“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 





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.





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.





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 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.





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.





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.






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 



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:


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.



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.



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 




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”:


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.


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 


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.


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.



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

Next Page »