Along with Sutoraiku Anime, Japanaradio, Lightningsabre, KaionIrui and Sankaku Complex, I was invited to an exclusive private-room interview with creator/writer of Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica; writer of Fate/Zero Urobuchi Gen, along with Aniplex producer Iwakami Atsuhiro and light novel publisher Ota Katsushi at Sakura-Con 2012. Due to the privacy of the interview, no photos or videos were allowed (plus Gen is pretty shy!).
Urobuchi-san knew a few English words, but a translator was there for the whole of the interview. Urobuchi-san, Iwakami-san, and Ota-san were all very polite, and well spoken. Through much of the interview, they were definitely very careful in their choice of words, at the same time, very heartfelt and sincere. Direct questions were given direct answers, while some more open-ended questions were answered with a great deal of thought. It was decided for fairness that each person was allowed to ask one question at a time in a round-table manner. (please note that this is not a word-for-word transcript. It has been edited for clarity. A few questions have been edited out due to irrelevance.)
KaionIrui: How do you feel about cons here in North America compared to the cons you’ve attended in Japan?
Urobuchi: It’s actually my first time attending a convention in North America, and there is one fundamental difference that I noticed… I have a question to ask everyone in reverse: Do American otaku not feel the need to be completely open about their hobbies? Something they can embrace and be fully proud of?
(a moment of pause as everyone nods and thinks)
RadiantDreamer: I would say both yes and no. Many of us feel that being an Otaku isn’t something to be proud of. Our society and our interests show that Anime is still very niche, and isn’t widely accepted. However, among the otaku communities, there are many who do love to share with each other their interests and passion. Perhaps just not outside of that community.
SankakuComplex: In addition, most of North American society sees anime as cartoons, and cartoons are meant for kids, not adults. This clear divide makes it difficult for otaku to be accepted in society, and to be forthcoming about their hobby.
Urobuchi: That brings me to my point: Most Japanese otaku have some degree of self-loathing, which leads to the loathing of other otaku. Therefore, when Japanese otaku congregate, they don’t necessarily like each other, or treat each other very well. I feel that kind of self-loathing doesn’t exist at Sakura-Con, and is one of the biggest differences between Japanese otaku and Sakura-Con otaku.
To me, it’s very rare to see an otaku convention in Japan where all the attendees share such camaraderie.
… also, I have yet to smell any body odor among the fans here. It seems everyone bathes!
Ota: At NatsuComi, there are lots of concentrations of people in a single place. They do call Fuyucomi “a battlefield in Japan”, but Sakura-Condoesn’t smell like a battlefield. There is a lot of courtesy shown towards one another.
Iwakami: I’ve attended Anime Boston and a few other conventions. American fans are more positive and forthcoming. You can notice it at the Sakura-Con Fate/Zero screening yesterday. The positive audience reaction we heard from the battle between Archer and Berserker is not the kind of audience reaction you can expect to get in a Japan screening.
… however, the Japanese audience is just as expressive when it’s broadcasted on Nico Nico Douga, so they are able to express themselves while in front of a keyboard, just not physically.
Ota: I’ve attended the New York Comic Con, and the greater difference that I noticed besides the comparison of Japan and US otaku, was the difference between West Coast and East Coast fans. I feel that West Coast fans are much more expressive.
Japanaradio: When you’re working on a particular story, in your respective positions, what exactly are you looking for in terms of content, or genre, or even marketability, or ratings or sales, what exactly are you looking for when you’re working on a particular story?
Urobuchi: The most important thing that I keep in mind and is my prerogative is that I have fun making my work. If I am not having fun working on it, the viewers can tell. That’s not something I’m willing to allow my product to have.
Ota: My job as an editor is to work closely with the writer. Having fun working with the writer is a high priority for me, and hopefully that leads to good sales… but that would be a separate question. When it comes to ratings, if it’s maturity ratings you are referring to, that’s not something that’s fully implemented in Japan, so it’s perhaps not as focused on… maybe that is a difference between the Japanese and American market. Although if you mean TV viewer ratings, that too isn’t as important either, as the profitability potential of most shows comes in the sales of DVDs.
Iwakami: As a producer, my main focus is about making an entertaining product; I have to think about the business aspect, but if the show isn’t entertaining, it won’t sell well.
LightningSabre: There’s a lot of merchandising with Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica; for example, there’s new Saber doll coming out in September. I’m just curious what your opinion is on merchandising?
Urobuchi: Merchandising isn’t something that I really need to pay attention to, because if you look at the purest form of magical girl shows or Ultraman or Kamen Rider, these are shows created with merchandising in mind. For these shows, the Intellectual Property is created first, and a show is built around the IP to sell the merchandise. The creative endeavors that I’ve worked on in the past are complete opposite to that, so I’ve never had to write with merchandising in mind. But if I ever were, then I would adapt to that creative process accordingly.
As an example, Madoka Magica was also not created with merchandising in mind. If merchandising was a priority, the toys would need to be selling in the first week of broadcast, so it would be impossible for Madoka to not be transforming in the very first episode.
Iwakami: Madoka Magica isn’t the kind of show where merchandising was first priority, but within the confines of otaku culture, Madoka merchandise has been very successful. Those items would be the Kyubey dolls that the otaku culture warmly embraces. However, we never planned on these items, these were all licensees who saw merchandising potential and contacted us to license. No target market merchandise was designed prior to production of the show.
RadiantDreamer: What was your most memorable moments while producing Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero?
Urobuchi (thinks deeply): Hmmmm… well… there are too many moments to choose, but for Madoka Magica, it would be when I was anticipating the reaction to the broadcast of episode three. I was sitting upright in front of the TV, and it felt like I was waiting for the doctor’s diagnosis!
For the Fate/Zero anime, when I attended the screening of episode one, I was very impressed with the density of the content. I knew that this was the same team responsible for Garden of Sinners, so I had high expectations. They exceeded my expectations, which was wonderful.
Ota: For the Fate/Zero… the Non-Disclosure has probably expired now, so I suppose I can talk about the doujinshi… I was very excited when I heard Nasu and Urobuchi were going to do Fate/Zero. However, it was initially a doujinshi, so it wasn’t something I was allowed to openly help with since it was a non-professional job. I wasn’t impressed with their editorial design, so being able to secretly help them without letting my employer know was a memorable moment.
Also, for the anime version, I wasn’t involved initially. I joined partway through production, which was something I was anxious about. In the end, I was very happy when the others invited me to join production.
Iwakami: I’m very surprised that my moments of anticipation were exactly the same as Urobuchi – episode three of Madoka Magica and episode one of Fate/Zero.
Episode three of Madoka Magica was broadcasted first in Osaka before Tokyo. Director Shingo and I were out having dinner while it happened, and when we looked at the internet reactions the following day, it was as if the world had changed completely. We anticipated that there would be very polar reactions to the episode, but we were impressed that a lot of viewers were thrilled by episode three.
Episode one of Fate/Zero was a big challenge because it was an hour-long episode, that also didn’t have a single battle scene in it. That was the result of all the efforts of director Aoki. These two episodes from Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero were very big challenges, and all these challenges were rewarded.
SutoraikuAnime: There are several different music artists featured in the opening and ending sequences of Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica. As producers and screenplay writers, how closely do you work with the musical artists such as Kalafina, LiSa, and ClariS?
Iwakami: As producer, it is my job to select the artists and the songs. When a song is written, I take it to the director and Urobuchi to ask for feedback.
Also, it was Urobuchi who specifically requested Kawajiura Yuki as the composer. He expected it to be a long shot, but since she had worked with us for Garden of Sinners, it was something we pursued and made possible.
In regards to song selection, ClariS, Kalafina, and LiSa are all Sony Music Group artists. So we went through the large pool of artists that Sony Music Group has, and work with them.
When it comes to tie-ups, we started with existing songs for the opening and closing sequences. As the shows increase in popularity, original songs are written that would better fit the story and original novel, creating a better match between the songs and the shows.
KaionIrui: During the Madoka Magica panel yesterday, Iwakami polled the audience asking how many have seen all thirteen episodes of Madoka Magica. Just about everyone in the audience raised their hand. As you know, Madoka Magica is not released in America yet, nor is it released on Crunchy Roll. This means that the only reason all these audience members saw all thirteen episodes is because of fan subs. This leads me to my question – how do you feel about fan subbing in general?
Iwakami: In the context of Intellectual Property, that is not something we can fully appreciate. On a personal level, I can appreciate the enthusiasm the fans have shown through this dedicated work and effort to see the episodes right after they’ve been broadcast in Japan. But I most certainly wish that everything could be watched through legitimate methods.
Urobuchi: I almost wish there was a magical way to generate revenue without relying on the IP mechanism.
Ota: The population of Japan is about 100 million. The unfortunate thing is that this is enough of a market to sustain the endeavors of most creative people there. Because of this, overseas targeting is not on the minds of producers and creators. That’s probably the mentality that needs to change, because we’ve come here to Sakura-Con, and the fans here have shown there is a demand for what we make in Japan. If there is a demand for it, then there needs to be a service to meet that demand, and that may be the best way to resolve the IP dilemma.
Iwakami: In the context of trying to come up with legitimate ways to watch, Fate/Zero had a worldwide simultaneous release on Nico Nico Douga, and I think that is the first step of what we can do. I’m sure some friends have watched it through fan sub means rather than Nico Nico, but it is a start.
Actually, I would like to return a question – Are there any shortcomings of Nico Nico Douga that impedes North American fans from watching it, or if there are ways that would enhance the viewing experience?
SankakuComplex: For some, it’s a matter of convenience in terms of a simulcast. Some may enjoy watching an episode once a week, but some may want to watch all episodes in one sitting. In addition, the average North American’s internet connection speed is not on par with the internet speeds in Japan, which makes streaming videos difficult or frustrating.
Urobuchi (jokingly): I thought Bill Gates had established the fastest broadband network!
KaionIrui: From the last question that was asked – would it perhaps be possible to implement a feature on Nico Nico to purchase a digital copy perhaps at a reduced price relative to the physical Blu-Ray or DVD release, as a lot of consumption for game and music have now gone digital, similar to Netflix or iTunes.
Ota: Let’s wait for Iwakami-san’s promotion for when he starts the Aniplex Channel. I’m joking, of course.
Everyone: Thank you Urobuchi-san, Ota-san, and Iwakami-san for your time, this concludes our interview.
Urobuchi, Ota, Iwakami: Thank you for attending.
So that was the interview. What questions would you have liked answered? What do you think of their responses? Post your comments!