Roundtable Interview with Gen Urobuchi, Atsuhiro Iwakami and Katsushi Ota
Our very own Roger Lee was on the scene in Seattle last weekend at Sakura-Con 2012 for an exclusive roundtable interview with Nitroplus screenwriter Gen Urobuchi, producer Atsuhiro Iwakami and light novel publisher Katushi Ota. Given in a traditional round-robin interview format, we were joined by representatives from other press groups including SUTORAIKUanime, Radiant Dreamer, Within a Flash of Lightning, Japan-A-Radio, and Sankaku Complex.
Here's what we found out:
Question: How do you feel about cons here in North America, say, to the cons you've probably attended in Japan?
Urobuchi : I feel there is a fundamental difference, and this is my first time at an American convention. I have a question in reverse to everyone; do American otaku not feel the need to be completely forthcoming about their hobbies, something that they can't be fully proud of? And so, that leads to this. Most Japanese otaku have some degree of self-loathing, and that leads to loathing of similar kin. So when Japanese otaku get together, they don't necessarily like each other, they don't treat each other necessarily that well. And that's the kind of self-loathing that I feel does not exist at Sakura-Con and I feel this is one of the biggest differences between Japanese otaku and Sakura-Con here. I think it is very rare to see an otaku convention in Japan where all the attendees are so friendly towards each other. I have yet to smell fans here. It seems like everyone bathes.
Ota : If you go to NatsuComi, there are lots of concentrations of people in one place. They do call Fuyucomi a battlefield in Japan, but it does not smell like a battlefield [at Sakura-Con]. There is a lot of courtesy shown towards one other.
Iwakami: I've been to Anime Boston, so I've been to a few other conventions. American fans are more positive and forthcoming and you can see it at the Fate/zero screening yesterday [at Sakura-Con]. The audience reaction we get between the battle of Archer and Berserker, that's not the kind of audience reaction you can get in Japan. The Japanese audience is just as forthcoming when it is on Nico Nico Douga, so they're okay when they have a keyboard in front of them, just not physically.
Ota : I've been to the New York Comic-Con and one thing I felt that was more, rather than Japanese and the US, was the difference between west coast and east coast fans. I think west coast fans are much more open.
Question: 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 : One fundamental thing that I keep in mind and the priority that I have is that I have to have fun making my work because if I'm not having fun working on it, I think it's something that the customer can tell, so that's not something that I'm willing to allow in my product to have.
Ota : As editor, what I do is to work with the writer, and having fun working with the writer is one of the priorities for me, and hopefully that will lead to something with good sales, but that's a separate question. And when it comes to ratings, if you mean by that maturity ratings, that's not something that's fully implemented in Japan, so perhaps that's not a top priority. Perhaps that's a difference between Japan and the American market. Although if you mean ratings by numbers, the consequence of most shows comes in the sales of DVDs, so viewer ratings aren't exactly top priority either.
Iwakami : And for me, it's all about making an entertaining product, because as producer I do have to think about business, but if the show is not entertaining it will not sell.
Question: You mentioned in your Fate/zero radio show, that your most ideal character would most likely survive your stories. What is your ideal character, or is there any character that you've written that is close to it?
Urobuchi : In the context of Fate/zero, there are four characters, Saber, Kiritsugu, Gilgamesh, and Kotomine Kirei who survives to the end and continue on to Fate/stay night, but Kiritsugu shows up in Stay Night in name only and does not have much of a role there, so it's really Saber and Kirei who are pillar in Fate/zero. But Saber's role is much bigger in Fate/stay night. The character that has the most presence in Fate/zero would be Kotomine, so it's Kirei that's the pillar in Fate/zero.
Question: Just to clarify in the last question, you said that only four survived, but I recall that Waver survives as well?
Urobuchi: Waver does survive, but he does not show up in Stay Night. So when you consider characters that are consistent throughout Fate/zero and Fate/stay night, Waver is not counted.
Question: There's a lot of merchandising with Fate/zero and Madoka Magica, for example, there's a new Saber doll coming out in September. I'm just curious about what your opinion is on merchandising?
Urobuchi : Merchandising is not something that I've been conscious of, because if you look at the most orthodox form of magical girls show or Ultraman or Kamen Rider, these are merchandise centric shows. You come up with the merchandise first and you build a show around it to sell the merchandise. The creative endeavors that I've worked in have been the polar opposites of that; I've never had to think that way. But if I ever were, then I would adapt to the creative process. For example, if merchandising were a priority for the show, the toys need to be selling in the first week of broadcast, so it would be impossible for Madoka not to be transforming in the very first episode.
Iwakami: As for Madoka Magica, it's not the kind of show where we design the toys first and take it to Toys'R'Us and have it sold, but within the confines of otaku culture, Madoka merchandise have been very successful, and those would be like Kyubey dolls that the otaku culture very strongly embraces. But none of these were prepared items, these were all licensees who loved the characters as merchandise potential and came to us asking us to license that so there was nothing that was prepared before the production of the show as targeted merchandise to go onto the market.
Question: What would be your most memorable moments while producing Madoka Magica or Fate/zero?
Urobuchi : There are too many moments to say, but for Madoka Magica, that would be anticipating the reaction to the broadcast of episode three, I was just sitting upright in front of the TV and it was like waiting for what the doctor would tell me about my diagnosis. Specifically for the Fate/zero anime, when I went to see the screening of episode one, I was very impressed with the density of the content; I knew this was made by the same staff as Garden of Sinners, so there was much to be expected, but they exceeded a whole lot of my expectations and that was very great.
Ota : For Fate/zero the statute of limitation is probably transpired so I can probably talk about doujinshi. I was very excited to hear that Nasu and Urobuchi were going to do Fate/zero, but initially this was a doujinshi so it's nothing I could openly help with, since it's a non-professional job, so I wasn't fully impressed with their editorial design, so I was actually able to secretly help them with that without letting my employer know. That's one memorable moment. Also for the anime version, I wasn't involved in it from the very beginning. I joined production midway, so that was something I was anxious about, so I was very happy when the others invited me to join production.
Iwakami : I'm very surprised that my moments of anticipation were very much the exact same as Urobuchi, episode three of Madoka and episode one of Fate/zero. The third episode of Madoka was broadcast first in Osaka before Tokyo got that. Director Shingo and I were out to dinner while that was being broadcast, and we looked at the internet reaction the next day; it was as though the world had completely changed. We were anticipating that there might be a lot of split reaction 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 a one hour episode, and also because it was an episode without a single battle in it. That was all the result of the efforts that director Aoki put in. And so, episode three of Madoka was a big challenge, and episode one of Fate/zero was a big challenge, and all these challenges were rewarded.
Question: In regards to your respective anime shows, Madoka and Fate/zero, there are several different music artists that are featured for the opening and ending sequences. How closely as producers and screenplay writers do you work with the musical artists such as Kalafina, LiSa and ClariS? Is there a selection process in which individual artists are selected? How do you choose and how closely do you work with these artists?
Iwakami : As producer, it's my job to select artists and the song, so when the song is written I take it to the director and Urobuchi and show them and ask for their input. It was Urobuchi's specific request that he wanted to have Kawajiura Yuki as the composer, and he considered that a long shot, but since we already had worked with her for Garden of Sinners, it's something we went about and made possible. When it comes to song selection, ClariS, Kalafina, LiSa are all Sony music group artists, so we go to the large pool of artists that Sony Music Group has and work with them. When it comes to tie-ups, there used to be instances where existing songs were used for opening and closing, but as the shows become more popular, original songs are written that would synchronize better to the story and the original novel, so there's a better match between the songs and the shows.
Question: During the Madoka panel, you guys asked the audience, how many of you have seen all thirteen episodes of Madoka, and just about everyone in the audience including myself raised my hand. You know that it's not released in America yet, nor is it released on Crunchyroll. Which basically means that the only reason all these people saw all thirteen episodes is because of fansubs. How do you feel about fansubbing in general?
Iwakami : In the context of IP, that's not something we can fully appreciate, but what I can appreciate is the enthusiasm as fans for the love and work that's shown, if there's effort to see that right after broadcast in Japan. But I certainly wish everything could be watched through legitimate means.
Urobuchi : I almost wish there was a magical way to make revenue without relying on the IP mechanism.
Ota: The Japanese population is approximately 100 million, and the unfortunate thing is that this is enough of a market to sustain the endeavors of most creative people there, and producers and creators do not really have a market overseas in mind, and that's probably the mentality that needs to change because we've come here to Sakura-Con and there are fans in demand for what we make overseas. If there's demand, there needs to be service to that, and that's probably the best way to resolve the IP dilemma.
Iwakami: In the context of trying to come up with a more legitimate way to watch, Fate/zero has a simultaneous worldwide release on Nico Nico Douga and I think that's the first step of what we can do. I'm sure there are friends who have watched it through fansub means rather than Nico Nico, but it's a start.
Question: Actually I'd like to ask in reverse, are there any shortcomings of Nico Nico Douga that prevents you from watching it, or some ways that would enhance the viewing experience on Nico Nico?
Answer (from audience): Spoilers in the comment list right beside the video. For some it's a convenience in terms of the simulcast, but others may want to watch all twelve episodes in one sitting instead of one per week. Also, internet in North American is generally not on par with internet speeds in Japan, which makes streaming videos somewhat of a hassle for those with slower internet connection speeds.
Urobuchi: I thought Bill Gates had established the fastest broadband network! *laughs*
Answer (from audience): Perhaps it would be best to be able to purchase a digital copy, or have an option on Nico Nico Douga which allows one to purchase a digital copy, much like how Netflix works.
Ota: Let's wait for Iwakami's promotion in Aniplex. Just kidding. *laughs*
Question: Within the story of Fate/zero and Fate/stay night, the Holy Grail War is something that is recurring. What other historical or mythological characters would you like to put into that story, and the quick follow-up question to that would be, have you seen the Deadliest Warrior?
Urobuchi: As for Deadliest Warrior, I've heard this title for the first time, so it's not something I'm familiar with. For Fate/zero, I had free range to what I could do, so I'm pretty much happy with the heroes produced there. There are many creators in Japan who are being drawn into Kinoko Nasu's world and coming up with their own spinoffs to the Fate franchise, so they will be the ones to introduce new ideas of what kind of heroes to incorporate in the world. In another version, other characters such as Jack the Ripper are even featured. One of my friends has written one.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Gen Urobuchi
- Katsushi Ota
- Atsuhiro Iwakami
- SakuraCon 2012 Report
- production interview