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Interview

Interview with Cowboy Bebop Creator Watanabe Shinichiro

October 11, 2017 12:00pm
by Tatsuya Yamashita, Lachlan Johnston & Mike Tamburelli

Within the world of Japanese animation, there are few individuals more prolific than Watanabe Shinichiro. This fact has become so prevalent in fact, that the term ‘anime’ has almost become synonymous with a majority of his series — many citing shows such as “Cowboy Bebop,” “Samurai Champloo,” and even his more recent “Space Dandy” as their introduction to the world of Japanese animation. As such, the opportunity for us to spend the evening with such an influential creator wasn’t something to be taken lightly, and over a series of both text and video interviews, we’ll be dwelling deep into the mind of Watanabe Shinichiro.

Sitting down with Watanabe, we spoke about his upbringings in the anime industry, as well as looked back at his long-history of creations and ideas. You can find our full text interview below:

OTAQUEST: Watanabe Shinichiro, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Kicking things off, you originally found your footing in the industry as an anime producer at ‘Nippon Sunrise.’ Of all the other active studios existent during that time, why was it you chose to work there? 

Watanabe: I felt like Sunrise was a studio that actively sought to animate original works, rather than adaptations of pre-existing manga series. If I was going to get into the animation industry, I wanted to create my own works rather than adopting someone else’s series.

OTAQUEST: Up until you joined Sunrise, were you studying anime production?

Watanabe: I self-studied pretty much everything I know about movie production and direction on my own accord. I read plenty of books on both film techniques and technology, where I then learned basics such as the 180-degree rule of camera positioning, frame-right, and frame-left. 

As for storyboarding, I learned a lot of that after entering the industry by looking at and mimicking the works of others. There was no proper education system to instruct directors in the anime industry at the time.

OTAQUEST: During that early period of time, were their any creatives who really caught your attention?

Watanabe: Kazuki Akane was kind of a friendly rival of mine — he originally debuted as a director with “The Vision of Escaflowne” at Sunrise in 1996. Even now we occasionally help each other out with projects.

OTAQUEST: Were there any anime directors that you derived a lot of inspiration from, or even those from whom you took reference from?

Watanabe: The director whom I have taken the most personal inspiration from would have to be Masaaki Osumi, who worked on the original “Lupin the Third” TV series. When the series debuted, it had a very adult tone and feel, which wasn’t bringing in the desired ratings, so he was removed from the project. He also assisted in directing the TV series “Moomin,” and it wasn’t until I myself became an adult that I realized he worked on both. 

Since entering the anime industry, I also found myself influenced by Ryousuke Takahashi, who was a part of Sunrise’s third studio and best known for his work on “Armored Trooper VOTOMS.” I learned from him that I shouldn’t rely solely on my own ability to create — I needed to learn to rely more on my staff and their abilities, all while fostering their skills at the same time. For a job done as a team, especially something like the creation of anime, that is of great importance. 

OTAQUEST: It was finally time in 1994 for you to take to the stage with your directorial debut on “Macross Plus.” Can you tell us a little bit about why you were selected to helm such a popular series?

Watanabe: At that time director Kawamori Shoji was producing a film called “Mime” at Sunrise, and it was because of our shared workspace that we originally became acquainted. Unfortunately, however, that film was shelved, but soon after planning for “Macross Plus” began. He approached me and asked if I’d be up for the task.

OTAQUEST: After Kawamori stopped working on “Mime,” his break from the anime industry was an extremely hot topic amongst fans, wasn’t it? 

Watanabe: It was pretty major news. One of the main reasons I accepted the “Macross Plus” offer was to help him make a comeback. Another reason, though, was that I was an episode director at the time, and I felt that I still wasn’t given the freedom I needed to create something of my own. I wanted to be involved with the creative process of something all the way from the beginning.

OTAQUEST: Having done just that, you moved on to work on your very first project you could truly call your own — “Cowboy Bebop.” Can you tell us a little bit about the circumstances that lead to this moment?

Watanabe: Masahiko Minami, who is now the president of Studio Bones, was someone I had known for quite some time. He approached me to ask if I had any good ideas for a new project, and after about 2-3 days of deliberating, something I had thrown together over the course of an hour known only as “Bebop” surfaced. Usually, the things that are quickly slapped together become the big hits, rather than the ones you would painstakingly deliberate on.

Around the same time, there was a very real buzz on the streets in regards to a “Star Wars” revival which had everyone excited. This piqued the interest of Bandai’s toy division in producing something with spaceships as a central element — they thought both the series and affiliated merchandise would sell well. That’s why the offering of my “Bebop” project was taken.

OTAQUEST: At that time it almost felt like robots were a given within the sci-fi genre, but there were few works in the world of anime that delved into the realm of spacecrafts. Because of that, daring to switch was quite a large risk for them, wasn’t it?

Watanabe: It definitely was, and they weren’t very happy with the way we ended up portraying the world of “Cowboy Bebop” either. Around the time we were producing the fourth episode, they actually pulled their sponsorship because they didn’t think such a dark and subdued portrayal of spacecrafts would do any favors to their toy sales. We even considered canceling production after that whole drama, but Bandai’s main film production company Bandai Visual swooped-in to save the project.

OTAQUEST: Looking back on it, it’s absolutely crazy to think that during the first airing of “Cowboy Bebop” in Japan, only the first 12 of 26 episodes were actually broadcasted.

Watanabe: Before the broadcast even began — during the production of the first few episodes, there were a lot of internal stakeholders saying things like “This show is too adult, there’s no way this will work” and “It’s just too pretentious,” as well as other cold things. These very same people began to change their attitudes when the show did manage to grow a following, where they then started saying things like “Oh, I always knew it would sell!” (Laughs) In a sense, it was accepted that things may have changed since the airing of the original “Lupin the Third” series.

OTAQUEST: When do you think the way people viewed “Cowboy Bebop” started to change?

Watanabe: Hmm, when was it that people’s views started to change? To this day, I really couldn’t tell you why “Cowboy Bebop” gained popularity and began selling; even now I still think it went way over budget. If “Cowboy Bebop” had failed, I guarantee I’d be working at a ramen shop by now. I’d be the type of ramen shop owner to get overly fussy regarding minor details and things like ingredients. (Laughs)

Anyway, we’ve spoken a bit about all these moments of misery, so why don’t we talk about something a little more fun?

OTAQUEST: Well, usually when the name “Cowboy Bebop” is mentioned, there’s another name that’s brought up alongside it — Yoko Kanno. Can you tell us a little bit about her, and why you appointed her as the series’ composer?

Watanabe: I first met Yoko during the days of “Macross Plus,” and at that time it was almost as if she was a total newcomer. That being said, however, I too was still a complete newcomer to the project I was about to face. Taking on the role of director — it felt like we had the whole world in front of us. We were also pretty much the same age, and it was almost like we could be comrades-in-arms, so to speak. 

I reached out to Yoko for the project, but when I told her the details she actually indicated that she was likely going turn the offer down because she wasn’t a big fan of jazz. If things really did go that way, and she wasn’t involved, then “Tank!” would have never seen the light of day, and “Cowboy Bebop” may never have realized its full potential. (Laughs)

OTAQUEST: So you’re saying that even though she wasn’t a passionate fan of the jazz genre, she was able to produce such an amazing soundtrack? 

Watanabe: As a result of this, however, I feel as though a genuine synergy between both music and video was created. She inspired me to create songs that I didn’t ask for, and I was inspired by her music to make scenes that I originally didn’t even plan.

OTAQUEST: Can you elaborate on that last part a little bit?

Watanabe: For example, the scene at the end of episode five where Spike falls from the window was inspired by the song “Green Bird,” and was made without having originally been ordered. It’s fair to say “Cowboy Bebop” is full of such occurrences, and that the project’s music budget may have gone well overboard. (Laughs)

OTAQUEST: Was that even allowed?

Watanabe: Normally that would have raised a lot of red flags, but “Cowboy Bebop” definitely wasn’t an ordinary project. 

OTAQUEST: I guess “Cowboy Bebop” just had that sort of power, right?

Watanabe: It honestly wasn’t just the content of “Cowboy Bebop” that was out of the ordinary — the whole production and the circumstances surrounding it were all pretty non-standard. 

OTAQUEST: I’d dare suggest that non-standard feeling has almost become a recurring theme in all of your works, with one of the better examples being the more recent “SpaceDandy.”

Watanabe: I feel like “Cowboy Bebop” was a project full of content that I wanted to create — it felt as though it was a series full of my own personal color. On the flipside, however, “SpaceDandy” was the bi-product of a more diverse pool of talent and thought. Everyone involved was having a good time piecing together the show in their own little way. 

For the longest time, I felt as though “SpaceDandy” had a totally different color to mine. Looking back on it now though, I do realize there is a fair amount of my own color too. 

OTAQUEST: On the topic of that pool of talent; how did you go about choosing such a diverse team of staff for the project?

Watanabe: When the time to assemble the staff of “SpaceDandy” arrived, I reached out to absolutely everyone I had ever wanted to work with, regardless of whether we were acquainted or not. The world of anime is quite wide, and it was through this project I met a long list of individuals; both industry veterans and newcomers alike. 


 
OTAQUEST: Your most recent animated work, “Blade Runner Black Out 2022,” released just a short while ago. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Watanabe: It was right after the offer came in to work on a “Blade Runner” spinoff that I decided the rewatch the original film. It was through this viewing that I came to remember just how influential it was in my entire career as a creator. During the entire production process, I felt an immense pressure given the enormous expectations that come with the “Blade Runner” title. The schedule was extremely tight too, so that didn’t help. 

I knew that if I hadn’t taken the job, however, that some other director would come around and mess it up. (Laughs) To put that another way, if it did end up failing, it would be my own personal failure — I didn’t want that pinned on someone else. (Laughs) 

Even though I mentioned that pressure, however, I was able to convince myself it didn’t really matter in the end. Compared to the original film and Denis Villeneuve’s continuation, my work wasn’t as big a deal. It was after I realized this that I was able to work without hesitation and tell the story I wanted to tell. 

Though the blackout incident is mentioned in “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s only in conversation, which is where my work was meant to complement the film. Taking that into consideration, I began developing my script while consolidating with members of the “Blade Runner 2049” staff and even ended up going to the set of the film for a meeting. It was there that I was able to examine not just the scenery and set, but also show my work to Denis Villeneuve and the director of photography, Roger Deakins. That was an incredible moment. 

OTAQUEST: Wrapping things up, as a veteran anime director, are there any issues that you have with the modern anime industry? What do you think will become of the industry going forward?

Watanabe: As of late we’re finally seeing the upper-limits of a business model that relies too heavily on consumer video disc sales. I also firmly believe we’re seeing too much similar work within the same genres. Now, however, with the advent of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, we’re seeing a tremendous change in the way content is delivered. Similarly so, the Japanese animation industry is having to undergo some equally massive changes as well. 

 I feel as though it’s become easier to take greater risks with our projects, and that’s something I think is a great direction for the industry to be heading. On top of that, I’ve also been thinking — hand-drawn animation has a charm that you can’t simply replace. It’s become a global dependency to utilize the power of CG animation, but it’s no longer being done in moderation. I just hope more young people — both in Japan and internationally — can learn to adore the world of hand-drawn animation even more so. 
If you’re interested in checking out even more about the life of Shinichiro Watanabe, as well as all of the incredible achievements he has earned, be sure to stay tuned for even more content in the coming weeks. For now, be sure to check out some of our past interviews with creatives such as “Yuri!!! on ICE” creator Sayo Yamamoto, “One-Punch Man” director Natsume Shingo and plenty more, here.

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Animator Kojo Tanno is Crafting Mysterious and Dreamy Shorts

May 22, 2018 3:00pm
by Lizzy Zhang

Do you enjoy the kind of abstract, dialogue-less, post-or-near-apocalyptic, heavy impending-doom-vibe type of story that hits all of the right spots? Did you enjoy ‎Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, Minetarō Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, or all the mysterious hallways and special abilities in Kazuma Kondou’s Deadman Wonderland? Independent animator Kojo Tanno is creating brief clips that capture such aesthetic with a thick air of mystery, all from his home in Nagasaki.

I really don’t feel as if I can properly put his works into words that will do them justice, so check out this short video:
 


A Google search for Tanno will yields mostly ambiguous results, including long-since archived articles by sites such as Crunchyroll and Anime News Network covering his video “VIEW” from 2012. There are quite large gaps between his uploads, with his first Youtube upload, “SAYONARA, WATASHI...” being from well over 9 years ago to date. Since then, however, Kojo Tanno has uploaded a total of 14 videos to his YouTube channel, his most popular being “JOSHI ni tsuite (Regarding Girls) that holds its ground at nearly a million views:
 

With all that being said, however, it's his recent video “QUARANTINE” that has been making its rounds on Twitter as of late. Since its initial posting this past February, I've been digging deeper and deeper into his works, leading me to his recently launched Patreon. Contributors are granted the ability to see his filmmaking progress, ask questions, and buy exclusive merch that he makes available only to patrons. With his Patreon, Tanno aims to gain funds to produce his own film, something that longtime fans have probably been waiting for almost 10 years now. 

Kojo Tanno’s works often have non-conclusive endings that leave your mind to fill in the rest of the story. The symbolism in each video is left to the viewer to contemplate. He’s definitely a mysterious guy, and I’m personally really excited to see where he takes the rest of “QUARANTINE”. If you’d like to follow along as well, be sure to check out Kojo Tanno’s Twitter for updates and occasional livestreams. If you’d like to contribute a little bit every month to his filmmaking, you can find his official Patreon, here

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New ‘Hunter x Hunter’ Collaboration Earring Unveiled

May 22, 2018 2:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Togashi Yoshihiro’s Hunter x Hunter isn’t the sort of series that gets a lot of merchandise, but that just means that it’s always a special time when some does come out - even when it hits a little too close to home.

Contains spoilers for Hunter x Hunter.

A new collaboration piercing was unveiled today, and it’s not what you’d expect, like a replica of Chrollo Lucifer’s earrings, or even Kurapika’s for that matter. Instead, the iconic and heartbreaking adult form of Gon Freecss - playfully called ‘Gon-san - which he transforms into after giving into his rage and trauma following the revelation that Kite cannot be brought back following despite Neferpitou’s healing powers, is now available to hang on your earlobes.

Coming in at around 3000 yen for the normal version and 10,000 yen for the ‘high-end model,’ the earring highlights Gon’s extremely long hair in this form - making the piercing very long, around 90mm in fact. Depending on how your ears are pierced and your personal preference, you can also choose between an earring and piercing design for the part that attaches to the earlobe. Wearing just one of the unique ear pieces looks great, as shown below, but you can also buy a pair of them. Pre-orders will be open until August 5 on Premium Bandai’s website.



Seeing such a heartbreaking and iconic part of the series turned into an accessory was surprising to hear at first, but after seeing images of the design, I must admit that it definitely makes for a rather unique accessory. That being said, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Gon’s adult form turned into apparel, as he also made an appearance on one of the Jump 50th Anniversary Uniqlo collaboration shirts. These shirts have quickly made themselves at home in my closet, so I suppose wearing an earring of Gon-san isn’t a step that much further removed - even if it is a little bit close to home.

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MONDO GROSSO Shares New Music Video for 'One Temperature'

May 22, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Following up from the March 21, 2018, release of MONDO GROSSO's seventh studio album, "Attune / Detune," the legendary producer is back with their latest collaborative music video alongside Big-O, "One Temperature". Shared via the official avex YouTube channel earlier today, the music video utilizes a number of 90s filmography techniques to create the perfect throwback sound to accompany the song's hip-hop lyrical basis. Let's take a look at the music video below:
 


Released within the nine-track album "Attune / Detune" that released earlier this year, "One Temperature" takes MONDO GROSSO's signature sound to fresh places, something that rung especially true across the whole album. I couldn't picture the track with vocals from anyone else, either, as Big-O lets the lyrics flow in a manner only he can execute so well. There's little room for error on this track, as well as the rest of the album, and this one is definitely going to be bopping for days on end. 

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Puma x Sega Sonic & Dr. Eggman Sneakers to Release June 5

May 22, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It was just a short period of time ago during the month of March that the world was first teased with initial images of SEGA and Puma's collaborative Sonic the Hedgehog sneakers. The initial pixelated imagery left a lot to the imagination, but it wasn't until earlier today that we finally got our first real look at the RS-0 Sonic and RS-0 Dr. Eggman sneakers, as well as their release date and price point. Set to hit the streets on June 5, 2018, at a total cost of $130 USD, the sneakers are a mostly subtle throwback to a couple of gamings most iconic characters. 
 


Initial impressions of the sneakers are scattered and mixed, with some in love with the inspired designs and colorways, while others are finding faults in the "high price point" and material choices. While I sit on the positive side of the fence when it comes to this one, I will admit I'm not exactly jumping at the initial images of the materials, though that could change when I actually get to see a pair of these sneakers in person. I can't picture everyone picking these up as everyday pieces, but I'm sure any fan of the series could incorporate them quite well.

Set to be made available worldwide from June 5 at a price point of $130 USD, you'll likely want to jump on these early before they sell out. Those interested in picking up a pair can make their way to the official website for further information.

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‘Steins;Gate 0’ Takes Over Akihabara With Collaboration Events

May 21, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Akihabara is featured in many anime, but I think it’s safe to say that none of them have been as effective at advertising the otaku hub as the science-fiction adventure series Steins;Gate.

The way that Okabe, Mayuri, Daru et al. are situated so well in the locale has gone a long way in making the area an integral part of the series. This, along with the excellent storytelling and character writing, has been an excellent advertisement for the otaku hub since the original game’s release to critical praise in 2009. For me as well, experiencing the same locale as the characters of Steins;Gate and being able to feel the spirit of the series in the area is a key part of why I love it so much.

That being said, with the new Steins;Gate 0 anime beginning it’s broadcast this season, it seems only fitting that the whole city mobilizes to advertise it. And so it has - not just with billboards on the Sofmap and Sega buildings, but with a multitude of collaboration events and goods also.

Running until May 31, the first major collaboration is with the AR app “Butai Meguri,” which will be using Akihabara as it’s playing field for a new Steins;Gate themed adventure titled “OPERATION;HEPHAISTOS.” This is actually the second time the app has crossed over with the series, previously running an event in Saitama. By using the app and visiting iconic Akihabara locations such as Chuo-Dori and Animate, players will receive a free badge set featuring Kurisu and Maho. There are only eight locations to visit, and anyone familiar with the area will probably be able to do it in no time, so it definitely seems worth giving a go.

During the time of this event, there are also plenty of food-related events scheduled. Firstly, Cafe Mailish is holding a special event to in honor of the “Supa Hacka” himself, Daru. It will feature a special themed menu as well as a gallery for the loveable otaku himself. An odd choice perhaps, but not when you realize that Daru’s birthday was actually on May 19 - so I’d like to think that we’re throwing the often unappreciated Daru a birthday party.

Kanazawa-style curry chain GOGO Curry will also be serving up a special collaboration curry and clear file in their Chuo-Dori store. The curry utilizes fried chicken - an ode to Mayuri’s own love for “Juicy Karaage Number One” - which is in turn drizzled with a yellow sauce, named “Gelsauce” after the “gelbananas” of the first series. I was able to sample the dish, and as usual, the curry was excellent, but what made it even better was the clear file that came with it. The humorous design features Okabe holding some GOGO curry and Kurisu with one of their signature forks. This collaboration curry will set you back 1200 yen, a little expensive but definitely worth it.

Even if you’re just walking around Akihabara, not aiming to participate in any of the above events, it seems almost impossible to escape the series at the minute - many of the vending machines have been adorned with Steins;Gate characters, Dr. Pepper is doing a crossover with the series, and even without any explicit reference to the series, it seems as though Steins;Gate has once more entered into the soul of Akihabara. As it should be.

For more details on collaboration events, check out the official website

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is Coming to Nintendo Switch... Via Streaming

May 21, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

In a weird turn of events, Capcom announced earlier today that they're bringing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to Nintendo Switch in Japan on May 24, 2018, but only a version of the game that has to be streamed via their cloud servers. If that wasn't odd enough, beyond the fact that you're streaming the game, at no point will you actually "own" the title, with Capcom requiring players buy 180 day passes at the price of 2,000 yen every half-a-year. 
 


Those interested in playing the game will be able to simply go to the JP Nintendo eShop and download the 45mb Resident Evil cloud application, beginning the initial 15-minute trial before deciding if they want to purchase the full game pass. Included in the cloud version of the game, players will have access to all available DLC including Banned Footage Vol. 1 & 2, End of Zoe, and Not A Hero. Players are recommended to either have a 5ghz router or be using ethernet to enjoy a stable experience, though internet speeds will definitely be a major factor.

While it isn't particularly a standard in the West, nor in most of the world just yet, cloud streamed games have unfortunately been gaining more and more traction over here in Japan. Just recently we saw the launch of Phantasy Star Online 2 for the Nintendo Switch running on a similar cloud streaming platform. In my personal experience with that title, in particular, the game was riddled with lag and delays which effectively rendered it unplayable for the better part. We'll definitely have to see how Resident Evil 7 performs, especially if it is following that same path. 

While there's currently no official word of a Western release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on Nintendo Switch in the West, and we quite strongly doubt there ever will be in this format, we'll be sure to keep you up to date if any information does arise. Until then, we'll be giving the Japanese eShop version a try. Those interested in checking out further information can find it via the official website.

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FLCL Progressive Receives New Trailer Ahead of June Premiere

May 21, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

The countdown has begun and we're officially less than two weeks away from the June 2 premiere of Toonami's FLCL Progressive. In preparation for the story that's about to unfold before our very eyes, Adult Swim has begun streaming the first English dubbed trailer for the series. The first entry into two brand new FLCL stories, FLCL Progressive follows 14-year-old schoolgirl Hidomi as her life takes a turn for the weird as we're taken through the wild ride that is adolescence. Let's take a look at the new trailer below:
 


Set to premiere on Adult Swim's Toonami block on June 2nd, 12:00 am (Eastern Time), FLCL Progressive will consist of a total of six episodes. Viewers in Japan will have it a little differently, however, with the show set to release as a single film that will actually come out after the other story, FLCL Alternative. Reasoning and structure behind this are currently unknown, but that could make for an interesting twist amongst international discussion. Toonami describes the series below:

FLCL Progressive tells the story of 14-year-old Hidomi, her classmate Ide, and two otherworldly beings, "Jinyu" and "Haruha Raharu," who are determined to unlock their hidden potential. Mixed up in this is an all-powerful force known as "ATOMSK," a gorgeous vintage car... and a certain Vespa Scooter.

For many international anime fans, the original FLCL acted as a cornerstone in their developmental years alongside the anime medium. Now over 18-years since the original series aired on television, we're given the opportunity to expose an entirely new audience to such an important series in fresh and exciting ways. With less than two weeks to wait until the series finally premieres, we'll be sure to keep you updated as further information is revealed. Until then, be sure to check out the official website.

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