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Interview With Yuri!!! on ICE Creator Sayo Yamamoto: Part 2

July 28, 2017 10:30pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Sayo Yamamoto is, without a doubt, one of the most diversely talented individuals in the Japanese animation industry. She's a woman shrouded in a veil of mystery, cast simply to ensure attention is set on her work, rather than herself as an creator. Set aside a few convention appearances, Sayo Yamamoto has always been one to ensure that her own hard work does all the talking she could ever need to do herself. That's why when the unique opportunity to conduct the first ever English-language interview with Ms. Yamamoto presented itself, there was no way we would turn it down.

Even if you're not familiar with Sayo Yamamoto as a person, it's almost certain that you will be familiar with her works. From "Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine" to "Michiko and Hatchin", all the way to her more recent "Yuri!!! on ICE", it would appear that everything Sayo Yamamoto touches is destined for greatness. She started off at the bottom and worked her way to the top, one step at a time. Unafraid to move forward without ever looking back, Ms. Yamamoto is more than just a role model for women, she's a role model for society as a whole. Her signature style would go on to portray women as more than just side characters, but as powerful leaders that could do everything their male counterparts could and so much more.

Conducting the interview was Dai Sato -- an individual who is equal parts a collaborator and friend of Sayo Yamamoto's. In the past, the pair worked together on animated treasures such as "Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine", "Samurai Champloo", and "Space Dandy", amongst a diverse list of other titles. The interview had a distinct air to it, feeling more like a discussion between old friends than the nitty-gritty talks between publication and director. Split up into multiple-parts, you can find the second and final part of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto below:

-- Sayo Yamamoto, it’s an honor to have you here with us. Before anything else, I’d like to ask what experiences lead to you becoming an anime director?​

When I first entered the industry, I worked as a production manager at Studio Madhouse. That was around the turn of the century. From my very first day working there, I was driven to eventually become a producer. To do that however, I had to start as a production manager. Though, I didn’t really think that the job of production manager suited me very well. Managing schedules and wrangling people was not suited for me at all (laughs). I was thinking that if I had any breaks, I could try out some of the duties of a producer. I kept telling myself  “You can do this!” While performing production manager duties, I was also drawing storyboards - I was assisting in producing.

-- So what project did you first do storyboarding for?

At the request of my art director, Hideyuki Tanaka, I started working on some animations which were used as live visuals at a SMAP concert. The character designer and producer was animator Takeshi Koike. I was put in charge putting the storyboards into clean copy using Tanaka’s directorial notes and memos. Prior to this, I’d never actually storyboarded, yet I somehow manage to learn simply by watching others. 

Because I went to an art college, I was familiar with programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator. It seemed like everyone at the Studio wanted me to make use of these skills, so I began studying key animation illustration so I could assist in those areas. I worked on Koike’s "TRAVA," "World Record" from "The Animatrix," and "Redline."

-- After that, what was your first project as an independent producer?

The first story I produced was an OVA called ‘Trava: Fist Planet, episode 1’ for a DVD magazine known as "Grasshoppa!". I was doing storyboarding and producing, but Takeshi Koike was director on top of doing all of the series key animation, there wasn’t much I could actually “produce” (laughs). Koike made most layout timing decisions when he reviewed them, and even when it came time for editing, most of those decisions were left intact. There wasn’t much left for me to do because the degree of completion on those layouts was already very high. 

-- You continued to have a good relationship with Takeshi Koike after this, and even did some more projects with him, right?

That’s right; I took up more jobs at Takeshi Koike’s side. During that first project, I felt like I had seen something quite amazing. Koike truly is a genius.

-- Following this, you moved from Studio Madhouse to Studio Manglobe, if I remember correctly? 

I wanted to continue honing my production ability by getting used to handling television series, but there weren’t many opportunities for me to do so at Madhouse, especially since I was asked to serve as an assistant director on one of their new film projects. If I were to continue being employed at Madhouse, I wouldn’t have much control over my workflow, so I started to consider my options. It was around this time that I first met Watanabe Shinichiro.

-- It would seem that you meeting with Watanabe Shinichiro would go on to shape a large portion of your career. What was it that lead to you two first meeting?

A fellow animator and acquaintance of mine was working at Madhouse at the time doing key animation for "Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door," who was invited to work on "Samurai Champloo." Around the same time Watanabe was looking for someone to fill a production role, where I was introduced shortly after. I believe that was sometime around the Autumn of 2003. I quit Madhouse and switched over to freelancing. As a freelancer, I joined with Studio Manglobe, and participated in "Samurai Champloo" as an episode director.

-- After this you would take on many more episode directorial roles, with your first full directorial work being the animated series Michiko and Hatchin. Before that however, I’d like to take a step back and ask about some other things. What anime influenced you, and was there any series in particular that prompted you to begin working towards a job in the industry?

There really wasn’t any series in particular that prompted me to work towards the industry. However while I was an art student, there was this Mac program called "Director." It was basically this presentation software that allowed you to animate things in 24 frames per second, which is the same as anime. Around this time I came across some still-shots of "Yojimbo" at school. (laughs)

-- Akira Kurosawa’s "Yojimbo"?

That’s the one. Especially the scenes in which Toshiro Mifune drew his sword and slashed people. I watched all those scenes and thought they were really cool. I tried drawing and animating the scenes myself in ‘Director’, and that was probably my first real inspiration for working in the anime industry. 

-- It was quite the coincidence that you would get to work on ‘Samurai Champloo’ then, wasn’t it?

Of course, at the time I had no idea that I would ever be doing that. (laughs) Looking back on it, I think that if I had seen pictures from Akira Kurosawa’s other work, "Ikiru," instead of "Yojimbo," I may have never even thought about trying out animation. 

-- So it was around the time you were in art school that you started to think about working in the anime industry? 

That’s right. At the time, Japan was undergoing some sort of employment recession, which made things quite difficult. Art school students already didn’t seek employment in traditional ways. If you were a graphic design student, then it would be common for you to join a design company, but for people like illustrators and painters, it’s not common to go job hunting. I was into environmental design, so I was in a similar situation. Many others lost the motivation to continue job hunting and decided to simply start their own businesses. I didn’t have that kind of confidence though. 

I was under the belief that having no job would be the equivalent to being homeless, and this led me to think that if I didn’t do something with momentum, I’d be stuck in a rut after graduation. However, I also didn’t have any distinct qualities as part of my artistic nature, so I figured I needed to hurry up and join some kind of organization or else I’d be in trouble. 

-- Since you mentioned your “artistic nature,” I’d like to discuss that briefly. In your directorial works "Michiko and Hatchin" and "LUPIN the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine," the protagonists were women who can, in many ways, be seen as both cool and strong in nature. However in your latest work, "Yuri!!! on ICE," this seems to change completely with the introduction of a mostly-male cast; and while there are some strong-willed women involved in the anime, the show still largely revolves around their male counterparts. To me, this seems to be your biggest artistic change. Would you mind explaining the reason behind that? 

For me, my artistic nature and the gender of my protagonists have no relation. In the case of Michiko, it was more the president (of Manglobe) saying that he wanted to do an action-battle show with a female protagonist. Since I had worked with Koike in the past, I suspect that I was seen as having a knack for a more “American Comics” style... Of course, in terms of my work, I can more or less tackle drawing (the depiction of) women, but really I had no strong interest to do so (laughs).

I think I was sometimes also seen as being skilled at drawing woman because I was a woman myself. But if you do watch my works, you’ll realize that I haven’t drawn women all that much! Requests for specific character traits like “lovers” or “family” are just that -- requests. Sometimes, I feel that to be a bit stifling. I like to depict whomever I please, regardless of age, race, and gender. With “Yuri!!!”, I was able to depict relationships and bonds without creative influence from others. This time, I wanted to create an impactful depiction of Men’s singles in figure skating in anime form! It wasn’t so much a matter of “I’m definitely going to draw men this time.” I had a love for figure skating that could not be suppressed, and since I did not have any orders from above, I planned the project with an attitude rather of “I’m definitely going to draw figure skating this time!”

-- The Japanese anime industry is often considered to be a place where women don’t really have the opportunity to flourish. Do you think that bias exists, even now?​

It was true that there were few women on production staff in the industry. When I was first looking for work, it was like that as well. And because there were few women on production staff, it was the men who moved up from those roles to become general producers and directors. But even in the past, I don’t think there was any huge split in the number of male and female animators.

-- Do you think this is changing?

I think so. I’m currently working at MAPPA, and most of the people who come on to projects are women. 

-- What do you think changed?

Although I’m not really interested in defining people in rigid terms of two genders… I feel like girls are more likely to get the job these days. That’s really all there is to it. (laughs) There’s a lot of diligent women, and there’s a lot of men who drift around a little too much. Perhaps men have gotten used to an easygoing lifestyle -- but that’s just life. 

I think it’s just because they can continue doing what they love at work their whole lives. Women on the other hand; they get married, have kids --these are critical junctures that place a limit on what they can do throughout their lives, and they realize that they don’t have time to rest on their laurels as much. As soon as you realize that, it’s difficult to live that easygoing lifestyle. Before I originally began looking for a job, I knew an assistant stylist who was in her 50’s. She once told me that “idiocy is only forgiven until age 26.” And “If you only do as well as a man, you’ll never be recognized.” She probably lived quite a tough life to have said that. She originally started working in the 70’s, and I felt a really persuasive tone from her. It really got me thinking about a lot of things.

-- She must have lived through a much crueler time, right?

I agree. That’s why I ended up leaving Studio Madhouse when I was 26 years old. I believed that I had to become a producer on my own, and it was at this time I became involved in the aforementioned "Samurai Champloo."

-- Not only women, but now more and more foreigners are getting involved in Japanese animation. Do you think the industry will accept such changes in the future?

I think that it’s best that we embrace this. I don’t think there is any difference between Japanese and non, besides our nationality. If one has a vision of what they want to create, then as an industry, it’s best for us to work together. If you are motivated, then I urge anyone to get involved in the industry regardless of race.

-- Going back to your first directorial work, "Michiko and Hatchin," what aspects of your workflow and planning have changed significantly leading up to your more recent works? ​

The director creates while imagining what they want to make. The director can embody the image of the project while sharing what they can say "is the most interesting" with their staff... as I had imagined. It is completely different.

-- As you mentioned earlier, you were a young lady working to manage on your own in the animation industry, which meant your first work was a turning point.

Yes, and even though I don’t like to place a whole lot of focus on my being a woman, of course being tasked with directing was a huge turning point.

-- Are there ever times that you look back on your previous works?

I don’t do that at all, actually. (laughs) When you start to look back on previous works, doesn’t it all become a bit scary? I start to think “Aren’t I going to die soon?” thinking about the years passed since. I feel like when I’m working on something, I’ve already checked it to death in the process. I always work to the absolute best of my ability on everything, so I really don’t need to look back on it anymore. (laughs) 

This became especially apparent when I became a director and began creating plots myself. When those plots became screenplays, I checked them. Even when someone else created the storyboards, I was always checking them. I’ve seen it all so much (laughs). So I always give priority to making new things. And now, even though I am working on the theatrical version of "Yuri!!!", my head is pretty occupied with the current figure skating season too. The Olympics only come once every 4 years!!!

An exemplatory talent well beyond her years, Sayo Yamamoto is without a doubt an individual who was born to make history. Through her progressive mindset, we're offered a peak into the innerworkings of the anime industry, that only she could offer. It was shared yesterday that her animated series "Michiko & Hatchin" is also now available on Crunchyrollwhich is excellent news. With the anticipation leading into the Yuri!!! on ICE film reaching it's peak, we couldn't be more excited to share the second and final part of our interview with Sayo Yamamoto with everyone. If you're interested in checking out the first part of our interview, you can find it here


Naoko Yamada’s ‘A Silent Voice’ Film Review

October 20, 2017 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

What do fan-favorite animated works “K-On,” “Tamako Market,” and more recently, “A Silent Voice,” all have in common? Each of them were directed by powerhouse talent Naoko Yamada — one of Kyoto Animation’s best in-house creative minds.

The self-described “method” director has time and time again left a powerful impact through her works, and “A Silent Voice” is by no means an exception. The motif of the film is clear, and the delivery exceptional; from start to finish viewers are strapped-in for a heartwrenching rollercoaster.

After transferring to her new elementary school, Shoko Nishimiya is often targeted by her fellow classmates for her inability to hear. Leading the unrelenting harassment would be Shoya Ishida, who we find much of the film based around. Discarded as “harmless fun” by his peers, it takes no time at all for the effects of Shoya’s bullying to surface — this would be the beginning of Shoya’s undoing. Following an incident in which the harassment is finally called out, Shoya rapidly loses the trust of those around him, and is rightfully demonized for his actions, thus resulting in the tables turning on him.

While early parts of the film follow a much more naive, younger Shoya, most of the film finds itself following his teenage years.  By this point in his life, it’s apparent he’s become a much more self-aware individual. Constantly haunted by the actions of his past, however, Shoya struggles with the effects of depression, a disorder which cripples his ability to partake in day-to-day interactions with those around him.

Visually manifesting such a personal issue is never an easy task, but that’s where Chief Animation Director and Character Designer Futoshi Nishiya’s veteran flare presents itself, constantly complimenting the story through the creative use of both color and contrast. 
While Shoya fights to correct the actions of the past, he learns to rediscover the Shoya of the present — even if he nearly destroys himself to achieve this. Building friendship, developing trust, and learning to love oneself — that’s the basic motif of the film. Touching on a number of different themes throughout, “A Silent Voice” is painstakingly crafted with attention to detail. Through the use of sound, color, and lighting, the film carefully delivers a powerful message that will stay with you for a lifetime. 

What we can expect to see next from Naoko Yamada remains to be seen, but if it lives up to the beauty of “A Silent Voice,” her place in the industry will only further be solidified as a creative. “A Silent Voice” is in theaters across North America now, with screening locations and tickets available to view here.


Adorable 'Fate/Grand Order' x Sanrio Collab is a Must-See

October 19, 2017 4:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Sanrio, the company behind the iconic Hello Kitty franchise and certified marketing powerhouse, are definitely no strangers when it comes to the world of collaborations. Heck, just earlier this year, they teamed up with the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise in preparation for the live-action movie for some seriously charming goods.

I'm happy to report that they're back at it again, but this time in collaboration with massively-popular mobile RPG Fate/Grand Order. Check out some of the goods you'll be able to get your hands on, beginning November 11.

Various iconic characters from the mobage have been plastered all over any type of collectible merch you could possibly think of -- pens, badges, phone cases, folders, t-shirts, bags -- you name it, they've got it. You'll be able to purchase the loot at Animate stores across Japan from November 11 until December 17, and at Tokyo Station's Character Street from December 12 through 25. If you aren't able to be in Japan at the time, I definitely suggest keeping an eye on your favorite online retailer. 

Perks for waiting though? The goods will also be available in early January of next year, at a special collaboration cafe planned for opening in Ikebukuro. I’ll admit that I can’t wait to see what kind of snacks cute Gilgamesh will be baked into. Need a closer look at the character designs? Check them out below:


Three New 'Mob Psycho 100' Projects Are in the Works

October 19, 2017 2:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Mob Psycho 100 was the surprise hit of the Summer 2016 anime season, bringing the unique and zany art style of author and illustrator ONE to lucid, strikingly-animated life. Seemingly, the show has proved to be popular enough to justify three different projects, seeking to shed further light on the daily life and struggles of secret-esper Shigeo Mob Kageyama.

Next year, the beloved franchise will receive a live-action TV drama, a stage play, and a special anime event.

Let's start with that TV drama.

We've seen a ton of investment from Netflix recently, in both Japanese live-action and anime production. As it would turn out, TV Tokyo is teaming up with the streaming service to produce this live-action adaptation of the esteemed franchise. It will star actor Tatsuomi Hamada as Mob, and will begin airing on the channel's "MokuDora25" time slot in January. There is no word yet on a possible Netflix streaming deal, nor of a release outside of Japan.

After you've soaked up Hamada's realistic rendition of the character, why not go see Mob's original voice actor fight it out on stage? In a surprise announcement, Setsuo Ito will reprise his role in a special stage event that will take place at Tokyo's Galaxy Theater from January 6-14. 

Whether you decide to take part in the aforementioned productions or not, take comfort in knowing that more anime is on the way, and that it is particularly special. Mob Psycho 100 Reigen ~Shirarezaru Kiseki Reinōryokusha~ (The Miraculous Unknown Psychic) is an OVA episode being produced by the exact team that crafted the original anime, and will heavily feature Mob's master Reigen as he crafts his autobiography.

Reportedly, this special episode will incorporate some scenes from the original show, but will also include some new bits supposedly from Reigen’s perspective. The special episode will be shown just two times at Chiba Maihama Ampitheater near Tokyo on March 18. There is currently no word on any sort of wider release after the event.

So what do you think, Mob fans? Has any of this got you jazzed? Be sure to let us know below! And for those of you who have yet to partake in this absolute trip of a storytelling experience, Funimation has provided a synopsis of the original anime below:

Kageyama Shigeo (a.k.a. Mob) is an 8th grader with powerful psychic abilities. Working under his not-so-capable master, Reigen, Mob uses his powers to exorcise evil spirits. But his will to be normal causes him to suppress his powers and feelings until he hits 100 percent — a point where his pent-up emotions are unleased and a darker power takes over.


Netflix is About to Release a Ton of Original Anime

October 19, 2017 12:00pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Netflix has been making a huge push for original content on their platform, and during a recent call with analysts, the company's Chief Content Officer Ted Serandos outlined an ambitious plan to increase the amount of original programming available on the streaming service dramatically. 

As it would turn out, anime will be playing a large part in the company's efforts to ensure that at least 50% of their programming is original content by the end of 2018. With an $8 billion investment, Netflix will introduce thirty new anime series and eighty original films to their streaming ecosystem by the end of 2018 alone. 

Until recently, Netflix had been content with simply licensing anime for streaming outside of Japan. Successful examples of that strategy date back to 2014's Knights of Sidonia and include such fan-favorites as Little Witch Academia, Kakegurui, and Fate/Apocrypha, the latter two having yet to be released. Unlike services such as Crunchyroll which simulcast new shows weekly, Netflix releases their licenses in seasonal chunks, in an effort to encourage binge-watching.

That trend certainly shows no signs of decline anytime soon, as Netflix already has a number of high-profile licenses in the ranks for next year in addition to the above-mentioned; the least of which being Kyoto Animation'Violet Evergarden and Maasaki Yuasa's DEVILMAN crybaby
In what could have only served as a precursor to this announcement, we reported in the past of anime like Studio Bones' A.I.C.O -Incarnation-, a show which is funded in part by a chunk of Netflix cash. This is the kind of production we’re all expecting to see more of following this news. Even the recent sensation that was the Ezra Koenig, Production I.G. and Studio Deen co-production Neo Yokio did not strictly follow this framework, as that project saw first saw the light of day and obtained its first stack of cash from Fox's now-defunct Animation Domination programming block.
So now that we know that Netflix is serious about either fully-funding or partly-funding their anime releases, thus landing them a spot on said shows' production committees, the possibilities have certainly been widened endlessly. Will this result in individual projects having higher budgets? Will it result in there simply being more anime content? For the answers to those questions and more, we'll just have to wait a little bit longer and see.


‘DARLING in the FRANXX’ Receives First CM, Release Date

October 18, 2017 4:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

After so much waiting and anticipation, we couldn’t be more excited to share that the latest CM for A-1 Pictures and Studio TRIGGER’s collaborative animated series “DARLING in the FRANXX” is finally here. Included alongside the CM is our all-new key visual for the series, as well as the January 2018 premiere date we’ve all been clammering to find out. 

The translated text from the trailer can be read below:

This place is a "birdcage."
A place that is shut
A place that is controlled
There is only one reason to live —
We battle
For the sake of our fathers
To someday fly away —
For the sake of the world
But that girl, Zero Two, was different
Won't you become my darling?

Originally announced during Anime Expo 2017 at the Studio TRIGGER panel, “DARLING in the FRANXX” is the latest brainchild of Atsushi Nishigori, following a group of teenagers and their Franxx. There’s currently little known about the project beyond a campaign of PVs released to introduce each of the series’ main characters, though from those alone the series already shows potential. 

With the series premiere slated for January 2018, we can only imagine the slew of story-filled information we’ll be receiving in the coming weeks and months. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as even more is announced, and if you’re interested in checking out our past write-ups on the series, you can view our archives. 

DARLING in the FRANXX Official Website


Pachinko ‘Madoka Magica’ Offers Exclusive Happy End For Mami

October 18, 2017 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

For many fans of anime, it’s common knowledge that there will always be more official material than what is presented to you within the constraints of any given cour — whether that be manga, light novel, or even video game. What many don’t realize, however, is that deep within the confines of any given pachinko parlor here in Japan, you’ll often find an entire world of never-seen anime content that players are tasked with grinding through to unlock. One recent example that particularly exemplifies this is “CR Pachinko Mahou Shoujoi Madoka Magica,” a pachinko title that completely flips the story of “Madoka Magica” around, should you pull off the right combo. 

Spoilers below:

It goes without saying that there’s one scene early on in the “Madoka Magica” animated series that stands out a little more than the rest. It was this very scene that would go on to shape much of the story from then onwards, and it’s this very scene that is completely altered within the pachinko spinoff game. Before we get too into that, check out the video below:

What’s totally different from the original series, just in case you didn’t manage to catch it, is that within the gameplay of this new pachinko title, Mami actually survives, rather than her untimely passing as it was originally set. Fending off Charlotte, it’s unclear just what repurcussions this would bring forward. There does exist numerous other pieces of “Madoka Magica” media in which Mami does survive, or simply doesn’t have the interaction with Charlotte at all; including the spinoff manga series “Madoka Magica: The Different Story,” as well as the third entry into the film series, “Madoka Magica: Rebellion.”

With just how recent this pachinko title is, one can only wonder just how many story-altering animated scenes there are. What makes this clip so interesting is the fact that it’s a real animated realization of just how the fight between Mami and Charlotte could have played out. So while I don’t exactly fancy myself playing the pachinko title myself, I’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on just what those who do play it discover. 


Famitsu Provides Fresh Details on Nippon Ichi's New Game

October 18, 2017 12:00am
by Mike Tamburelli

Just a few days ago, word came via Nippon Ichi Software's official Twitter account that they were developing a brand-new title, and that the four colors in the announcement graphic were of particular importance.

Now, thanks to Famitsu, Japan's biggest gaming news magazine, we have a few more solid details behind the cryptic blue, yellow, green, and red hues in the tweet and on the official teaser site. It would seem that they represent the colors of four unique princesses who will be the basis of the game.

Anata no Shikihime Kyodotan, which can be translated as "Your Four Princess Knights Training Story" (something that is likely to be smoothed over for localization) is an RPG debuting for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and perhaps most excitingly in my opinion, the Nintendo Switch. It will feature art by NIS character designer, who most recently worked on The Witch and the Hundred Knight 2, Madoka Hanshiro. 

As for that training aspect? Well, knowing NIS, I imagine that it'll involve a fair bit of innuendo, but the game's system is described as a "communication" RPG wherein you raise the characters and issue commands to them in battle. You get to praise them for a job well done, or scold them for their failures. I guess it remains to be seen if this goes as far as what we've seen in the past with games like Criminal Girls

The battle system involves issuing commands to your force of soldiers through both the game's protagonist (you, the commander), and the princesses themselves. 

Details of each of the four princesses backstories have also been provided by the magazine:

  • Veronica (voice: Hiromi Igarashi) - A gifted young witch who is part of a magical guild. Wants to take over the world with fear for her own self-gain.
  • Liliati (voice: Ayane Sakura) - Princess of her kingdom and commander of its knights. She is well-loved by her subjects.
  • Monomaria (voice: Rarisa Tago Takeda) - A princess of Yudaria, who are a fallen noble family of a merchant alliance. Makes a living through her mercenary business. 
  • Alpana (voice: Yuka Kuwahara) - Princess of the Dragon God Family. She preaches the word of the 'Great Makara Teachings,' and aims to unify all other families.
The game will be released in Japan on January 25, 2018. We'll bring you more as it's revealed, including character art and screenshots, so be sure to stay tuned!