Sakura-Con 2012 Michihiko Suwa Q&A
by Lynzee Lamb, Apr 7th 2012
Spoiler warning: this article contains information about the end of InuYasha.
A handful of attendees showed for producer Michihiko Suwa's panel Saturday morning.
Suwa arrived in a suit and a Black Jack necktie.
Suwa: I'm animation producer Michihiko Suwa. I started working as an animation producer in 1986. My first work was Robotan and I worked on City Hunter. I'm also the producer of Detective Conan and Rinne no Lagrange. I've also done a voice actor movie which we are showing tomorrow titled Kami no Voice.
So tomorrow I think you'll be able to hear a lot of different voices of these voice actors. Also, as I mentioned yesterday the 16th movie in the Detective Conan series is going to be released soon. It's a mystery and it's called The 11th Striker.
Q: What made you get into the animation business and were your parents happy about it?
A: (laugh) My parents were happy for me. Ever since elementary school I loved reading manga. I live in Aichi prefecture, that's my hometown and I have about 3,000 manga there. I have quite a collection of manga from 30 years ago including Tetzukawa Samu.
After I graduated for college, I entered the TV business and I was in charge of a variety program that aired at 11 p.m.. So I studied directing for three years but then I was told to change jobs. Many people from Aichi move to Tokyo but I didn't want to go, however work made me. As a salaryman, I had to do what the company told me to. I was told to be the producer for Robotan. At the interview for the company, I told them I love manga. My boss remembered that so he pulled me aside and made me go to Tokyo, but manga reading was my hobby. When I was told I had to do it for my job I didn't want to do it for a living.
I thought 'I'm the director of a TV program in Osaka, maybe that is more fun.' After going to Tokyo and talking to people there I started thinking that directing a variety program and directing animation are the same thing. In either case, in order to produce a TV program you need a team to work together regardless if its a variety program or animation.
Normally, people change jobs every 3-5 years, but in my case I've stayed in the same job. I did Yarawa!, I've been doing the same thing all this time. I don't think there is anyone else who has been in TV as long as I have. So I'm very proud and happy that I'm able to be here and talk to all of you about animation production.
Q: Kekkaishi and Yarawon Yellow manga is finished. Where there be more anime?
A: That was a production we planned 4-5 years ago. It's a story about someone who generates a square and how that creates a special area or volume. It's a really good production that depicts the world of Japanese ghosts, or yokai, effectively. It was broadcast on Mondays at 7 p.m. and after that was Detective Conan. But, this program Kekkaishi was unable to get a whole lot of viewers. So after about a year, it was canceled. Actually, it wasn't canceled but it was shifted to a slot in the middle of the night but that only lasted about a year. The original work is finished so I would like to complete the story but it is a business so we didn't get approval to do that. So the original work is complete so if I get a chance I would like to finish it. A similar example is InuYasha. The original work was 167 volumes and the anime only covered part of that. As of last year, we were able to complete the InuYasha series. It's pretty unusual to do a work all the way through the end, I'm really happy when we're able to do that. So taking all those volumes and making it into 26 episodes was pretty hard to do. So, Kagura dies and Kikyo dies and they defeat the tekyo.
Does anyone know what happened to Kagome at the end of InuYasha? Does she choose to live on in the present or does she stay in the past? (Fans state they haven't see the end yet) Oh?! Stop stop, safe safe. Next!
Q: Other than the main characters, in Detective Conan, who are your favorite?
There's a lot. Inspector Takahashi is a character that depends heavily on Conan and he's a character that disappears. So he's basically in charge of the police and he tries to investigate or solve these mysteries but he... can't. So he asks Conan, that's basically his character at this point. For that unreliable aspect of him, I like police characters.
There are a lot of characters in the animation that started out as these sheriff characters. The anime begins with Takaki and Sato. In the manga they don't need to introduce that many police characters but in the anime to create drama we need to create a lot of characters to help Detective Conan.
So there's a lot of times we have to confirm with Gosho Aoyama when we introduce new characters to get his approval. Inspector Shiatori is one we had to get approval of but he was promoted in the manga so he's the same level as Megure. Since these characters are about the same level we are always stressing out on how to use them.
Q: Does the original creator have a lot of say in the development of the anime since it's so different from the manga?
A: He has a ton of influence because we're taking the manga and making it into anime. We respect the manga very much. As I said, I have 3,000 manga and read about 10 manga magazines a week. There's about 50 different types. Each magazine contains about 20 different manga stories. This is Big Comic Spirit. In Ginbocho the Shuiesha and Shogakan are right next to each other. There's also Kodansha. So these three companies are the top of the publishing industry in Japan. Each company publishes monthly, weekly and bi-weekly manga.
I enjoy it so much so I feel like I want to show it to other people so I go to the directors of these manga and talk to them about turning them into an anime if I find one that I like. So I put together planning documents with staff to present when I want to adapt a series. Then the creator or publisher decides if they want to go with my team or someone else's.
For Conan, I had some rivals who also wanted to turn it into an anime. But I really like mysteries and Conan goes from 17 to 7 so that's a big jump, that normally does not happen. So that's the background, a completely implausible premise but everything else is completely real. We also talk about the tricks in the anime very in-depth, like 'would this really kill a person?' We'll be in a cafe or something and debate these topics while other people in the cafe will look at us like 'what they hell are they talking about?'
Q: How do you feel about Conan live-action series?
A: Next Thursday in Japan they are going to have the 4th drama special. A famous actor named Juppei Mizobata will be playing Kurochi Nichi. Up until 2 years Shun Ogiya was portraying that character.
The character is a male high school student so once the actor reaches a certain age we had to change the actors. So portraying Kurochi Nichi kind of naturally becomes a drama but the problem is Conan Edagawa. He's seven but in his mind he's seventeen and there's very few child actors who can portray that well.
In the second work there was a love story between Ai and Conan so we had to film a real live action boy and girl but we didn't have them read lines. We were thinking about having them speak but it kind of ruined the image of this character so we abandoned that idea. If we find an actor that can really portray the genius of Conan I would like to give it another try but we have to do it quickly because if we don't do it within a year they will grow up.
Q: A lot of your works are based on manga, how is presenting that different than an original work like Rinne no Lagrange?
A: If it's an original work we don't have to talk or negotiate with a publisher. So we just need to talk between the animation production company and the TV network. Bandai Visual participates for the Lagrange series.
This anime concept began with the idea of having Nissan car designers design the robot. So there was a design contest and we came up with this great robot design and went from there. So we decided to have it be three high school students that operate these robots to defend from space attacks. The setting is these aliens were actually on earth 20,000 years ago. So the Rinne refers to what happened on earth 20,000 years ago and in these modern times we have these robots.
In English “Rinne” refers to “Rebirth”. The “Lagrange” is the name of a flower. There's also a famous wine called Chateau Lagrange. It's a Bordeaux and it's very expensive. It has a history where the Japanese company Suntori cooperated with the local people to bring back the wine industry. So, knowing that history I proposed the title “Lagrange”. When you're naming a program you have maybe 200 candidates to name the program. Then we narrowed it down from there. I was very happy the one I liked won.
The topic of wine comes up a lot in the Conan series. Some people complain that we put so much alcohol in a kids program. I think of wine as a window to the adult world. I really like Columbo also and there's a great episode “Farewell, wine”. I was still in high school when I saw that program but I remember how much the characters in that loved wine and it made an impression on me. That's the feeling I have when I introduce wine in the Conan series. The character Kogoro Mori is always drinking canned beer but at parties I always have him drink red wine. White wine is fine as well but it's hard to depict that in anime. When you're watching Conan, try to look at what Kogoro is drinking. He's often drunk, but that has nothing to do with me!
Q: Are some of the murder cases are inspired by known mystery novels, or where do you get the inspiration?
We do get inspiration from other things, like I mentioned Columbo. The original creator is a huge Sherlock Holmes freak. He creates some things that really go beyond what Sherlock Holmes did. We all love mysteries as well so we read not only Columbo and Sherlock Holmes but many others as well. There is a famous writer in Japan named Keigo Higashino. There are many TV dramas and anime that have been made from his work.
So, with Conan I'd like to gain inspiration from those kinds of works. The original work and the anime created by our staff are actually separate. When we create the anime we don't actually touch areas like Kurogo Soushi. This is the organization that gave Conan the drug that turns him into a 7-year-old. We don't touch on the topics like his family and those kinds of areas that are fundamental to the story.
Q: Do you follow The Drops of God manga?
A: The author (Tadashi Agi) is a friend of mine actually. We started drinking wine at the same time. I went with him to France two years ago and ran in the Bordeaux marathon. It's a marathon but everyone dresses up in cosplay and runs in costume. It's a real full marathon and it takes place in September every year. There are places where you take a break and they have wine at these rest areas. So you run the marathon while dirnking wine. Really, it's true! After about 10 km, Agi-san and I gave up. During this course, I hear the closer you get the goal the wine gets better. So the more you run, the better wine you can drink. We gave up on that because we thought if we did the whole thing we wouldn't have the strength left to enjoy the wine.
There's a scene in Drops of God where a character runs the Bordeaux marathon. That is the inspiration for that scene. I appear in Drops of God volume 13 as TV producer Toshihiko Suwa. My character's wife divorces me because of wine. I was asked by a lot of people if it was a true story. It's not true! We patched things up. I appear in Detective Conan volume 11. There's a murder at a TV network. The idol Matsuo Takashi kills me. The reason he killed me is because I stole his role, apparently. So if I was going to killed, I'd like to actually do something worse than that.
Q: What's your favorite Detective Conan mystery?
A:The first movie left a big impression on me. We're about the release the 16th movie but we're already thinking about the next one. When we made the first movie there was no guarantee of a sequel. For that first movie Aoiyama and I put everything in that movie that we wanted to do. I think you should be able to see that or find it at either a supermarket or find that original movie on YouTube? Please enjoy the archive of the older Conan stories as well, please.
Q: What is the reason the VA for Kogoro changed?
A: The person is currently playing that character is Rikiya Koiyama who actually played Jack Bauer in Japan. Kamiya was doing it for 13 years and ready to move on to something else. We all sat down for dinner and made an arrangement. We were all on good terms. He was also getting older and needed to stay healthy. Kamiya was glad to pass it on to Koiyama.
Please continue to enjoy Detective Conan and Lagrange as well. Thank you very much.
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