Interview with Ageha Ohkawa and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

by Chih-Chieh Chang, Mar 2nd 2006
Interview with Ageha Ohkawa (CLAMP) and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (Chairman and CEO, Production I.G)

With the help of Mr. Ishikawa, Ageha Ohkawa (formerly Nanase Ohkawa), storyteller of CLAMP, the most famous manga artist circle in the world, agreed to visit Taiwan at TIBE 2006. CLAMP started as a doujinshi circle. In 1989, CLAMP debuted with its first commercial manga title, Seiden - RG Veda. With its glamorous art style and epic story it was an instant hit. CLAMP had more members in its early days (about a dozen); it has four constant members right now: Satsuki Igarashi, Ageha Ohkawa (Nanase Ohkawa), Tsubaki Nekoi (Mick Nekoi), and Mokona (Apapa Mokona). Ohkawa has always been the storyteller; Mokona is the chief character designer, while Igarashi and Nekoi work for the background. However, with the exception of Ohkawa the other three often take turns for different titles.





Members of CLAMP have ben shrouded in mystery. Due to having been harassed and stalked by overzealous fans, they insisted not to show their faces in public. Their first public appearance was given to FraU, a female magazine of their long time collaborator Kodansha. With the help of Production I.G, the animation studio that has produced the movie adaptation of Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC, two of over a dozen animated titles of CLAMP's, Ohkawa-sensei gave her first public appearance overseas in Taiwan.

Animation studio Production I.G was founded in 1987 with about 300 employees. It went public on December 21, 2005, and in two days its stock price tripled. Its fame came from the high quality animation titles it had produced, including two Ghost in the Shell films, directed by Mamoru Oshii. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence has become the first Japanese animated film nominated at Cannes Film Festival. Born in 1958, Mr. Mitsuhisa Ishikawa has brought Production I.G from less than ten people to its size and fame today. He was awarded Japan's World Entrepeneur of the Year in 2003.


MC (Jo-Jo, Founder, Shuffle Alliance): CLAMP has been famous for over 16 years, from doujinshi to commercial work, with over 100 volumes of manga and over 100 million books sold. This is the first public event overseas ever held for CLAMP. As for Mr. Ishikawa, he founded Production I.G barehanded. Its products, such as GitS and Innocence, were highly acclaimed and popular titles. Their newest titles include movie versions of Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC, as well as the TV version of XXXHOLiC to be aired in April. Now please welcome Ohkawa-sensei and Mr. Ishikawa!



MC: We are honored to invite Ohkawa-sensei and Mr. Ishikawa for CLAMP's first panel overseas. Fans of CLAMP around the entire world are watching. The two visit Taiwan together because of their new project, Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC, so we'd like to explain to you the transition from manga to animation, then we'll ask some frequently asked questions to save more time for individual requests.

MC: This is Ohkawa-sensei's first time to Taiwan. What's your impression of Taiwan?
Ohkawa (O): Greetings, I'm Ageha Ohkawa of CLAMP. For me this is the first time abroad. The first entry stamp on my passport is Taiwan.

MC: What's your impression of Taipei?
O: I was born in Osaka; it is a place very similar to Taipei, so it feels just like home.

MC: I knew that for Ishikawa, this is his 4th trip to Taiwan. Even if you have visited Taiwan so many times, what do you think of Taiwan?
Ishikawa (I): Da Ja Hau (“greetings” in Mandarin Chinese)! This is my fourth visit. During the last visits, Shuffle Alliance had asked me to invite CLAMP; I didn't think it was possible either. However, in the end Ohkawa-sensei agreed, and I'm very glad to bring this precious “gift” to Taiwanese fans. As for my impressions, I've met many otaku in Taiwan; more than I expected.

MC: We've prepared a gift for Ohkawa-sensei: cosplayers. CLAMP fans performed all those characters, mainly Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC ones. Presenting themselves in front of sensei is their lifetime wish.
O: Thank you very much. You are all excellent cosplayers.



(Cosplayers were ecstatic. I could still hear their voices behind closed doors after they had stepped outside the conference room!)

MC: We knew that the parallel worlds between Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC are interwoven. Could you explain the parallel worlds concept behind Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC?
O: Characters from X have appeared in the midst of Tsubasa and XXXHOLiC, and grown-up characters from Tokyo Babylon have also appeared. Furthermore, just like the cosplayers have shown, characters from Magic Knight Rayearth also appeared, although there's no logical connection due to the fantasy nature of the story. I connected stories from realistic worlds and fantasy worlds, and XXXHOLiC was born. Tsubasa is parallel to XXXHOLiC, and two stories were bridged by Yuuko Ichihara.

MC: We are curious how you two started cooperating.
I: Actually, although I.G is very capable in film production, none of our films are adapted from shoujo manga, so some animators of Production I.G brought the idea of adapting a shoujo manga, particularly an xxxHOLiC movie. We pitched it to CLAMP and they confident to let I.G to produce the movie.

MC: How does Ohkawa-sensei feel about the adaptation?
O: Excelent animation quality from Production I.G is guaranteed. I love Production I.G titles, but with a few exceptions most I.G movie titles e.g. GitS are non-shoujo. I was looking forward to a shoujo title produced by Production I.G About XXXHOLiC: the character designer (Kazuchika Kise) linked us together, and we were glad to have invited the animation team for Blood+ to animate XXXHOLiC. The resulting characters are identical to the original manga; I was very moved and pleased. Compared with XXXHOLiC, the movie of Tsubasa is much more action-themed and lively; co-airing with XXXHOLiC links the two titles together very well.

MC: We know that CLAMP has created numerous titles. Which one is your favorite title? Who's your favorite character?
O: As a creator, all works and all characters are equally good.

MC: CLAMP is composed with four members. How do you divide up the workload and how do you communicate with each other?
O: Basically, CLAMP works like a small animation studio: I write all scripts; other three draw drafts and originals. They take turns for different jobs each time.

MC: Adapting an existing title must be a new approach for Production I.G, for most of its titles are original stories. How did you overcome those obstacles when you tried to adapt manga into animation?
I: When Production I.G starts to produce an anime, the first question we consider is whether or not it's funny, regardless of whether it's an original story or an adaptation. Secondly, once an adaptation has been decided, we'd ask: was the original work funny? Could we keep the spirit of the original? Was the adapted script funny? Take works of CLAMP as an example: due to their high-quality art style with extensive details, adapting their works into animation takes a great deal of courage, and we are willing to take the challenge.

MC: What will CLAMP's next project be, especially overseas?
O: After this first trip to Taiwan, we will visit South Korea in May and United States in July, respectively. Taiwan is our first stop of the tour. We'd like to hear feedbacks from our readers by the tour.

MC: Please feel free to ask questions now.

Greetings, this is Chih-Chieh Chang from Anime News Network. I'd like to ask Ohkawa-sensei two questions: 1) Will X be finished? 2) Why did all four members of CLAMP change their names in 2004 at CLAMP's 15th anniversary?
O: Speaking of X... I've been asked oh-so-many times (laugh). However, there are many social problems happening right now, in Japan and around the globe. Many people have died because of major earthquakes, plus there were several horrible murders committed by juveniles in Japan (note: Sakakibara Seito) – both are related to the story of X. Those reasons made it difficult to continue serializing in a shoujo manga magazine. Basically, we want to finish the work, but serializing it is difficult, so we are still looking for a suitable magazine to serialize it till the end.
For changing the penname: CLAMP has existed for 15 years, and we aged a bit. Mokona Apapa-sensei, chief illustrator of CLAMP, didn't want to be called “Apapa” anymore (its bursting pronunciation sounds childish). She has been insisting a name change for a long time, and echoed by Nekoi-sensei who was annoyed her first name “Mick / Mikku,” often misidentified as a fan of The Rolling Stones. They found a chance to change their names during the 15th anniversary.

Sensei's older titles were more elaborate and detailed, while newer titles have simpler line art. What is the difference between styles?
O: It's not like we drew in more detail before and simpler now. Each of CLAMP's titles have a different art style, which was taken into consideration during the planning stage. There are more (artistically) complex titles and simpler titles depending on what the plot is.

Tsubasa utilized lots of parallel universe concepts; same characters appear repeatedly. Do any sci-fi works influence it?
O: I'm nothing compared to a real SF fan. The only title I can think of related to parallel worlds is probably Doraemon (laugh). Although I couldn't specify which title has influenced Tsubasa, all works that have appeared in Tsubasa are parallel worlds of our own world, and I tried to keep that in mind to segregate Tsubasa from other CLAMP titles. The basic characters are the same, but due to different life experiences and backgrounds their behaviors may change as well.

MC: Could you tell us the next project of Production I.G, Mr. Ishikawa?
I: After GitS2: Innocence, director Mamoru Oshii will release a new movie in April: Tachiguishi Retsuden. Director Oshii has wanted to make this movie for a long time.



MC: The most interesting part is its cast: almost all elite godfathers of animation have gathered together on this movie, including Mr. Ishikawa. This movie represents Mr. Oshii's philosophy and is eagerly anticipated.

The stories of your creations are very diversified. Where did you get those ideas? Furthermore, why do you shy away from media?
O: When I find something very interesting the inspiration keeps flowing out naturally like hot spring water.
There are two reasons for shying away from media: 1) as a group of four, we were not sure how to present ourselves in front of media. 2) Hiding from media creates a “legendary” aura around the circle. There are many “urban legends”, like there are 20+ members in CLAMP, or there are eight “clones” of Nanase Ohkawa. Being afraid of too many baseless rumors and willing to interact with fans, we started to appear in front of media.

As a group leader, if there are younger generation want to learn leadership skills from you, what would you tell them? How do you maintain the harmony of the group?
A: As the chairman of Production I.G, Mr. Ishikawa might know this better than I do (laugh) – even director Oshii is willing to stay near him. In order to keep the harmony in the group, remember to write names on food in the refrigerator. We have good relationships among ourselves, but in order to be professional we must separate personal feelings from careers. Basically, art creators are quite tough and will not get mad easily. But we still get mad when dealing with professionalism.

MC: Thanks for everyone for this press conference.

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