The Accel World Interviews Part II - Masakazu Obaraby Jon Hayward, Jun 5th 2014
Director - Masakazu Obara
Masakazu Obara's first credited work is as a storyboarder on Outlaw Star in 1998 which was followed by work on Turn A Gundam in 1999 and he started directing episodes with Gear Fighter Dendoh in the year 2000. Masakazu has since went onto direct the My-HiME series, (including My-Otome and it's sequel) and (The) Girl Who Leapt Through Space. He has also he worked on The Twelve Kingdoms, Overman King Gainer and Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector but of course his most recent work as a director was Accel World.
Interview with Masakazu Obara
Damien: In the anime adaptation of Accel World, were there any parts that had been influenced by Sword Art Online?
Masakazu Obara: Nothing in particular, as our production was scheduled to broadcast in Japan ahead of that one. As we were reaching the end of production of Accel World, when it was decided that a Nav Gear from that production would appear in episode 22, we contacted A1-Pictures and received the specs about it from them. It was a rather small thing, and not much else aside from that.
Richard: What was the greatest challenge in realising the anime form of the world that Reki Kawahara had created?
Masakazu Obara: This was my first time adapting an original work to anime, so I suppose you could say that the entire thing was a challenge. While flexibility and flair are the watchwords of original anime production, this time the most important thing for us was to remain faithful to the original work.
Cenkaz: In regards to the animation development of Accel World, where there any parts of the production that reflected you as the director? In adapting the series to an anime, what portions of the original story was it necessary to change?
Masakazu Obara: As it wasn't my intention to add some of myself to the production, I don't know if I actually did. Given the incredibly clever nature of the novel, which made for very rich and vivid imagery, the real challenge was to translate that to the anime without losing any of its quality. There were a few discrepancies in the novel that we discovered, but as they were quite small we were easily able to work them out. In regards to the production schedule, we were however slightly short on enough content to properly create the full set of episodes, and so it was decided that we would create a special 'bridging' episode and that Mr Kawahara himself would write it. In my work of adapting original works to anime, this particular one was truly exceptional and I am very honoured to have worked on it.
Dakota-Shaye: As the director, I think that the Accel World anime that you created is a masterpiece. When being in control of the production of a series off a single work, what is the hardest challenge?
Masakazu Obara: As the anime was created with the wholehearted desire to create something that was equally as good as the novel, I'm not sure if I had anything to do with it being a masterpiece. We thought of the hard work involved in the series progress as "This is a battle where the work will decrease faster the further we go". Also, we created a necessary "maintenance of motivation" requirement that we set up, which actually helped us clear out goals quite easily.
Wayne: Do you believe there is any technology in Accel World that may eventually come to the real world?
Masakazu Obara: Even if it were to be technologically realised, it would appear to me that technology that could directly interact with your nervous system and generate imagery depicting virtual harm being done to yourself would take a fair amount of courage to continue using. But when I consider it, in the year 2014 humans are already cooking their eyes staring at LCD screens, frying their brains with EM waves from mobile phones and getting stuck in the mud of relations with people they don't even know on social media, and I don't think they will stop. So I would think that technology like the Neuro Linker would be a sufficient for that sort of addiction as well. Personally, I would be very interested in seeing things like how police and country officials could use the technology in investigations, and how criminal organisations, and even the milatary would use such things.
Luke: In what way did you decide on the details behind the anime adaptation? What was the reason for deciding the way it is?
Masakazu Obara: I received an offer from Mr Hirayama, who is the producer of the anime production company, Sunrise. I have been the director of many previous productions with this company, and I have been good colleagues with Mr Hirayama since his debut production. With Accel World being pitched as an anime containing many science fiction and mechanical elements, the original novel author and publishers were delighted to here that Sunrise, with its specialties in those genres would produce it.
Samantha: Supposing you were to go back and redo the Accel World anime from the start, are there any parts you would want to change? If so, which parts, and for what reason?
Masakazu Obara: I have only one regret. The setting of the entire story takes place, for the most part, in the central metropolitan area of Tokyo. Various locations to be featured in the anime we scouted out by location hunters, and were then visualised 30 years in the future, with various subtle changes. It would be hard to call those locations worthy of sight-seeing, but if you were to go stand in the actual locations, you would easily be able to recognise all of it as more or less unchanged. But, we were also concerned we might have been too faithful in following reality in some parts. For example, in the final episode, in the scene where Haryuki meets Kuroyukihime on the platform at JR Kouenji station of 30 years from now, there should have been an electric gates separating the platform and the track. But these electric gates only started appearing in Tokyo train stations after the Accel World broadcast finished. The line that runs through Kouenji station, the Chuo line, has a pretty infamous reputation in Japan for being an area with a high number of minor accidents (whether for occult reasons or simply tourists not paying enough attention) and there would be no reason why these gates wouldn't be there in 30 years. If I had the opportunity, I would like to go back and modify those scenes to add the electric gates. Beyond that, I would say there are still many other things that would be nice to change, but they are all very small issues. But I most definitely dislike having to go back and redo anything from scratch. I would most certainly welcome if we were to ever remake it into a theatrical release, however I would then expect it to be a completely different production then anyway. Certainly, at that point, we would be extra diligent to make sure things like electric doors appearing wouldn't go un-noticed.
ANN: Do you believe the world of Accel World and the real world have any similarities? For example, the dependence some people have on games and technology these days is quite similar, but what do you think?
Part of the brilliance of this work, is that games and technology do not merely stop at the surface of a small technological device, and while these are being futuristically exaggerated, at the same time, the root of the problems that it brings about becomes the starting point of the story. In other words, in a setting where humanity has become dependent on such an 'escape from reality' mechanism, the humans who live in such an advanced civilisation have an uneasy existence as they exchange this for the safety of the common necessities of daily life. The boys and girls who participate in the virtual world of the games mostly come from insecure family circumstances, and are looking for other people in which to form strong bonds (although, some people weren't directly looking for it, and others ended being molded by it). Mr Kawahara, the original author, put these people into a virtual world they viewed as a means of escape from reality, but then subjected them to extremely intense trials that put them through much anguish, with not much gain or relief. This story is a very good piece of fantasy fiction that a lot of Japan's light novel enthusiasts would find paints a slightly bitter, but good depiction, with the author's underlying message being a very earnest one.
ANN: In what way did you think about the designs for the Brain Burst avatars? Was using different designers your own plan?
Masakazu Obara: In the view of undertaking the demand of the varying designs, we decided on the 'mecha team' who would design for the anime at the very start of production. (...is what I would say officially, but in all earnest, there were a number of people I wanted to work with, and I could stop at just one).
In regards to the Duel Avatars, the conditions for how they needed to be were already laid out in the novel. In addition, there were also some amazing illustrations by Mr HIMA provided in the novel and we also considered what the general reader consensus of what the avatars would look like. From the novel side, there was a proposal to start the designs from scratch, but the anime team thought that wouldn't be necessary from the beginning, and the potential for trial and error was too much. On a basic level, with Mr HIMA's illustrations, and the author, Mr Kawahara's (admittedly incredibly extensive amount of written work) rough designs as the basis, we worked with the Sunrise crew to work out the character detail, including working on filling the gaps the novel left out into the proper anime design.
The design team used, as a 'hint', inspiration from the action suits in Japanese 'tokusatsu' super hero dramas. (To draw a parallel in Western culture, picturing characters resembling "Iron Man" or "RoboCop" would be a close comparison). We followed closely in the suit of contemporary tokusatsu design; things like the chests, the lower backs, being protected with armour, and places like the stomach and chest being covered up in the suit.
Mr Kabashima, the design team keyman had a very high affinity for these design concepts. He had previously worked on projects with me as a really upstanding animator, had handled ALL of the character design in another project, and had a great aptitude for designing mechanical characters that worked in many action poses, and since I knew he had great knowledge and love for the genre, I was able to have him on the schedule. The designs that he drew, of both characters and mecha, have an edge that is easily recognisable at a single glance, which are just overflowing with coolness. Another one of the keymen, Mr Jinguuji had previously worked on one of my previous projects, and despite providing me with great designs across the board, he had a certain flair for non-mecha design elements, of which I wanted to see more. In addition, as he was also the main designer for the popular Japanese figure series 'Assemble Borg', he let us visualise the anime in a sense of 3D perspective. He is truly a skilled person.
When it came time to debut the characters 'Nickel Doll' and 'Sand Duct' in episode 7, as there were no mentions of the designs in the novel, nor official illustrations, we had Mr Jinguuji create a wholly original design within the constraints of the characters from the novel. And again, in episode 8, Scarlet Rain's Immovable Fortress, while there were illustrations in the novel depicting it, it became necessary to modify it, which Mr Jinguuji took and made completely original.
Beyond that, we also had Mr Taiga, who has worked with me since my first directorial project, a long time ago. This time, he was working at the same studio on another very science fiction oriented anime as the main designer, however if there was ever a time I needed a design, I would be able to negotiate with the other party (As I'd worked with their leader in the past as well), and he would work on both of our productions at once, creating some absolutely radical Duel Avatar and prop designs. As well, as he was a man who had a huge amount of experience in designing toys for both anime and tokusatsu-type productions, he was able to realistically visualise all of the gimmicks in the characters transform sequences in extreme detail. Supposing, for argument's sake, there was a scenario where Silver Crow would transform into a bird shaped fighter jet, Mr Taiga would be on it.
Another designer, with whom was the first time I had worked with, Mr Sakura, was already a very favoured, popular designer in the anime industry. With things like the Neuro Linker, and the electric cars (Pard's electric bike as well), he was able to create a large number of prop designs that reflected a slightly futuristic Japanese style. The greatest example of this would be the concept design of Akihabara, created for episodes 21 and 22. With his amazing sense of design and polish, perhaps I should call him the Japanese "Syd Mead" of the smartphone generation.
As for Mr Yamane, who didn't work at just Sunrise, but had ties to a great number of mecha action anime, had naturally had that reputation at stake as a super animator and designer. Mr Kabashima, who had gained the title of senpai, also had the bonds of a tokusatsu freak, so I was able to call out for him to join the production. He was very familiar with what sort of edges, what sort of colour and what sort of pose was need to make a mecha look sexy. When the anime manages to pull off a bluff, it is reflected in the pros among pros. In episode 23, with his back to the moon, there is a cut where Cyan Pile readies his giant blade with precision, which was on the presumption on Mr Yamane's drawing making it in. I've ended up writing a lot here, and not all of it has even been released to the Japanese media before.
To everyone reading this, the Japanese Accel fans never asked a question like this before, with the internal operations of the production being released.
ANN: Finally, please give us a message for all of the Australian and New Zealand Accel World fans.
Masakazu Obara: I have no doubts that the emotionally moving nature of this story is universal. However, because it is a production that was created and oriented at Japanese people, I think there are some parts that not everyone might truly understand or truly sympathise with. However, thinking of this is an opportunity that some people are taking ast their first steps into a different culture, and being able to learn more about Japan makes me incredibly happy, and it makes me thankful all the works I have done.
With Thanks ToTim Oliver - Translator
Without Tim's hard work this interview wouldn't have been translated into English. So if you would like to thank him you can check out his twitter @timoliverau or say hi at a meetup for Perth's Japanese conversation exchange KAIWA.
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