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The World Ends with You -The Animation- at Anime Expo Lite

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Square Enix's The World Ends with You (Subarashiki Kono Sekai) action role-playing game first hit store shelves for the Nintendo DS in 2007-2008, so color me surprised when an anime announcement dropped last week. The original action RPG took place in Shibuya and quickly gained acclaim for its impressive soundtrack and complicated game scenarios.

The original game follows Neku Sakuraba, a loner who finds himself wrapped up in the Reapers' Game— a competition where the dead can return for a price in hopes of winning the ability to reincarnate or move on to a higher plane. A deity-like being known as the Composer overseas the week-long contests. Neku pairs with three different players as he seeks to understand how he died.

At the Anime Expo Lite streaming panel original game producer Tomohiko Hirano, game director Tetsuya Kando, game character designer Gen Kobayashi, composer Takeharu Ishimoto, The World Ends with You anime director Kazuya Ichikawa revealed how the anime came to be almost 15 years after the game's initial releases and what changes fans can expect.

Hirano stated that the staff had always wanted for the game to inspire an anime but at the time of its release, it was more common for anime and games to be created for cross-promotional purposes; it wasn't as common for a game to be successful and in turn inspire an anime adaptation. At the time of the game's development, the staff wanted to include anime cutscenes within the game, but due to hardware limitations at the time and the game's increasing focus on music, it just couldn't happen.

Ishimoto's soundtrack for the game garnered plenty of fans during its original release, and that includes the staff themselves. The World Ends with You. Kando stated, "I really liked the image of various music playing while walking the streets of Shibuya, like a jukebox." Kando was so inspired by Ishimoto's songs that it became a major focus of the game. Movie scenes were cut to free up more memory space for additional tracks and an increased emphasis was placed on including songs with vocals. Kando thought that having battle music that included vocals would be a unique feature.

Despite the Nintendo DS' console limitations, Ishimoto was undeterred. During the panel, he admitted that he doesn't really remember the difficulties.

"I didn't think much of it. I like music that includes vocals, so I played around with the music. When they asked me for it, I gave it to them. The music was approved and used in the game. Back then, songs [with vocals] were never used during battles. So, when we made it and it worked, we started to add more and more songs to the game. I think half of the music was songs."

When it comes to the upcoming anime's soundtrack, Ishimoto hopes to bring something new to the table while still honoring the sound of his original work.

Ishimoto isn't the only original game staff member working on the new series. The anime will feature the return of original cast, including Kouki Uchiyama as Neku. Game director Tetsuya Kando has viewed the anime's storyboards and other production materials as well.

"We were working closely with the anime staff from the beginning. I experienced the whole process from drafts to script to storyboard. From reading the script I could tell it was going to be something incredible," Kando said.

"We have the whole game team backing up the project 100%," Hirano said.

The staff is supportive of the upcoming adaptation, but that doesn't mean Kazuya Ichikawa isn't feeling the pressure. The anime director's previous works include Clean Freak! Aoyama kun and the mobage tie-in anime Monster Strike: Rain of Memories as well as the most recent entries in Bakugan franchise. He's taking on The World Ends with You at Domerica, the CG production studio behind Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo.

"I want it to be considered my masterpiece," Ichikawa said prior to screening the promotional video for the game's staff. He appeared immediately relieved when they responded positively.

Domerica is handling the project digitally, down to the storyboards. This created some challenges for adapting the game into an anime where the original character designs and artwork started in 2D. There's also the fact the game's battles included increasingly more outlandish attacks. This presented its own difficulty for Ichikawa, who had to figure out how to adapt Beat and Neku's Fusion movie that showcases the characters surfing on a wave energy. Other moves bring down a rain of street objects on foes, including SUVs.

Ichikawa had to consider other aspects beyond translating video game mechanics for the screen. The original game is 14 years old and Shibuya doesn't look the same anymore. While he was candid if the anime would follow the game's exact story, Ichikawa did reveal that the setting and technology, specifically the characters' cellphones, will reflect modern times.

"I realized that viewers today might not even recognize a flip phone," Ichikawa said. The director couldn't reveal too much about the adaptation's story, hinting only that the game's runtime is approximately 10 hours and had to be compressed.

"So some parts we keep and some parts we change on purpose," he said. The game's staff were quick to back up Ichikawa's directorial choices. Hirano stated that he has "full faith" in whatever Ichikawa keeps or changes and the staff are looking forward to the final version.

Ichikawa admitted that the original game's plot was pretty complicated for its time. Kando chimed in that it became increasingly difficult to keep all the plot threads tied together logically.

"After the game was finished, we went back and made sure it all made sense. This is what we called 'debugging.'" Kando didn't originally intend for the game to get as complicated as it did, but the team wanted to add additional scenarios to give the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. Ichikawa agreed the anime is its own rollercoaster, too.

The World Ends with You anime series will premiere simultaneously worldwide next year.

Jupiter and Square Enix developed the original The World Ends with You game that shipped for Nintendo DS in Japan in 2007 and in the West in 2008. The World Ends with You -Solo Remix- smartphone game developed by h.a.n.d launched for iOS devices in 2012, followed by Android devices in 2014. The World Ends with You -Final Remix- game shipped for the Nintendo Switch in Japan in September 2018 and launched in the West in October 2018.

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