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Otakon 2022
Interview with My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU's Wataru Watari, Masazumi Kato, Chado Horii

by Bamboo Dong,

Fans of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU eagerly packed into a Otakon panel room to spend an hour with a few special guests—original light novel creator and script writer Wataru Watari, producer Masazumi Katō, and the voice of Kakeru Tobe, Chado Horii. The guests greeted a cheering crowd and shared their roles on the production of the series. They then surprised attendees with video messages from voice actors Takuya Eguchi (Hachiman Hikigaya), Saori Hayami (Yukina Yukinoshita), and Nao Tōyama (Yui Yuigahama).

The guests also took some time to answer questions from the moderator and audience, revealing tidbits from the series production like the cast selection process—Watari said that almost all the actors were instantly selected, with the exception of Eguchi, who plays Hachiman. Three other candidates were in the running for the role, but ultimately, it went to Eguchi because, “[he] had the most future potential, which means he wasn't that great. But that's what I saw in Hachiman! A simplicity that must be defined.”

One audience member asked the panelists if there was any chance for more seasons, to which Kato cheekily answered, “Currently we've covered all the novels, so it really is up to Mr. Watari to write some more,” to which Watari answered, “I'm definitely interested in writing more, so it is up to your support to motivate me,” which was met with thunderous applause.

Another audience member mentioned that the club members in My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU spent a lot of time planning things that ultimately aren't that important, and asked if that happened during any part of the light novel or anime creation process. Watari laughed and answered, “For me, writing the novel was the same thing sometimes. A lot of effort on some things that were trivial.” Horii, who was decked out in a New York Yankees cap and enthusiastically used baseball metaphors in his answer, replied, “I take what I can to the recording studio, and sometimes it's a home run, and sometimes it's out. But sometimes it's just… safe.”

We had the wonderful opportunity to dig in deeper with Watari, Kato, and Horii during a one-on-one interview session before the panel.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is very popular globally. When you all started on your individual journeys with this title—as a creator, producer, actor—did you think you would be overseas with so many fans of this work?

Watari: I did not see it coming, really, because as you might know, this anime is about a normal high school life in a relatively micro-ish environment centering around a single high schooler. We didn't expect that this would resonate with American students with their hardships, or with people around the world and their own hardships and ways of life.

Horii: I did not expect this kind of popularity around the world either. Being called to the US like this, for this anime, is a great pleasure for me, and I love that I'm able to share this love for this anime with everyone here.

Kato: As a producer, I started on this project from the second season, and at that point, the novel was already selling very well in Japan, but I also did not expect that this would be as much of a hit in North America too. I was able to get a confirmation of that by being invited here. I'm very overjoyed.

Have you been surprised that things like comedy and romance are able to transcend language barriers so well?

Watari: I actually did not expect that—with the comedy aspect especially—that the comedy would resonate with North American readers over here because the comedy I do is relatively Japanese in the sense that it focuses around word play. Because of that, I was unsure at first, but seeing the magic that the translators and the editors did with the localized version, I was really impressed at the effort they took to adopt my comedy elements.

Horii: I didn't expect the comedy elements to transcend language barriers either. I'm very happy that it did because now I'm able to share all those funny moments with the SNAFU family over here.

Kato: For me, I'm definitely happy those elements come across and everything, but I actually think it's due to the times too, because this anime was first animated ten years ago. If we go back even further than that, say ten years—so, let's say 20 years total—I wonder if the same elements would've been accepted in North America. I think throughout those years, North American fans may have gained a better understanding of Japanese anime in general.

I think mediums like anime have really flattened some of the cultural barriers between countries. In that case, I think there's a little bit of privilege but also pressure to be able to be cultural ambassadors. Do you find that challenging, or do you try not to think about that at all when you're making the product?

Watari: There might be some pressure, but the fact that we're invited to the U.S. like this—we actually get fan letters from across the sea, too. What can I say? They're like a source of power for us! When you look on Twitter and similar platforms, you see tons of tweets and messages, almost like a bullet storm, and you just see how many people are excited at what we do. So I take that as a source of power. Maybe someday I could be a bridge to other parts of the world from Japan. Who knows? I'd like to go for that someday. It's an endeavor.

Horii: Being a Japanese voice actor, I'm honored to have worked with such great content that people around the world have enjoyed that too. Over here, we get to see first-hand all the love that people show for this anime, and I feel that yeah, maybe we may be able to one day, come to a better understanding with each other, like the whole idea of “love and peace,” right?

Kato: I am going to go at this from an anime producer's standpoint, as a businessman, and as a maker of content. As a producer, I would like to keep the quality high for the things that I like, and the things that Japanese audiences like, but I would also like to be able to sell those kinds of things all around the world, including North America. We have some great games and everything over here in America, and I believe that one day—as a businessman—if I could also be here in the same market, that's what I strive for. In Japan, 2.5-D stage plays are becoming popular. Anime is 2-D, and live action is 3-D, and 2.5-D would be the realization of anime as live action on stage. I am hoping that this gains popularity in North America as well.

We're ready! Bring it!

I actually read somewhere online that you (Watari) didn't participate in a lot of clubs in high school. Yet here is this massively popular series that revolves around an unusual club. Would you have joined this club?

Watari: Ummmmmmmmmmmm… well… if I didn't know who was in the club, I may have made a mistake somewhere in there, and I may have joined it. Maybe. But if I knew everyone in there, especially Hachiman, I probably would've stayed far away. (laughs)

The series is a comedy, but it also packs a lot of heart. There's a lot of sweet moments. Did you find it challenging to find those tender moments amongst all the comedy?

Watari: Although I personally didn't have any difficulty writing them, I think there can be discrepancies when readers or watchers think that this anime or this novel is just a comedy, and they see things like depressing scenes or romantic scenes and what not. There might be a discrepancy there between expectations, and what we have in the anime. But I wanted to write a life story of these characters, and I don't think that comedy or romantic stories really stand up on their own, solely by themselves. They're an integral part of a person's story. It's a part of human drama, and I believe that living life, there are those points in life where you have those comedic moments as well as sad moments and happy moments. I wanted to write Hachiman's life and all the elements that are associated with it. If you're familiar with this line of Japanese drama series, the taiga drama, it's about history, and the great flow of history throughout time. I kind of wanted to write something like that.

Mr. Horii, your character (Tobe Kakeru) is very interesting. He has a bit of a mask on at all times, emotionally. Is that something you thought about while you were reading his lines?

Horii: I think Tobe is kind of a mood-maker, in a sense. I think what he wants to do is, wherever he is, he wants everyone to have fun. There are moments that I think Tobe doesn't really show what his parts of the story are, where he doesn't show up, but I think when he's in front of everyone, he kind of focuses on everyone having fun. So if I was able to convey that, then that means I did my job right.

In America, there's a concept called a “hype man.” Your character is like the ultimate hype man.

So on the production side, I know there was a bit of a delay due to COVID. Did that make the production schedule more challenging?

Kato: For the third season, there were lots affected by COVID. Not in the sense that there was one single person affected or anything, but more of a scheduling thing on a company-wide level. In Japan, we had to delay the anime three months because of that. Lucky for us, we were able to show the second season during that time period, so it actually ended up going okay in Japan.

It came at a good time globally, because I think people needed something to cheer them up during that time.

Kato: If we did our part in making the world a better place, then I'm happy. (laughs)

As we start wrapping things up, I have a question inspired by Mr. Horii's character and a scene from SNAFU. Would you rather be romantically rejected by your crush face-to-face, or have someone like Hachiman save you from rejection?

Horii: I love Hachiman, and the fact that Hachiman remembered and saved Tobe… I'd like to be in that situation too. I have to say that I'd rather Hachiman come and intervene so I could be “Saaaaaaaaaafe!” (imitates a baseball umpire). I'd definitely go, “Phew! That went over ok! Cool!” Hachiman's a very nice helper.

Watari: In that situation, I'd also like to be saved by Hachiman. Think about it—there's going to be life after that rejection, if you're rejected face-to-face. A high school guy's heart is pretty easy to break. I don't want to carry over the trauma from that rejection, so yeah, I'd also like to be saved by Hachiman.

Thank you all so much. Do you have any last words for your fans?

Watari: Thank you for supporting SNAFU for such a long time. This is, in a sense, a strange story that focuses on Japan in the small prefecture of Chiba—it's very specific to a country and place. So you in North America might see it as kind of an oddity at times, as things that go on in a very specific region in Japan. But this is actually modeled after a real location and everything. While we might still be locked up with COVID, maybe take that time to watch the series a few more times. Once COVID is over, come over to Japan, to Chiba, and enjoy the basis of what became SNAFU in Japan.

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