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Interview: Keiichi Sigsawa

by Jacob Chapman,

As the author of one of the most beloved long-running light novel series ever, Keiichi Sigsawa has been telling the story of Kino's Journey, one volume per year, for almost two decades now. After receiving an anime series in 2003 and an aborted publishing run by Tokyopop in 2006, western fans have been starving for more of Kino's story over the past decade. So the announcement of a remake airing on Crunchyroll next season—under the mouthful title Kino no Tabi - the Beautiful World- the Animated Series—is a pretty big deal. We sat down with Sigsawa at Crunchyroll Expo to discuss his work and what fans can expect from this new anime series.

There's a new anime adaptation coming out for Kino's Journey after 14 years. How will this adaptation differ from what fans saw in the previous series, and what are you most excited about in this new anime?

SIGSAWA: First of all, the staff is totally different from the previous series. The only people who have carried over from that project are the producers. So it's not a sequel or a second season, it should be considered a completely new remake.

Will the stories being animated be the same from the first series, or will there be more adventures from later volumes?

I can't say exactly what will be in the new series right now, but we have nothing against animating stories from the previous series just because we've already done them. There is a chance that some stories you've seen in the first anime will have the chance to come back.

How did this opportunity to do another series come about for you?

As a creator, I don't have much say about what gets animated, but a producer approached me asking if I wanted to do a new anime, because he had done a short picture drama on Nico Nico Douga with Aoi Yūki doing the voice acting, and it was a hit. Based on that, he wanted to make a new series with Aoi Yūki playing the part of Kino. All things considered, he probably already had plans to make a new Kino's Journey anime, but because that video was so successful, he wanted to move forward with making it for the following year with Aoi Yūki in the main role.

In coming up with concepts for different countries, a lot of them act as philosophical arguments. How do you turn these hypothetical questions into a place where it seems like people can live?

There are a lot of different patterns my editor and I have in mind for making countries. I come up with the idea and its dramatic conclusion first, and then I make a country that will fit those story details. It's not so much the style of the country that's important, it can often be an island or a city or something else, but it's more the story being used as its basis.

In coming up with those conclusions, is there a specific message you want to bring across to the audience, or is it more important to you that they form their own beliefs based on the country?

I don't think of it so much as a philosophical question I'm asking. It's more like I just come up with an interesting idea and then take Kino to that place so I can tell the story it produces, rather than me wanting to say "hey you should think about this."

Kino herself is the heart and soul of the story to many people. People often talk about how unique she is because she doesn't care if people see her as either male nor female, only "Kino". How does Kino see herself in regards to her gender, since she doesn't seem to act as either a girl or boy?

Kino really doesn't think of herself too deeply when she uses pronouns. Depending on the circumstances, she may use "boku" or "atashi", it kinda depends on the situation she finds herself in. In the first story, Kino always referred to herself as "boku", because it was meant to be like a little secret. At the end of the story, it was treated as a reveal to surprise the readers, because they had probably assumed someone using "boku" was a guy. So it was more of a trick at the beginning. It's not that I wanted to write a story about a girl who lives like a boy directly, it was just an interesting way to start the story, and her character's personality has continued that way since then.

So if Kino thinks of herself so little, what do you feel drives her? If she's so unconcerned with her own identity, what is she pursuing through her travels?

I can't really say right now, but if you read all of the Kino's Journey stories, there is a flow to their progression that people will be able to understand by the end. She does have a central motivation that will eventually be revealed, but I can't tell you what it is right now.

Do you have a personal favorite story you've written? Do you know what the most fan-favorite story is and what is your perception of its popularity?

My favorite story is "A Peaceful Land — Mother's Love", which was also the first one I wrote. It comes at the end of the first novel, because I started near the end and then wrote backwards. Usually the stories I work really hard on and like most by the end are the ones that fans like the most too, so there's not much difference. I'm not too concerned about whether the fans like the same stories that I like, though. The #1 fan favorite is probably "A Kind Land — Tomorrow Never Comes", which was very emotionally involving to write and also appeared in the anime.

Back when you first started writing light novels in 2000, the market was very different in terms of what stories were being written and what if anything was turned into anime. Now light novel anime are very popular, but the types of stories being told are very different from Kino's Journey. How do you feel about how the market has changed over the years?

I entered the industry in 1999 by submitting to Dengeki Bunko's contest, so it has been 18 years since I began writing light novels. They didn't even use the term "light novels" that often back then, so I'm really proud that I was able to help light novels become popular. I'm really happy that the whole industry has grown bigger, and there are more anime based on light novels now. I'm pretty indifferent about how the genres have changed, and I may even write something in the more popular light novel genres one day. Even though the industry's a lot bigger, it's still hard for even established series to sell new volumes, since there are a lot of newcomers with the advent of web novels, but my editor wants to work really hard to keep selling volumes.

Writing "Mother's Love" as the first Kino's Journey story is interesting and probably new information to many fans. The role bereaved women have played in the history of war and reparations can be striking. Were you inspired by any historical events or something specific that happened?

I have read many stories involving war and bereaved women, but there was nothing in particular from history that sticks out as one inspiration for the story. I came up with the conclusion for the story first, when I was in college. I let it sit and develop for about six years, and then I wrote the full version out to enter it in the Dengeki Bunko contest. So I don't remember exactly how deeply I thought about the idea at the beginning anymore.

So Hermes is a talking motorrad, which is kind of an unusual device. Even though there's a lot of fantasy in the story, the idea of a talking motorcycle seems uniquely fantastical for the setting. What was your own reasoning behind Hermes's ability to talk?

I didn't put much deep thought into it myself. I thought, "Hm, I have a main character. She needs a partner she can talk to. I guess a motorcycle could talk, right?" That was about it. If anyone asks why Hermes talks, it's just because he does.

You mentioned writing for some of the more modern light novel genres in the future, and you wrote a franchise spinoff recently, Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online. How did you come into that project, and what was it like writing for someone else's story?

I had read Sword Art Online, and when I got to the Gun Gale Online part, I was really interested in it. At the time, I was like "Please let me write for this!" So for the second season of the anime, they asked me to do all the flavor text for the guns used in the show. That gave me the opportunity to say "Hey, I want to write more for this world, I really want to get into it." I asked the Kadokawa editors and Reki Kawahara, and they said "Sure!"

Are you brought on to do consulting work with your gun knowledge for anime very often? Had that happened before?

No, Gun Gale Online was the first time, because of my connections there.

Is that something you would like to do more of?

I would definitely like to do it more often, I just don't get the offers. But when my friends, other authors, come to me asking for detailed information about guns, I enjoy helping them out.

Have you been to America before, and is there anything special you plan to do while visiting?

I have been to America before, but I want to take it easy this time and just do some shopping.

Is there a message you would like to give the fans in regard to the upcoming anime?

The anime's relationship with my stories will be the same, since I do all the checks for the story's scripts. The only thing that's different is that production has been modernized. The animation style is more updated, which is what fans can look forward to most. Same Kino stories, new look.

Since he's featured so much in the promotional material, can we expect to see more of Shizu and his dog than before?

I can't tell you exactly how much or what stories you will see, but yes, you will see much more of Shizu.

Thanks to Crunchyroll Expo for this opportunity.

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