Interview: Tatsuya Matsubaraby Jacob Chapman,
When it comes to the Science Adventure series, Tatsuya Matsubara is the glue that holds everything together. After producing the smash hit visual novel Steins;Gate, Matsubara has gone on to produce a litany of games and anime with MAGES. At Anime Expo 2018, he hyped up Steins;Gate Elite, the first game in the series to be fully animated, which will be released in English this year. We sat down to ask him what goes into producing a successful Science Adventure story.
From the outside, we don't get a lot of information about what the producer of a game company like MAGES does. So what is your workday like?
Matsubara: Traditionally, producers will think of a plan for any given project and how they're going to sell it. It's a bit different at MAGES, because not only do I do the job of a producer, but I also work on some things that traditionally a director would do. This is going to get kind of detailed, but in the morning I would usually answer emails, normal stuff like that. In the afternoon, I would check over what kind of assets are being used, give any direction if needed, and then I may even create those necessary assets as well.
When you say creation, do you largely do video editing? Are you an artist yourself?
Sometimes I draw as an artist, but it's been less of that lately. Usually it'd be things like video editing, like you mentioned, and writing the scenarios.
You do scenario supervision for the main games in the series?
Everything in the Steins;Gate series.
So who would be the final arbiter of what direction to take a Steins;Gate game in the development process?
That would be Shikuya Chiyomaru, he's the main story writer. To put it in other words, I will take Shikuya's original story and find the ways to put that story into different mediums like games and anime.
What is your philosophy for creating a new Science Adventure work? What kind of things do you think Science Adventure fans want to see from future stories?
The main concept and overarching theme is that these stories are based in reality, and if science progresses a little further, then all these things could possibly happen. That's what we always keep in mind when making Science Adventure stories.
Which of the series that you've worked on do you feel is closest to your heart? Which do you feel has the most Matsubara in it?
That would be Steins;Gate. It was my first title as a producer, so I have a lot of sentimental value attached to that as well.
How involved were you with the anime adaptation of Steins;Gate and the process of plotting out those routes? Steins;Gate is beloved by fans for how it compressed the game into an anime successfully.
The methods for creating games and anime are very different. For the most part, if you just take the game and translate it one-for-one into anime, it usually doesn't work out. People will usually give the project over to the judgment of a director who's used to directing anime. The method we opted for was that we requested the staff of Studio White Fox actually play the game and integrate themselves into that world, and then we could have a discussion on how to adapt it into anime. We had a video for the game that would play through the start to the end for every route, so we could reference that at any time if we needed to look up a specific scene or something. The director Sato said that he played the game through six times. So he really got into the story. He saw the passion and dedication on display, so we knew that we could leave things up to them for any upcoming projects.
How important is it to you that the staff remains the same between related projects? Steins;Gate Zero has largely retained the same staff from Steins;Gate, minus the director. Do you think that's integral to maintaining the quality of the translation from game to anime?
Even though the director did change, the staff knew that Steins;Gate was very high quality and popular, so we knew that if we could rely on that same staff, we could bring out the same quality in the anime. That was something we discussed about keeping the team the same from early on.
It's good that Steins;Gate has had that benefit, but sometimes with stories like Occultic;Nine and Chaos;Child, you have to fit a very large game into just one cour. What is your main goal when producing an anime adaptation that can't possibly fit the full story into the anime and has to kind of jump around? Would you rather it make sense on its own, or does that have to become a secondary consideration to showcasing the game?
Visual novels in general have a lot of text. It's not just the Science Adventure series; they're all pretty hard to compress into one coherent story. For the most part, we would choose at the beginning of the project what we most want to express. We want to show this scene, this scene, or this scene from the game.
Yeah. And they would kind of mold the story around that.
So it works more as an advertisement, like “these are the main points of the game, and we want you to play the game in order to get the full story," Because you have to do it that way?
That's one thing I always recommend people do to fully enjoy the experience. One of the goals of Steins;Gate Elite is to combine those elements to express things that we weren't able to show in the anime.
That's exciting. So MAGES also has a music division. How involved are you in the process of managing musical artists and producing music that matches the tone of a project?
The music is all selected by Shikuya Chiyomaru. He's the original story creator, so he has his own vision on that.
So you just sort of go “okay, I trust you,” when it comes to music?
Pretty much. I will say that if you listen to the lyrics, sometimes there are hints or references for future titles in a series.
What do you want American fans to most anticipate coming out in English? I know that Chaos;Child recently came out in English, which I'm excited to play. While some projects like Steins;Gate Elite are further out on the horizon, what do you want people to most check out that's available right now?
A fan actually came up to me and asked that sort of question too. For the most part, as a company, we have to prioritize things that are more popular or get more support from the fans. When fans do support the Science Adventure series, that's usually what will be produced. Right now we're working on the second part of Robotics;Notes in Japan. I personally like it, but I'm not sure if American fans will embrace it as much as Steins;Gate.
That's certainly up in the air. I have not played Robotics;Notes, I saw the anime, so there may be some gaps for me to fill in. But the issue is mostly that much of this stuff isn't available in English yet, so we have to experience it through the anime if anything.
But you would be interested in the Robotics;Notes game?
Oh yeah, well I'm curious about anything that can get released on a convenient platform. It's all about availability for a lot of fans. So of the themes you've explored, there's been delusions, time travel, ghosts, and so on. Is there a science concept that you feel the team hasn't addressed that you're excited about?
For the next project, they were thinking about things like AI and virtual reality. But those sorts of technologies that are already at the cutting edge of science, by the time we create a project—
The world's caught up?
Yeah, it's usually reality already. So it's not this crazy science concept anymore. So that idea itself might be something worth pursuing. The idea that humanity routinely outpaces the growth of technology.
That's really interesting. I think a game could be more timeless if it talks about how these things become dated. One thing I will say, if you're thinking about exploring AI, have you or Mr. Shikuya seen Westworld before?
Yeah, we've watched it. Season two as well.
You should steal some ideas from it and make them Science Adventure-flavored.
Thanks to Anime Expo for the opportunity.
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