Inside Studio CloverWorks with Production Dept. Vice President Yuichi Fukushimaby By Kim Morrissy and Callum May,
Even before A-1 Pictures Koenji Studio rebranded as CloverWorks, they were making anime independently from the Asagaya branch. Because this was never apparent to viewers from the outside, CloverWorks producer Fukushima acknowledges that the rebranding may be confusing. But it was worth it to distinguish between the two Aniplex-owned studios. As of October, CloverWorks has separated from A-1 Pictures and will be led by the new CloverWorks president, Akira Shimizu.
Despite the rebranding, almost nothing has changed about the day-to-day workings of A-1 Pictures and CloverWorks. A-1 Pictures in Asagaya will continue to lead projects such as the Sword Art Online series, while CloverWorks will focus on Fate/Grand Order, which is slated to release next year.
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The rebranding being a large step towards the studio developing its own image, but it's unclear yet what that image will be. When we asked him what CloverWorks's brand is right now, his first answer was a blunt “Nothing.” By giving the studio a new name, CloverWorks is starting - if not from zero - then at least from page one. Even if CloverWorks is relatively unknown at the moment, he hopes that audiences in Japan and overseas will begin to understand and appreciate them because of their output.
For the moment, Fukushima describes CloverWorks's strengths as a “studio that can do anything.” Although he acknowledged that studios with a strong brand image like TRIGGER and Kyoto Animation have their own unique appeal, he was reluctant to typecast CloverWorks. He would rather CloverWorks become a flexible kind of studio that can handle any kind of project. By emphasizing those strengths, he hopes that CloverWorks can become the kind of studio that can stand tall against TRIGGER and Kyoto Animation and do things that they can't do.
CloverWorks's approach can be seen in the variety of titles that they handle, from Ace Attorney Season 2 to Fate/Grand Order to even a Boys Love series like DAKAICHI -I'm being harassed by the sexiest man of the year-. In terms of animation style, both PERSONA5 the Animation and DARLING in the FRANXX have both stood out in different ways. From speaking with Fukushima, it became very clear that he is a fan of the animators and directors that he works with and speaks with a sense of pride about the staff that he has worked alongside with along the years.
One of the topics we brought up was what we referred to as “The Idolmaster crew,” a group of animators and directors that worked on The Idolmaster in 2010. Those animators and directors work with CloverWorks today; Toshifumi Akai will direct Fate/Grand Order, while Atsushi Nishigori recently directed and organized a collaboration with TRIGGER for DARLING in the FRANXX. Fukushima said that he brought in those people from outside of the company because of their unique perspectives. He describes his position as bringing in the “right talent for the right job.”
Caption: Shelter: The Animation, produced by Yūichi Fukushima, directed by Toshifumi Akai.
Ever since finishing university, Yūichi Fukushima wanted to be an anime producer. At the age of 22, he was hired to work in production at Gonzo, where he worked on shows like the critically acclaimed Peacemaker Kurogane. After a year and a half at Gonzo, he moved onto A-1 Pictures, where he worked on Birdy the Mighty: Decode 02 as a production assistant. Since then, he has served as animation producer on The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls, Your Lie in April, Occultic;Nine, DARLING in the FRANXX, and others. He will also be serving as producer on the upcoming The Promised Neverland and Fate/Grand Order.
Fukushima is excited about The Promised Neverland. Ever since working in anime, he had always wanted to work on a long-running Weekly Shonen Jump title like Naruto or One Piece. That said, even though The Promised Neverland is not a battle series, Fukushima is still thrilled to be working on it. One of the focuses for the series, production-wise, is to create quality character animation, which he believes that the anime team is well suited for.
On the other hand, Fate/Grand Order will be an action heavy title. A-1 Pictures previously produced an adaptation of Fate/Apocrypha, which was highly regarded for its exciting action animation. I asked whether there was a possibility that we would get another star-filled episode like Fate/Apocrypha episode 22. Fukushima said that although he has no way of knowing how things will turn out, he can't discount the possibility because a number of animators from Fate/Apocrypha may participate in Fate/Grand Order too. However, he couldn't reveal any names beyond what has already been publicly announced.
In the wake of CloverWorks's separation from A-1 Pictures, these upcoming works will shape the image of CloverWorks's “do anything” approach in the future. Beyond that, however, it's business as usual. When asked if they were considering working with Netflix in the future, Fukushima stated that although it would be interesting to create an original Netflix series like B: The Beginning, CloverWorks has only just been established as a studio, so for now the plan is to continue creating TV shows that will stream on Crunchyroll and other simulcasting platforms as they have always done.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. CloverWorks has become a studio to keep an eye on because of its flexibility, high-profile staff, and the extraordinarily popular IPs it handles. But these were always the characteristics of the studio even before it separated from A-1 Pictures. By doing the same things they've always done but under their own name, CloverWorks's work will become easier to recognize. It will be interesting to see how this separation affects the direction of the studio going forward.
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