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Interview: Laid-Back Camp Director Yoshiaki Kyogoku

by Kyle Cardine,

Perhaps it was fitting that Yoshiaki Kyogoku would make his first American convention appearance in Washington, D.C. During his time at Production I.G, Kyogoku worked on Eden of the East and said he animated Akira Takizawa's infamous introduction when he appears naked in front of the White House. Kyogoku's appearance at Otakon 2019 ten years after Eden of the East's premiere would bring him to a very different District of Columbia, with a new leadership title under his belt and a series about girls who just love to camp.

Starting as an animator at Production I.G, Kyogoku would meet directors Kenji Kamiyama and Shunsuke Tada, who would both later become his mentors on the road to becoming a director. After serving as an episode director for series like Tokyo Ghoul, Kuroko's Basketball and Encouragement of Climb Second Season, Kyogoku made his directorial debut with Laid-Back Camp in 2018, even winning an award in the director category during the Tokyo Anime Film Festival's Animation of the Year awards.

At panels throughout the weekend, Kyogoku's dedicated work ethic was very apparent, for better or worse. Whether describing the time where he worked on both Tokyo Ghoul and Kuroko's Basketball simultaneously (while not going home for ten days in a row), going solo-camping himself to understand Rin's appreciation for adventuring alone or even working on the final episode of Laid-Back Camp up until the day before it aired, Kyogoku is, if anything, “a real high maintenance director” according to Laid-Back Camp producer Shōichi Hotta.

However, Kyogoku's dedication to the detail Laid-Back Camp would have real-world effects in Japan. According to a survey, Yamanashi prefecture, where Laid-Back Camp is based, saw a significant rise in tourism to the area with an estimated 85 Million yen (US$765,000) in earnings from events in 2018 and in one case tripling the number of guests at the campsite featured in the first episode. For a series that depicts the joy of camping in what may be thought is an off-season, Kyogoku and his team seemed to capture a sort of beauty that makes viewers want to grab their supplies and experience the great outdoors.

Anime News Network had a chance to sit down with Kyogoku to talk about his role as a director and the rise of anime tourism during the convention.

I understand that Laid-Back Camp is your first director role. Were you nervous? How did you approach the role?

Kyogoku: I wasn't really tense, but I do have to admit that since this is my first time, I wasn't really sure what to do. I asked my sempai about being a director. At first, there was a little bit of fumbling, but I just kept asking people what I should do.

I know you won an award in the director category at the Tokyo Anime Film Festival. First, congratulations. How did you feel winning that award for your first project?

Kyogoku: I was very surprised. I'd like to think that the award went to the show and not to me. While the show was good, it's not mine. It was all the staff's hard work that made it possible. I would like to think that the award came to me as a representative of the show and not me personally. Our staff is the best.

I also want to ask about anime tourism. What do you think of Laid-Back Camp's influence on anime tourism and what do you think of that sort of tourism overall?

Kyogoku: I believe that animation has the ability to express things in that might be regular in the real world, take that charm and express the beauty that it has. For example, we get to show Mt. Fuji or the nature of Yamanashi in the show; Some things that people might not see regularly. I believe anime is a powerful medium in that sense. I am happy that fans will visit the places that are in the anime.

Laid-Back Camp takes place in Yamanashi, but that seems like an exception in anime. Like a lot of anime is in Tokyo and only Tokyo. Do you think it's important that anime has a variety of locations?

Kyogoku: I think because many Japanese anime studios are primarily based in Tokyo that Tokyo locations show up a lot. Afro, the author of Laid-Back Camp, lives in Yamanashi so for them, Yamanashi is what they see all the time. I think that's why Afro could convey the beauty of Yamanashi. There are many other good places outside Tokyo in Japan, so I think it's good to have that variety that people can go and see.

You said earlier that your staff is the best and the award you won was for the staff. How do you make sure the well-being of your staff is good? How do you make sure they are healthy and ok?

Kyogoku: I believe communication plays an important role in that relationship. It's also important as a director to clearly convey what you want to do. I may not have done well at first, but a director is someone who should be waving a flag to a destination point and show everyone a single direction so they don't get lost. Another thing is to set the level a bit higher than what they're comfortable with. I believe all the staff we have are good people who are willing to take a challenge, so I need to make sure the goal is just a little bit higher without them tripping along the way.

Our thanks to Yoshiaki Kyogoku and Otakon for the opportunity.

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