Interview: Demon Slayer producer Yuma Takahashi

by Jacob Chapman,

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is one of this season's biggest hit shows, as the first Shonen Jump manga that the renowned studio ufotable has ever tackled for a full series adaptation. We had a chat with producer Yuma Takahashi to discuss how Demon Slayer's anime adaptation was developed and what fans can anticipate from future episodes.

Demon Slayer marks ufotable's first time adapting a Shonen Jump property to TV animation. What interested you in producing this manga specifically?

Yuma Takahashi: Obviously, ufotable has taken on projects like Fate/stay night and Garden of Sinners in the past, with a track record of producing absolutely amazing work. It just seemed like a natural fit to work with them on this particular series.

What was the greatest challenge the staff faced in translating Koyoharu Gotōge's detailed artwork into motion?

I would say the biggest challenge was translating the uniqueness of Gotōge-san's art style. Their imagery has a lot of impact, with very distinct facial expression lines and striking visual choices. So I wondered how we would naturally translate that from the manga into motion. That was probably the biggest challenge.

Did ufotable develop any new digital production techniques for Demon Slayer's visuals, (or did some recent techniques developed for other projects come in handy in new ways)?

ufotable's staff is primarily composed of people who have been working there quite some time, about 5-10 years. So there are many established relationships and a sense of trust already present, because they've all worked together for so long. Moreso than developing new technology, I see it as the team evolving and advancing their techniques, getting better and better at the methods they had already developed. So it's not so much that we bring in new 3D technology, it's more that they've gotten better at their craft throughout the years, and even the CG elements in Demon Slayer are all derived from work that is drawn by hand. They always find a way to go higher and higher...and higher and higher and higher. In terms of ufotable's goals for this series specifically, it's not their aim necessarily to make the best anime ever, but to make the best Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. So what you're seeing now is their best version of that source material.

What was the process like for developing the ukiyo-e style CGI used in Tanjiro's water breathing sword techniques? Was it difficult to blend those visuals with the hand-drawn character animation?

The water breathing technique—particularly the waves within the attack when it is released—is all composed of hand-drawn elements. There is a little 3DCG in the final composite, but almost all of those water elements are done by hand. It is very difficult to match the human character's movement to that of the waves, but in my opinion, ufotable is actually the best in the business at hand-drawn techniques like these. Nobody could do what they do better. At our panel today, we will have video from ufotable showing that process in greater detail.

What kind of research did the team conduct to bring the historical period setting to life? Did you get the opportunity to visit any real-life locations for research?

With the Taisho period, because it's not that old, there are a lot of surviving photos in Japan from the era. So the first thing we did was just purchase a bunch of books to use as reference, so we could capture the essence of that period. And while it wasn't exactly location-scouting related to the Taisho period, in terms of visiting real-life locations, we relied on a trip to the mountains to help illustrate the snowy scenery of episode 1. We found a place where there was tons of snow to inspire us in creating Tanjiro's homeland, although it was extremely freezing cold, and at one point there was some risk of us getting lost up there.

I'm glad you found your way out of the mountains! How active was Koyoharu Gotōge in the anime adaptation process, and what was it like working with them?

Gotōge-san is involved in checking over the scenarios, character designs, settings, and overall they are intimately involved in the anime adaptation process. I was in constant contact with Gotōge-san throughout production. They actually have a great deal of trust in ufotable, so it was less about requesting changes and more about giving them useful advice to make the best work possible. In my opinion, it was a great working relationship.

Demon Slayer has two powerhouse composers on its soundtrack, Yuki Kajiura and Gō Shiina. Why were both of them chosen to develop the musical score, and what was the division of composition work like? Did they collaborate on any pieces together?

As you know, Kajiura-san has been involved in ufotable's Fate projects and Garden of Sinners, while Shiina-san produced music for the Tales series and God Eater, so both of them already had a strong relationship with the studio, just as ufotable has a lot of trust in both of them. After having worked together so many times, the staff at ufotable were the ones to insist on working with both of them for Demon Slayer, because they trust them so much. Kajiura-san has contributed five songs to Demon Slayer, so we began with those as the central pillar to expand the imagery for the soundtrack. Based on the pillar created by those five songs, Shiina-san develops an ongoing film-style score that is matched specifically to scenes in the show. At this point, Shiina-san has contributed probably a couple hundred songs to the series. So they are working from separate processes rather than in a collaboration.

What part of the manga was your favorite to see brought to life in animation?

There are so many, so it's really hard for me to narrow it down. If I had to choose, I think I can pick two. One is the water-breathing technique itself. I think seeing that in motion is incredible, and I think a lot of fans can relate to that. It's one of my favorite parts of the show. Secondly, one of the great joys of anime is getting to hear the sound elements of a manga brought to life, in particular the voices. One character who stands out in that regard is Zenitsu, who frequently brings comic relief to the story. Being able to not just see but also hear him has been one of the great joys of making Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba into anime.

Ah yes, he's very noisy.

Very noisy! But it's a good noisy.

On a similar note, what part of the manga are you most looking forward to tackling in the future?

Without spoiling anything, one thing I'm most anticipating and want fans to look forward to seeing is the battle with Rui, whose episode we are actually premiering today. The fight scene between Tanjiro and Rui is on quite an unprecedented level of accomplishment from ufotable. It even exceeds what fans have seen in previous episodes. It's not just that I'm excited, but it was also ufotable's aim to create the most exciting fight scene possible. And everything else that happens in Mt. Natagumo is something I can't wait for the fans to see.

Which character do you most identify with in Demon Slayer's cast? Who's your personal favorite?

The character I relate to most is Tanjiro, because the way he faces challenges with courage and perseverance really inspires me to work harder. But in terms of personal favorites, I'd have to say Shinobu Kocho. You haven't met her yet in the anime, but she's one of the Pillars, like Gyu. She's such a beautiful and strong lady, and that's what makes her so great to me.

There's been a lot of discussion lately within the industry about working conditions for animators. There's concern over whether studios are able to produce beautiful work like the kind we see in Demon Slayer without overworking the staff. What preparations does a studio like ufotable and its producers take in order to maintain a balance between quality work and the health of animators?

We can't ignore that the number one goal of the studio is to make the most entertaining and amazing-looking anime, but let's be honest, the people working on these shows are only human. Please rest assured that they are taking breaks when they can, and ufotable's staff in particular are going about their work at a healthy pace. So please don't worry about them too much and feel free to enjoy the anime they create.

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