Interview: The Staff of Mob Psycho 100by Jacob Chapman,
Mob Psycho 100 has exploded in popularity over the past year with the success of its second season and the hype surrounding its new anime-original OVA, which premiered at Crunchyroll Expo this summer. We sat down with director Yuzuru Tachikawa, character designer/animation director Yoshimichi Kameda, and the voice of Mob himself, Setsuo Ito, to discuss their feelings on this uniquely vibrant production.
Note: this interview was conducted press-junket style, with journalists from many outlets present to ask questions. "ANN:" precedes the questions asked by our representative.
Mob is a very compassionate and kind person, though you don't see it much from his expressions. Do you relate to that aspect of his character?
Yuzuru Tachikawa: For me personally, I usually express what I'm feeling right away. I don't keep my feelings pent up and let my stress build like Mob does, so I guess I'm kind of the opposite.
What are your favorite behind-the-scenes moments from working on Mob Psycho 100?
Tachikawa: There was a last-minute rush during the second season's 13th episode, where we had to do an impromptu recording of extra lines of dialogue to fill out the runtime. So we had to come up with a new script on the fly and schedule a recording session as fast as possible. That was certainly memorable.
With so much experience working in so many different animation styles in the past, what was something you learned from a past project that enhanced your work on Mob Psycho 100?
Yoshimichi Kameda: Because I worked on One-Punch Man, though it was under the supervision of a very different director, Shingo Natsume, I got very used to ONE-sensei's art style. So I was able to carry over that experience into Mob Psycho 100. The design of characters' faces is very similar between the two works, so I was able to grow used to animating that style. With One-Punch Man, the difference in animation styles from scene to scene was so great that it was easy to get used to having a more consistent style across Mob Psycho 100.
What was the inspiration behind fleshing out Tsubomi's character with more scenes in the anime?
Tachikawa: I didn't initially intend to revisit Tsubomi as much as I did, but her increased screen presence allowed us to develop Mob more visually, giving us greater opportunities to show his change of character onscreen. Because her scenes had such a strong impact, more than exploring her character through them, you come to understand Mob more through their interactions.
Do you consult ONE-sensei when creating an episode, and what is it like working with him?
Tachikawa: During initial production, especially for the first season, we had a meeting ahead of time to discuss our direction with ONE-sensei, and of course we consulted the source material well ahead of time to construct a good game plan for what we wanted to do. But when it came to the second season, of course ONE-sensei did final checks to make sure everything was up to par, but we didn't consult him on a day-to-day basis. If during production, there was a big difference between an idea that we came up with that required changing a plot point, then of course we would consult ONE-sensei ahead of time and ask him for his own ideas about it. ONE-sensei is actually very nice and understanding about what goes into the production of an anime, so he understands that there will be some differences, but he's always been supportive. Overall, I would say he is a very nice creator to work with.
Mob acts differently from your typical action protagonist. Usually the goal of a hero is to become stronger in their powers, but in his case, he's trying to suppress his power, so he doesn't fit the typical image of a "cool" protagonist. What do you think makes Mob so intriguing and relatable to his fans?
Kameda: I see a lot of similarities to my own personality in Mob. He doesn't really express what he's thinking out loud, and he keeps his feelings pent up. Part of that might be because he doesn't have confidence in himself. He still wants to find his place in the world, and as a result, he isn't ready to express himself to others. He's a very normal nervous middle schooler, and I see a lot of myself in that. I don't really express myself out loud often, so it's easy for me to relate with him, and as a result, create his character from the inside-out.
Tachikawa: To me personally, Mob has a strong power within him, but I would also say it's something that he doesn't really need, or at least I understand why he doesn't consider it necessary as part of his life. Like your average middle school boy, he wants to be popular with the girls, and of course when I was in middle school, I felt the same way. To me, the core of his character is that balance between wanting to have a normal life and yet become really popular. It's easy for me to relate to that inner conflict.
Setsuo Ito: Mob's growth over the series isn't sudden, and it doesn't take place in a giant dramatic scene where he goes from being one type of character to another. His growth relies on visual change over time, and one example of that is his involvement with the body-building club. He goes to club regularly, he exercises, he puts on muscle, and as a result, you can see the efforts he's put in translate to results in action. That's just one example of how what you see on screen over time allow his character to change, and that's what I personally like about Mob, being able to witness that transformation over time.
What was it like playing Mob for both the anime and the stage show, performing the same character in two very different capacities?
Ito: Since I was performing the same character, the emotions in me across both versions were very similar, but the difference came in the different people I was working with, from anime voice actors to stage actors. The atmosphere of being on stage and surrounded by an audience was also different. When you're in the recording booth, you don't actually see anyone watching you during the production, but on stage, you're right in front of the audience. Putting myself in Mob's shoes, that would be a unique emotional experience for him, standing in front of a large audience of people, so I guess that is a difference in experience between both roles.
ANN: As an animator, what is the most unique or rewarding part of working on Mob Psycho 100? Do you have any favorite cuts or sequences that you supervised?
Kameda: I got to do the key animation and outline for the promotional video that came out for the first season of Mob Psycho 100. I did all of that by myself, so I got to determine the movement style of the characters, how motion proceeded from one shot to the next, and I got a huge variety of people to see it. People's reactions were all "Oh, this is the style of Mob Psycho 100," so they had my visualization in their head as what they expected for the anime. As a result, that gave me confidence in carrying that style through to the TV series, so that was probably the most rewarding experience. As animation director, I got to oversee others' key animation in season one, and that worked out great as preparation for season two, where I got more say into how individual scenes were directed. Being able to have that much influence over what pops into viewers' heads when they think about Mob Psycho 100 in animation was very rewarding.
Did any of you believe in psychic powers or the supernatural before working on the show?
Kameda: I love UFOs. I want to go to Mexico to see the famous alien sites. I'd also love to visit Area 51.
Ito: I haven't personally witnessed psychic powers or the supernatural in real life, so I can't say that I believe in them, but I've consumed and enjoyed a lot of media related to the supernatural.
Tachikawa: I'm a family man, I'm married and I have a child, so I'm drawn to having some belief in a higher power that makes things go a certain way, but I haven't really witnessed anything like that in real life. I like to think of it as a force that's watching over us, something ensuring that things will play out in the direction they're meant to go.
Kameda: I would also like to add that I like zombies too.
Mob Psycho 100 features a staggering amount of incredible action scenes for a TV show. Given that TV show schedules are so tight, what challenges did you surmount to achieve such a high bar of quality.
Kameda: Basically, we've achieved a really good division of labor when it comes to the direction of different parts of the anime. It's definitely true that the quality of animation relies on the animation director, who takes on the responsibility of making sure each scene, especially action scenes, turn out as good as they can. We never left each other flying blind, we were always around one another to make sure everyone had the opportunity to share some kind of input, so I would always have an open line of communication to the animation director to make sure everything was in as good of quality as it could be.
Tachikawa: For me personally, I would have to say that Mob Psycho 100 is the kind of work that has great breadth in both its design and its content. So I actually encourage a really free creative style on the project. My job is mostly to check the visuals and make sure everything is aligned with the overall image we have going for the show, but my directorial style is largely to leave things up to the staff and allow them their own creative input on each part of the scene. In the end, I would say Mob Psycho 100 is an accumulation of everyone's diverse creative input.
Ito was cast to play Mob despite having very few voice acting roles to his credit at the time. What was that experience like, suddenly becoming the main character of such a big story?
Ito: I would definitely have to say that going into recording for the first episode of the first season, I was really nervous, with so many emotions running through my head. I didn't sleep at all the night before. Right before recording was starting, the main cast was fully announced, and the rest of the seiyuu were people that I consider senpai in the industry. I really looked up to them, so the feelings of not wanting to be an inconvenience or a burden on them, or to hold them back from being able to perform their best, were all strongly echoing in my head. It wasn't until around episode 8 of the first season that I was actually able to sleep well the night before recording.
Was there anything you wanted to do in season one that you couldn't execute, but were able to deliver in season two?
Tachikawa: The first season was spent building up Mob's personality, when he really didn't want to use his psychic powers actively for himself. He would just use them to protect others around him or defend himself from enemies. So in the second season, we had the opportunity to showcase a huge battle scene where he fought giant monsters and many more challenging enemies of disproportionate size. That was something we were really looking to build up toward from the beginning.
Kameda: For me, there were tons of new characters in season two that I enjoyed. One character that stands out because I really enjoyed creating him in animation was Shinra Banshomaru. He's large in stature and has a very imposing presence whenever he shows up. It was similar to a Doraemon movie I worked on, where I got to design and animate Gian. I took a lot of influence from that character in designing Shinra Banshomaru, and that was a lot of fun.
With the new OVA's original story, was it easier or more difficult to cut loose from adapting the manga's content?
Tachikawa: For the OVA, we had a little supervision from ONE-sensei, but he largely left it up to the staff, and we felt as though, since we had already created seasons one and two, our understanding of the characters and this universe was already engraved within us. So we were able to create a story naturally from how we felt the characters would interact and how their personalities resonated within us.
Kameda: For the OVA, I was just responsible for character design, so one thing I had a lot of fun with was deciding what kind of clothing the characters would wear. I had a lot of fun with the new character Okami as well, and I realized that in creating that character, within the universe of Mob Psycho 100, you can have such a wide variety of character designs that still feel like they fit in the same universe. One example is Tsubomi, who has a unique style compared to the rest of the cast. I took inspiration from the voice actor as well as the surrounding universe, with my own spin on things to make her fit in Mob Psycho 100's world, so I hope you look forward to seeing that.
Tachikawa-san's opening theme animations from Mob Psycho 100 to Death Parade have a unique energy to them. What inspirations from other media have helped you develop that style?
Tachikawa: For me, more than the actual visuals of the opening, what takes the most time is coming up with the concept of how things will play out overall. For the first season's opening, I imagined opening up a toy box and entering this whole other crazy psychedelic world. For that, I took inspiration from various illustrations reflecting that theme so I could communicate that idea through the opening. For the second season, I already had a pre-established concept of how I wanted the opening to look, so I took influence from everything that had been created up to that point, including PVs and illustrations and concept art, to detail that concept for the second season's opening.
ANN: For Ito-san, what was the most memorable or rewarding moment you've experienced as a result of playing Mob?
Ito: One thing is definitely being able to come to America and see all of you. The most rewarding thing is to see the reactions of fans face-to-face, from live events in Japan to promotions overseas. To actually be in front of an audience and see their reactions of how much they enjoy the experience of Mob Psycho 100, that's probably the most rewarding thing.
Do you feel, as Mob, that you have a similar student-to-mentor relationship to Takahiro Sakurai, who plays Reigen?
Ito: (in English) Oh Yes! (back to Japanese, after everyone stops laughing) I have looked up to Sakurai-san since I was seven or eight years old. I heard him in many anime, and he was this huge figure for me in the industry. When I joined the cast of Mob Psycho 100, I was still very much a newbie seiyuu, and he gave me lots of advice. I learned so much from him. Maybe in Mob Psycho 100 itself, Reigen is not so much a revered master in Mob's eyes, but to me, Sakurai-san is the master.
Mob Psycho 100 is great at balancing action, humor, and a message of kindness. That's a lot to fit into one story, so how does your team execute this balance?
Tachikawa: This is something of a special trait for Mob Psycho 100. You can have a serious scene that delivers major character development, and then suddenly lead into a gag or a silly joke. It was really important to us that we maintain this balance throughout the series, so the most important thing was for us to pay close attention during the editing process, when we had to cut pieces of scenes shorter or add a few extra seconds in to make sure everything fit within that tonal balance that we were looking for.
Kameda: In terms of animation, I would look over scenes while reading the manga. Let's say there was a joke that appeared in the manga; I would consider "what's the importance of this joke, and how does it play into this scene?" As a result, I would decide whether the joke would take place during the action, or if it was more central to the moment, so other action shouldn't be going on while that joke was taking place. It's not something that I was super-conscious about, but it was a thought process in the background that I would make sure jokes fit the balance of what I was going for in each scene.