Interview: Danny Choo

by Gia Manry,

Anime News Network: When we talked last year, you were in the early development phase for the anime Chinka. What's the status of that project now?

Danny Choo: So Chinka, as you know, started off as an April Fools. Someone left a comment on my website and saw a really cute character, and I clicked on the website and saw a bunch of cute girls. Then I contacted them and asked, "What's all this?"

They said "It's a bunch of girls and a story, please help them!" So we decided to do this trailer, and let the world know about that. What's happened since I got back to Japan was...I'm not too focused on the Chinka project right now. The people who are focused on it are the folks who were the original team, called Hibusen, which is the name of a cat in the show as well. They're focusing on all of the production right now. We announced last October in many of the Japanese anime magazines that it will initially be an OVA.

One of the challenges of making anime is the money. So [Hibusen is] in the process of getting some more sponsors on board. Lots of anime titles are made up by a production committee, so at the moment we're trying to get more members onto the committee. But I'm pretty much hands-off on that, just leaving them to get all that done. Once all that is done I'm going to jump back in and help out with the whole shebang.

ANN: The story of Chinka revolves around a group of cute female firefighters. In the U.S. after 9/11, the way Americans generally viewed firefighters shifted. I was wondering if Japan has experienced something like this about firefighters and other emergency workers after the March 11 earthquake?

DC: I think many different people played a part in the recovery of Japan, not only firefighters. There are folks working at the nuclear stations, folks who are volunteer workers. There are lots of different people. So I wouldn't say [that's true for] fire engine folks or emergency workers especially, it's really been everybody's effort.

ANN: In the comments on our interview at last year's Anime Expo, a couple of readers felt that you didn't fully answer our question on moe and its effect on the anime industry. Just to try again: do you think producers rely too heavily on moe to sell shows and, by extension, merchandise, or that there's an overload of it at this point?

DC: I think that moe is a core part of Japanese pop culture and anime culture. But it's not necessarily seen in all titles. Take Summer Wars: some people may say Natsuki is moe, but other people might say she's not moe at all. Here's some of the feedback I've had from some of my clients, who include King Records and Starchild, Kadokawa, Dentsu (who don't actually produce anime but fund lots of productions), and Satelight (who did Macross): one of the things we always talk about is the difficulty of recuperating costs.

If the anime industry is finding it really tough to recuperate costs, why do they still continue to make anime titles? The answer is that they have no idea what's going to hit or miss, basically. This is what many of them say: they don't know until they actually produced and release it. So let's say they make 10 anime titles. Some of them might actually do bad-- really, really bad. And some of them might do incredibly well, like K-On! and Macross. So once they wind up producing a title like that, it's going to recuperate the costs for past anime titles that they lost money on. So they do really want to continue to make anime titles.

To answer your question regarding moe, there are instances where a production company does want to put in some moe or some fanservice for folks who enjoy...watching anime, basically. And I personally don't see anything wrong with that. So I think some of the readers on ANN, who are vocal, have their own idea of what anime "should" be like. They want anime to be like "this." And I don't think anime should be any particular way. It really is how that director or that production company or whoever is making the anime wants it to be. If you look at lots of anime, there are lots of different anime titles, so it's not all just moe. I think that folks who don't particularly like moe anime...they don't need to watch it, right? It's like the iPhone 4, lots of people complained about the iPhone 4, but there's no one forcing them to buy it. There's this guy who wrote a song which Apple actually used at one of these keynote speeches saying basically "if you don't want it, don't buy it.” Or “if you don't like it, take it back."

There's no one forcing anyone to watch moe anime and there are a lot of different varieties out there. Again, there may be production companies who use moe to sell, and it does actually sell, but only to a certain group, really. I've seen lots of anime where, when it airs on TV there's a strange mist or some lights appear which covers up the boobies, but when the Blu-ray comes out you get to see the boobies. That actually does help sell. But people who want to buy it will buy it, and people who don't want to buy it aren't forced to buy it…and that's all, really.

ANN: Would you say that the people who do buy those shows in some sense subsidize some of the shows that aren't as merchandisable?

DC: I think so, to a certain extent. One of my clients, one of the challenges we're having is that there's a particular anime title and the Blu-ray is going to have six episodes on it, and it's going to sell in Japan for 28,000 yen, about US$200. So I was asked, what's going to happen if we try to sell this at $200 overseas? I just told them, well, no one's going to buy it at all. So that's the challenge that they're having; to press a Blu-ray doesn't cost $200, but one of the reasons why [the price is so high] is that they need to recuperate their costs.

One of the reasons why it's cheaper overseas is that [Japanese companies] license the content to a [foreign] company and then it's up to that company to charge what they want. Say a company in America is selling Blu-rays, they charge what they want and they only pay the company in Japan a percentage of sales. That's why there's a certain discrepancy. But going back to your question, I do think there are folks out there who want to see their favorite anime girlies running around without mists all over the place, and I don't see anything wrong with that really.

ANN: Last year we also talked about what is now the "Tokyo Youth Healthy Development Ordinance. " Have you seen or noticed much difference in how publishers and creators are working as a result of this? Has there been a change for consumers in Tokyo?

DC: I don't see any change at all in the content. When I go to a shop and pick up a manga, the content hasn't changed. Well, some of the content does surprise me, some of it is really graphic, people stabbing each other and eyes popping out. So I don't see anything change in terms of people producing the content.

Where I do see a change is in terms of how the content is displayed. In Japan, legally, material aimed at folks over the age of 18 has to be separate. It's very easily done; you've got a bookshelf and a card stuck up that says that anything on this other side of it is for people over 18. Apart from that, nothing has really changed.

I think one of the reasons why many people started to make a fuss about it was for Google juice, for blog comments basically. "Oh god this is the end of anime!" And they'd build comments and a buzz around their blogs. That's why I didn't write about it at all, because I knew it was bollocks really.

ANN: To move on to something new, you've been working on this Culture Japan show, which is now airing on MNet and streaming on Crunchyroll. How has the response been to that among western fans?

DC: The show is broadcast in Japan and all across Asia, and I've uploaded digest versions to YouTube. The response I've had from Crunchyroll and from YouTube was that people wanted more. So I've been working with Mnet to look into the possibilities of broadcast, and it [started] on July 5. They really love the content. It's really exciting that we can get this content out to folks around the world.

That's really what it's for; it's intended for people around the world to watch this show and learn about Japanese the same time, it was directed so that people in Japan can watch it and not feel bored. So shows like...ah, I shouldn't mention names, but there are certain shows on NHK which talk about Japanese pop culture, but they're more popular overseas, and not really watched in Japan. I mean, they're broadcast there, but people don't really watch them because of the way they direct them. For me, I'm able to introduce Japanese culture and add an otaku flavor to it at the same time.

ANN: In terms of western fans would you say it's more aimed at casual viewers who want to know more about Japanese pop culture, or more at the hardcore otaku?

DC: It's intended for everyone, a light user or someone who doesn't know anything about Japanese pop culture can turn it on and learn and enjoy at the same time. We try not to go so hardcore that it's difficult for everyone else to understand, which I think is why it's done so well in Asia. We're making a second season now.

Photo © Joi Ito

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