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Interview: Takahiro Omori

by Bamboo Dong,

Earlier this year, in partnership with NIS America, Inc., we asked readers to submit some questions to ask Natsume's Book of Friends' director Takahiro Ōmori regarding his involvement in the series. With your help, we were able to ask Mr. Omori about his creative process, what it was like working with manga creator Yuki Midorikawa, as well as challenges and excitements in adapting the manga.

The first two seasons of Natsume's Book of Friends will be available tomorrow, October 9, 2012, from NIS America. The premium edition package includes all 26 episodes from both seasons one and two on four DVDs, as well as a full color, 32-page hardcover art book. The series follows a boy named Natsume Takashi, who has the ability to see spirits. After he inherits a mysterious book from his deceased grandmother, he discovers that the spirits are contractually bound to the owner of the book. Now, with the help with a spirit cat, he's determined to free all of the spirits.

In creating the anime adaptation, how closely did you want the series to follow the manga? What perspective did you want to bring to the anime adaptation of Natsume's Book of Friends?

This isn't limited to Natsume's Book of Friends, but I always try to follow the original as much as possible. I especially try to maintain the personality of the characters, as well as the relationships between the characters. On top of that, I try to maintain the feel of the scenery and natural objects. In order to get a better feel for Ms. Midorikawa's ideas, we went to her hometown.

Midorikawa has a very unique style of art. Did you have to try out many styles before settling on a final appearance, or did you know right away how you wanted the show to look?

The style of Ms. Midorikawa, like how her characters kind of blend in with the scenery, isn't really fit for an anime, therefore one of the first things we did was talk about how we can reenact her artistic style. We try to maintain her artistic style by concentrating on the intricate parts, such as the frizzle in the hair, the eyes, as well as the shape of the mouth. However, trying to maintain the feel of the original isn't always the best solution in terms of production. When these situations occurred, we focused on getting the best balance as a whole.

How much input did Midorikawa have in writing the script?

When creating the screenplay (for anime, the script is used during recording, and the screenplay is used to solidify the core of the story) instead of getting input on the script from Ms. Midorikawa, we had our staff members create a plot which was then read by Ms. Midorikawa, after which she gave us her opinion on the plot. Ms. Midorikawa is very understanding of the production, so she never really had specific orders for us. Rather, she made requests or suggestions, pretty much giving us the final say. That being said, we tried really hard to incorporate all of her requests and suggestions. We asked her what had been cut from the original manga and tried to incorporate those "missing parts" into the anime. For example, in season four, episode eleven, Natsume pasting a photo on the back of the sliding door was a plot that was thought up by the playwright, Yoshinaga. When Ms. Midorikawa read this plot, she explained to us that in the original, she wanted to show that Natsume was hiding something "important" behind the sliding door. Since she wasn't able to fit that into the original, we were more than glad to fit it into the anime.

While many manga series rely heavily on action, and are therefore well-suited to animation adaptations, the Natsume's Book of Friends manga speaks more through quiet moments, the artistry of the land and the yokai, and the small joys of friendship. What was the most challenging thing about adapting such an understated series as Natsume's Book of Friends for the screen?

The most challenging thing was assembling the story and carrying out conversations in way that would feel natural for the viewers. Even the subtlest differences may make the viewers feel that the anime is trying to make them cry and therefore be brought back into the real world from the fictional anime world. We really put an emphasis on how every line was read, and where to start and end the songs and music. Of course, stemming from that, we also put in a lot of time to get the right picture and right expressions.

Were there challenges you faced in writing a main character that has lived such a unique life in a way that would still be relate-able to audiences?

We focused on showing Natsume's life as a regular teenaged boy. The only thing "different" about Takashi Natsume is the fact he can see yokai, and all the events that stem from that are all natural for him. Everything that Natsume feels, and the theme of the show, are all things that can be felt by any person. Therefore, we paid close attention to how we created scenes to be easily relate-able, as well as the natural livelihood and relationships with other people.

The yokai are all very unique and different from each other, both from a design standpoint and also their character traits. What were the challenges in making certain each yokai was its own colorful character?

One thing we made sure to do was make them strange and terrifying, non-human objects. On the other hand, we made sure to make something about them humorous. These were the two main aspects that went into creating the yokai. The designers really concentrated on these two aspects, and there were many other aspects, such as how a line was read or how a sound effect was used.

After so many seasons, do you have a favorite yokai?

This is a really hard question to answer. We put a lot of work into each and every yokai. We love each one of them dearly. If I really had to choose, I would have to say Tsuyukami from episode two of season one. This episode stemmed from gods and spiritual beings that are unique to Japan (*). We really focused on the Japanese custom of putting our hands together when praying, and how the custom has faded in recent years. I remember my heart aching working on his divine aspect, as well as the painful love.

* (translator's note: gods, deities, spiritual beings, and even phenomena which produce the emotion of fear and awe that are unique to Japan.)

I believe the director has very important creative input on how much content is used in each episode, especially for an adaptation. Was it difficult operating within the time constraints of each episode during the scripting process?

In the original comic, there are frames in which monologues with conflicting thoughts occur, which represents a character's confusion. Doing something similar in an anime may interrupt the tempo of the show. It may be taken much more seriously than it should have been, so choosing what to leave in and what to take out was a really hard task.

Although the series has some light moments, it carries a lot of sorrow and dramatic moments. What was the atmosphere that you set out to create when you were planning the series?

Although for the most part, the feel of the show is very calm, there is a comedic aspect to it with Nyanko-sensei, as well as active scenes, so we tried not to concentrate too much on the warm, calm feeling. In other words, we never consciously took out the entertainment aspect of the show so that the show can be enjoyed from many different angles. At the same time, we made sure that the variety of different angles we offered didn't spread out too much.

How has your creative process changed over the four seasons, in terms of tackling each new episode of the series?

There are some minor aspects that have changed, but for the most part, it has pretty much been the same. Rather, by following similar steps over and over again, the members of the staff became used to the process, allowing them to be more expressive. I feel that the longer a series goes on, the better things go for that series.

If you had the chance, would you go back and change anything, or approach any of the episodes or storylines differently?

Producers are very selfish beings in that however well a product does, they always feel some kind of frustration and regret. However, once the show has aired, we lose control of that product and it becomes something that is shared with everyone. With all that being said, I can't allow myself to say anything, or rather everything went perfectly and we are content with everything we did.


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