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Interview: Akiyuki Simbo

by Bamboo Dong,

Last year, in partnership with NIS America, Inc., we asked readers to submit questions for director Akiyuki Simbo regarding his involvement in the anime series. In this interview, he discusses what it was like to adapt the light novel, what his team wanted to portray in the characters, and more.

The Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl complete series premium edition is available in North America as of January 8, 2013. It includes all 13 episodes on two Blu-ray and two DVD discs. Included in the premium edition is a full-color, 36-page hardcover art book with character information, background illustrations, interviews, and an episode guide.

Despite the eccentric name, Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl is closer to a slice of life series than a fantasy show, yet the atmosphere of the show is still fantastical. What were the most essential elements in creating this atmosphere?

Rather than it being about “life,” I focused on the part of life when we shine brightest, “adolescence.” I drew everything up with “adolescence” in mind, and not “fantasy” so much.

Having some of the characters like Erio sparkle—why was that decision made? What were you trying to portray?

The easy answer to that question is because that's how it was described in the original light novel, but we tried really hard to show this part more beautifully in images than portrayed in words. I thought to express something like a “symbol of adolescence.”

The character Erio is a bit of a hikikomori. Lately, it seems that the darker side of otaku culture, including NEETs, hikikomori, and those with unhealthy obsessions, have a greater presence in recent anime. What do you want otaku viewers, particularly those prone to this sort of lifestyle, to get out of your works?

The very first idea that I want to share is, "Who cares if you are a hikikomori?" If I didn't have this job I, too, may have become a NEET. I thought that it would be nice if people, including myself, could step out and do something...but at the same time, who cares if you can't take that very first step yet? What's wrong with not taking it?

Dozens of animation companies were involved in the production of Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl. As the chief director, what are the challenges in overseeing the work from so many companies, and making sure the final product is complete and cohesive?

The very first challenge was reproducing the illustrations seen in the original. The staff really paid close attention to everything, from reproducing the delicate and unique touches on the drawings to putting said drawings into motion. The characters already existed as illustrations on a flat surface, so if people can feel as if the characters came to life from those flat illustrations, we can feel as if all our hard work was worth it.

By using so many animation companies, it must make the production process faster and more efficient, but do you find that more time and attention needs to be spent doing quality control? How do you balance that?

First off, efficiency doesn't increase just because several companies are involved. The more variables there are, the more discrepancies there are in quality. It's not really balancing it out, but we pay close attention to the quality early on in a project. It is crucial to do so in order to get the viewers sucked into that story's world.

You have already had some experience in doing series based on novels, like with Bakemonogatari, but more of your experience prior to Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl had been in directing series based on manga. How would you say your directing approach differed when tackling these novels as opposed to tackling manga, if at all?

Rather than calling it an approach, I'd say the differences lie in how much freedom I have. For manga, the artists have their characters act and do things a specific way, so we spend a lot of time reproducing those existing actions. For example, it is really easy for readers of a manga to point out the differences in scenes between that and its anime adaptation, right? On the other hand, novels give the opportunity for readers to expand the image of what they are reading, so naturally they have much more freedom to think whatever they want. Just for your information, in the case of Bakemonogatari, we focused on the “visualization of words,” so that was a rather different situation.

In condensing a long light novel series to a one-season anime, what were some of the difficulties? Did you find the length constricting?

Since there are others who work on series composition, meaning I wasn't doing it alone, it wasn't that hard. In terms of it being one season, in many cases, a series comes to an end just when everyone starts getting a good grasp of the series, so it is not uncommon for us to think, “We want to continue this!”

How do you make a difficult decision such as knowing which scenes to cut, and which to leave in? Were there scenes you wish you had time to adapt, but were left out due to time?

As I said in the previous answer, I have many staff members to help me. There are many scenes we cut from the television broadcast, so please re-watch the box set with the original novel also in hand!

Oftentimes, light novel adaptations will receive a lot of scrutiny from fans of the original novels over how faithful it is to the source material. When you are given such a project, are you concerned about what fans of the books might think? Or are you more focused on new fans who haven't read the book? How do you find that balance?

Yes, I am very concerned, because I want to make it a hit. When there is an original source, I get really anxious when its anime goes on sale. I think that when something is adapted from its original source and into an anime, it is essential to attract the fans of the original. Only when we get their blessings do I consider it a successful anime-fication. I really strive to get the fans of the original to think, “This is just like the original,” or “This is even better than the original!” After that is accomplished, I consider it a super success when people who don't know the original start watching the anime.

Ultimately, how much input did Hitoma Iruma have in the adaptation and final script?

There was a very surprisingly minimal amount of input. We were told to bring out the attractive parts of an anime, so we pretty much had all the say in the final script.

As chief director, did you have to make any difficult or unpopular decisions during the production of Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl?

We very rarely had split ideas on the decisions we had to make, so everything went really smoothly.

At this point in your career, you have worked in many genres. Do you have a preferred genre to work with?

I don't have a favorite genre, but I am interested in working on genres that I've yet to try. For the most part, I don't have any likes or dislikes when it comes to what I work on. It's my job!

Throughout the series, Makoto Niwa keeps an Adolescence Points system to judge his overall high school experience. If you were to have kept a similar tally in high school, what do you think your score would have been?

That is really hard for me to calculate. My adolescence ended a loooong time ago *laughs*. I think I remember wanting to be Nobita from Doraemon. He always had the luxury of having the all-powerful Doraemon with him, after all...

Image ©HITOMA IRUMA / ASCII MEDIA WORKS / "Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko" Committee

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