Interview: Kenji Yasuda, director of ARATA The Legendby Zac Bertschy,
ANN: You're directing the anime adaptation of “ARATA”: The Legend, based on a Yu Watase manga. Do you feel any pressure from fans of the manga when it comes to adapting this series in animation?
Kenji Yasuda: Well, pressure...with “ARATA”, the original manga has 17 volumes ongoing (as of March 11, 2013). Some of the author's other works have been animated in the past. In that sense, it is very important that the “ARATA” anime should be welcomed by fans of the original author. At the same time, the original author changed her target audience from shoujo to shounen manga with “ARATA”. I am trying to figure out where the old and new fans intersect. Since the manga is by an artist with the successful career, I feel it puts pressure on how the anime will be perceived.
When approaching a project like this, what are your biggest misgivings?
Mr. Yasuda: Not only for “ARATA”, but also for any other title, we have to think through who the targeted audience is. Though the “ARATA” anime is based on a manga serialized on a Shounen Magazine, its story contains something hard, which makes it difficult for the anime to be broadcast in earlier time slots. Naturally, the anime will be targeted toward core fans. That was what I had to take into account in the beginning.
At the same time, I tried to make it not too serious and not too kid-oriented, so that it could appeal to a somewhat wider audience.
"Something hard"? In what sense?
It does not necessarily mean violence. Protagonist is a boy who is bullied so badly by a person who used to be a good friend of his, which is a key element to the story. The issue becomes how much we should show the bullying and how we depict it. There is a character named Kadowaki who bullies the main character. We tried to characterize the guy not just as a bullying kid, but as a kid with his own backbone. Unlike the original manga, the anime has only 12 episodes. We had to pay special attention to those, including how to depict such a thing in such a short period.
What's your personal creative approach to a project on this scale? How do you handle something like this?
This is the story about a bullied boy, a protagonist who sets out to another world and grows up by experiencing varieties of things. So, to make the character's development persuasive, I carefully directed the characters' feelings by using the close-up shots showing the characters' faces delicately. It is not a flamboyant anime, but I wanted to give the anime a realistic atmosphere.
What do you think is the most important thing when you're directing an adaptation of a popular manga?
Basically, it's important not to betray the fan's expectations. The visuals and the sound of the anime should match the worldview of its original manga and should be presented so effectively that it adds something positive to the original manga, not something negative. As the fans do, the creators should also come to like the title, which is the first step.
What about this particular story intrigues you? What do you find creatively compelling about it?
Mr. Yasuda: It's a typical trope of "fantasy setting in a different dimension" anime to have a lot of handsome boy characters. However, the story is focused not only on the physical toughness, such as cool battles with strong enemies, but also on the ambivalent characteristics which human beings carry, such as mental toughness and the weakness that the seemingly tough guy hides in himself. Each character has characteristics like these, which is persuasively depicted. I am intrigued with those elements where they are looking good, but, they have more depth in their mind.
Did you ever look back at previous adaptations of Watase's work, such as the anime for Fushigi Yugi or Ayashi no Ceres for inspiration?
There are some cases where I try to get some inspiration from some works for directing, but I did not specifically refer to the other animated works based on the manga by the same author, such as "Fushigi Yuugi".
As the original author seems to target shounen readers, I tried not to be overly conscious about how the other animated adaptations of Watase's manga have shown the visuals and developed the stories. I have concentrated on the shounen manga, “ARATA”.
What's the biggest challenge when adapting a manga like “ARATA”? Is it designed to be a mainstream hit, or are you aiming it specifically at one segment of fans?
I am conscious about the target, but if it is targeted toward the core fans excessively, it will lose its appeal to the other fans. As a creator, I would always hope that there would be more of a chance that the anime could appeal to the larger fanbase rather than specific portions of fans. I am directing it, hoping that I can create an animation which could touch the wider audience, once they have a chance to see it.
In that sense, what I said earlier leads to the idea that we are not trying to close our target only to the small portion of specific fans.
Is there a manga out there you'd love to adapt into animation? Any personal favorites that haven't yet been animated that you'd like to work on, or even just watch as a fan?
I do not have a concrete title in my mind, but as I explained before, there are many titles which tend to focus on the core target, such as bishoujo-oriented and female-targeted, where the targets are extremely segmented to both ends. However, I hope to have the anime I direct seen by a broader audience, like families....but that could be too broad... but, I am hoping that in the industry, there will be more anime which not only anime fans but also even the viewers who are not familiar with anime can enjoy watching. I want to create such anime.
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