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Interview: Shinichiro Watanabe

by Jacob Chapman,

ANN: Most people are familiar with your work as a director, but you're also heavily involved in music production and direction for recent shows like Michiko and Hatchin or Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. As a music director, what is your involvement with the show's content? Is it as intensive as it would be directing the whole project?

WATANABE: Well, when I'm directing a show, even if I'm not credited for it, I still usually have input into the music. So as music producer, I choose who does what for the score, tell them what I want, and they take it from there. Then as series director, I would go through the music that comes in from the artist or the composer and choose what goes where in the show. For my personal works, I know my project very well, so I also know which piece should do what, but when I do music production for other works, I solely handle the music's production. I wouldn't poke my head into the story or direction or anything at all, it's just the music.

Your most recent work, Kids on the Slope, is an adaptation of a manga, but most of your prior work is original material. How does the directorial approach change when you're working with someone else's story that's already been completed?

Compared to my original projects, there are certainly a lot of things I do differently when faced with a manga adaptation. When reading Kids on the Slope, I wanted to express fully how good it was. While I do think the manga is very well made, I don't think re-making the manga entirely just-as-is would express how good it is in anime form, so I had to decide which parts to put more emphasis on, and which parts to explore better in the anime. For Kids on the Slope, I felt the story was about two boys who led lonely lives, but by meeting, they could connect their souls and their feelings about that loneliness. So I wanted to express that message very strongly in the anime version.

About that: Kids on the Slope obviously has many feelings and perspectives on adolescence in it. What did you most resonate with as a director, or what did you most identify with in those childrens' lives?

I myself was a very lonely boy. Kids on the Slope is about a good boy and a bad boy coming together, and in my case, I was the good boy, and I found friendship with the baddest boy in my school. People would ask me, "Why do you get along with that guy?" But the thing was, he and I listened to the same music. The only real difference from Kids on the Slope is the music we bonded over. It was KISS. We were both huge fans.

Original works are becoming rarer now. The climate in anime is more supportive of adaptation. But you are known for your distinct vision that thrives on originality. What kinds of new projects would you like to see promoted in anime or become involved in yourself?

That's a good question. (laugh) I came here to announce just that! I'm going to talk about it in tomorrow's panel, but right now I'm working on a new project: Space Dandy. It's been a while since I last did an original work. There's been lots of plans up until now, but all of them fell through before they could become a reality. So yes, I know it's really been a while. In Space Dandy, I'm trying to challenge myself and do stuff I haven't done before. Firstly, this is a pure comedy series. Before, I would make shows that were relatively not-so-comedic. There would be funny episodes here and there, but it wouldn't be all silliness. This time, it is all comedy. I feel that current animation trends are a bit toned down. Things could be bigger and more extravagant in anime. That's what I'd like to express. I feel like I want to make anime that destroys the norms, something that would be strong even if it is unconventional. I want to do things that other people haven't done before, and not get trapped up in those "this has to be done this way" sorts of ideas. I'm always wanting to try new stuff. At the same time, I want Space Dandy to be something you can still have fun with and just enjoy as a comedy. Every week the main characters will go to different stars, but from star to star, entirely different themes will be explored, and that means we will completely change over the style of everything each time. There will be different art styles, different moods, different directing styles, all completely unique for each episode. At the same time, there will be aliens from other planets every week, but every planet has different designers, so there will be lots of varied designs in one place onscreen.

Ambitious! And very exciting. My last question is in regard to Cowboy Bebop. When I was walking around the convention today, I saw someone cosplaying as Radical Edward, but more striking was the tattoo they had on the back of their exposed shoulder that said "See You Space Cowboy." I still see things like that quite often, even though that show was created some time ago. Is there anything that surprises you about Cowboy Bebop's impact in America, and what is the most striking thing you have seen in the fandom for it here?

Back when Cowboy Bebop was in production, we never knew that Japanese anime would have any impact overseas, so we totally didn't see Westerners being exposed to the show. We just made what we enjoyed making, and the fact that it got accepted in the west at all was the most surprising thing. I grew up with US movies so it made me very happy that Americans liked my things, because I was raised on their things, in a way. The moment that made the biggest impact on me here did involve Edward, because Edward was a character I made thinking that no person existed like her in real life. But when I went to Texas, there was someone cosplaying as Ed, and it was like they'd stepped out of the anime. It was completely her if she had been living. How's that for a big impact?

It's been wonderful talking with you. Thank you very much for bringing new things to the anime community.

Thank you. Please look forward to enjoying Space Dandy. It is still in the making, but I really feel confident in the work. It will start airing in Japan in January, and we will try to get it to America ASAP. I'm aiming for a really funny, cool, and crazy creation.

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