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Interview: Gen Urobuchi

by Heidi Kemps,

It's somewhat rare that Western anime fans recognize a writer with the same degree of enthusiasm as artists, voice actors, and directors. However, Gen Urobuchi is one of the handful to have made an indelible mark on the psyche of global fandom, thanks to his work on series like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Psycho-Pass, and the recent Aldnoah.Zero. But his work extends beyond television anime, extending into visual novels, live-action, and an upcoming all-CG film, Expelled from Paradise. We sat down to talk to Urobuchi about his work, past and present, the role of his company Nitro+, and what his future aspirations are.

ANN: I'd like to start off this interview by clarifying what your current position is. You seem to be viewed as a freelancer of sorts, but you still have some ties to the company Nitro+…

Urobuchi: I'm still with them. I'm one of the founding members of Nitro+, actually.

Oh, wow. I think a lot of folks – myself included – aren't fully aware of everything Nitro+ actually does. Some people think it's just a visual novel company.

Nitro+ does a lot more than that. We contract with a lot of companies when planning for stories and such across numerous formats. Nitro+ is actually a subdivision of a larger company called DIGITURBO, formed to allow us more freedom to do the sort of works we want to make.

In your work, the universe can be cruel and bad things often happen to good people, but you support their struggle for goodness in such an unfair universe. Do you see yourself much in purehearted characters like Madoka, Akane, and Kouta, or do you put more of yourself in the darker characters of those worlds?

Sometimes when I see someone who's a spirit of justice… I feel like I want to destroy them! (laughs) But really, what I'm trying to do is make something compelling. Good and evil need to be on even ground, so that there is the real possibility that either could be the victor.

In Fate/Zero, many characters have such strong convictions that they cannot understand one another's perspectives, even between master and servant, but as a writer, you have to see all of their perspectives. How do you approach writing such a large cast with so many incomparable mindsets and beliefs and make them all feel strong and true to themselves?

I think that if you really want to make all of the characters in a work different, then you need to need to emphasize these differences between them. I actually find it easier to write characters with differing ideologies, because I prefer to write each character as an individual. It's easier to approach. For example, Saber and Gilgamesh and Iskander are all similar but have radically different approaches, so they can play off each other quite well.

Shogo Makishima from Psycho-Pass seems to believe that he was born out of time and place from where he should be, if there ever was a time and place he belonged to. He does not have a place to belong in the world of Psycho-Pass, so how do you think he would feel about our world's modern-day society instead?

Our world and that of Psycho-Pass aren't completely alien – there are a lot of shared problems, issues, and concepts. If Shogo were to live in our world? I think he'd be able to find happiness and freedom. But one of the most important themes I was trying to convey in the creation of Psycho-Pass was “fear” in the world. That's why he has this sense of feeling out of place.

You mentioned that one of the central themes of Psycho-Pass is fear – that's interesting, given recent events. A certain episode's re-airing was cancelled in the wake of a grisly murder. Things like that seem to be a common reaction to shocking events in Japan.

I honestly don't feel too concerned about it, and I don't feel like I should avoid writing or showing this stuff out of fear of copycats. There is always the possibility that these sorts of tragedies will happen – that's just the world we live in.

In Kamen Rider Gaim, different characters are tempted by different kinds of power, whether that's physical strength, influence over people, or the power of knowledge and secrets. What kind of strength or power would be your own personal "forbidden fruit?"

Oh my, that's a really difficult question! Well, the thing is, when I'm working, I'm always working with other people, right? And there are always going to be those outside influences that make you doubt your ideas and capabilities. I think the strength I'd want would be a kind of internal strength – the power to trust in my own convictions.

You've worked on several visual novels that contain explicit sexual content. A common opinion in the Japanese PC game market is that a game needs sex scenes to sell. Do you find that the ability to include sexual content in these stories gives you more creative freedom, or do you feel pressured to add superfluous erotica to help a game sell?

My first and foremost thought when creating something is “I want to make something that's interesting.” That's what makes me feel happy and creatively satisfied. If sexual elements help in making something interesting, then they're not pointless.

I've played a lot of Nitro+ visual novels; Saya no Uta is probably one of my favorites because it's just so outright weird. What especially struck me is that though the game features sex scenes, they come off as being horrifying rather than titillating.

Oh, thanks for the compliment! *laughs* That was part of the intent, since horror can definitely be a component of a sexual experience.

You have worked with a ton of fantasy and sci fi genres by now, but what new ideas or genres would you like to write for that you haven't tried yet?

I'd really like to do something in the steampunk genre. I'm also really interested in making an open world video game. Something like Skyrim!

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