Interview: Hiroshi "Bamboo" Takeuchi, OVERDRIVE Producer

by Zac Bertschy,
Hiroshi "Bamboo" Takeuchi is a busy, busy man. When he isn't performing his duties as a producer for OVERDRIVE, a visual novel and eroge company responsible for hit games like Kira Kira, or as CEO of Japan Animation Contents Inc, he's literally performing as the lead singer for anisong outfit milktub. Takeuchi's name, however, is synonymous with visual novels - he's a producer for visual novel company MangaGamer, after all - and we were given the chance to ask the man himself about the current market for the genre in both Japan and America.

ANN: Tell us a little about yourself and the many hats you wear, as CEO of Japan Animation Contents, producer for OVERDRIVE and as the lead singer of your band, milktub.

BAMBOO: I'm bamboo, and I do a lot of different work in Japan. I'm mostly active domestically, singing anime songs with my band, milktub, and running the game developer, OVERDRIVE. Abroad, I also act as the producer for MangaGamer.

You have a long history in the world of visual novels; what got you interested in them?

I've been playing visual novels for about 20 years now. I started in planning and development for console games (Playstation), and moved on to the visual novel industry. It started when I was first scouted to “make a game themed around a band.”

When did you decide to go into the business of producing visual novels? How did that come about?

It first started when my coworkers at the time and I decided “let's try making one ourselves.” The game Green Green was the start of my career [making visual novels].

How different was the market for VNs when you got started compared to the market as it is now?

They were often mocked as “picture books”, but in the sense of “telling a story”, they've been honed into something incredibly solid over these past 20 years. Same for the system end and the [visual] production end.

What sort of visual novels tend to be the biggest commercial successes in Japan? What sells, and why does it sell so well?

Going by my personal sense, the market peaked around 2006 and during that time the industry was full of ambitious releases and games covering a variety of genres. Year after year it's trending towards growing smaller, but the developers that manage to survive that are still releasing wonderful titles.

There are a lot of different titles that sell well, but in the end it feels like a lot of titles which contain the elements sought by “present customers” are coming out.

Does the market heavily favor eroge, or are all-ages games better sellers? Which path do you see the industry heading down next when it comes to content?

In the past, eroge certainly sold better.
Now there's the occasional hit title released on console, but overall I think eroge are still pulling higher numbers more often.

The idea of “playing games at home” has been in decline since the advent of smartphones, and console share on the market has decreased, but I think they might pick up again with a change in medium in the future.

How fickle are VN fans? Do they show loyalty to publishers, creators, artists, voice actresses, all of the above? What guarantees a top-selling VN?

I think there are a lot of fans who show loyal support. This holds true worldwide, but creators who make something interesting are applauded, and those who don't disappear.
I believe the two key ideas to a hit title are “the art is the entryway” and “the scenario is the exit.”

Do you see Visual Novels as an emerging genre in Japan, or one that's maturing? Where do you see the genre going next in Japan?

I think the genre is nearing a transition point.
In the future I think we're going to be able to play these games on smartphones and tablets.

Where do you think the VN market in Japan is trending toward, mobile or PC? Why?

For smartphones and mobile devices, the selling point is “you can play anywhere.” You can play before bed, and you play to kill time while commuting. I don't think the demand for PC [versions] is going away just yet, but the current generation of youth are more accustomed to mobile devices than PCs, so we might see a shift to mobile in the future.

Do you consider console versions of VNs a losing proposition now? Are console versions reserved only for the bestselling titles? Is it ever worth taking a gamble producing a console version in this market?

As I mentioned before, sales of console units in domestic Japan has been declining every year, so presently it's difficult to recoup the costs of releasing for consoles.

What sort of potential for visual novels do you see in America?

Every year both sales and membership have grown for MangaGamer, so I do feel a potential in the foreign market. The market still has some way to go, but the number of people in the anglosphere who are interested in Japan's visual novels continues to grow, and I think it can become a big market.

What sort of trends have you seen with regard to American VN sales? What sells better here?

Titles that are “popular in Japan”, “have an anime”, or similar often sell well, but some titles without an anime like Kira Kira or Go Go Nippon sell just as well if not better sometimes as well.

Is there a big difference between what US VN fans want and what Japanese VN fans want?

For now it doesn't feel like there's a large difference. I'd love to release a lot more titles and gather more detailed data on this matter, though.

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