Interview: Shinji Takamatsu

by Daniel Briscoe,

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Shinji Takamatsu at Otakon 2015, where he was an invited guest of PonycanUSA to promote the recent North American release of Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!.

How does it feel to be here at Otakon, promoting Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!, and how do you feel about the reception that you've seen of the show here in America?

This is the first time on the American mainland for me, so to find out that there are anime fans and such big conventions as this, I have to say I was quite moved by this. So, showing the show to an audience here, one thing I found interesting and different is that the areas where the Japanese fans would laugh is quite different from where the American fans would laugh. And of course, how well it was received – I was very moved by that.

It seems like you and your team had a lot of fun making this show – were there any funny moments or funny things that happened in the studio?

As a title, it's an original piece of work. So together with the staff, we thought about what would make the show the most fun or the most interesting. We listed up a bunch of options and choices, and the ones we chose were what you see in the finished product.

Is there a particular show or a particular moment in a magical girl show that inspired your choices in this show or that gave you ideas to turn things that are normally ‘magical girls’ into ‘magical boys’?

Whether I should say it or not, despite what my producer here is saying, is it was from Sailor Moon. How to best elegantly and beautifully transform these boys, and how to elegantly and beautifully defeat the enemies, is what we concentrated on in making this show.

Sometimes writing humor can be very difficult. Were there any points where you looked at something and said, “this isn't funny enough,” or had trouble writing something that everyone really felt was funny? Was there ever any difficulty in writing the jokes?

Of course, comedy is hard! There are always things where you say, “how can this be better?” Like I said before, the staff would get together and list choices and options and this whole thing was a process of picking what we think is going to work best, and repeating this over and over.

So it was really very team-focused?

One of the key things is that when we get together with the staff, a lot of alcohol would get drank! But yes, it was a very team-focused effort.

You have a very large body of work, and many directors say that they learn something new from each show that they worked on – what did you learn from working on this show or what did you learn about yourself from this work?

I'm going to use a Japanese term here, fujoshi, which means otaku female. Making a show directed at this audience was very difficult and we did a lot of research in order to create the best show possible, so it was difficult, but also the most interesting thing I learned about this show. I tried to put myself in their place, and say to myself, 'what would I like?'

What was the one major thing you learned about creating a show for the fujoshi market?

Not to go too far. So one of the most important things I found in our research was, you have to leave them room for their imagination to swell out and imagine it without depicting it. So, making a show with a lot of spaces, and then letting them fill in, was difficult. All the comedy I've worked on before, going too far was the basic premise that we were going with. Not to do that, and knowing when to stop and hold back and leave space, was very difficult for us.

So you've worked with a lot of people in your years in the industry. During that time, who would you say has been the biggest inspiration to you? Someone who helped shape how you approach your work as a creator and a director?

Every title I work on I get to work with many creators and they all inspire me, but the very first title I worked on as a director, the scriptwriter Takao Koyama was very inspirational in creating how I became a director.

And I will admit that my producer here is the one who suggested, 'Why don't we make pretty boys transform?'

The show has a very strong musical component to it. What kind of music do you enjoy, or what influences you? What do you listen to when you're working through a difficult problem?

When I'm working on a title, I play the background music for that show constantly on rotation to put myself in that world that I'm creating. So often I say, whatever title I'm working on? It's the BGM for that title I'm listening to.

When you were working on this show, was there anything that stuck out to you as very different for a magical boy show instead of a magical girl show?

That's a hard question! Hmm…So, what it comes down to is the boys would transform, their clothes would disappear, and they're covered in a magical glow - like a magical girl show, but with boys. But doing it seriously and straight-faced is what makes it funny. And this is where it's similar, but different. Plus on top of that, the boys would look at themselves and say “What is with this outfit? I can't take it off!” The male tendency to heckle and complain about things is the male aspect of it that makes it funny. It took a long time to come up with their outfits, which was cool, yet cute. It took a long time for us to get to the final design of that.

The five boys that are the heroes… it seems like they're very unique characters, compared to a lot of ‘teams’ in anime – there are stereotypes that get used a lot, but it seems like there was a lot of care and craft put into creating five very funny and distinct and unique characters – can you give us some insight into how you wrote and designed them?

First of all, when we first created the characters, they were the stereotypical group of five, but as we created the story, I discussed it with the scriptwriter, and the characters began to change a little bit here and there. Where we wound up was a little different than what you would typically expect to see. One particular character we started talking about, Io (Naruko) – Io was originally a character that was very picky about money and how it was used and how he wanted it and everything, and we realized 'You know what? This is so stereotypical.' So what we did was change his mannerisms a little bit, the choice of words he uses, the gestures that he would have to sort of expand the character a little bit more.

Now every magical girl team has a mascot, or a cute sidekick animal or creature. What was the inspiration for Wombat?

So the first thing was – 'We have to pick an animal that's not particularly cute. So, therefore, it has to be a wombat!' And the fact that the wombat is an old man makes it clearly different than from other mascots.

This show is already pretty successful; when you look back on all the years you've been doing this, is there a moment where you felt particularly proud? A moment that sticks out when you knew you created something special or meaningful, to yourself or your fans?

In most cases, in Japan, most creators don't see the fans. So if I work on a movie, I can go to the movie theatre and sit with the audience and experience it with them, but in the case of a TV show I can't see the audience on the other side of the screen. Having been invited to a convention for the first time, especially in the United States, seeing and hearing the fans – hearing the reactions and the fans comments – has really been moving to me.

And as we said earlier, we cast five fairly new actors to play these boys, and for them to learn the songs, put on the outfits, and put on a stage show, and to be there firsthand to witness the audience and the passion that they got seeing the show was truly an experience for me and made me proud I got to work on this show.

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