Interview: The World's Biggest Visual Novels with Visual Art'sby Theron Martin,
Three members of Japanese visual novel company Visual Art's – CEO Takahiro Baba (left in picture), character designer Na-Ga (not pictured by request), and music composer Shinji Orito (right in picture) – were Guests of Honor at the 2016 edition of Anime Central. Of those, Baba and Orito attended a press session. They admitted that they were quite surprised by the strength of the reception they received from American fans (Baba even openly wondered how American fans were so familiar with their work) and were amazed that the enthusiasm of American fans equaled those of their Japanese counterparts. They then went on to discuss past, present and future projects.
One of the titles discussed was upcoming visual novel Harmonia. According to Baba, it is being released in English first as an experiment to see how an English-speaking audience will react to one of their titles. This is part of an active effort to reach more of a world-wide audience. Principle production on it is finished, but it is currently being delayed because Baba is not happy with the sound effects.
Concerning the upcoming anime adaptation of their 2011 visual novel Rewrite, Baba explained that the story is focusing on a different character than the visual novel because reaction from Japanese fans has shown that few are understanding the full main point of the story. (Baba felt that one of the main problems was that they did not make it clear enough that the story is not chronologically continuous.) They are using the change in focus to make the main point more explicit. Baba also explained that an eventual American release of Rewrite Plus – which adds a new story arc the original – on Steam is planned.
Concerning the first installation of the Angel Beats! visual novel, Baba said that about half of it has been translated into English so far. He provided no timeline for its eventual English language release, however.
In a general comment, Baba also explained that that while they may make some tweaks in upcoming projects to make them more accessible to non-Japanese audiences, they are not anticipating specifically catering to Western audiences in the near future. However, he did express that he was open to working with the right English language writer.
After the press session, Na-Ga joined Baba and Orito for an exclusive interview with ANN.
For Baba, as the CEO of Visual Art's, what special qualities do you think stand out about the kinds of games you publish compared to other companies?
Baba: “In terms of the production value of our visual novels, I believe that ours is second to none, and that is because we do not release our products until each of our creators is satisfied and I myself am satisfied with the production value of each title. Normally video games have a set release schedule, and that deadline tends to be absolute. And that is how an industrial product is made. We consider our products to be more works of art than industrial, so that is why our products do not get released until each creator is happy with what they've come up with. And of course that means that users always cry with each release delay, so for that we do apologize.”
For Na-Ga, when designing a cast of characters for a visual novel where the player chooses someone to pursue romantically, how do you like to incorporate each girl's personality into their design?
Na-Ga: “Well, it's always a balancing act. For example, you can have a character whose appearance completely matches her personality, and then there are characters who actually work out better when there is a difference between their personality and their outwards appearance. Those kind of balancing acts come between what I am willing and interested in providing and what's required.
How much do you tend to know about her story or route before designing her look?
Na-Ga: “For a game production, it is very rare that a script is complete before we go into game production. When design work is done, we usually just have an overview of the story and specific character profiles. If there is a complete story that I can work off of, it would be very helpful and I would appreciate it. However, those are rare occasions, so usually I get to use my imagination to augment missing information. And of course this would be augmented with judicious consultation with the script writer.”
For Baba again, many people think of Key and Visual Art's as one entity, but you manage many other brands as well, so how would you characterize your relationship with the many developers and companies you manage?
Baba: “Each development team and brand are separate, to the extent that I work with them separately for production meetings and also marketing work, so they are very independent from each other. Each production team is in various different stages of maturity, so depending on where they are, they would have different philosophies and be talking about different ideas, so I have to speak with them in varying different sophistication and level.”
Do you find that hard keeping everything straight?
Baba: “It's not at all because I do love games and visual novels, so nothing comes hard to me. Perhaps this might be similar to a magazine editor who has to deal with various different creators at once.”
For Na-Ga again, because Angel Beats! is a cross-media project where the anime came out first, was the character design process very different?
Na-Ga: “What's specific about animation is that there's motion. And so the consideration for character designs that [will] have animation is that I reflect motion into the design aspect, whereas when you're looking at a game design, it's something that you see as still art on a monitor. So visual props such as big ribbons are something that are more suitable for game design. So for game designs I can incorporate much more fine details into the characters and a movable character would be much more of a priority with animation. However, if I put in too much consideration for movable characters in a character design, I was thinking that I might lose my own style. So I made the compromise and put in some of my own personal details to the animation design. Those were the times that I was making a mental note to apologize to the anime staff.”
Does design philosophy have to change when creating characters for anime first, like with Charlotte?
Na-Ga: “Exactly so, yes. However, compared to Angel Beats!, I put much more of my design style into Charlotte. As a specific example, the main character Tomori has wavy hair, and I hear that wavy hair is very difficult to animate, and the animators hate that, but I still went with that. I like wavy hair.”
I have two questions for Orito as well. First, what is the collaboration process like when creating pieces with other musicians like Jun Maeda?
Orito: “I find it very inspiring because he would come up with ideas that I hadn't thought of and I think it's a very good way to collaborate.”
What do you think each of you brings to the creation of different songs?
Orito: “My approach to songwriting is to come up with the imagery that would follow the main story arc.”
The other question goes back to “Tori no Uta” [the theme song for Air, which was asked about extensively in the press session]. This song takes the listener on a very emotional journey through the melody and lyrics even before they have gotten into the story of the game. I would love to hear more about how this very memorable song was created.
Orito: “Well, the project planner, Jun Maeda, told me that the imagery for the story is “sky,” and then there would be white clouds just drifting in the sky. So that is the basic imagery that I worked with to come up with “Tori no Uta”
Lastly, a general question for anyone. What exciting things can fans expect from Key/Visual Art's in the near future? Or perhaps what do you feel most excited about?
Baba: “In terms of Key/Visual Art's, the next project is definitely underway but I can't really talk about that yet. This is intended to be a mainstream title, and the announcement should be forthcoming within the year.”
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