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Interview: Princess Principal Director Masaki Tachibana

by Rai Kelly,

Princess Principal is an anime set in an alternate-history steampunk version of Victorian London, following a group of five ladies, professional spies who find themselves embroiled in a game of mistaken identities and political intrigue. The show's incredible action scenes and pacing, along with a cast stuffed full with endearing characters minted it as a success story of the Summer 2017 anime season. We sat down with the series’ director, Masaki Tachibana, after one of his many events at the recent Anime NYC event in New York City.

Firstly, what inspired such a unique anime? 

To begin, the producer from Bandai Visual, Atsushi Yukawa, and I were talking about an anime where high school girls were spies. He actually liked that idea quite a lot, so that's where it started. 

There is a contrast between the cute characters and the dark setting and story. Was this intentional and if so, what was the inspiration behind it?

We already have a lot of anime where tough-looking guys are doing cool stuff. When we got to the character design phase, we considered who would be the best person for the job to make characters that are cute but could do other things too. We thought of Kouhaku Kuroboshi. He is someone with a cute touch, but is able to do something far apart from cute. We ended up doing something both cute yet hardboiled at the same time."

Did a lot of research go into the time period? It seems like an accurate depiction of the social atmosphere during the Victorian age in London.

Since it was spies, we wanted to do something back in the 19th century. I talked about it with Yukawa-san and I said if we are doing it in the era, I would like to do something steampunk. So, if steampunk is the theme, the Victorian Era sounds like a good place to mesh everything together. For research, it was done by Seiichi Shirato-san and he was the person who got the information about the technologies or whatnot that existed back in that era.

Ange and Princess's switch reminded me of the famous western story The Prince and The Pauper. Did you draw inspiration from this story or is it a coincidence? 

In Japan, the Prince and the Pauper is also a famous story too. All of us knew about the story and also thought what we could add on to it or flesh it out.

Is there a Japanese version of the story in Japan?

I think it is the same story that you guys know, regarding a prince and a poor man, so it probably came from a Western influence.

What was the reason for telling the story out of order? Will we ever find out what happened in between the different “cases”?

The reason why it wasn't in chronological order is because we wanted to show all of the characters in the first episode, so you could see what they do as a spy. However, the second episode is actually the first chronologically, but it isn't the flashiest one. We wanted something that would be an effective first episode. For example, Chise appears around the middle of the season and she doesn't exactly have too much screen time, but we did want to show her earlier in the series. That way it builds up this mystery with the viewers, so they could wonder about what happened to assemble the team. When it comes to what happened between the cases, truthfully speaking, we have the ideas, but nothing has officially been decided. But it might change depending on how the show does.

Some fans of the show believe there are romantic feelings between Ange and the Princess. Are they accurate or are they reading too much into it?

For that, I say we leave that up to your imagination. For Ange, she definitely feels friendship and strong feelings of trust. But we didn't interpret it as romantic when we were making it. However, to split everything into black and white… that's simply no fun. So, I leave that up to your imaginations. 

Chise was a very interesting character. Usually you see the “foreigner” character in anime as a Westerner encountering Japanese society for the first time, but you flipped it with this character. How did you develop that?

Since the setting is in London, everyone of course is going to be European. But the people making this anime are in a Japanese studio, so we wanted a Japanese character that the staff could sympathize with, but at the same time, could cause some kind of trouble in Western society.       

Princess Principal is pretty different than other anime you have directed or worked on. What made you decide to direct this project?

The reason why I think Princess Principal is the perfect show for me is because the works I have done in the past, like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, are a mesh of action, story, and political themes. So, Princess Principal fits rights into that same flow of things. That's the reason why Yukawa-san thought I would be the best person for this.

There was a lot that was still unresolved by the end of the season. Can we expect a second season?

I don't know how much I can talk about at the moment. We ourselves really feel like we want to continue with Princess Principal.

Hypothetically, if there was a second season, would you direct it?

Probably, yes!

What was the most fun (or most difficult) thing about working on this anime?

One thing that I definitely thought was fun… since the characters are very cute, I thought drawing them different expressions and having them act out things would be very pleasing. For what was difficult, I would say it was keeping the quality consistent. Expanding on that, since the story takes place in the 19th century in a London steampunk fantasy, it required quite extensive research. It was difficult to have animators draw this realistically. 

What was the inspiration behind Beatrice's metal component in her neck and her voice-changing ability?

Ichiro Ohkouchi (who was in charge of screenplay) suggested that there should be a character that would be more relatable to the viewers, so Beatrice is a relatively newbie spy. Someone like that needs to be there to ask the questions like “What is this?” on missions because the viewers will probably be able to relate much more to her than the professional spies. But then, if there was a brand-new girl to the job, there is really no reason for her to be there unless she had something outstanding. In her case, that outstanding thing is the ability to change her voice. She needed some kind of advantage for her to be in the group.

Can you tell me more about the Black Lizard Planet?

The Black Lizard Planet was there ever since the first version of the script Ohkouchi wrote up. It kind of explains Ange's personality of being a very strange, if not very unique, character. It emphasizes her lies. It signals to the audience when she is telling a lie. When it is something about her past that she wants to separate from her current self, she puts it in the perspective of the Black Lizard Planet. She uses it to set herself aside from what she used to be. I think the importance about having it as the “Black Lizard Planet” is the fact that everyone could understand that is a lie. But why it's specifically the “Black Lizard” Planet… Ohkouchi is the only one who knows about that.

After our interview, Director Tachibana went on to several other events at AnimeNYC, including a screening of Princess Principal, a personal panel, and autograph sessions where he could meet more enamored fans.

Thanks to Bandai and Anime NYC for this opportunity.

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