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Interview: Made in Abyss staff at Anime Central

by Theron Martin,

The 2019 edition of Anime Central hosted the Western premiere of the second Made in Abyss compilation movie, Made in Abyss: Wandering Twilight. Director Masayuki Kojima (center in picture), Music producer Hiromitsu Iijima (right), and soundtrack composer/conductor Kevin Penkin (left) were all in attendance and sporting White Whistle similar to those in the anime. (I was later informed that these were provided by Sentai Filmworks, though there was no firm indication on when or if they will be released in the States.) Later in the weekend they sat down for a press conference concerning the series and movies, and afterword ANN was able to have a one-on-one interview with the trio.

NOTE: This interview contains a significant spoiler for a new scene in the second compilation movie.

ANN: Made in Abyss was a major success in the American fan community. Our site had it as the #2 title of 2017 and it made 10 out of 14 of our reviewer's Top 5 lists. Was it at all a surprise?”

KOJIMA: Yes, we were surprised.

PENKIN: What was number 1?

My Hero Academia, which was also hugely popular.

[They all laugh]PENKIN: Of course!

When I watched the debut of the first episode, I remember being immediately blown away by what looked like a high-budget animation effort. Can you comment on how the budget for this series compares with other series you've worked on?

KOJIMA: “I don't know specifically how much the budget was, but in any production we have to decide where to put our resources and what to prioritize, and so from a producer's standpoint there are various choices we made in order to make it the best work we possibly could.

PENKIN: All I will say is that it was a great pleasure, and I am very thankful, that Kinema Citrus sent us to Vienna to record. That was great pleasure, and I hope it led to what is a very memorable and successful soundtrack.

(Side Note: I was later informed that such matters are the purview of the CEO on Kinema Citrus, who was present for the interview but informed me that they don't reveal such things even in general terms.)

Spinning off that, for Mr. Penkin, how did you get involved with Kinema Citrus given that you don't live in Japan?

PENKIN: So, I'd worked with Kinema Citrus on two projects prior to Made in Abyss. One was Under the Dog, which was a Kickstarter project, and the other was Norn9, which was directed by Takao Abo. Based off of those really successful projects, when they were tasked with making Made in Abyss, they very kindly offered Iijima-san and myself to continue working with them, and it just turned out to be one of the greatest projects of my life.

IIJIMA: I appreciate Kinema Citrus for this opportunity.

Also for Mr. Penkin, The sound of Made in Abyss is widely-praised and very distinctive; it doesn't much resemble your current work on The Rising of The Shield Hero. Where did you draw your inspiration from? And how much guidance did Kojima-san give you on the sound?

PENKIN: You're right they're very inherently different approaches, but they both come from the same idea of just trying to create something that is accurate to the show on a sonic level. In terms of influences specifically for Made in Abyss, I went to an art college, and that type of contemporary classical music that I was exposed to came back full force in the end because it felt like it was the perfect opportunity to combine contemporary classical writing, just something left of center, with a practical application of film music. There were many different types of influences, from contemporary rock to classical, but it was ultimately a conglomeration of different styles.

The series looks children-friendly at first but is genuinely horrific in its later stages. Did transitioning into that darker content pose any special challenges?

KOJIMA: Indeed there are some differences in tone and approach, but it wasn't that we intentionally did that; the characters just happened to be cute. Even early on there are some hints that this not just your run-of-the-mill children's adventure and it's touched on, so it wasn't that we were particularly trying to create this juxtaposition or gap between the darker elements and the look and feel of the characters; it just worked out that way.

Not every series which gets follow-up content gets compilation movies. How did that come to pass?

KOJIMA: Made in Abyss was a project planned by Kadokawa, and the TV series was very well-received, so after that they were talking about the next step, and that's where the opportunity for a movie version arose. I was very happy to hear that, and felt that, compared to TV, a movie might be even more impactful as a movie, so I was very happy to have the opportunity.

Related to that, in both compilation movies, I was particularly impressed by how smoothly the story was edited down to two hours. How long did that take to do, and were there any guiding principles you used in deciding what to cut?

KOJIMA: It wasn't just my decisions, it was also the producer Kurata-san, who also had an influence on what to cut and how to bring the films together. And so once we decided what major portions would be in the films, I worked out the details on my own. We really wanted to make a film where even if you were seeing it for the first time, the world could stand on its own.

I did feel that both movies accomplished that.

KOJIMA: It's wonderful to hear that, and you give me great confidence by saying that, so thank you.

There was a new scene at the end of the second movie which introduces Pushka. Was this added specifically to set up things for the next movie?

KOJIMA: When we released the movies in theaters, we thought it would be nice to have something extra, some fan service, and this was something we discussed during the planning sessions.

One of the most remarkable things I found about the series and the movies was the breathtaking worldbuilding. Was this something you specifically focused on, or do you feel this was just a carry-over from adapting the source material?

KOJIMA: The original work itself already had great world-building, but in order to translate that into anime, it required a lot of additional work. From a visual standpoint, that meant that our backgrounds and art direction had to be really excellent, and thanks to our art director [Osamu] Masuyama-san, we were able to achieve that. Also from a production standpoint, I think we were able to take that great original world-building and bring it to the screen.

Last question. Some Western fans have raised concerns about there being lolicon elements in the series because of how Riko is portrayed. But I've hard that this was stronger in the manga. Did this impact any decisions you made about how to frame those scenes?

KOJIMA: I can't say that there weren't such elements in the original work. But when you're reading a manga, there's no sound, no voice, so it's up to the reader's individual interpretation how they see the work. But even when we take those visuals and turn them into anime, the creators have their own influence and bring their own unique nuance to the work. So even if something was portrayed in a certain way in the manga, that may change in the animated work depending on the nuances and intentions of the creator that work on the animation.

Although I did not see it that way myself, I can see how others saw it that way.

KOJIMA: Yes, I can understand that as well.

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