Interview: APPARE-RANMAN! Director Masakazu Hashimoto

by Kim Morrissy,

APPARE-RANMAN! is P.A.WORKS' upcoming new anime about racing across the Wild West. The story follows the brilliant but socially inept engineer Sorano Appare (family name first) and the shrewd but cowardly samurai Isshiki Kosame find themselves drifting on a boat from Japan to America. Broke, the two decide to compete in the Trans-America Wild Race to win the prize and return to Japan.

The anime is directed by Masakazu Hashimoto, who has directed a number of Crayon Shin-chan films and the P.A.WORKS original anime series TARI TARI. We sat down with him to discuss what to look forward to in his upcoming show.

What sparked the idea for APPARE-RANMAN!? Why did you decide to go with a racing theme?

There were two ideas that I had when I was first submitting the pitch: the first was a story about crossing the American continent, and the other was making it about a sport. At first, I wanted to make it about golf, where the characters would go around America playing it. But during the various discussions we had around what elements to put into the anime, we decided that just making it about golf was lacking a certain punch.

So then we talked about making it an adventure race, so that the characters race each other as they play golf in the forests and so on. Between the race and the golf element, we discussed which route was better to proceed with, and I eventually decided to go with the race theme. Golf is more of a quiet and serene game, and I thought that racing is a sport that's more intense, the kind where the contestants grit their teeth and get all sweaty. When it came to portraying the heat and intensity through the characters' movements, I decided that racing was the better choice. And that's why the theme was changed to racing halfway through.

It's not like I had my heart set on doing golf for a long time. I've played it a bit, but when I sat down with a producer from KADOKAWA and P.A.WORKS to discuss the pitch, the three of us weren't that knowledgeable about golf. Most of all, I just wanted to convey the fun of the sport. Indeed, that would have been difficult to achieve through animation.

As for racing, I've always had a fondness for it since I was a child, so I thought that the fun of it could get across.

How did you balance style with the historical setting of the story?

Although this series is not set in the modern day, it has a lot of anachronistic and fantasy elements. It's not determined what year or month the story takes place. I didn't want the anime to get caught up with realism. It's not a historical story, and the historical setting is merely a backdrop for a story where the characters could shine.

So did you research in order to create the setting and the vehicles?

Of course, I did speak to specialists and researched the real history as much as I could, but I took many liberties with it. For the vehicles, I did a lot of research. At my friend's university, there was a club that made vehicles and raced them, so I was able to talk to people who know exactly how to make engines and other parts of a vehicle in precise detail.

It's not like I was trying to make the vehicles, though. (laughs) I've never made one. But when I looked at the vehicles those university students made, I could really appreciate the tricky things and the fun things about making vehicles. It was very invigorating. It made me wonder if I could make a car myself. It was the first time I understood the appeal.

You previously directed the original anime TARI TARI at P.A.WORKS. How different has it been to work on APPARE-RANMAN! compared to TARI TARI?

It's been eight years since TARI TARI, so there have been changes within me as a person. The two titles are completely different in approaches toward the story as well. This project began through having talks with P.A.WORKS about making something different from what they've done before. It's hard to describe, but making TARI TARI was like doing subtraction - we tried to streamline things and only include the most necessary elements. APPARE-RANMAN!, on the other hand, is like doing addition. Everyone pooled their ideas for what would make fun entertainment and kept adding more and more to the pile. That's the biggest difference.

A few years ago, I heard that P.A.WORKS was listening to ideas from people at Anime Expo regarding suggestions for future anime...

Really? I had no idea. (laughs)

So this work wasn't influenced at all by suggestions from the foreign fans?

Not directly. I have been overseas before for a different anime. You see, I directed a number of Crayon Shin-chan films, which have been released overseas, so I've been to those places and talked to various people. But with TV anime, you don't really get that opportunity. I would be happy to receive messages from overseas fans on Twitter, though. (laughs)

Even though I haven't received much influence from the overseas fans so far, I would like to receive more in the future. I like foreign dramas, especially American dramas. Between Japanese animation and American animation, I've been more influenced by things like Pixar films and Tom & Jerry. So I'm happy that I got the opportunity to create an anime set in America.

So it was the influence you received from American media that made you want to set an anime in America?

Yeah, that was definitely a part of it. There are quite a few Japanese works set in Europe that depict the old towns and the atmosphere there, but there aren't so many that are set in America. The ones that do exist are usually set in places like modern-day New York. So I thought I could make something new with APPARE-RANMAN!.

What's the atmosphere like at P.A.WORKS? What makes it different from other anime companies?

The biggest thing about P.A.WORKS is that it has a relatively large in-house staff. A lot of anime studios in Japan make use of freelancers, but P.A.WORKS's Toyama studio has a large number of in-house animators. It's nice to have that consistency; it makes production feel relatively stable. It's also nice that the staff is so tight-knit because it makes it easy to relay instructions to everyone.

Toyama Prefecture is quite far away, so we connect online and hold video conferences in real time. My work is in Tokyo, so when I do the checks, the people in Toyama have to show me everything they're doing through a screen and we talk about it. I never had problems with communication, and the distance between Toyama and Tokyo never felt significant.

So was there anything that you felt was challenging when creating APPARE-RANMAN!?

The hardest part was compiling the ideas and deciding on the plan to go through with at the start. Every time I went back to the drawing board, there was a lot of work to do. But once we worked out how we were going to proceed to a certain degree, things were relatively smooth. There are always difficulties that come up in the middle of production, but on the other hand, I had even more fun making this anime because I was making something I really wanted to make.

The characters seem quite diverse, including Chinese, European, black, and native Americans. What did you keep in mind when portraying the multicultural backgrounds of the characters?

Well, APPARE-RANMAN!'s production team is rather international. One of the producers is from China, the composer Evan Call is American, and some of the people I've entrusted the storyboards to are Korean. Having a multicultural team makes me believe in the things we can do through working together.

In the anime, everyone's a rival when it comes to the race, but when you pull back a little, you can see that all sorts of people of different races are working together to make this event - the race - feel special. In that sense, I think that the race is a way of showing the strength of multiculturalism, and I want to believe in it.

I think that the characters and the race in the anime reflect the team that made it, in a way.

Some characters, like Hototo and Jin Xiaoleng, seem to be motivated to fight against an unjust society, while Appare seems to be absorbed in only machines. Is the theme of “living true to yourself” something you wanted to emphasize?

Yes, it's one of the most important themes. Personally speaking, it's a big theme for me. In Japan, you end up constrained by society no matter what you do, so it's hard to bring out your individuality. These days, we're starting to get told to value our individual quirks, but on the other hand, that's because societal constraints are so strong. As a person constrained by Japanese society, APPARE-RANMAN! shows America as a place where you can be yourself. But America has its own problems as well, so the idea of everyone influencing each other to live true to themselves is a big theme of the anime.

What is your impression of the voice actor cast?

This anime has an all star cast. We've gathered all sorts of people and selected the best people for the job. That's how we ended up with so many talented people. There are quite a few voice actors on this anime who have a long history of working on other projects, so we've all been learning a lot from each other. That's fun, too. I've been enjoying working with them from the start.

What has the atmosphere been like at the recording studio so far?

There's a lot of young people and a lot of ad-libbing. I hope that makes it fun for them. The staff have been enjoying themselves a lot in particular. And I hope that gets across to the viewers as well.

Do original anime tend to get more ad-libs?

It's not specifically because they're original, but they do tend to have more than an anime that has a source material, which will have lines that have been decided on already. For my part, I wanted to give the voice actors more freedom for experimentation and ad-libbing. Because they're original characters, we're creating them from zero, together. It's not just a matter of me telling them, “Play the character this way.” They'll form their own interpretations of the characters and make suggestions to change some lines accordingly.

I see. Do you ever have conflicting interpretations of a character?

Yes. I'll get suggestions like, “This line sounds more like it should be said like this,” or “I think this character should sound more cheerful.” So we have 100% the same mental image of a character. I always value the dialogue we have about the characters. I feel like we've had a good rapport.

Do you have a message for your overseas fans?

I haven't been particularly conscious of the overseas audience when it comes to any of the TV series I've made so far. I haven't really had the opportunity to have direct conversations with overseas fans. This anime is set in America and has a diverse cast of characters, so I hope that overseas fans will be encouraged to engage with us. I hope you watch the anime and share your impressions. I think that this work has a broader appeal than the things I've worked on before. I'm also looking forward to how this anime is being simulcast overseas at the same time as Japan. Please watch APPARE-RANMAN!

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