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Interview: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Director and Producer

by Kim Morrissy,

The Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation anime swept audiences away with its lush animation and attention to detail. It is also Studio Bind's debut work. ANN spoke to series director Manabu Okamoto and Studio Bind president Toshiya Ōtomo about the circumstances behind the anime's creation, and just what it is about the series that makes it so special.

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

(For Okamoto) What was your first impression of the original work?

It had a lot of vulgar and uncomfortable parts, but ultimately I thought it was a first-rate story. On the Narо̄ website, there was a part called the “Aisha arc” that has now been removed because it was controversial. In it, the protagonist is finally able to acknowledge who he was in his previous life, but to put it in words would reduce his entire reincarnated life to that one thing. It's because that story took the form of an online novel, a hallowed ground that the hand of a commercial editor could not reach, that it was able to depict a single person's life with so much richness. By the time I read it, it already had a lot of fans, so I felt more pressure to create an anime that could do justice to the story for their sake.

When you first took on the job of director of this work, what sort of challenges did you imagine you would face in creating a visual adaptation of the original work? Did the actual work match up to those expectations?

I heard rumors that before this current project got underway, a lot of other companies were trying to get Mushoku Tensei projects off the ground. However, it was never made into a screen adaptation. When I read the original story, I thought that there may be various reasons for that: 1) It's too vulgar. 2) The story is excruciatingly difficult to arrange into the structure of a TV anime. 3) The Japanese animation scene has become oversaturated with the isekai reincarnation genre.

Reason 2 was a particularly significant problem: the question of how much the TV anime could cover.

Covering the entire source material would make it so long as to render it impossible. If you were to just do the beginning, then the plot developments would be thin, so it would be difficult to bring out its impressive qualities as an anime. The passage of time is also quick, and the locations change constantly. Because of that, it ends up requiring a ridiculous amount of design materials.

There were many problems. I was easily able to imagine those problems, but when we actually entered production, the difficulties easily exceeded my imagination.

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

How was your experience serving as both the series director and the series composition writer?

Very difficult.

Mushoku Tensei is a work that depicts the entire span of a man's life, from birth to adulthood. Because of this, Rudy's character design seems to change every episode. What sort of things did you pay attention to in order to portray his gradual growth?

If you don't know the workflow for creating anime, I don't think you'll be able to imagine it, but it is extremely difficult to portray the gradual growth of a child going through significant body changes. (It's also hard in live-action.) That's why works of media will generally do something like a 5-year time skip and make marked changes to the characters then. But I didn't want to do that. That's why I took on the challenge of gradually depicting the character's growth. I leave it up to the viewers to decide whether we did that well or not.

The contrast between Rudy's past identity and his reincarnated identity is striking. What kind of considerations did you have in mind when you decided on the voice actors?

The reason we cast Tomokazu Sugita as the man in Rudy's previous life is because when I read the original story I thought it was impossible for him to be anyone else. It's also an homage to a beloved anime that once aired in the past, and that was the starting point for the casting.

After Rudeus reincarnates, he lives in his new world by generally acting with a mask on. His voice actor Yumi Uchiyama is a very skilled person, and I think she nails that nuance.

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

Rudy has a perverted side and a flawed personality. How did you strike the balance between portraying his flaws and making him a sympathetic character worth rooting for?

This character has an opposing personality: a vulgar side that is incredibly difficult to sympathize with, as well as a more normal and conventional side that can be sympathized with. Those negative traits are a part of his identity, so he can't be rid of them, but we are taking due consideration to portray him in a way that does not cause the viewers discomfort.

How do you portray magic in a way that feels fantastical but also a grounded part of the setting?

I tried to remain as conscious as possible about the fact that magic is an extension of nature. I remind myself that it's not unnatural. In episode 1, I think it's drawn with a good amount of flavor to show that it's not too mundane. I feel nothing but gratitude to the animators who drew it with such cool effects.

How did you decide on the film grain-like picture?

I decided on my own discretion how to handle the overall look of the visuals. I really like the retro fashion look, so this was a great opportunity to try it out.

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

What about the music composer Yoshiaki Fujisawa made him a good fit for the world of Mushoku Tensei?

For my part, I put forth a lot of strange requests, because I wanted to use a lot of classically informed performances from around the 15th century, and I wanted to express the differences in culture between the various continents that appear in the story. He took on board my requests and created a modern BGM that conveys the atmosphere of a fantasy world. I think he's a very good match.

He was very accommodating with all the retakes, and he earnestly carried out my directions.

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

(For Otomo) How did you become the president of Studio Bind?

I've always wanted to create a studio, but I never had the impetus or chance to do it. Due to some fortunate timing, I got an independent offer from EGG FIRM's Nobuhiro Osawa. Osawa had quit the company he was working at and gone independent. At an open izakaya, he asked if I wanted to make Mushoku Tensei. However, a friend of a friend of mine was next door. Having an acquaintance be privy to the contents of a private meeting makes me think that the world is a very small place. You have to do important conversations in a private room.

With Mushoku Tensei, I would get backup from Osawa and White Fox's Gaku Iwasa. I didn't think I would get a better chance to go independent, so I took the opportunity to become independent. I thought that there was no better title to work on for my first project, so I accepted the offer.

What is the meaning of the studio name?

When going independent, I thought back on all the anime I've worked on, and when it came to what was important to me, I thought that it was the bonds between people. From that meaning of bonds and binding people together came the studio name “bind.”

©Rifujinnamagonote/MFBOOKS/ Mushoku Tensei Production Committee

This is Studio Bind's first series. What about Mushoku Tensei makes it a representative work for the team?

What leaves an impression on me is Mushoku Tensei's first PV. When you're making an anime you need a lot of design materials, but we made that first PV without anything resembling materials that you'd normally use for an anime. We didn't even have characters design materials or background art materials.

Manabu Okamoto, Shingo Fujii, Ryo Imamura, and the staff that was involved at the point of the studio's formation produced that footage. It is the first thing Studio Bind has put out to the world, so it is very memorable.

What were the circumstances behind taking on Mushoku Tensei? Around when did the proposal get accepted?

When I quit my previous company and became independent, I thought that there was no better title to get involved with as my first, so I accepted the job.

Do you have any desire to produce original works?

If I get an offer to do it, I would certainly love to try it. However, if there were no prospects of success, then even if I was asked to do it, I don't think I would. I can't make a single anime footage look good by my own efforts alone, so I would like to try it if I could gather staff with winning prospects.

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