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INTERVIEW: Studio Trigger's Hiromi Wakabayashi and Shigeto Koyama

by Lynzee Loveridge,

The breakout success of Cyberpunk: Edgerunners has doubtlessly brought about unprecedented interest in both Studio Trigger's past works and where they will bring their creativity next. At Kumoricon, ANN was fortunate enough to have a talk with Trigger's Hiromi Wakabayashi (design production for Gurren Lagann, co-creator of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt) and Shigeto Koyama (character designer for Diebuster, Gurren Lagann, DARLING in the FRANXX, and SSSS.Gridman, among others) about the studio's upcoming Gridman Universe film, their experience of working with Netflix and CD PROJEKT RED to create Edgerunners, and what sets Trigger apart from other anime studios.

©円谷プロ ©2023 TRIGGER・雨宮哲/「劇場版グリッドマンユニバース」製作委員会

Given the popularity of SSSS.Gridman and SSSS.Dynazenon, and the upcoming movie, would Trigger like to continue producing tokusatsu-based anime productions?

HIROMI WAKABAYASHI: I can't say for certain that Trigger as a whole wants to make more tokusatsu-style content. The director of Gridman, Akira Amemiya, is indeed into that. It's all based on whether or not he would like to make more. He probably would. It also probably depends on how well the film turns out, right? It depends on how well it's perceived by the audience and what we hear back from fans.

Some directors, like [Hiroyuki] Imaishi have grown up with this, so needless to say, that's always been a part of everything we've created since the Gainax days. There's always going to be bits and pieces of tokusatsu in our work, whether or not it's something straightforward like Gridman.

Are there any new developments in the Gridman Universe film that you can share with us?

WAKABAYASHI: The movie is going to premiere in Japan in 2023, but the U.S. screening is still uncertain. The story this time, I guess, that we could share is that it's going to be basically the Gridman universe and the Dynazenon universe combined together.

That's interesting Given that the Gridman universe is digital and the Dynazenon universe takes place in reality.

WAKABAYASHI:The most interesting part of this upcoming movie will be to see how those two stories will come together. There was a very tokusatsu feel to Dynazenon's climax. There's a character, Gauma, who does something, and then you can see Dyna Rex's eyes glowing. That sets up this feeling of, "oh, what's going to happen?"

Are there any tokusatsu shows that you saw as a child that still stick with you now?

WAKABAYASHI: Kamen Rider is my favorite still; I've watched from the original Kamen Rider up to the current version. The original Kamen Rider is the best Kamen Rider. For those who don't know, it's like the Power Rangers of Japan, right? Koyama and I haven't made anything that's straightforwardly tokusatsu, but there are always going to be bits and pieces of it that remind us of tokusatsu because of its influence.

SHIGETO KOYAMA: I have worked on Shin Ultraman, so I've dabbled in the tokusatsu world, but I didn't personally really grow up with it as one of my favorite programs.

When you look at other animation studios in Japan, what do you think sets Trigger apart from other studios that are making anime right now?

WAKABAYASHI: One thing to know would be the fact that Trigger, out of all the other studios, has been making more original content. So that's definitely the major difference. We're very grateful because, in this world, most anime are adapted from manga or from a game, right? It's really difficult to make a profit from an original series because you're relying solely on just that. The audience has no background knowledge about it when it's released. We're super grateful that Gurren Lagann, which is celebrating its 15-year anniversary, is still going strong. The fans have trusted us and have been cheering us on for so long. The fact that we're able to keep up with that, creating more original works, is definitely one other original aspect as well.

KOYAMA: I've worked at many studios. I guess one thing I want to point out about the difference between Trigger and other studios is that the name itself is so violent compared to other animation studios. laughs It's "Trigger," it's a weapon, whereas other studios have more mild names. It's not just the name "Trigger" itself, but saying it in a normal conversation sounds very lofty.

I guess, to put it into like a metaphorical sense, think of other studios trying to make the finest foods in a restaurant, whereas at Trigger, we're okay with just continuing to make a decent burger. It's still something that is simple to make, something we're confident in making, but it's still something that everyone can enjoy. And it's also bad for you.

Is it ever difficult to balance the individual creators' interests at the studio with deciding on what your next project is?

WAKABAYASHI: So our team is us plus Imaishi, so that's one team [within Trigger]. Within this trio, all of our personalities are completely opposite and just totally different. Finding the balance is not difficult because we embrace that difference. We have different interests, hobbies, and ideas, right? We know jumping in, that we are already going to clash and we're not going to all agree on one thing and stick to one solid path. We have all these different opinions, input, and ideas coming together. Because of that, we are confident that we can make something amazing. We embrace those differences to balance the differences. You have to have these differences otherwise you can't survive.

Even the production staff, right? The production staff and the producers all have different things that they like. There are no "yes men" at Trigger.

That's unique, I think. When it comes to Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the ending is actually not very hopeful. I was wondering if you could discuss the choice you made to go with this darker ending for the series.

WAKABAYASHI: From the very beginning, CDPR has been telling us that there isn't going to be a happy ending in this show. The game itself kind of gives it away, right? The play-through and the style of it, it's not like a happy ending kind of place. We already knew jumping in that that was the ending that CDPR wanted. We didn't want to destroy the image, the world of the Cyberpunk game, in Edgerunners.

We did a play-through of the game to get a feel of it. From that we decided, "Yeah, this is the kind of ending we'll have to make." The characters, like David, go through so much hardship because of the society within the game. The ending that we did make for the anime, I like to think that it is a little happier than what the game would show. The game staff probably wanted something even darker for the ending of the anime, but to make a show, a story that people can actually enjoy, we decided to end it the way they did.

Do you see David's fate at the end as a cautionary story about humanity and technology?

WAKABAYASHI: That's the main story, but you can definitely think of it that way as well. Imaishi is probably the type of guy who would want those cyber prosthetics. He wants to get jacked in. laughs. In a sense, David is like the director, he would keep going and using technology to get more powerful.

I remember at Anime Expo, you explained that in the opening sequence, Imaishi's name shakes rapidly to reflect his stress at the time.

WAKABAYASHI: Imaishi was like a "cyber-psycho" and then, you know, right after that scene it cuts and the character is murdered...

I hope he gets a vacation soon. laughs

WAKABAYASHI: We hope his wife does. laughs

How does creating an anime for Netflix like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners compare to creating a traditional TV anime to air in Japan?

WAKABAYASHI:In general, the difference would be that with TV, it's being aired for anyone. As long as you've got a TV, you can watch it. Whereas Netflix, you, the viewer, have the choice to watch something or not and you need to have Netflix, too. That's another thing. With that in mind, with TV broadcasts, you're kind of limited with what you can air. With Netflix, you are able to be more engaged. You're able to create content that's not as restricted, I suppose.

There are pros and cons to everything. With TV, that means you're able to create something that everyone can see. With Netflix, you're only able to create something for a select few people that choose to watch it. That would be the biggest difference.

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