Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami

hisui_icon_4040 At points it seemed like one, and only one, anime came out last year. Some people loved it, some people hated it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, with other felt the show had a major shift in the middle. It was on inordinate number of year in review lists in the general anime blogosphere. The hyperbolic Kotaku reviews did nothing but throw fuel on the fire of the discussion. And so now that the shows in question, Sword Art Online, is playing on Adult Swim it seems like the conversation about the show never stopped.

As we have mentioned multiple times during these Otakon reports they pulled out all the stops for the 20th anniversary so getting Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami who were involved with Sword Art Online was no surprise. I’m sure staff members from the show were some of the most requested guests this year (other than Attack on Titan which came out a bit too recently to be negotiated as guests for this years con.) As Sword Art Online is getting a second wave of popularity while playing on TV they could not have timed their arrival at a better time. The only way it could have been better is if they got Reki Kawahara as well (my roommate is a huge Accel World fan so I’m sure he would have loved to meet him) but their lineup was hardly shabby.

The interview was supposed to be a roundtable discussion with 4 press groups but one group dropped out and the other just vanished. In fact at first it looked like I was the only person who was going to show up. But I did get to talk to Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami with some members of the Ninja Legion podcast. I find that amusing because up until that point there were only that anime podcast that people always confuse with the Ninja Consultants. If nothing else that meant that both of our sites were pretty much free to ask both guests as many questions as we liked which was very nice.

Sadly, we were not able to record any audio or video of the interview so we will have to go off my handwritten notes about the affair. I apologize in advance about that.

We went back and forth each asking one question each. I decided to start with a nice easy question for Mr. Adachi. I mentioned that he had a Pixiv account so I asked him how much does he look at what other people are doing on the site and what interests him most about the professional and fan-art coming out of the site? He said that he often frequents the site but is often depressed when he sees how much good stuff was out there.

The Ninja Legion asked what was in inspiration behind the characters in Sword Art Online. Mr. Adachi mentioned that he only adapted the designs from the original light novel series. He just strove to take those designs and bring them to life in an animated form.

I then mentioned that Sword Art Online has two distinct parts with one half taking place in the online world of Sword Art Online and the other half taking place in the newer game of Alfheim Online. I was curious to know how Mr. Adachi worked to make his adaptations of both worlds distinct. He said that when they worked on the world of Sword Art Online they made sure to play up the physicality of the characters since it was all based on melee combat. But since Alfheim Online was a game with magic they focused on emphasizing the magical effects and how they effected the world and its design. Also since if you died in Sword Art Online then you died in real life they went for a very grim tone. On the other hand Alfheim Online went for more traditional gaming aesthetics since everyone’s lives were not on the line.

The ladies of Ninja Legion then inquired if either artist had a set routine when they worked. Mr. Adachi said that he tries to give himself a different challenge every time he sits down to work. Maybe one time he will focus on doing his best with a character’s hair but some other time he will give himself a challenge with their clothing. Mr. Kawakami said the only thing he strives to do when ever he works is to forget the work that came before it. He wants each of his designs to stand alone and not merely ape the ones that came before it. Mr. Adachi agreed that Mr. Kawakami was very good at doing that and complained his work on Sword Art Online was a bit too much influenced by his work on Working!! for his liking.

To shake things up a bit I asked Mr. Kawakami about his work on the upcoming Robot Girls Z (you can see the promo episode here). I wanted to know what did he have to do to turn such classic robot designs into cute girls. I also asked him what his favorite mecha design was. At first he was surprised that anyone in America was aware of the show. But I assured him as a mecha aficionado it was a show I had my eye on. After that little revelation he said he had two major focuses when turning beloved mecha into bishoujo. First and foremost they should be cute. Beyond that he wanted the designs to help facilitate anyone being able to sit down and laugh at what was going on in the show. This sparked a bit of a conversation between Mr. Adachi and Mr. Kawakami about their favorite robots but sadly due to time constraints that part of the conversation could not be translated. Mr. Kawakami did mention his favorite mecha was actually the villainous Doublas M2 from Mazinger Z. He also said the would take word back to Japan that there were fans of Robot Girls Z in the states.

The next question built on mine by asking what were the biggest challenges in working on Sword Art Online. They said the biggest challenge was making the game feel like a game you might actually play in the future. With the Sword Art Online universe that meant making the swordplay effects and user interface feel as organic and realistic as possible. They admitted that no one could really know how games would be in the future but they tried their best to make something that would hopefully stand the test of time. Therefore they went out of their way to make things as simple and cool as possible. Mr. Adachi even went to a friend in college who was a game designer for some tips in the regard. Their ideal was the design of something like Google Glass. In that respect they tried to make pop up windows feel very old school in hopes of invoking the feeling of a timeless classic. They also learned that script changers to constantly translate thing into different languages were extremely complex and not easy to program. Knowing that they made the user interface as text-less and intuitive as possible.

I know that Kate was very interested in how Mr. Adachi’s work on the charity poster came about. He said that when he was invited to be a guest they also asked him if he would like to work on the charity poster. Going into it he did not know that Otakon had mascot characters. He was extremely amused to the point of cracking up when it was requested that the two characters be dressed as if they were in the world of Sword Art Online. Past that point he was just curious to see how the poster would be used.

Moving on from there the Ninja Legion wanted to know which of their characters they both saw themselves the most like. Mr. Kawakami said he most associated himself with Fumika from Shigofumi: Letters from the Departed. Since she was the first character he worked on she has a special place in his heart. Mr. Adachi said that Aoi Yamada from Working!! came to mind. He felt she was extremely quirky and amusing. She was extremely fun to draw and therefore he was always able to finish any work involving her very quickly.

I asked a somewhat problematic question about their key frame animation work. It was sort of funny. The translator and some of the staff had a hard time getting what I was going for. But oddly enough the guests understood the question almost immediately. For some reason the staff thought I was talking about Key games studio as opposed to key frame animation. I regret not writing down the term 原画 Genga for key animation. Live and learn. Oddly enough despite the language barrier the guests pretty much got what I was saying right away. It was probably the fact that since the guests work in the animation industry they probably know the English word for key frame as well as the Japanese.

But soon enough it was all sorted out and I was able to ask what their specializations were when it came to key frame animation and if there was anything they were known for. Mr. Kawakami said that when he started working he was known for being really good at adding fluid motion to action scenes. But now a days he mostly finds himself being called in when they need to do scenes with cute girls. Mr. Adachi said he has always been far better at bringing out the expressiveness in characters than he has even been at actions sequences.

In a bit of a broader scope the next question was if both of them grew up wanting to work in animation. Mr. Kawakami said that he was always drawing as long as he could remember so he just eventually found his way into the animation industry as the natural course of his life. Mr. Adachi said he was a bit stranger as when he was a child the only manga he could buy or read was Doraemon. So he grew up drawing Doraemon and only Doraemon. Not any of the human characters from the series. Just the blue cat robot. It was not until he saw Kiki’s Delivery Service that he became aware that animation could be more than Doraemon.

To follow that up I asked Mr. Adachi since he has adapted character designs for anime from manga, video games, and light novels was there is a difference in adapting those designs to anime. He said when he worked on Megaman Star Force he worked really hard on making the series accessible to children. Also when adapting designs from video games he tends to make things simpler without a lot of lines or shadows. On the other hand when he adapts comedies like 4-koma series his primary job is translating the humor in a way that makes people want to go back and check out the original manga or novel.

The Ninja Legion decided to go out with a peppy question asking who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman. Mr. Kawakami went with his gut and said that he would place his money on Batman. He likes Batman better and he loves the Batman: Arkham games. Mr. Adachi said that while he preferred Batman as well he would have to side with Superman. His strength just makes him unstoppable.  Mr. Adachi mentioned that if Mr. Kawakami watched the recent Man of Steel movie he would understand what he was saying.

I decided to go out with the final question of the interview being when both guests create their own characters what styles are they drawn too? I also wanted to know what is their favorite type of characters to draw were. Mr. Kawakami said that when he was growing up Dragon Ball was king and everyone he knew was obsessed with Akira Toriyama’s work. In grade school all the boys would draw Goku. Because of that he has penchant for comedic characters with a bit of a broken down style. Mr. Adachi said he was not an expert on Western animation but he felt in Japan there was an emphasis appealing to guys with sex appeal. He felt that risks alienating women far too often. He strived to make characters with a unisex appeal to men, women, and children if at all possible. He said that he hoped that his original work on the upcoming Noitamina show Galilei Donna about the descendents of Galileo Galilei would embody that philosophy. (By the way here is a trailer for that show.)

Overall I think it was a fun interview. Since so many people had dropped out I was able to pretty much ask all the question I wanted to. I think both sides of the table started off a bit stiff but as the interview went on the discussion really started to open up. If nothing else I am looking forward to Robot Girls Z and Galilei Donna when they come out.

– Alain

More Otakon 2013 posts:

Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: General Impressions
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
Otakon 2013: Artist Alley
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Concerts
Otakon 2013: Guests
Otakon 2013: Fan Panels
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013

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