Like it or not most studios develop a reputation for what to expect from their output. If you say one studio people may think frequent cuts and head tilting, whereas if you say another they may conjure an image of kinetic action animation. With P.A.Works someone could picture anime containing painterly backgrounds as the backdrop for love polyhedrons.
But people often admonish merely looking at the studio name when evaluating a show as it ignores all the series that are outside of the preconceived notions. While Glasslip, Nagi-Asu, Tari Tari, and True Tears live up to the P.A.Works image, it overlooks shows like The Eccentric Family, Canaan, and Shirobako. In fact, their 10th anniversary show Kuromukuro is actually a giant robot anime. None of those shows easily fit into the reputation.
At Otakon, we were able to talk with founder and President of P.A.Works Kenji Horikawa and art director Kazuki Higashiji. You could see this as an interview with the brain and the heart of the studio. Mr. Horikawa is an instrumental part of the direction of the studio while Mr. Higashiji is responsible for many of the backgrounds that are so emblematic of the style of the studio.
Reverse Thieves: P.A.Works is celebrating its 10th anniversary. What was the philosophy of P.A.Works when the studio was founded?
Kenji Horikawa: It is not as if we are the only one that will fit in this category, but 90% of the animation industry is centered around Tokyo so we are in the relative countryside. And we want to send our animation from the countryside to the entire world.
RT: P.A.Works has participated in the Young Animators Training Project, what do you think of the program? How does P.A.Works mentor its young talent?
Kenji Horikawa: We believe in raising up our young talent and hope they can make a living.
In terms of raising those young creators, in America I believe there is a well-set curriculum, but in Japan that curriculum has not entirely been established yet. That is something we are aiming to improve.
RT: The Eccentric Family has a unique style which is a bit of a departure from many other P.A.Works shows.
Kenji Horikawa: Yes, the character designs of the Eccentric Family are not the kind of the current age. It’s not exactly what the fans are used to. They were made more for movement and animation and perhaps more similar to something we had in animation a generation ago.
RT: How familiar were any of the staff with the novel beforehand? Was novelist Tomihiko Morimi involved with the anime production at all?
Kenji Horikawa: I am personally a big fan of Tomihiko Morimi. Prior to the project, we placed a lot of books throughout the studio.
Mr. Morimi checked the character designs and the flow of the story as well as looking at the storyboards and whatnot. So yes, [he did quite a lot].
RT: Sadly, the Eccentric Family novel is not translated into English so we haven’t been able to read it.
Kenji Horikawa: Even in terms of Japanese, it is written in a unique way. Many of Mr. Morimi’s fans come to his works because of that style. I’m not sure how well it could be converted to English and keep the unique style.
RT: P.A.Works isn’t really known for robot shows, so why robots for the anniversary project Kuromukuro? Was it a challenge for the artists to draw mecha?
Kenji Horikawa: Robots have a long history in Japan. We didn’t actually plan for it to be the 10th anniversary anime but it happened to coincide.
Many guys like to draw mecha and the skill level to draw it is a bit different. P.A.Works has many women animators, but we saw that they were perfectly OK with huge robot stuff. And this could also be seen in the fanbase. Kuromukuro has a significant female fanbase, too.
Kazuki Higashiji: [I think it is a challenge]. In the past, I took part in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and contrast that with Hanasaku Iroha which is also sort of realistic. But we try to draw things a bit cooler in a mecha atmosphere.
In a mecha series, there are also a lot of characters on the allies side, the enemy side, and many settings. So all of that can be very taxing for the creative side.
More Otakon 2016 posts:
Otakon 2016: General Impressions
Otakon 2016: Podcast Chaos
The Speakeasy #080: Voltron, Kubo and the Two Strings, Otakon, Akito the Exiled
Otakon 2016: Fan Panels
Otakon 2016: 10 minutes with LeSean Thomas
Otakon 2016: Guest Events
Otakon 2016: Artist Alley
Otakon 2016: 15 minutes with Producer Yoshitaka Kawaguchi
Otakon 2016: 20 minutes with Producer Koji Morimoto