Kishi Seiji and Uezu Makoto talk about various aspects of making the Ansatsu Kyoushitsu anime. I happened upon this interview a few months ago, and found it really neat, so I took the time to translate it more recently once my schedule got less busy. Contains a bunch of neat tidbits, talking about Uezu’s early interest in the series and why he’s soloing the writing duties for the show, Kishi’s struggle to replicate the precision-strike gags in the manga, the backgrounds and color schemes, how they handled casting over 30 regularly appearing characters, and a bunch of other stuff.
Original Interview: http://natalie.mu/comic/pp/ansatsu
Matsui Yusei’s manga, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, currently runs in Weekly Shonen Jump (Shueisha). Depicting the educational battle between the mysterious teacher, Koro-sensei, and his students, it’s become a huge hit! Now, with a live-action movie about to air and public excitement rising, an anime adaptation is currently being broadcast on Fuji TV.
Here at Comic Natalie, we’ve gone to 2 key people behind the anime, director Kishi Seiji and Uezu Makoto, in charge of series composition and screenwriting.
Interviewer: Maeda Kyou
Photography: Kosaka Shigeo
Title: “An amazing new series just started!”, I said while holding a copy of Jump
Interviewer: I think we’ll have a lot to say regarding the anime, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu. I’m counting on you.
Kishi Seiji: (Looking at the cameraman) Oh, you’re going to be taking pictures during the interview.
Uezu Makoto: Well then, better get that thing rolling. (Slowly puts his hands forward)
Kishi: That’s the way. Record as much as you like! (Puts his hands forward in the same manner)
I: The images will look shady like that, so just be natural (laughs). …Moving on, I’ve heard that the two of you were keeping an eye on the Ansatsu Kyoushitsu manga from its very early stages.
Uezu: Pretty much from the moment the serialization started. Reading chapter 1 surprised me. “What an interesting manga they’ve started here!” was my reaction. As I am, I read a fair amount of manga, so I don’t find myself surprised too often; seeing something that defied typical patterns as much as it did, that a manga with some new ideas had started made me happy. And it was running on this major stage in Weekly Shonen Jump! Without thinking about it, I ended up bringing a copy of jump to a meeting Kishi-san was in, told everyone “Something amazing just started up!” and made them read it.
Kishi: Yeah, that’s right.
Uezu: So all that happened, and then a few months later, around the time volume 1 came out, I bought a copy and handed it over to him, saying “Kishi-san, volume 1 is out now, so read it!” (laughs). But, at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about whether it would be animated. I handed it to Kishi-san more because I thought that someone in a director’s position should always be reading up on the newest works of entertainment.
Kishi: Then, well, it feels like there was some mysterious element of connection there. A while later, people who knew nothing about all that came calling with an offer regarding the anime adaptation.
Title: Starting from the thought of “wanting to bring the original work to life properly”
I: Then, regarding that anime adaptation, what sort of planning process did the two of you go through?
Kishi: First off we had a scenario meeting to determine how the series as a whole would be organized, and that started with the thought of “we want to bring the original work to life properly”. After all, the original was well-crafted, and did a good job of setting up for future plot points from the beginning.
Uezu: That’s right. Didn’t really have any problems.
Kishi: Because of that, we wanted to make sure we didn’t to make any weird alterations to the original work to make the anime its own work. Well, since it was getting animated, what we wanted was to serve up the kind of fun you can get by adding animation.
I: Uezu-san, could it be the case that you’re writing the script for every episode this time around?
I: 2 cours by yourself is certainly quite a feat. May I ask why you’re doing so?
Uezu: Basically, it’s because I love the original work. Since I love it as much as I do, I thought it’d just be faster to do it all myself (laughs). Fortunately, I was blessed with an easy schedule.
Kishi: As a result, things ended up very well organized.
I: Did you feel there was any particular merit to writing it all yourself?
Uezu: Hmmm, let’s see… I think there was something. When the series starts out, there are a total of 25 students, which midway turns into 27, so if a lot of different writers were scripting it, I think handling the characters would have been difficult. I think we could have handled those characters relationships and personalities if we made a timesheet of what changes when, but the original manages those things while also writing in flags pointing to future plot points, and it’s quite complex. Rather than suffer the hardships of trying to share that complex information, I thought it’d be faster to just write it myself. All I needed to do then was to get everything in a matrix inside my head, and that was that. Had I split the work up with another writer, a character who wasn’t supposed to talk yet might talk, or a character might take an action explained by a change in personality before the episode where that personality change was supposed to happen. Regulating that is normally the work of the one doing Series Composition, but, just this one time, I determined that doing it myself would make it that much more accurate.
Title: The entire classroom is depicted in a 3DCG style that gives an impression of beauty
I: I can see how keeping a balance between that many characters within the limited space of a single anime episode would be quite difficult.
Kishi: That was fairly difficult from a visual perspective as well. The work was divided amongst number of staffers working on a number of different scenes, so managing it all and making sure the art didn’t come out weird was really quite an ordeal! In some situations, we tried to make it so that scenes could be done more simply. By organizing it to reduce the number of people on-screen, or finding cool ways for the image not to move, the burdens on the production committee and the staff could be lightened. That way things were easier both on-site and on the corporate side. This time, the staff deserves a lot of praise for their courage in disregarding the difficulty and sincerely, carefully taking on the contents of the original work. The live-action movie is getting a lot of attention, but we’ll feel rewarded so long as people get a good idea of how amazing the anime staff and the expressions in the anime are. I do think the production committee did a good job.
Uezu: The reason the classroom is depicted in 3DCG is also for that same purpose; making the production manageable and efficient. The characters are usually inside the classroom, with over 20 people onscreen at the same time. When it’s like that, careless art mistakes can happen more easily.
Kishi: That’s right. In order to reduce the number of mistakes, and to clear the bar for quality expected of a modern TV anime, it was necessary to depict the whole classroom in a 3D format that also kept the impression of a traditional background. We’ve also done a number of additional things on-site to make the project a success.
I: There are lots of companies that have started to incorporate 3DCG into their layouts, but it’s pretty impressive to have incorporated this elaborate a 3DCG setup.
Kishi: As far as I know, this anime is the only one in Japan to have 3DCG in the style of traditional backgrounds, to the extent that they could be used as a film background would. Our staff on the Ansatsu anime are very humble people, so we don’t go around saying this loudly. Though other production companies will brag about something like this, our staff isn’t as business-oriented.
But that puts us at a disadvantage, so let me say this loudly; “Ansatsu is the first anime in the industry to use CG this way!” I said this before, too, but that humility is part of the good-faith attitude held by our staff.
Title: We definitely wanted to keep the elements of “laughter” present in the original work
I: Your use of colors on-screen is distinctive. Matsui-sensei’s art gives the impression of a watery feeling, but the anime’s schemes are more intense.
Uesu: I know what you mean. The colors really jump out at you.
Kishi: I decided to make the colors a little bit energetic.
Uezu: Was that because you were thinking of going for a pop-ish feel?
Kishi: That’s right. In order to lend more life to the characterization, I made it a bit brighter.
I could have chosen darker colors, or plainer colors, but if I had, it would have led to nontrivial issues not just with the colors, but with the framing of scenes as a whole. If I had wanted to change the atmosphere of the work as a whole, I could have made the colors darker, but…
Uezu: In other words, if the on-screen atmosphere was too serious, then we would have had to drop the gag-ish elements.
Kishi: Yeah. I tuned the scene in a positive way so that the characters could all shine, and in order to better control each scene. So throughout the series, I brought the colors up and down as was necessary.
Uezu: From the start, we talked about definitely wanting to keep the elements of “laughter” present in the original work.
Kishi: “Laughter”, and the interestingness each character had – at any rate, we carved down the scenario little by little until it had the shape we wanted. And so, in regards to the illustrations as well, we’ve been proceeding with a setup that allows those elements to shine.
I: This is also true in regards to his previous series, Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro. It may be that the appealing point of Matsui-sensei’s works that even in the serious scenes there will be those elements of “laughter”.
Uezu: Both elements of funny and elements of serious, all juxtaposed in one scene. Throwing in laughter wherever you find a small gap is a very manga-like method of balancing a story.
Kishi: When making something into an anime, that balance can certainly be a point of concern. Matsui-sensei’s works definitely have parts where a scene driven by drama will have just a little bit of comedy mixed in, which makes me wonder, “What would one do if this part were animated?” There are moments with a rhythm it’d be impossible to get via ordinary scene timing. For example, in the episode where Takaoka first appeared, there was this moment with a very delicate balance, a funny bit goes in like “What? We’re putting a gag in here?” In terms of the flow of the scene, it would have brought the drama to a screeching halt.
Uezu: But, if you break that down and make it more normal, it no longer resembles Matsui-sensei’s work.
Kishi: Right. It would have been possible to remove the elements of comedy and make a simple, coherent piece of work. But I really wanted to think of a way where we could make use of 100% of the interesting qualities of Matsui-sensei’s work. In order to do so, we had to fine-tune the balance of those uncertain parts. Well, it was quite a difficult work to put together (laughs). I’m fairly confident it came together alright, though.
Title: Drawing the same content as the original, but leaving a different impression when finished
I: Have you gotten any particular feedback regarding your work on the series thus far?
Uezu: For me, there was episode 3. The Akabane (Karma) episode. People got a feeling of “This program is pretty good!” while watching the finished episode. To begin with, it was a story that inspired a lot of sympathy with the character in the original, I expected the audience to evaluate it quite seriously. To see that evaluation coming out positive really felt pretty nice. We kept the dramatic tension going, the gags were interesting, and the filming had a general good vibe to it.
Kishi: That’s a difficult question. We get our feedback when the audience reacts to the work. The audience this time around was an intimidating group that took some time after the broadcast began to measure the pacing and form their opinions, so it took a while before we got much of a response. (laughs) In that sense, we’ve only very recently started to receive legitimate feedback.
Uezu: Around the time we did episode 7, the school trip episode, I got the feeling the audience felt like it was safe to watch and enjoy the show.
Kishi: Right. It was around that point when the atmosphere around the show relaxed a bit. We fine-tuned the drama in episode 7 to a considerable degree. Taking just the atmosphere as-is from the manga and putting it onscreen makes things really heavy in that part.
Uezu: That’s true. Matsui-sensei’s just so good at drawing delinquents.
I: Well, it can definitely happen where events and expressions just pass by when you’re just paging through the manga, but when you turn them into film, add movement, color, and sound, the impression left becomes heavier.
Kishi: True, and add in the fact that the viewer can’t control how long they’re looking at it, it leaves what I’d call a sharper impression, or something that gets stuck in your heart. And that’s why, for the school excursion in episode 7, we thoroughly reproduced the contents of the original work, and then modified them to give off a different impression.
Uezu: The appealing part of that episode ended up being focused around the students and their activities, as well as the refreshing turnabout at the end, rather than how the delinquents were portrayed.
Kishi: After we got past that part, I do think the audience might have been reassured a bit.
Uezu: It’s by no means limited to this work, but we makers of anime have a tendency to go past the normal boundaries when delinquents or bearded old men appear in the story. It’s just fun. (laughs) For a time, that sort of on-site decision-making was largely accepted, but now things are a bit more severe. What the audience wants to watch are the stars of the show playing the leading roles. That’s only natural. So we have to be careful to balance those factors. Starting from the moment we began writing the episode, we laid things out fairly explicitly.
Kishi: Right. If you compare the original with the anime, there are many points where they’re different. But the two are doing the same thing. Maintaining that sort of balance is so tough I sometimes want to puke, but it’s fun. (laughs)
Uezu: That right there is the most interesting point of being entrusted with an adaptation. Protecting the original story and feel while making sure it’s a suitable television program on its own.
I: Once this interview comes out, I’d love to see fans comparing the two.
Kishi: Indeed. They might be at the level that they’d notice with or without our saying anything.
Title: Fukuyama Jun, stripped down and acting in a tank top
I: Let’s talk a little bit about the cast. Koro-sensei is a pretty particular and important character, so did you perhaps encounter any difficulties while casting him?
Uezu: We thought that would be a tough job, but Lerche’s producer Higa (Yuuji) suggested we bring in Fukuyama Jun-san, and that cleared things up fairly quickly.
Kishi: The moment I heard him at the audition, it was like, “Wow, amazing!”, that sort of thing. We just decided on him.
Uezu: The man himself was very emotionally into it. When we got to the real thing, he suddenly took off his jacket and started to act out the role in a tank top.
Kishi: That was pretty amazing. Interesting, and really superb. (laughs)
Uezu: And when he saw that, Kishi-san was like, “His acting’s good, but what we’re paying for is, well, that human aspect.” He brings a mysterious charm to the “What a dumbass!” parts.
Kishi: Being interesting in the audition was only part of the formula. Additionally, Fukuyama-san is an amazingly skilled performer, and that was an important attribute. Koro-sensei is a character for whom we’re looking for a special kind of acting, a special kind of role, so if he didn’t have solid technique, I wouldn’t have supported his being cast.
Uezu: Koro-sensei’s no good if he’s just amusing. He has his cool moments as well, so unless the acting makes the audience think “Even with that funny voice, he’s cool!” then it’s no good. I think that he might have been the only one we could have cast for the role.
Kishi: I think it’s not often you see it, this sort of thing. I’m thankful. He acts very freely during recordings as well.
Uezu: Fukuyama-san’s presence really intensifies the on-screen film, I think.
Kishi: Definitely brings us up a level. Really helps a lot. The actors will go like “Wa!” and the tension in the room just evaporates. Thanks to Fukuyama-san, the after-recording booth always has an energetic feel to it, and that weight/tension characteristic of big projects becomes more manageable.
Title: The dark aspects she carries fit nicely into Nagisa’s role
I: While we’re on main characters, Fuchigami Mai is also very impressive in the role of Shiota Nagisa. She also played Iona, an important role in your previous Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio.
Kishi: Yes. We were lucky enough to be able to call on her talents again. Nagisa-kun is indeed male, but he has a maiden-ish exterior, so we all had our heads together, thinking at length “just what sort of voice should we go with?” In the end, we came to the conclusion that it would be best to have a female actress playing a young boy. At the same time, though, we wanted a subtly unisex impression, and who could give us that? And that’s how Fuchigami-san’s name came up.
Uezu: This sense of deep darkness she had was also a point of discussion. Back when we were doing Arpeggio, I remembered Kishi-san said something like, “That woman has a deep darkness. In our next work, I’d like to try and emphasize that.” after seeing her perform. (laughs)
Kishi: Yep, I said that. (laughs)
Uezu: That latent nature of hers seemed to have fit nicely into Nagisa’s role. Seems like Kishi-san’s read was right on the money.
Kishi: In the first place, people who carry some complexity as human beings tend to produce better performances.
Uezu: Yeah, exactly. In order to become a character, they have to have some depth and be interesting as a person. The rest of the Ansatsu Kyoushitsu cast list is packed with interesting people.
I: Getting into a bit of detail, it is interesting that you cast the actual voice of Gian (= Kimura Subaru) in the role of the Gian-esque bully character.
(TL Note: “Gian”, or Gouda Takeshi is a famous bully from the Doraemon series.)
Kishi: Our producer Higa was also the first to suggest that. When we tried it out, it fit really well.
Uezu: There wasn’t even a hint of a bad fit. Let me say, though, to avoid any misunderstandings, the reason producer Higa called him up was less Gian and more the impression left by his performance as the older brother in Mawaru Penguindrum (Takakura Kanba). We were aiming to fit that peculiarity into the Terasaka Ryouma role.
Uezu: The casting is half thanks to producer Higa’s amazing skill, and the rest was due to Kishi-san and Sound Director Iida Satoki’s technical acumen. The roles were quite diverse, and I think that’s to be expected of Iida-san.
Title: Comedies/gag series that air over a longer period of time tend to be better
I: Ogata Megumi, Itona’s actress, also seems to have a deep connection to many of your recent works.
Kishi: We’ve been lucky there too. Just like Fukuyama-san, Ogata-san was “wow” amazing from the moment she opened her mouth.
Uezu: That fantastic persuasive power of hers!
Kishi: “That’s where the Itona everyone was looking for was!” I said. (laughs)
Uezu: It felt like, “There’s no way around it, she is Itona after all!” (laughs)
I: Finally, how’s the second cour looking?
Kishi: For the second cour, we plan to get through the summer vacation and charge into the second semester portion of the story.
Uezu: Something concrete I’ve learned from making anime over the years is that comedy/gag programs tend to be better the longer they broadcast. The staff gets into a rhythm, the filming gets more fun. As a result, the on-screen quality goes up. That’s why I’m really excited to make the second half. The production schedule falls behind and things on-site get more hectic, but the filming gets more interesting. I get a feeling that this project could lead me to meet the kind of ‘miracle’ that results in the creation of truly interesting anime.
Kishi: It does feel like it’ll be more interesting than we could have expected when we planned it out.
Uezu: Each and every person involved with Ansatsu Kyoushitsu is doing their best to bring it to completion. I think that’s a really good thing.
Kishi: There’s the live-action film, too.
Uezu: Watch the movie too, please!
Kishi: No, no, what I want to say is “Audiences of the movie, please watch the anime too!”
Uezu: Of course! Please do both!
I: I’m looking forward to the long-form Sonic Ninja (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu’s show within a show) anime!
Kishi: Buhahaha! Thanks a lot! (laughs)