Honey-chan had the chance recently to sit down and talk with Kenji Horikawa CEO of P.A. Works and acclaimed Art Director Kazuki Higashiji the creative force that brought us the amazing visuals of PA works productions like A Lull in the Sea. Honey-chan grabbed her pencil and eraser and took copious notes to give you an inside look at one of the premiere anime studios.
Kenji Horikawa CEO P.A. Works: Kazuki Higashiji Art Director & Background Art
We know you take a hands on approach to production? Why as a CEO do you get involved in the nitty-gritty of production?
Strictly speaking, it’s because I like that nitty-gritty and that’s how we began as a company. I feel it creates a sympathy between me and the audience, creating an understanding, and as long as the communication with the audience is there I’d like to stay in the nitty-gritty to provide what they like.
Kazuki, what inspires you in your designs?
The biggest inspiration I’ve had comes from Ghost in the Shell director Oshii Mamoru. I do believe I have great inspiration from him as a director. The background in A Lull in Sea began as a picture that I drew in high school. I did gain some inspiration from the architecture in Greece, because the director sent me some pictures that helped me produce the background in A Lull in the Sea. I wanted to draw a white city and in that sense the Greek cities were exactly what I had been looking for. I do believe with the inclusion of some Japanese scenery I was able to make something very unique.
I have often thought of Shirobako as a love letter to the anime industry. Is that how you feel about it?
As a maker of animation I have many thanks to my predecessors who have made the animation industry very prominent of these past 60 years. I have many thanks for my senpai’s. I wanted to record what the anime industry is like right now in an anime. I also wanted to give the people who are trying to get into animation a positive view. Because, I think right now the animation industry is often viewed with some negative sides.
Kuromukuro is now being offered on Netflix do you see streaming services as just an another outlet for anime or the future?
There was a period of time when animation was sold as a series of physical packages and when that started not to do so well in sales we thought we’d try other options. We decided recently, maybe a year ago to try streaming when Netflix approached us with an offer that was very nice. We are very thankful of the streaming medium, but at the same time we aren’t sure if that is the future after the competition of the streaming sites weeds out many of the competitors in the markets.
Kazuki, What worlds do you like to create? Real? Fantasy? Science Fiction?
I do believe that animation no matter how realistic your art is, is to an extent fantasy. I believe my job is to make my imagination, those fantasies, as real as possible. If you are asking what world I’ve created is my favorite, it would be A Lull in the Sea.
Kenji have you always been an anime fan?
When I small I actually liked Tom and Jerry and wasn’t actually and anime fan, though I did watch the Great Works Series by Miyazaki Hayao. In middle school and high school, I was a bit too busy with studying and clubs to watch anime. When I went to get a job I wanted to do something that conveys a message to the people that are watching it. I wanted to put meaning into the things that I make. I could have worked in movies, theaters but ultimately chose animation.
Kazuki, you worked on Ghost in the Shell which is being made into a big Hollywood picture. What elements from the animated version do you hope they keep?
I hope the Hong Kong-ish elements stay in the live actions movie, though the setting isn’t necessary Hong Kong, the setting has a real modern day Hong Kong feel. If the Hollywood version could preserve that element I would be very grateful.
Several years ago President Obama thanked the Prime Minister of Japan for Anime and Manga. As an animator do you take pride in that the world sees anime as a great cultural export?
We are very grateful for those words, but I must say there is a gap between those words and the reality inside the industry. If, inside Japan we were considered a great cultural export, we’d hope for more help from the country in supporting the industry.
Until this visit to the United States, I didn’t realize that people outside of Japan like anime so much.
So, how does it feel seeing cosplayers dressed from productions that you have taken part in?
First, I was very impressed that people do what they want around here because many people in Japan are embarrassed to do cosplay. You don’t tend to do cosplay unless you are very cute or look like a model. But, people here don’t mind that, they dress as they want and become what they want, for example we see big guys out there dressed as magical girls.
After seeing so many cosplayers here (Otakon) and Anime Expo I was wondering if it was because of Halloween, that Halloween lowers the barrier to cosplay and how one feels towards it. Americans have the experience of dressing up as they want on Halloween. In Japan right now Halloween is becoming steadily more popular than Christmas. So, I believe that is in people’s nature to dress up differently and have fun on Halloween day rather than Christmas. As Halloween is adopted more in Japan we might begin to see the entry bar for cosplay and the willingness to cosplay entice a larger audience.
What impact do you hope that anime has on the west?
The idea of east or west wasn’t really in my mind when we created P.A.Works. We just wanted anime with a fresh prospective coming out of the country side. I have many stories to tell. When I make things I think about what the medium could do for the people. It is my belief that a person cannot live without a story. Everyone needs a story. We hope to inspire people that see our animation to create their own stories and their own adventures as they try to achieve their own life’s goals. I believe that that especially goes for adolescents, that they adolescents, have a very rich heart and that they can find the most abstract things touching, music, video’s, anime. I wish for anime to be a medium that can touch adolescents.
We thank you for sitting and talking with us today. We really can’t wait to see more of the beautiful artwork and story’s that you will produce. We have learned a lot in our short time together, thank you.
Shiro Dougu and Shunsuke Wada of Taka Otacraft @Otakon
Honey-chan was as busy as a bee at Otakon in Baltimore and managed to meet some amazing people. She got to talk with animators, singers and seiyuu. Honey-chan also found time to interview some amazing artizan, the sculptors of Taka Otacraft. Dougu-san and Wada-san are both skilled metal craftsmen and otaku and together they took on the challenge of building a key display model of the mecha from the P.A. Works anime, Kuromukuro. The metal mecha model that stood in the P.A. Works exhibit was to help the production company commemorate their 15 years of bringing high quality anime to the world.
How many years have you been crafting?
About 8 years but I graduated with a degree in Information Technology and worked as a programmer for about a year.
Have you always been a craftsman?
No, for six years I was working at a gaming company in Tokyo.
What is your favorite part of making the crafts you create? Is it just about working with your hands or is it the creativity?
For me there are the demands of the customer and the inspiration provided by the customer. The challenge is taking that and figuring out the various ways of forming an actual product and figuring out what path to take is really the best part of the job for me.
In my case, it is a little different, I like to create as I work so the hands on part is my favorite part of my work.
Dougu-san, Wada-san who’s idea was it to create Kuromukuro mecha? Did you talk with P.A. Works or did they approach you?
We at Taka Otacraft approached P.A. Works with our idea.
Was it a real challenge to create?
It was our first time trying to create any kind of mecha. The hard part was getting our design as close to the animation model as we could.
For me the hard part was the production timeline. We didn’t begin to build it until after the show had began airing and P.A. Works wanted it for Otakon giving us less than two months. So taking that into consideration it was a very difficult process to fit into that timeline.
Image from: Taka OtaCraft Facebook
Do you want to make more mecha?
I would love to make some sort of creature or monster in the future.
Maybe their project should be a next robot Bee-kun to carry all the stuff I bought at the convention?
We would love to thank Dougu-san and Wada-san for taking the time to speak with us. The convention was very large and very busy and having the chance to talk with the both of them was a joy. We hope that we get to see more skilled creations from Taka Otacraft at future conventions.