With anime more popular than ever all over the world, we sat down with some of the people who actually produce it to hear some of their thoughts about the production process and a few behind the scenes stories too. This interview series is a collaborative project between Japanese language news site Anime! Anime!, Tokyo Otaku Mode, and Chinese language sites Bahamut and Manrenzhi.
You can check out all the other interviews here.
Eight Bit’s Representative Works: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Encouragement of Climb, Infinite Stratos, The Irregular at Magic High School the Movie: The Girl Who Calls the Stars, Rewrite, Knight’s & Magic. Kazuki Akane’s Stars Align airs from October.
Eight Bit handles everything from 3DCG sci-fi like Infinite Stratos to slice of life series like Encouragement of Climb. We sat down with the CEO of the still young studio which was founded just 11 years ago, Tsutomu Kasai.
Interview / Composition: Ryota Fujitsu
– You left Satelight to go independent and found Eight Bit in 2008.
Kasai: When I entered the anime industry I intended to stay in it for 10 years. So when I hit my 10 year anniversary, I wanted a new challenge and decided to go independent. I also felt that if I wanted to go on making things with people I trusted, maybe I’d be able to make more of the things I wanted to if went independent.
– Why did you choose the name Eight Bit?
Kasai: I’m the NES generation. Games these days are fun too, but it’s the games from back then that I really love. So, because the NES’ CPU was 8-bit, I thought of it as the “origin of fun” and that’s why I chose it for the name of the company.
– It’s now 11 years since the company was founded. Your first series as a primary contractor, Infinite Stratos, was broadcast in 2011 and was a big hit.
Kasai: Yes that’s right. When we set up independently and started trying to run the company, along with the staff members there were things we really needed to take care of. I thought we needed to be tough on the business side of things, but making IS was a little different. It was our first series as a primary contractor and a sign that all our work up to then had been valued so I thought that there was no point in doing it if we didn’t go all in. Come to think of it, when I worked with Shoji Kawamori on Genesis of Aquarion and Macross F at Satelight he really showed me what it meant to create something and take it all the way. So when we were getting started, I got together with Kikuchi to make it happen.
– That’s how you make a hit, right?
Kasai: I think so. But as a producer I still had my doubts.
Kasai: It was our first time as primary contractors and I’m just so happy and grateful for all the animators, directors, and the 3DCG team who each worked really hard. Within myself though, I thought that if I could sort out and indicate what needed to be prioritized in terms of the work from the beginning, I might be even happier and the whole process might be smoother. Even now it’s not quite there, but I want to make good work smoothly.
– You’ve mentioned how you were influenced by Kawamori and Akane, what kind of directors would you say they were?
Kasai: First and foremost Kawamori is an idea man. He loves pleasing people so he comes up with a lot of new ideas. What you have to be careful with to make those ideas a reality is how you convey them to the creative team. Even if you have a totally revolutionary idea, the team’s motivation may sink when you come to make it so you can’t just simply tell them, you need to say something like “It’s gonna be tough, but if we do this something amazing will happen! What do you think?” then they’ll tell you “sounds like a lot of fun,” “seems like it’s worth doing,” etc. and they’ll really give their all for you.
– If you really give them motivation then they’re really going to feel involved, right? What was Akane like?
Kasai: Akane is really stoic and methodical. Even if something went off schedule, he’d really push himself without giving up. That’s not to say he’s stubborn, he’s quite flexible. He won’t change the objective, but he can be flexible in coming up with a way to achieve it. So when you’re working on something it’s hard but the finished product will be really sharp.
– Akane is currently working on a new series Stars Align which premieres in October. The first episode was streamed online on July 7 and generated a lot of excitement among fans.
Kasai: Stars Align is a project Akane brought to us based on soft tennis. In Japan, soft tennis is really popular with middle school students but there are no professional players. Because it symbolizes youth in that way it became that kind of drama. Akane’s work always has the ability to pull you into its world, and I think that’s fun to watch.
– Producing an original project is always tough. Is there anything you have to watch out for as a producer?
Kasai: With adaptations you can see where they might be fun, but with original projects it’s difficult because you’re starting from scratch. What you need to think about when you’re creating is that you have to figure out each other’s real intentions and make sure you talk honestly about what you really think. If you start by hiding your true feelings there’s no way anything good will come of it. If you talk honestly and are understanding and it doesn’t work out, well that happens (lol). So it’s your responsibility to make sure it goes well.
– Including adaptations, you must have been involved in a lot of projects. What criteria do you have when you’re deciding whether to make something?
Kasai: I’m involved in around three projects a year. The criteria for deciding projects, I guess it comes down to the people working on them. If the person you wanted to work on the project can’t take it on, you can’t do the project. Take Encouragement of Climb, for example. If Yusuke Yamamoto wasn’t able to direct and Yusuke Matsuo wasn’t available for character design, Eight Bit couldn’t have made it.
– Why did you want to make it with Yamamoto and Matsuo?
Kasai: Just as I was thinking it would be good to do various kinds of shows, Comic Earth Star approached us about an anime adaptation of Encouragement of Climb. Right then I thought Yusuke Matsuo would be a good fit. I’d worked with Yamamoto just before that on Aquarion Evol and I knew he was good at balancing pacing and drama even in stuff like Sergeant Frog so I wanted to ask him. I really felt his genius again the first season of Encouragement of Climb. The first season was only 5-minute episodes but we were able to do a whole story by shortening it.
But then, 5 minutes for the whole thing is difficult to watch for the viewers. Yamamoto was able to fully grasp the psychology of the central character, Aoi, so it was easy to understand all in one go. It’s because the creative team were perfectly suited to the material that even with a short running time Encouragement of Climb became such a heartwarming show.
– Encouragement of Climb has been running now for three seasons so it’s lasted a long time.
Kasai: I’ve even heard of people taking up mountaineering just because of the show. We were able to create something which reached all kinds of people. Making something properly and then having that appreciation come back is pretty much ideal, so Encouragement of Climb turned into a pretty ideal show.
– There are a lot of fans of Eight Bit overseas. Have you had any experiences which have made you realise just how popular the studio is internationally?
Kasai: This isn’t just confined to our work, but when I travel overseas and see anime posters on the walls and anime merchandise in stores then I really understand how popular it is. When it comes to our work, I feel as if The Irregular at Magic High School the Movie: The Girl Who Calls the Stars (2017), and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime are particularly popular.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is well known as a piece which originated from a serialized novel published online on Shousetsuka ni Narou, while The Irregular at Magic High School the Movie: The Girl Who Calls the Stars is seen as being in the same league as One Piece and Fairy Tail as a top fantasy title. With That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime I get the impression that it’s fun to watch for the visuals, so bearing that in mind we’re working hard to keep up and do even better.
– Is there something you hope for from overseas fans?
Kasai: Not hope exactly, but… For those of us in Japan, it’s hard to figure out how our work is being received overseas. I think it’s nice to know. So I’m really grateful for people posting their thoughts on Twitter and things like that. That way we know something got through and it really motivates the creative team. I think it’s a good idea to be able to share that information with the staff as it comes in.
– At Eight Bit you’ve been taking on more permanent staff but also hold study meetings where freelancers are free to join.
Kasai: Yes we do. There’s a feeling that it might be dangerous to go on doing things the way we have been in the anime industry. When you think about what we might be able to do as an anime company in the current climate, we can train. Holding study sessions sponsored by the company, making it possible to pick up all kinds of skills – if you don’t offer the opportunity for people to better themselves, then the value of the organization will gradually fall away. The anime industry in particular has a lot of freelancers, and people who work freelance don’t get a lot of opportunities to study. If the company can follow through with that, then I think it will end up being of great value to the industry.
– It’s the company’s role to educate.
Kasai: The “see it, steal it” method is hard to pull off right now. When you join a production company, people might feel differently about this, but, firstly, it’s important to create a system where people can acquire stable skills. Then, by boosting the productivity of those with skills, you want to aim for an efficient production method where people can get adequate rest. We’re still working on that, but if we want to maintain anime’s global fanbase now is the time we need to make a change.
– What kind of people are most suited to the anime industry?
Kasai: The anime industry is a craftsman-like world, but I think you’ll have a particularly tough time if you’re stubborn. People who properly pick up their “weapon,” people who are flexible and can let the results emerge at the end – I think they’re best suited. Anime production is teamwork, there are a lot of things that don’t go as planned. At times like those, you can’t let yourself get carried away or be stubborn fussing over details. “I was going to use my weapon like this in the beginning, but if the situation has changed then let’s do it this way” – people who can be positive and change their minds are a good fit.
– How do you think anime production companies will change in the future?
Kasai: For production companies, video production is our chief weapon. It’s a huge advantage that video’s the same throughout the world. So if you can improve the distribution methods and business practices then there’s a really good chance of success. If you can train the personnel well and increase productivity, you’ll be close to getting there. There’s a future for the anime industry if you take a soft approach.
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