Tetsuro Araki, director of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, speaks about his spring 2016 hit on the noitaminA programming block.
It is the time of the industrial revolution. The steam engine has spread around the globe. In the far eastern island country of Hinomoto, the residents build forts called “stations” to defend against immortal monsters called “Kabane.” Travel between forts is only possible via a steam locomotive called the “hayajiro.” One day, a hayajiro from Iron Fortress arrives at Aragane Station, where Ikoma, a young mechanic, lives.
This new original work comes five years after Araki’s Guilty Crown anime finished airing on noitaminA. Araki and Wit Studio, makers of the mega-hit Attack On Titan, are united once again.
Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress is a Japanese-style steampunk action story, headed by director Araki, and created in conjunction with series organizer Ichiro Okouchi (Code Geass, Valvrave the Liberator), and character creator Haruhiko Mikimoto (The Super Dimension Fortress Macross).
Director Araki sat down for an exclusive interview with Anime! Anime! to discuss his thoughts and some of the highlights of the process of bringing his new creation from the planning stage to the final product.
– Both an action piece and a period piece; The birth of Japanese-style Steampunk –
Yohei Hosokawa (YH): First off, tell us about the planning stages for this anime.
It started with two people I’ve been working together with a long time, Testuya Nakatake and Joji Wada, both from Wit Studio. We wanted to make something original. The only condition was that the main subject should be an action animator. After that, we had a lot of leeway. We decided to bring Mr. Okouchi on board as a scenario writer, since he and I had enjoyed working together on Guilty Crown.
YH: So at first there were four of you.
That’s right. After that we decided that we wanted to have some female characters involved in the action. Our idea was something like Yu Koyama’s “Azumi,” a female swordsman. Eventually we chose to make the main character a boy with a traumatic past. We decided to make a “perennial loser fights back” kind of story.
We each did what we’re good at, and eventually it turned into what it is now. Wit Studio and I, we’re not just looking to make the newest and latest thing. We feel like we’re progressing down a golden path to something great. And the plan is to be able to see the good things about that path.
YH: Without question, an original concept that is also in the ‘period piece’ genre is rare.
When you make a fantasy period piece, you’re likely to get some reactions along the lines of “that can’t exist” or “that’s not historically accurate.” But we felt that we wanted to make something so cool that there would be no need to compete with other things on the market. So our slogan was that “the golden path leads to universality.”
YH: Japanese-style steampunk is also a new thing, isn’t it? Was this also something you decided on early on?
At first the discussion revolved around a heroine battling and felling enemies one after another. We kept thinking up more and more enemies. But we didn’t want her to be seen as a murderer, so we needed enemies that she could kill without giving it a second thought. That led to the idea of zombies. Around the same time we decided to set it around the time of the industrial revolution, and so we had a “zombies in a period piece” framework.
I suggested making it about a moving fortress. For example, your standard fare “running away from zombies in a trailer.” I had something in mind like White Base in the original Gundam series. In that setting, the story would revolve around developing human relationships and conflicts.
So, the idea of the industrial revolution combined with a moving fortress meant a steam-powered moving fortress, and that’s when we first started calling it Japanese-style steampunk. So “Japanese-style steampunk” wasn’t something I thought up. It was just an easy label to stick on to the resulting ideas.
YH: A moving fortress? So was the idea kind of like a road movie, where the main characters travel around visiting various “stations” (cities)?
The rough outline was that the characters would be heading toward the final station called Kongokaku. Meanwhile, a rage-filled protagonist would have to make serious life decisions after meeting a girl.
YH: You are following up Guilty Crown with this new project. It certainly seems like you’ve put quite a bit of effort into it.
Of course! It’s basically the same team as we had for Guilty Crown, and we’re taking everything that helped surpass expectations from that experience. On the other hand, personally I felt that there were some things lacking. There were a few things I felt I could have done better, and I wanted another chance. There’s no question that with Kabaneri I have a chance to improve.
YH: You mean you respond to your own feedback.
Yes. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it?
YH: Right from the first episode, everything looks very polished.
That’s because I’ve surrounded myself with people who devote themselves seriously to every little detail. The artists draw every scene and phenomenon with incredible quality and convincingness.
YH: You have quite a marvelous staff lined up.
We didn’t set out to make it star-studded or anything like that. I just asked a bunch of people with whom I’ve worked well in the past. The only exception is Haruhiko Mikimoto, who I brought on board specifically because I felt he was a necessary presence for this project. Mikimoto has a knack for consistently creating classic art that can be universally accepted and doesn’t go out of style with the times. I was really insistent in getting him to join us. And I’m glad I did! The results speak for themselves.
YH: Did you have to do anything special to get him on board?
I told him I really liked his works. And I showed him some of his past work and used that to tell him the kinds of things I wanted for this project.
YH: When Mikimoto’s characters come to life on screen they’re powerful, aren’t they?
Of course they’re attractive in their own right, but it’s also very important that they don’t resemble any other characters you’ve ever seen before, anywhere. It’s great to have someone who doesn’t just get on board with everyone else, but instead captains his own ship. But then again, if the anime doesn’t become a hit, then maybe that’s not such a good argument to be making. (laughs)
YH: Whether it becomes a hit or not… are you concerned about it one way or the other?
Absolutely! But that’s not because we want to make heaps of money. It’s because we’re constantly thinking about how to captivate people. From the bottom of your heart you’re always thinking that you want it to become a hit, as evidence that you’ve been successful. So you wait white-knuckled to find out how your baby does.
YH: You mentioned not getting on board with everyone else, but instead captaining one’s own ship. Interesting that that could also be a description of the main character in the first episode, Ikoma, since he has some different values than all the people around him.
I think we’ll start to see more of that from episode two onward. I think he gets some real destructive power in episode two, so I can’t wait for everyone to get to see it.
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