An interview with Amaama to Inazuma producer Suzuki Tsuneyasu

And now for something slightly different: an interview with producer Suzuki Tsuneyasu of animation production company TMS Entertainment.

Background info – TMS was founded under the name Tokyo Movie in 1964, where its A Production unit employed animators such as Dezaki Osamu, Miyazaki Hayao and Isao Takahata. TMS also has several subsidiaries including Telecom Animation Film (TAF), TOCSIS and TMS Music [you may recognize them as the company that signed up Kitamura Eri recently]. In 2005, Sega Sammy Holdings bought a 51% controlling stake in TMS Entertainment.

As for Suzuki Tsuneyasu he is not particularly well-known – his credits only stretch back to around 2008 when he was working on scripts for TMS – officially 文芸担当 (bungei tantō, lit. ‘in charge of literature’), which entails little things like checking scripts for consistency. This year, he has sat on a couple of anime production committees for TMS – ie. Bananya, Amaama to Inazuma and Trickster. In this interview he talks about his role as producer for Amaama to Inazuma; how the anime came to fruition, the reasons behind the seiyuu castings, and the appeal of the series.

The role of an anime producer and the circumstances leading to an anime adaptation

Q: First of all, please introduce yourself.

A: I am Suzuki Tsuneyasu from TMS Entertainment. I am producing the TV anime Amaama to Inazuma. Some of the productions that my company TMS Entertainment has been involved with include Soreike! Anpanman, Lupin the III and Detective Conan, which are all famous series that appeal to a wide range of ages.

Q: In other words, [TMS] mainly produces family-friendly works.

A: Recently we have started to work on quite a few late-night anime such as Yowamushi Pedal and ReLIFE.  We do not focus only on making anime but also on the business aspects, as an anime production company.

Q: By the way, what kind of work do you actually do as an anime producer?

A: As the company is also responsible for overall production, the role itself involves working in tandem with Producer Nozaki who’s from the production unit and oversees the production process, as well as with other members of [an anime’s] production committee on areas such as development of secondary businesses, investment sourcing, handling business aspects like advertisement and contracts.

Q: Looking at staff credit rolls, we see several names listed under ‘producer’ – what kind of role do you play amongst the group?

A: My role involves working with each of the producers so I can get a better grasp of the flow of the animation production as a whole, as well as being responsible for planning, execution and management.

Q: Thank you for your explanation. Moving on, I’d like to enquire about the story of how Amaama to Inazuma came to receive an anime adaptation…How does planning for an anime actually begin in the first place?

A: It differs from company to company but TMS’s system involves submission of plans from all the various departments; in [Amaama’s] case it was a proposal from the Production Headquarters division. I mentioned Nozaki a moment ago; he already had a vision of the staffing and the visuals [that would be suitable], saying, “I want to do this show!”. I had also read the manga and found it very interesting myself, so we set up the planning process in-house before taking the proposal to Kodansha.

This particular proposal originated from the Production HQ but to be fair, all we did was put together a short summary of the project’s direction in a manner that respects the creative process.

We had, at the same time, launched an anime business project called ‘Anime no Me’ in conjunction with Shin-ei Douga, East Japan Marketing, Sumitomo Corp and Asmik Ace. ‘Anime no Me’ is similar to the ‘noitaminA’ and ‘Animeism’ concepts but rather than a programming block, it is a general name for an anime business model where the 5 companies mentioned will actively collaborate to deliver projects. We had discussions on what series should be chosen to lead off (Anime no Me), and Amaama to Inazuma was selected.

Q: What is the reasoning behind the ‘Anime no Me’ name?

A: Within the words ‘Anime no Me’ (lit: the ‘Eyes of Anime’ ), lies ‘me’ (め), which refers to; 1) the ‘eye’ (目) of a storm, and 2) a bud (芽) that’s starting to bloom; both of which bring the meaning of ‘taking on new challenges’. This implies trying out new genres and branching off in directions that others have yet to go.

Q: As you mentioned earlier, TMS solicits anime adaptation plans from its various departments.

A: At present we have a section specifically for project review and analysis but before that I was part of the planning and promotion section and we’d petition ideas from various other departments. We won’t look only to the production division but would try to see if the merchandising unit has any ideas about hot properties, or talk to the overseas units about works that might sell globally. From the data we collected from each department, Amaama to Inazuma was one of the works chosen [for an anime adaptation].

Q: Incidentally, how long does it take for an anime adaptation to go from initial planning to airtime?

A: Planning for [Amaama] started around the time when there were two volumes of manga out. So that means the project began in 2014.

Q: I see. Those were the first steps taken towards making an anime adaptation. What was the process involved in selecting the production team including the director?

A: We’d concluded that ‘there is no one for the role except Iwasaki Taro-san’. In 2014, an anime named Isshukan Friends. was broadcast, through which you could feel his light touch and delicate style that resonated in your heart; it was a work that handled the original manga well. For those reasons and also because we thought that he would be able to meld the gentleness of the manga into the visuals, we put in the request for him to direct the series. As for other staffing, it was handled mainly by the Director and Nozaki.

Q: Please tell us about any aspects you struggled with or any painstaking points that came up during the making of the anime.

A: Based on what I’ve heard from the Director, one particular point that came up in production was to treat the food reactions as being just as important as the actual cooking and eating of the food. Additionally, each episode featured quite a number of cooking scenes – though it was tough for the animators, we managed to keep the art in line and made sure it remained consistent.

According to the Director, the descriptions of the cooking may seem monotonous but they are acts packed with the love of both Tsumugi and Inuzuka. We also tried to keep in mind that Tsumugi expresses herself without thinking about or understanding the reasons behind [her] intentions and actions.

If you try to depict a child logically from the viewpoint of an adult, the sense of childlikeness would inevitably be lost, so we were careful in ensuring that Tsumugi’s childish cuteness came across.

An arrangement unique to anime – a work packed with plenty of charms

Q: The series is gaining an increasing number of fans in the wake of the TV anime adaptation. What do you think are the reasons it has managed to grab viewers’ hearts?

A: From an anime business viewpoint, when you’re starting up a project it is inevitable that what you’re working on will share similarities with other existing works. This time though, taking into account that the project had been brought up by the production division as well as the fact that TMS itself would be the production company in charge, the planning for the anime started on the basis of making something that would be ‘interesting’ rather than something that would ‘sell’. We set up the project without thinking about things like ‘If we insert so-and-so character here we can sell X merchandise’ etc. I think that in that way we were able to differentiate our show from what was already out there and ended up getting a good reception.

Q: It was a series that was made with ‘enjoyment’ as its biggest priority.

A: I think one of the reasons for that was because the series has universal themes of cooking, family, childcare and so on. Nowadays, we are seeing a rise to prominence of the ‘eating alone’ phenomenon where many often eat their meals alone; I think people will be able to identify with this sort of show that touches on the problems faces by modern society. Besides that, we wanted as many people as possible to see this work so we rejected an exclusive distribution model in favour of delivering content through a variety of channels – I do feel that the distribution method was also an important factor in how well the show was received.

Q: So the important points in this work are parent-child communication, cooking and eating.

A: This overlaps with what I said earlier but it is indeed tough working on scenes that involve conversations between adults and children, not just for Amaaama to Inazuma but in general. During production, even the slightest mistake would make the whole thing seem unnatural. There is a part in the anime that shows how talking to a 5-year old child can be a one-way street which is quite realistic in a sense. You have [children] screaming without warning and saying things out of context, while the adults try to digest all of that – it may appear like they do not understand each other at all when they actually do. The manga depicts all of these scenes really well.

I think the Director was also mindful of preserving those manga portrayals as he worked on the show. He also believed that it would be better if we brought in someone who had had children themselves, which was why we requested Hirota Mitsutaka-san to take charge of series composition. I think Hirota-san did draw considerably from his own real-life experiences, slotting interesting things that his child had actually said into parts of the dialogue.

Q: Those were original elements unique to the anime.

A: Apart from episode 7, we basically tried to stick to 1 episode per chapter of manga. Within about 30 minutes per episode Hirota-san and the Director would extract the goodness of the manga and try to inject in dialogue and developments that are only possible in anime – their personalities were a good mix of spices.

Q: Episode 7 covered 2 chapters of the manga as well as incorporating a fair amount of original content – was this down to the Director and Hirota-san?

A: That’s right. We wanted to animate as much of the manga material as possible but it didn’t quite work out that way. For episode 7 we discussed at length which stories should be covered – both chapters were staff favourites and Hirota-san explored the possibilities of knitting them together smoothly without compromising the quality of the material, and the result was an excellent episode unique to the anime.

*note: Episode 7 (Goheimochi and a Great Adventure) combined parts of Chapters 10 and 14 of the manga

Q: The developments in the episode were slightly different to what we’d seen previously; where Tsumugi’s little adventure caused the normally good-natured Inuzuka to fly off the handle – it was pretty dark.

A: Personally, it was one of my favourite episodes. Covering 2 chapters of the manga made it twice as delicious as normal, I thought.

Q: I was surprised by the scene where Tsumugi heads towards Kotori’s household, singing a musical tune.

A: I think that this episode was one where you could clearly feel how much the production team loved working on the show. The bit before that scene with [Tsumugi watching] the in-show Magical anime was amazing too (laughs).

Q: That’s true…it’s only an in-show anime but quite a lot of energy was poured into it (laughs)

A: Watching the show, I thought to myself – the animators sure put a lot of effort into that (laughs). For some reason, ever since the project launched Nozaki had been really enthusiastic about Magical, saying ‘We’ll make sure we give our best [for Magical]!’. Actually, he did attempt to get a whole episode made for inclusion as a Bluray/DVD special and the Director was quite eager to do it as well but alas, various circumstances scuppered those plans (laughs).

Endo-san’s acting melted the hearts of the male staff

Q: For this series, Nakamura Yuichi was cast as Inuzuka, Endo Rina as Tsumugi and Hayami Saori as Kotori. Tell us more about how those castings came about.

A: We held casting meetings with the Director and Sound Director at the fore, making sure that we also considered the opinions of author Amagakure Gido. I think everyone had their own image of the what the character’s voices should be like, but we all agreed that Nakamura-san, Endo-san and Hayami-san fit the characters perfectly.

Depending on the series involved you sometimes see disagreements arise during casting meetings but for Amaama it went quite smoothly and we put in the offer to those 3. Initially the Director was considering whether to use a child for the role of Tsumugi and Sound Director Tanaka Kazuya assured him that it was perfectly fine, having previously worked with children himself – that was how we came to cast a child in Tsumugi’s role. I think it turned out incredibly well.

Q: What was the decisive factor in casting the role of Tsumugi?

A: I think the decisive factor was that based on the static images of the manga, [Endo-san] was able to naturally visualize and bring to life Tsumugi’s energy and animated chatter.

Q: With those 3 on board, what was it like watching the performances of the cast members during recordings?

A: The 3 of them fit their characters perfectly and that was really great but on top of that, I could feel how with every passing episode, Nakamura-san and Endo-san truly became like family. This was not only due to their acting skills, but also because they would get more and more in tune with each other as the weeks went by. I was able to observe from recordings how the relationship between the two of them evolved, bit by bit.

Q: Tell us what the atmosphere during recording is actually like.

A: Endo-san is a polite and courteous girl; her younger sister also comes along to recordings and she’s a real mood-maker in the waiting rooms – she even gives me sweets sometimes (laughs). I can say this as one of the people who observes the recording process – Endo-san’s acting kills us…. (laughs). Especially the old geezers amongst us; her fearsome acting really brings out our paternal instincts and melts us all – it is a recording studio where we’re constantly being impressed by Endo-san and having fun all the time.

Q: Were there any particular tricks that the staff devised for recording?

A: I can’t explain things in detail as I am not actually involved with the production side of things, but I do know that the Director and Sound Director gave the cast members a certain degree of freedom, leaving a fair portion of their performances entirely up to them. Recordings did not take a long time – most of the time, we’d finish on schedule with the afureko progressing smoothly. For that to happen the cast must interpret the series appropriately and produce performances that fit the image of what the director wants.

Q: The anime’s opening theme Harebare Fanfare is performed by Mimi Meme MIMI and the ending theme Maybe by Brian the Sun. Are there any interesting stories concerning either song?

A: Opening theme performer Mimi Meme MIMI were originally fans of the manga while Brian the Sun had great interest in the work as well, which is why the offers went to them. We also held meetings to express the Director’s vision, although there was no concrete instruction for what they were to produce; it was basically ‘please write whatever you like’, and that was how the theme songs came to be. You can interpret the songs in many ways as they are original lyrics written specifically with the series in mind – I think impressions change depending on the individual viewer.

Q: Do you have any favourite episodes?

A: I liked the first one. You could say that the ‘purity level’ of the content is high, or maybe that all the charms of Amaama to Inazuma were condensed into that one episode. It’s interesting no matter how many times you watch it; it makes you cry, it moves your heart. It’s the same as movies – though you already know how the story goes, you can’t help but keep watching it over and over whether it’s on TV or through the DVDs; that is how I feel about episode 1.

Apart from that I’m also fond of episodes 3 and 4. The scene showing how she dislikes bell peppers, and the one where she doesn’t get along well with her kindergarten friends – these showed that the negative sides of children could actually appear quite adorable depending on how you choose to view things – I really loved them. Also, we see that Tsumugi starts off watching the cooking on the side-lines but she gradually starts to help out. Of course that means she’s just dancing around showing her support but that itself is so child-like.

What to look forward to for Amaama to Inazuma

Q: The anime itself is on the cusp of its final episodes – please tell us what we should look forward to in the second half of the series.

A: The majority of family dramas are episodic in nature with the characters staying the same age, but this anime is a drama that shows how each character grows little by little. Now that we’re heading towards the finale, I think you’ll realize just how much they’ve grown if you go back and watch the show from the first episode. I definitely recommend re-watching the series, please do!

Q: It’s not just Tsumugi who shows growth, but Inuzuka and Kotori too.

A: That’s right. Inuzuka is growing as a parent while Kotori not only grows in terms of her cooking but emotionally as well; it’s another highlight of the series involving the characters besides Tsumugi.

Q: With the anime concluding, is there anything else in store for the series after that?

A: The first volume of the DVD/Blurays will be released on October 5 (Wednesday) with a tie-up event in Odaiba’s Tokyo Joypolis for 2 weeks from Oct 2-16 (Sun to Sun). There will be a collaboration café along with goods, attractions and much more. On the first day there will be a talk show featuring Nakamura-san, Endo-san and Hayami-san, so please look forward to it.

Q: Even if the anime is over, the series will continue its development.

A: Hmmm, I am still thinking of a couple of developments for the future.

Q: Please leave a message for the fans.

A: Do watch Amaama to Inazuma and allow it to make you feel hungry, then go and share a meal with your friends, family and loved ones!

Q: Thank you for your time.

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