During the first ever Madman Anime Festival, we were lucky enough to get the chance to sit down with Tomohiko Ito the director of series such as ERASED and Sword Art Online and Shingo Adachi the man behind the art design of Sword Art Online. We discuss all things Sword Art Online and ERASED as well as exploring the inner workings behind the scenes of an anime series at A-1 Pictures. Read on for our full interview with Tomohiko Ito and Shingo Adachi.
SnapThirty: Sword Art Online has become one of the most popular anime in recent memory. Did you ever think it would become as popular as it has and what does it feel like to have worked on such a colossal hit?
Ito: I didn’t think that it was at all and I’m really actually happy about it. Is it popular in Australia?
SnapThirty: Very popular!
Adachi: Really? How do people see it?
SnapThirty: There is online distributors and its played on TV as well.
Adachi: How do they analyze how many viewers that it gets? How do they judge how popular it gets?
SnapThirty: On AnimeLab for example they have a listing of most popular series and Sword Art Online is usually on the list. Also if you look around at events like this so many people are cosplaying as characters like Kirito and Asuna. This question goes to both of you, why do you think it is as popular as it is now?
Adachi: Actually we are the ones who would really like to know how and why because we really don’t know. [laughs]
Ito: Well I can propose a theory. I think that it may be that there hasn’t really been an anime set in the world of a game before in this way and with the way of the internet these days you can’t really live without it. I think its also a bit of good timing with online gaming being at its most popular. There was a series .Hack// which was really popular too in the past but I don’t think the MMORPGs were as popular back then as they are today. So Sword Art Online had good timing.
SnapThirty: This question goes specifically to Adachi-san, were you always an illustrator even when you were a young child? When did you start drawing and when did you get into this?
Adachi: When I was a little kid I use to draw Doraemon a lot, but as I went on in school I went in the direction of playing baseball and then eventually I went back to drawing after that. I wasn’t exactly awesome at drawing and I could only really draw Doraemon himself, I could never draw Nobita, the main character or his girlfriend. [laughs]
SnapThirty: So how did you develop your talents and your art?
Adachi: There was shows that I really liked such as Nadia of the Blue Water, it is a bit older but really good I suggest everyone look it up! That show made me want to draw again and really was my inspiration to progress, get better and encourage me to keep going.
Growing up I also played games like Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons and as part of that you create your own character and for me the most enjoyable part was drawing my character and what he looked like so I did that a lot as well.
SnapThirty: This question is for Ito-san. You directed the anime series ERASED. It feels very different to your previous work like Sword Art Online and Occult Academy. While they have fantasy or occult elements, ERASED features the very real topic of child abduction. What was your approach to directing this series and how difficult was it to tackle a tough subject matter like this?
Ito: To be honest I am actually not that comfortable with the genre of Sword Art Online [laughs]. ERASED is a lot more in line with my personality and what I am comfortable with directing. It’s a bit more low key and it is much more in line with what I would like to do as a director so my approach was for ERASED to be completely different from Sword Art Online because of that.
SnapThirty: I must say ERASED is one of the most beautifully animated series I have ever seen. From the very first episode it does not feel like your usual television episode as the quality and direction feels very cinematic. For example the scene where Satoru awakens in 1988 and the viewer sees through his eyes is etched into my mind as a particularly incredible scene. How did you accomplish this cinematic quality and feel with ERASED? How did you make this a reality?
Ito: As you may know there is a manga version of it as well and it plays out quite similarly visually. Well for scenes like that my aim is to make you want to keep watching it and become drawn into the scene. So for that scene it is basically just one big long scene where we build the tension and suspense. That scene you mentioned is at the end of the first episode so its somewhat of a cliffhanger as well. I think about how I can make the audience keep watching and go to the next episode.
SnapThirty: In ERASED, Satoru has the ability of ‘revival’ which allows him to go back in time to relive events of his childhood and change history. The origin of this ability is never revealed in the series. Do you feel it is important that the mystery of ‘revival’ is never explained.
Ito: It was a deliberate decision. There are no plans to explain the origin because it is really more just a way to build the suspense, take the plot in a certain direction and build the story itself. I am sure there are many people wanting to know how this power has come about [laughs]. Sorry to say but there is no plans to reveal it.
SnapThirty: Sword Art Online and ERASED are both adaptations of either light novels or manga. However your series Occult Academy is an original animation and story. How different is it to direct an adaptation compared to an original animation like Occult Academy?
Ito: With adaptations it is actually a lot easier because you have the source material already there. You can say to the staff, this is what the character says and this is what their expression is like, do that. That said it can also get in the way at times as well because you must always keep the original source material in mind and that can actually be really restrictive.
SnapThirty: Taking it back to Sword Art Online, I don’t know how it is with the Japanese fans, but in Australia there is a lot of debate among Sword Art Online fans on the topic of who the ‘Best Girl’ is. Do you guys have a preference personally having worked on the series? Who is your ‘Best Girl’?
Adachi: So I am guessing this is debated by the male fans then right? [laughs]
SnapThirty: It’s debated quite a lot!
Ito: I am more interested what Australia has to say on this. [laughs]
SnapThirty: Well speaking for Australia I think it seems to be mostly Asuna here.
[Ito and Adachi let off an audible sigh and then laugh]
Adachi: That is interesting because in America they tell us that Sinon is more popular as ‘best girl’.
SnapThirty: It is interesting really and I don’t quite know why it is but from our experience you don’t see many Sinon cosplayers in comparison to Asuna which you see no matter which convention you go to. It is also a very popular couples cosplayer with couples cosplaying as Kirito and Asuna.
Ito: To answer your original question I must say my ‘best girl’ is Sinon because her personality resembles that of my wife. [laughs]
Adachi: I also am a fan of Sinon.
SnapThirty: Bringing things back to ERASED. Ito-san you mentioned earlier that you are more comfortable with a series like ERASED in comparison to Sword Art Online. Is it because you prefer something more based in reality or is it more about tackling a darker sort of story with deeper emotion? For example the story of the character Hinazuki is truly sad and you really did an excellent job playing with the emotion of that. Do you enjoy doing something with more emotion compared to an adventure story with fighting and having some fun like Sword Art Online? Is it more to your style?
Ito: Well there is so much of the fantasy media around and my personal preference is just a bit more like ERASED. Not so much a darker story but more about exploring the human side of things. I love David Fincher [ed: Director of films like Fight Club and Gone Girl]. I’d really like to be Japan’s David Fincher.
SnapThirty: We have time for one last question. You guys have worked on many adaptations such as Sword Art Online and ERASED is there any source material out there that you guys would like to make into anime?
Ito: Well I don’t think we will ever get to do it but I would love to be apart of the anime of Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu [ed: English title is Legend of the Galactic Heroes]. I am so interested in that one.
Adachi: Oh Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu would be so good.
Ito: Or perhaps a taiga drama, I am really into the historical sort of stories but it would be such a challenge to adapt into an anime, I’d like to see it happen.
SnapThirty: Do you want to take on that challenge?
Ito: Maybe give me 15 years then I will be ready for that challenge. [laughs] Perhaps once I accomplish that I can retire and it can be my final work.
SnapThirty: Thank you very much for you time.
Ito and Adachi: Thank you so much.
Special thanks to Madman Entertainment and Double Jump for arranging the interview and a big thanks to Ito and Adachi for taking the time to speak with us.