We pick up where we left off last time with Shoji Kawamori’s interview on creating AKB0048. In this part, the questions focus primarily on the casting process for the main voice actresses, turning toward some specific questions about the production process near the end.
If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out part one of the interview!
Shaking from nerves at auditions. Asking Kawamori Shoji about AKB0048: Part 2.
Whether it’s the Senbatsu popularity election or rock-paper-scissors, AKB48’s motto is always “fight hard.” For the voice of the 9 trainee main characters, an audition was held to choose from AKB48 and their sister groups, a total of 200 girls. What goal did Kawamori have with this inconceivable plan of casting the 9 lead roles with new voice actors? This second part of the interview with Shoji Kawamori centers on that voice casting.
— All of the 9 trainees were voiced by new members. They weren’t new to voice acting however, but instead were girls chosen from the AKB48 groups. This seems like it was quite a gamble.
Kawamori: Gambling can be good sometimes (laughs).Voice actresses have their own special set of skills. Acting with your voice is an incredibly difficult thing. Since (Super Dimension Fortress) Macross I’ve discovered many singers-turned-voice-actresses, but never 9 at one time. However, last June I witnessed the Senbatsu popularity election for the first time. After seeing those girls pull punches right out in the open to win, I felt that we would lose the concept of the story if we cast from outside the AKB48 groups. So during the meeting on the way back from the elections I said, “We have to choose from those girls.”
— It’s like you were driven into a corner (laughs). For the first round of auditions you chose through voice recording, correct?
Kawamori: We conducted tape audition in October, but the time until we could review them was filled with sleepless nights. We had asked for girls that were interested in voice acting to be notified, but we told by the AKB48 group, “We’re a group that gives it our all, so we’re all in.” We didn’t really have much time for that, though, so we had a car parked behind a handshake event, called in the girls one by one, handed them a paper and told them to read (laughs).
— What was the impression from those audition tapes?
Kawamori: We had heard that there were anime fans among the members, and this was true; however there were more girls that spoke like anime characters than girls who actually liked anime. If we went with those girls there really wouldn’t be any point in having this audition and choosing from outside of the anime industry. So while those girls did well, we intentionally chose away from that.
— Was the overall level high?
Kawamori: Despite suddenly being told to audition in a place like that, there were a lot of girls that had a good sense of what they were doing. On top of that, it really felt like each one of them had figured out what they needed to stand out as unique. I wondered what made them so independent and have such a good intuition, and then I figured it out. Obviously, when they take the mic on stage, but also at handshake events and variety shows, they train how to be themselves.
— I understand speaking on stage and variety shows, but why handshake events as well?
Kawamori: For many members, they meet with 2000 people in one day. If you think about it, though, they interact with 2000 people in a single day. They have to train themselves to be able to respond to every fan right then and there. There aren’t many groups in the world that do that kind of thing. For example, you would expect a sales person that interacts with many customers to have a firm grasp of communication, wouldn’t you? But for AKB48, they have to train to respond to the love and support of each of their 2000 fans in a matter of seconds in a single day, however many time a month.
— They can’t really respond to that love and support easily either. They have to give back with their best reactions or comments.
Kawamori: Yeah. In a split second they decide what to say, how to express it, and shake their fan’s hand. Doing that with 2000 people is training in itself. There isn’t much criticism of that training at handshake events either. Everyone seems to overlook the work put into it.
— So that’s the result of those handshake events. From that audition taken at the handshake event, you chose 30 girls to participate in the live audition. What was your impression of that?
Kawamori: At the live audition you could see some girls shaking from nerves. Why was it that they were shaking so much after climbing the stage in contrast to the previous audition? They wanted to be voice actors that badly. They felt this was their only chance. Even in this state, though, they were able to properly say their lines. Being able to display such power under all that pressure is really amazing. Another thing, the level at the live audition had already surpassed the level at the first audition.
— Being able to mature that quickly is pretty amazing.
Kawamori: We chose the nine girls from that live audition and continued onto the casting audition. Even at that time, if you gave them even the slightest of directions they would instantly change. Karen Iwata (playing Nagisa Motomiya) in particular was able to improve incredibly fast. If you were to listen to their voices during the first audition I’m sure it would shock you.
— How so?
Kawamori: Listening to the tapes, there is certainly an impression left, but their voices are incredibly gloomy. The first round of auditions left this bad taste in my mouth. I was left thinking there was no way such gloomy voices could take on such cheerful characters. They were still only trainees (just like the characters) after all. But during the second audition they seemed to brighten up a little bit. Meeting with them and listening to them talk, it didn’t seem like they were the types to get fired up and make a lot of noise. But, during the recording and retakes they seemed to get a lot more into it. Every episode their emotional performance gradually changed. That is to say, between every episode they changed. It wasn’t just Iwata either; I’ve never seen a group of girls improve that quickly.
— I was also quite surprised by the trainees’ performance. Especially with how well Amino Sato and Haruka Ishida performed as Yuuka Ichijou and Kanata Shinonome. I thought many of the other castings for the trainees were interesting, but Mayu Watanabe caught my interest. Within the trainee members there was Mayu Watanabe who voiced Chieri Sono; however, there was also the Mayu Watanabe Mk. III. She wasn’t the 3rd generation, she was Mk. III. Why was it that she had missiles shooting out of her arms (laughs)? What was the real Mayu’s response to this?
Kawamori: She was quite pleased with it. The fans asked her on Google+: “Will your arms be shooting missiles and beams from now on?” to which she responded, “Yes.” She just got it (laughs).
— Even if she becomes a robot in the future, she’s good to go (laughs).
Kawamori: I never said she was a robot. That’s a 00 top secret, so please try not to poke your nose into it. Even after you saw beams shoot out of her hands, if you asked her, “Mayuyu, what was that just now?” she’ll just act like she can’t hear you (laughs).
— Now I’m even more interested (laughs)! I’m changing the subject, but can you tell us about the live concert scenes? Similar to Macross F, I feel like AKB0048 places importance on the live scenes. This time you used CG characters for these scenes—what was the purpose of that?
Kawamori: To be exact, it was a CG-hand drawn hybrid. In the case of Macross F, there were only two idols, Sheryl and Ranka. They usually sang solos as well so, despite needing to draw these scenes, it was feasible. However, with AKB0048 there were 16 girls. If we had all of it hand drawn, we would lose focus on the other scenes. We’d be tripping over ourselves. What we really wanted to focus on drawing were the dramatic scenes. So in order to preserve the drawing quality of the dramatic parts, we used CG. There is also a lot more freedom with camera angles when using digital. You can get an single shot from the the audience to the stage for instance.
— I see.
Kawamori: Nowadays it’s normal to have a camera crane grazing over the audiences’ heads. People have grown accustomed to it. If we didn’t show them something more dynamic it would be no good. Although if it had been a show aimed purely at anime fans, we would just have given it our best shot with hand drawing and shown them what we had, but this time we had a wider audience. We made the camera work and formations digital, and used traditional drawing when showing things like expressions or final poses. Making the best of both forms was a key point in the live performances.
— Now, I was very taken with the mechanics of the bike in episode one, as well as the world’s picture book styled art like shown with Akibastar. The mechanical designer, Stanislas Brunet, and the background artists, Thomas Romain and Yann Le Gall, are all from France. What was the purpose in appointing them?
Kawamori: During the production of Basquash we worked together, but they all have a very good sense about them. They have very interesting non-Japanese point of view. Despite this, they love Japanese animation and can thus fight alongside it. I really wanted their out-of-the-box thinking and quality style. Their sense of scale is really good as well and they are over all very reliable staff members.
— They created a very unique world, didn’t they? With that, we can start to wrap things up. Can you tell us what to look for in the final episode that airs this Sunday (July 22nd)?
Kawamori: The characters’ stories are quickly progressing and as you watch, those individual stories are coming together to shape into something.
— I feel like your works tend to take your fans by surprise; we’ll be expecting similar this time around.
Kawamori: That’s such a strange way to put it. A show with a surprise ending would definitely be Aquarion EVOL, but AKB0048 will be more straightforward. If I try and go big too often it might be a let down (laughs).
— Is it also because you want others, outside of your fan base, to enjoy the show as well?
Kawamori: I believe so. That and the struggle of the AKB48 members is something very earnest and straightforward. I never thought I would see such straightforward women in this day and age.
— When you first started thinking up an anime for AKB48, did you ever think it would become what it is today?
Kawamori: Before collecting data I thought it would be centered around the successor members and the use of their honed skills. I won’t go as far as to say an action spy theme, but there was strong push for something around the lines of fighting the entertainment oppression or narrowly escaping live performances. Now, it is purely a story of the girls’ youth. “A story of sweat and tears, that’s all,” kind of deal (laughs). But, just how much sweat and tears will there be? Everyone watching will personally experience it from here on out (laughs).
And that’s all for this interview! Once again, thank you to @chottojolly for translating this interview as a Christmas gift for me and for giving me permission to post it here!