Angel beats

[origionally published on sankaku complex]


Jun Maeda, a co-creator of legendary visual novel company Key (Air, Kanon, Clannad) and screen writer and composer for almost all of Key’s past games, was recently interviewed about his upcoming and highly anticipated Angel Beats! Anime.

Besides speaking about his first time experience with writing a screenplay for an anime, he went into much detail concerning the production of Key’s games, making for a rather fascinating interview, available translated below in full.

In case a brief introduction to Maeda and the new Angel Beats series may be required, here is a brief rundown :

Jun Maeda (麻枝准) is one of the original co-founders of Key, helping to form the Osaka based eroge company in 1998, and has served as the lead scenario (or screenplay) writer for nearly all the brand’s games.

In addition to scenario and other managerial tasks, he has also contributed musical compositions and lyrics for many of their games.

Angel Beats! requires a slightly more involved preface – it is a “multimedia project” conceived by Jun Maeda, and produced by an association of Key and Dengeki G’s Magazine that encompasses simultaneously produced manga, light novel and TV anime adaptations.

The series’ original character designs come from Na-Ga, Key’s famed main illustrator, and in a first for any anime adaptation of a Key original story, Maeda will be writing the actual screenplay, as well as being one of the show’s music composers.

P.A. Works, the animation studio producing the series, which airs starting this Friday night, might not be too familiar to many fans – the studio has only produced True Tears and Canaan so far, but has worked for a number of years doing in-between animation or production assistance on shows and movie such as Darker than Black, Evangelion 1.0, Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society, and the Fullmetal Alchemist movie, Conqueror of Shamballa.

The following interview was held “sometime” in March in Tokyo, and went online at AkibaBlog on the 29th.

Please be aware that a few, mostly inconsequential, sentences have been shortened or excised in favor of clarity, but it is safe to say this translation is the entire interview in its full, massive, length.

Interviewer questions are bolded, and parenthetical notations are our own:

How did you feel after watching the first episode?

Jun Maeda (JM): Simply put, it felt great!

Because it was my own original story, plus a screenplay that I made, seeing that put into animation, having sound added, and the seiyuu’s voices… seeing the results of the entire staff’s work being taken that far was a feeling that was more than I could have expected.

The first episode has a performance scene and battle scenes, so there is definitely a good amount of especially interesting moments, but since it is just the first episode it is only just beginning to explain the world’s basic setting, so I think it might be safer to say the the overall appeal of the world of Angel Beats! will properly start off in episode two.

What parts of Angel Beats! might be following the footsteps of Key’s past works?

(JM): Producer 鳥羽 / Toba first pitched the idea to me from the very start as “Something you can happily laugh or smile with at the beginning, but also something that will have you in tears by the end.”

Also, the BGM and songs used are also a straight-line continuation of our “Key-ness”.

After doing Air, Clannad, Little Busters! -games that might be described being in the “tearjerker” genre- the thought of responding to a call to do another tearjerker story was very tough.

Making Little Busters!, and the other games before it, a story that could make another human being be deeply moved emotionally was an exhausting one, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep on going after those.

Nonetheless, I was able to help make another such work with Angel Beats, and I’m very grateful to Toba-san for pushing me on. The thought of “the world of the dead” came to me randomly, and at a brainstorming session everyone responded with “Aah, that’s good!”, and then I began to write out the story.

But, the thought of whether or not the story might be too quiet or underplayed to make for an interesting anime was a doubt I constantly had. However, when I got to writing the scene of Yuri (the main heroine) leveling her rifle I thought “Oh, this can work!”, and I at once began to rewrite more of the battle scenes into the story.

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Since this time you’re not working on a game, but an anime, where there any elements you were eager to take advantage with the change in media, or any particularly challenging parts in the process?

(JM): When making a game at Key, we have to plan with the capabilities of what our (limited) staff is able to produce, but this time Producer Toba has amassed a great pool of staff members, so we’re able to jam in much more of what we want to do into it without needing to worry about manpower (laugh).

During a game’s development, we might think “It’d be really interesting if we did something like this…”, but the realization that “This would definitely be putting too much of a burden on our staff, it isn’t realistic,” would force us to reject certain parts of a script.

Still, I ended up trying to cram as many fun or interesting things as we could into the anime, because of my own personal lack of experience in making anime and of what is feasibly doable or what isn’t.

So, that led to things becoming hectic (at the studio), and it ended up with Animation Director 平田雄三 / Katsuzou Hirata needing to tell me, “Technically, anime is something that needs to be written on the assumption of fitting into 20-odd minutes, but this is just crammed full of elements you wanted to fit in. It might be overdoing it.”

You sure are opening up for us, Maeda-san. (laugh) So, compared with making a game, is there anything in making an anime that felt “cheaper”?

(JM): This is pretty selfish, but you get to pass along a lot of the “establishing work” off to other people. (laughs)

For example, on a game, with things like small accessories or firearms, we need to investigate the item and explain to the rest of the staff, “This is what it looks like!”, and for background scenery we need to have someone go visit a location and take (reference) photographs.

But with anime, you just hand the screenplay over and the rest of the staff handled all of that, making me feel extremely grateful. That let me focus my attention on the screenplay, and that really helped me out a lot.

On the other hand, was there anything that was troubling that would is distinctive to anime?

(JM): As for something that was hard, it would be the screenplay readings (meetings between directors, screenwriters and producers to discuss and finalize the end screenplay).

For an episode I might have 5 drafts, and at times it even turned out to be 6 or 7, so I need to make a daily trip from Osaka to Tokyo to review those. It’s about 2 hours and 50 minutes each way, so that was just terrible.

That does sound like a big exertion! (laugh) Speaking about that, do you not do something like a screenplay reading where the staff all gets together in game-making?

(JM): Other game companies and brands have different directors and producers so they might be different, but for Key specifically, you just do it (the screenplay) all according to your own judgment.

Of course, it can still end up getting rejected by the others.

You might put out something that made you think “This is a challenge, but I’ll try it anyhow”, and if that turns out poorly you end up getting knocked down. Those times really teach you a lot, so I personally feel a scenario writer that always works firmly subordinate to others really can’t develop properly.

I have a pet theory that when a creator is able to bathe in the bare voices of the fans is the time when he really grows as a creator (presumably Maeda means is making a comparison to creators who are not able to take full credit for their production).

Personally, some times I just think to myself ‘This is really turning out great, isn’t it?”, and I beam with confidence.

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Since this is the first Key work to be made into an anime where you (Key) all get to be involved in the production, was it a fresh experience?

(JM): It was the first time for me to hear so much discussion regarding my screenplay. I haven’t attended any screenplay readings before, although I would get some sort of feedback when the screenplays would get sent to us, so having a scenario receive such detailed line by line inspection was something totally new to me.

I responded at first by writing more to match the consultation being given, but then the draft ended up being overly long. As a result, I needed to start shaving off things like gag bits everyday. That was pretty rough.

If you had to pick one Angel Beats! heroine you’d like to go out with, which would it be?

(JM): I like fighting heroines, so naturally it’s Yuri. I sort of play RPGs for that objective, so if there isn’t a fighting, moe heroine, I wouldn’t play the game even if it was (otherwise) interesting.

That part sure is important, isn’t it.

(JM): It’s insanely important!

Aiee! You’re really getting into it. (laugh)

(JM): However, Yuri might not be the type of character to embrace such feelings from a man. The obsession of seeking revenge against God might take precedence over thoughts of love, so it’s hard to imagine a situation where you could be dating her.

When writing a girl heroine, are there any important details that come up early on? What comes to mind first are things like (favorite) foods, or favorite sayings…

(JM): On One ~Kagayaku Kisetsu e~ (a game produced by several of Key’s staff before forming their own company) and Kanon, my co-screenwriter 久弥直樹 / Naoki Hisaya-san put a lot of thought into such things like favorite foods or sayings, and really got absorbed into that.

As for me, if pressed for an answer, I’d have to say I tend to think primarily of what sort of character is needed to show the story in an emotionally moving way first, and then write the character from there.

So, a lot of times I hear, “Maeda-san’s characters sure include a lot of (especially)young girls, or have some sort of mental issue, so are girls like those heroines the type you like best?”, to which I always feel like responding with “No, no! I’m not like that!” I make my characters so that they’ll fit into the story or feel attractive in some way, not necessarily to fit my own tastes and preferences. (laugh)

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(JM): In Angel Beats!, I do think there is a fun part (of me) that thinks “If I could meet this sort of person, wouldn’t it be interesting?”, but she was mostly created through thinking about what sort of character would be appropriate for the main heroine that happens to be a leader on a warfront.

Some time ago on a TV program, you said that you “want to create works that can influence people’s lives”, but have you yourself experienced any such work in the past, Maeda-san?

Wanda to Kyozou ( a Playstation 2 game known in English as ‘Shadow of the Colossus’) really did give me new life, but as for the writers whose work have influenced me the most, maybe it would be 村上春樹 / Haruki Murakami (author of Kafka on the Shore) or 栗本薫 / Kaoru Kirimoto (the sadly deceased author of Guin Saga).

During my middle school days, Kirimoto-san’s Guin Saga and collected short stories hooked me, and really helped to cultivate my sense of imagination. Kirimoto-san was a great catalyst for me to enter the world I’m in right now.

What characteristics do you think are the ones necessary for a creator, Maeda-san?

(JM): I think I can honestly say that it’s 1% skill or talen, and 99% hard-work or endurance.

I often think of myself as an “artist”, but really, 99% of Jun Maeda is just sheer effort. The Makoto scenario in Kanon took an incredible amount of effort and researching for example, and for all my other scenarios I repeat the process.

Still, without a “good sense” all that work might be spent futilely, so that tiny 1% is what I really want (to develop).

Definitely, such a sense has to be important…

(JM): The thing is, if you write using only that “good sense”, what is produced is not so much a commercial product as it is an artistic one that is made through the idea that “If only the (few) people that can understand this are the ones who get it, so be it.”

Now, for this new anime original story, I tried to think more of what the show’s audience is most likely to actually be seeking, rather than making a game purely for my own tastes.

I think it’s crucially important to understand what it is your users (customers) are looking for, and create something based on that research.

Maeda-san, you must need to use several different senses of style in the varying roles you perform, writing a scenario, working on the musical composition, and so on. Is there any specific one you place the most value on possessing?

(JM): There’s a reason I write music. That is, if you put in a request with someone else for a piece of music to accompany a particular emotional scene, the image of what you imagined as being the right piece of music for the moment might not get across perfectly well.

Because you’ve already thought to yourself, “If this sort of heartrending theme would be playing, I would feel like crying right now”, it’s something that only you perfectly put into music as you imagined it.

It’s pretty hard to describe what exactly a “tear-wrenching” song is in proper musical terms. Even if the appropriate feelings of pain and loneliness are carried through in the music, you have to take care that it’s still a good or catchy tune.

Air’s 夏影 / Natsukage was like that… when the song starts coming up, I write it to try to make it almost feel like it’s a vocal song that’s starting up (and not simply BGM).

For Angel Beats!, I feel that I haven’t seen much anime that uses its soundtrack like this, so it would make me happy if others are looking forward to hear the end result.

That certainly does make us interested. To end this off, is there any message you would like to send to fans who will be watching Angel Beats!?

(JM): Angel Beats is really, truly, a huge hurdle for me to get over, so I hope you can watch the show with the same level of enthusiasm and expectation!

We’re looking forward to it. We know today is a busy day for you, so thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.

Jun Maeda himself during the interview.

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