Japanese anime is more popular now than it has ever been before. These interviews with anime studios will reveal the behind-the-scenes processes and emotions that go into making anime. This is a large-scale project done in collaboration with anime news sites throughout the world, such as the anime news site Anime!Anime!, Tokyo Otaku Mode, which has 20 million fans on Facebook, the huge Chinese site Bahamut, and more. You can find all the interviews here.
Studio Yaoyorozu made its presence known with Straight Title Robot Anime, a 3D CGI anime made with the free software MikuMikudance (MMD), and was thrown into the spotlight in 2017 when Kemono Friends became a huge hit. The anime director, Tatsuki, lends his talents to the studio and is looking forward to the release of his new anime, Kemurikusa, with the studio in 2019.
We were able to interview Yoshitada Fukuhara, Yaoyorozu’s founder, CEO, and the producer who created Kemono Friends with Tatsuki. In this interview we discussed the future path of up-and-coming Studio Yaoyorozu as well as Tatsuki’s new work, Kemurikusa.
(Interview by Yohei Hosokawa)
– You started Tsubasa Records when you were a senior in college, so originally you worked in the music industry. What made you become interested in the anime industry?
Fukuhara: Around 2009, I reached a period where I had no desire to continue working because it was just a bunch of problems, one after another. Someone casually recommended an anime to me. I grew incredibly interested and decided I wanted to try working in anime.
I had always worked in music so I didn’t have any contacts in the anime industry, but I figured if I worked in Akihabara-style titles then I might come across some chances. I met Sadahiro Terai of Just Production Inc. around the time I was working on idol programs and promoting Vocaloid.
– Mr. Terai is known for having worked with Tsunku, the producer of groups like Morning Musume and Berryz Kobo. Were you acquainted with him before you entered the anime industry?
Fukuhara: I met him once when I was a senior in college. When we reunited, he invited me to make something interesting with him, and what we came up with was Straight Title Robot Anime (2013).
Mr. Terai did the fundraising while I approached MMD creators who worked on sites like Niconico Douga. An article about this anime was published in Nikkei Entertainment (Japanese only), and after that, Nippon Television Network approached me with an offer to create a new anime. That turned into Tesagure! Bukatsu-mono (2013). After I met Tatsuki at Comiket, I had always wanted to make something with him, so I used that chance to properly ask him to work with me.
– You opened Yaoyorozu at the same time. What intentions did you have?
Fukuhara: Until then, Mr. Terai and I worked on the same title while being funded from different companies, so when it came time to deal with invoices, it got really confusing over what went where. In that case, it would be better to just make one company. Also, anime fans place importance on the brand of anime studios, so I also had the intention of making a target for their emotions rather than continuing the confusing situation of being unsure of who was making the show.
– Were there any difficulties that arose from switching between the music and anime industries?
Fukuhara: The anime industry is so harsh that even established studios with power will drop episodes, much less a brand-new studio. I had no experience or specialty within the industry, so it was extremely hard. I put my entire body and soul into each title we make. For music, we can make one CD in three months if we push ourselves, but anime will always take a year or two, no matter what. Because of that, I stepped down from being the CEO of Tsubasa Plus (now Tsubasa Records) and now completely focus on anime.
Making Yaoyorozu a Studio Focused Around Tatsuki
– Since Kemono Friends became a sudden hit, you’ve received a lot of attention for making other works like Tesagure! Bukatsu-mono and Minarai Diva, which are very different from what other studios make. Did you think about what approach Yaoyorozu would take when you started the studio?
Fukuhara: It wasn’t like we were thinking, “Let’s push forward like rock stars!” We just did the best that we could. We started late and had to control both our human resources and costs.
We did Straight Title Robot Anime because the robots don’t have to lip-sync to the voice actor’s lines (laughs). I searched desperately for what I could do, so I looked for what was interesting within those limits. Now that I think about it, I was able to use my experience of reading the audience that I fostered in the music industry in anime.
Now Yaoyorozu has become a studio focused on Tatsuki as a creator.
He looks over everything in the creative department. Mr. Terai handles the business side, so I function as a bridge between the two. From now on, Yaoyorozu will continue to be a studio that embodies what Tatsuki wants to create.
– What would a title that Tatsuki is not involved in be like?
Fukuhara: Yaoyorozu would not be involved, either. If it’s a title that I could influence, then I would produce it under Just Production, instead.
– Is it a relationship similar to the one between Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki?
Fukuhara: I don’t really know what it’s like in other studios, but it might be. I don’t think there are many creators that have the same intense talent that Tatsuki has, so I think this is best.
– What is the relationship between Just Production and Yaoyorozu?
Fukuhara: Just Production is in charge of the anime planning while Yaoyorozu takes care of the creative side. Just Production has a voice acting department as well as S-TAR7, an affiliate company that handles the sound production and manages our voice actor and actor training programs. We’re not aiming to become a huge conglomerate, but we are creating a system so that we can complete series using companies within the group.
– The current industry focuses on production committees, so it seems like a difficult culture to promote a single creator. It’s very significant that you support Tatsuki so strongly.
Fukuhara: Both Mr. Terai and I promoted people in the music industry. I think that’s why we focus on creators rather than titles.
Tatsuki Is A Creator Who Embodies the Word “Genius”
– As a producer, what kind of creator do you think Tatsuki is?
Fukuhara: Let’s see… In the music industry, I worked with people who were called geniuses, but I really think that Tatsuki is a creator who embodies the word.
Fukuhara: He’s just constantly working. The word “genius” makes people think of someone who can just come up with ideas from nothing, but I’ve noticed that’s not how it works. It happens because they’re making extreme efforts toward it.
In Tatsuki’s case, I’m not sure if it’s just that he writes the script, makes the storyboards, and directs it all by himself, or if it’s how he switches between tasks. For example, if he gets tired from writing the script then he’ll start modeling, and when he gets tired from that he’ll start sketching, and when he gets tired from that…so in the end, he’s created an anime! (laughs)
– He creates an anime when he’s taking a break from anime. That can be called talent.
Fukuhara: He works so hard that it’s almost rude to call it talent. Something else that’s interesting is that he won’t call the people who like his work “fans.” He calls them “customers,” as he thinks of them as a target to delight. Even when there’s a title he decides he wants to make, he’ll choose the art that will make customers happy and not the one he prefers. He won’t compromise at all in order to satisfy his customers.
– Since you’re the producer, do you ever have to tell him to think more of the customers?
Fukuhara: Tatsuki always thinks of what is best for the title and the customers, so there’s nothing for me to say. As producers, all we do is take over the little bits that Tatsuki hasn’t handled.
– Has Yaoyorozu grasped what its characteristic as a studio is yet?
Fukuhara: Since Tatsuki looks over everything creative, we’re able to completely upend the flow and remake things. For example, I think this is impossible for other studios, but even though we’ve already reached filming, we’ll go back and change the storyboard. It puts a lot of burden on the entire staff, but because of that, we can make a title that everyone can be pleased with.
We have a small staff consisting of very highly skilled people who can do an incredible amount of work at an amazing speed. It’s because of our current production structure and style.
– That production structure was used on Kemurikusa, the new anime that’s scheduled to air next year. Did you increase the number of people working on it?
Fukuhara: A little bit, compared to Kemono Friends.
Fukuhara: As I mentioned earlier, we’re very careful with who we hire and if it isn’t someone who suits our intentions then it will be very difficult to work together.
Why Was Kemurikusa Chosen to Follow Kemono Friends?
– Let’s discuss Kemurikusa, your new title. It is an adaptation of the anime of the same name that Tatsuki made between 2010 and 2012 when he was at irodori. Why did you decide to make it into a TV series?
Fukuhara: We could have made a completely original story, but we wanted to announce our new title quickly. Kemono Friends was also an adaptation and had a rough worldview created, but I wanted everyone to know how interesting Tatsuki’s worldview, story, and script were, so I thought it was perfect to work on.
When we decided to make Kemurikusa, Tatsuki muttered, “This is difficult…” (laughs). That’s how much he was going to throw himself into this title without any omissions. We’re still struggling with it.
– Since this is your first title since Kemono Friends, I’m sure the fans have high expectations.
Fukuhara: I really want people to forget the past two years and relax while they watch it, thinking of it as an original anime created by a brand new director (laughs).
– (laughs). Still, an original work made into a TV series by Tatsuki means that the support from people who became Tatsuki and Yaoyorozu fans because of Kemono Friends should be pretty big.
Fukuhara: That’s true. We actually considered funding the new title through crowdfunding. I’m happy it will be aired on public television.
Tatsuki’s Customers Search Intensely For Easter Eggs
– I would like to ask about Kemono Friends’ popularity. Have you sat down and analyzed it?
Fukuhara: Tatsuki’s creativity is a big part of it, but it’s because of the customers. We’re blessed with really great customers.
I think all anime is made with a lot of fussiness or fixations. For example, if we focused on hiding ten easter eggs in the show, we would only expect customers to be able to find maybe one or two.
But customers who really watched Tatsuki’s work did their best to search for all of the easter eggs and then explained to others how to find them all. Kemono Friends’ explosive popularity is because of the customers.
If we compare our work to a restaurant, it’s like Tatsuki giving them tea just at the right time. The customers feel like this shop is comfortable. This shop delivers the careful attention that Tatsuki, the owner, and the few veteran staff insist on. I would like to continue moving forward with customers who appreciate what Tatsuki has to offer.
– Should we expect Kemurikusa to be full of easter eggs?
Fukuhara: We’re preparing to open up a shop that can meet your expectations with all of our might.
– What kind of studio do you see Yaoyorozu as?
Fukuhara: We’re a studio that puts creativity first. “Creative first” is something that Mr. Terai always says, but Yaoyorozu is a studio that makes what creators want to make a reality. That’s the flag we fly.
– For this interview, we surveyed 300 international anime fans and asked them what they wanted to ask Japanese anime creators. One of the most often asked questions was, “How do you come up with such wonderful ideas?” What do you think?
Fukuhara: If I had to compare producers and creators, then I would say producers look at things from far away through a telescope and creators look thoroughly at things with a microscope.
Tatsuki tends to carefully gaze at everything, so he sees things through an entirely different filter than I do. I think it’s important that he’s cultivated this filter since he was a child, but it is something that you can train, so if you want to become a creator, then you should look at a lot of great things and build up that filter.
In Tatsuki’s case, his filter comes from his continuing to make anime. It’s very persuasive to see how much he works and link them to his interesting ideas. As a producer, when he seems lost or confused, I have to be his partner and pick up my telescope and guide him toward the goal.
– Kemono Friends became a huge movement through the support of customers. From the point of view of “creator and customer,” please tell us what kind of support your customers could do that would make you happy.
Fukuhara: I believe that the moment a title is released into the world, it now belongs to the customer, so what is most important is that they enjoy it. If we’re talking about the new Kemurikusa, then first, I would like for customers to watch it properly. I wonder about reviews, so I read them online (laughs). I’m very happy when customers draw fan art. I’d like everyone to enjoy it, kind of like an extracurricular club.
Yoayorozu doesn’t have a long history and we’re a small studio, but we sincerely work to make titles of a specific quality. Please continue to support us in the future.
This project also includes fan participation, featuring Otaku Coin, a community currency which is set to launch this fall. The aspirations of Otaku Coin are to connect Japanese otaku culture fans and creators throughout the world and to create a community that transcends borders with a community currency.
In collaboration with that, fans who read these articles will be able to use the Otaku Coin Official App to send the studios messages of support and gratitude. The support project will launch at the same time as the app in fall 2018. Please subscribe to the Otaku Coin mail magazine to receive the latest information and updates.