An interview with Nishigori Atsushi, the superstar director behind the imas anime, was posted up yesterday on Bandai Channel. I took the liberty of doing a translation of the imas section, because this guy is the absolute best. Might as well get some use out of this thing too.
――I’m sure you’ve been asked a bunch of times already, but how did your position as director for imas come about?
Nishigori: I really loved the game, and during my time at Gainax, Ootsuka Masahiko mentioned that he went to uni with one of the people who works on imas, and after getting the chance to tell him about how much I love it, things kind of exploded from there. I initially suggested that we do some shorts, PVs and all that kind of stuff, but that was met with a “If we’re gonna do it, we might as well make a TV series.” Due to how much the fans and I myself loved the series, I was actually really worried about messing it all up, and this being my first position as director didn’t help, so I was pretty anxious throughout its broadcast.
――It ended up being quite dramatic, too.
Nishigori: There were a fair amount of things we could do with it, and I had my doubts about whether or not we should have just made it more of a lighthearted anime overall. But I thought that if I really do love imas, I wanted to take parts of it and make them how I wanted while feeling confident that this was the right choice. There were a lot of plans for the daily life stuff at the time too, so I figured using that as the basis to build up the characters before the drama hit would be the most adequate thing to do. The main issue there however was that I did a lot of story based stuff while at Gainax, so I wasn’t even sure if I could pull off the daily life aspects well. I was worried incase it’d just get buried underneath all the serious stuff (lol). So while that was happening, I decided that it’d be best to make sure the story wasn’t too complicated. There were a couple of goals I had in mind from the beginning, such as making the setting feel realistic without relying on the backgrounds, keeping the characters consistent, and making absolute sure that I could get across the point that the series’ charm lies within how well the characters work together.
――So how was your first experience as director?
Nishigori: As it went on I couldn’t help but ask myself why I was bothering with something this stressful (lol). My mindset was that I’d feel sorry for any of the characters who didn’t get that much screentime, so trying to balance out the screentime for everyone ended up being a pretty big issue, both on the production side and for the animators. As soon as 3 characters got some screentime, we’d have to make up for it for the other characters too. If all 13 of them were present, then we’d make sure they all got screentime; that was the unspoken rule, and you could tell that this rule became more dominant as production went on (laughs). Despite that though, we had to see it through to the end, as otherwise there would’ve been no point in even starting. It was definitely tough going, but in the end I managed to get what I wanted to do done, and for that I’m really thankful to all of the staff involved.
――You weren’t just the director, but also in charge of series composition and the character designs too.
Nishigori: Since I had no experience as a director, I felt that in order to convince myself that I’d be able to make something the fans would feel satisfied with, I’d have to put the effort into showing off the characters myself. I can’t thank Scamco enough for allowing me to go through with it despite there probably being a number of better alternatives. Nothing can change the fact that imas and TTGL mean the world to me, so I wanted to live up to the expectations held by those who entrusted me with my own vision. I did my best to make sure the fans would be happy, for both the drawings and the portrayal of the characters.
――It seems that the series was made to have different focuses for the first half and latter half.
Nishigori: We pretty much planned that from the beginning. The first cour would be about sticking to the style of the games and showing off the characters individually and the general feel of 765pro, while the second cour would shift towards the outside world and show off 765pro working together. Having an anime as a platform allowed us to try out new things for the series, and I wanted to take full advantage of that.
――And of course, there’s the two big climaxes towards the end.
Nishigori: At first we didn’t have any plans for the stuff involving Haruka; the main focus was on Chihaya’s episode 20 moment. But as things went on, we started to wonder about Haruka and her position as the centre. Eventually, we concluded that the show would feel really incomplete if we didn’t address this, and so around episode 23/24 I took it upon myself to try and get into her head and understand things from her perspective. I wasn’t sure if this was the smartest way to do it, mind you, but doing it the so called “smart” way felt like I’d just be running from Haruka in a sense. That’s why I decided not to take that approach. There were plenty of discussions with Takao Noriko (who was in charge of the series production) too about whether people would want to go through more serious stuff again after episode 20, but in the end we wanted to see it through, and we wanted the viewers to feel that way too.
Idolmaster is pretty unique in that while it’s about idols, the general idea is that everyone works together. However, I wondered about whether or not it’d be enough to portray that just through the idea that it’s nice when everyone gets along, and by the end what I really wanted to express is that the most important and difficult thing is for everyone to stay together.
――How does it feel now that the TV series is over?
Nishigori: Regardless of its quality in the end, it’s definitely something I can look back on and think “Yup, I made that.”
――It definitely feels like a very sincere work.
Nishigori: To be honest, that’s the only way it could’ve been done (lol). I just had to pour my heart and soul into it. Making it feel sincere was a major focus. Of course, now that it’s over I can’t help but think “I should’ve done this instead” for certain parts, and that I could’ve done better in representing certain characters. I really did want to have a balanced focus on everyone. But that was the best I could do at the time, and things went even better thanks to the staff’s effort, so I’m satisfied.
――The visuals had a lot of effort put into them as well.
Nishigori: Takao worked hard when it came to the show’s production, so that was a big factor. The way imas is perceived really is different depending on the person, so managing the art direction and the way the characters were drawn ended up being one of my roles too. The lives and more flashy scenes were pretty easy to think up in comparison to the everyday scenes that didn’t feature any dramatic stuff, so at the start I kind of wanted to just make them all kind of crazy so that it’d be easier for me, but they ended up being pretty down to earth in the end (lol). If things had ended up like that though, the amount of stuff that’d need to be conveyed through the layouts and the like would’ve increased, which would’ve made things a lot harder too. I did want to do something like this while working on TTGL and Panty & Stocking, so if we ended up doing so it would’ve been worth it.
――What kind of work went into the episodes where music was the focus?
Nishigori: There were a ton of songs we could pick from, so we decided to just go ahead and throw a bunch of them in. Things seemed like they’d get out of hand if we just went ahead without establishing any rules, so it was decided that there’d be 1 song for the ED, 1 for sub-events and just a general insert song too. If it was an episode focused on a certain character, we’d use one of their main songs, and things got a lot easier to manage just by sorting this out.
Despite the use of songs, making it like a musical is pretty difficult, and while there was no chance we could match the storyboards to the songs every single time, there were parts that we could plan out while knowing what song was going to be used. There were plenty of new songs too, which let us make use of one of the main things behind the game’s popularity, which had me thinking that we’d probably never get the chance to do this again (lol).
Hype for the Most Amazing Movie to Ever Grace the Earth
――So how’s the movie progressing along?
Nishigori: It’s basically a compilation of the key things that’ve made up the series so far, as well as stuff that’ll do so in the future. imas’s characters themselves probably won’t ever change at this point, but the content itself has started to change. There’s plenty of stuff coming out nowadays that can compete with imas, so the concept behind the movie is to show off the new possibilities for imas. Of course, the sincerity present when we worked on the TV series is still there too (lol).
――The theatre itself becomes the stage here, so that should be pretty special.
Nishigori: It’d be nice if everyone enjoyed the movie while cheering the girls on. There’s drama present of course, so we’re making sure that’s worth seeing too. We’re trying to make the live scenes even better than what we did with the TV series, and we’re making it jam packed full of this kind of stuff too to make up for what we couldn’t do in the TV series.
――Anything interesting in regards to character portrayal?
Nishigori: There’s 7 new characters for a total of 20, so there’s probably not going to be a fine balance of screentime, and I doubt there’ll be anymore characters than this either. Can’t help but think about how it’s easier to make the scenes where it’s just the 13 from 765pro (lol).
――There’s probably a lot of people who’ll rewatch the TV series before the movie.
Nishigori: It’s technically an extension of the TV series, so following on from a rewatch should probably make it a funner experience overall. There’s a re-broadcast going on right now too, and while the finale won’t happen in time for the movie, go check out Bandai Channel (lol). I’d recommend going through episodes 20 and beyond in one go too.
Stay amazing, Nishigori. This Irn-Bru’s for you.