Interview: Masaki Tachibana, Director of Princess Principal

This interview was conducted at Anime NYC 2017. Masaki Tachibana is the director of works such as Princess Principal, Barakamon, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.

Princess Principal is an alternate-history London. It’s a popular theme, to tell an alternate history. What do you think differentiates Princess Principal from other shows?

With regards to how it might be different, on a technical level, how we approach it and how we make the anime is actually not all that different. Whenever we make things, we actually take into account how the characters would react and what would be realistic in that world. In that sense, it’s not that different from other what-ifs we do in anime.

You’ve directed a few shows now, but looking at your history, you’re still contributing as an animator to a number of projects. Do you prefer directing or animating?

In a sense I do enjoy directing more because the director is the one who gets to make the world that the story happens in, as well as think about things like, “How would this character react?” and “What would this character do in these situations? I could also do choreography and other related things, so in that sense being a director is fun. However, I also have my share of fun as an animator, because when I’m an animator and someone else is the director, I can draw the things I want and let the director take care of all the nitty-gritty.

In Princess Principal, the female characters tend to look very different than the male characters, in the sense that the male characters tend to be much taller and tougher and the female characters tend to be much smaller and cuter. Is there a reason for this?

Since the idea of the story is about cute girls being spies, the girls are, in a sense, drawn intentionally cute–as opposed to the men in the show, be it an enemy or an ally. The people in the control room will be drawn to be more trustworthy figures, while the enemies will be drawn to more opposing statures. In that sense, it does have a certain meaning.

To follow up with a related question, Princess Principal works off of a combination of cute and cool. As you made reference to, it’s almost an unexpected contrast within the main cast. Do you think, when trying to combine cute and cool within characters, is it better to have a greater contrast, or is it better to have more of a balance between the two values?

If it was only cool, for example, then you wouldn’t have something all that fun. You would need something like comedy to balance it out. But you can’t put so much of one or balance it so much that it breaks the reality of the setting. So there’s a fine line between keeping the balance and making it enjoyable.

Other shows you worked on, like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Barakamon are very different shows compared to Princess Principal. Do you have a consistent approach to each work, or does it require you to bring something different to the table each time?

What I like to value most is the characters in the story. Even if they need a drastically different touch, I value the characters, how they would deal with hardships, and how they would react to things. I would like them to be as if they were actually there, and then think about what they would do. In that sense, my approach remains constant.

The composer for the music in Princess Principal is Yuki Kajiura. What is it like working with her?

So what actually happens in the sound-making in Princess Principal is, once the scenario is done, the producer, as well as the various people from [Studio] 3 Hz and Actas come together with Kajiura-san to talk. They give her a rough list of what tracks they need. We talk about what we need, and then we let her loose. So in that one meeting, I pretty much convey all of the types of music I want in the various scenes, and I have her do what she likes.

Is this your approach to her, or is it how everyone works with her?

When it comes to this approach, this is mainly what the animation industry is usually like. For example, when we talked earlier about the various people representing each side, there are usually sound directors and others to flesh out the list. That list usually contains 30-40 tracks, and everything is done in that one meeting. Though, right now, there are some other types of anime that focus more heavily on music, like those that focus on vocal aspects or music in general. So those anime might take a different approach.

My final question is maybe the simplest one. What work, anime or otherwise, inspired you to get into a creative field?

When I was a child, I actually watched lots of movies. They ranged from Miyazaki animations to movies by Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, you name it. When I watched them, they ignited the fire in me that made say, “I want to make a movie. It doesn’t matter if it’s anime or live action–I want to make a movie.” This is a generalization, but in Japan, animation requires less of a, how do you call it, less of a period to become to go on to the front lines of production. That’s specifically why I went into anime.

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you. Best of luck in your future work!

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