Otakon 2016 Interview: P.A. Works


This interview is part of Ogiue Maniax’s coverage of Otakon 2016. While the interview was with multiple staff members at P.A. Works, only the producer, Horikawa Kenji, gave responses. I’ve reflected this in the answers.

It’s a pleasure to have this interview with you. My first question has to do with True Tears. It was your first work as a studio, and from what I’ve heard the anime is quite different from the visual novel. What led to you choosing to adapt this series for your first project, and what led to it changing from the source material?

Horikawa: So the producer at that time, Mr. Nagatani, had said, “Let’s work on a few projects together!” And out of those choices was True Tears. We thought that it was perfect for what we could do at that time. We also thought it granted us lots of freedom, too, because as long as the theme was “tears,” we could do what we wanted.

Hanasaku Iroha is a series that shows the charm of the countryside and Japanese tradition. It seems that more and more anime are focused on the promotion of tourism to regions of Japan. You created the Bonbori Festival in Hanasaku Iroha, but was the promotion of a region of Japan a part of production from the very beginning?

Horikawa: When we made Hanasaku Iroha at first, we didn’t intend for it to empower tourism, quite the opposite, actually. Recently, there are many cases where anime fans go to the locations where their favorite anime take place. Some people call it going to “holy sites” or “investigating the show.” But while it can be a good thing, the act of fans going to these sites might not always be positive. When the fans gather, they might take pictures of, say, average houses and it might be very troublesome and disruptive. When I make select a location for a work, I think about how to have it so that even if fans visit it’ll be okay.

So when we were making Hanasaku Iroha, it was part of our thoughts that we would base it in a hot spring city that would be okay with having some volumes of fans coming. We also took care that the residents of that city would be notified when a large number of fans would come.

In regards to the Bonbori Festival, it originally wasn’t there, but it came up during the making of Hanasaku Iroha. We thought that, if it was a festival that the people could continue—not in the anime sense but that of a legitimate festival—that would have a much bigger, long-lasting, and positive impact. While an anime might be forgotten in a few years, a festival is part of Japanese culture and won’t be forgotten.

In Hanasaku Iroha, the grandmother is a very important character. In Shirobako, most of the characters are career women or out of high school. Tari Tari has one of my favorite characters, which is Takakura Naoko. Do you feel that there is a better market for series starring older characters, perhaps similar to the series you make now, but with people in their 20s and 30s?

Horikawa: As much as I would like to make something centered around older characters, there is such a thing as monetary value associated with characters. In Hanasaku Iroha, the characters were supposed to be out of school already and working, but due to those complications they became high school girls.

Since Shirobako, however, we took that step towards making the characters people who are actually out of school and working. That was a great adventure for us. Since we found out that Shirobako was indeed a success, we have shown that the girls don’t have to be in high school for fans to be interested. So, it was great to find out that fans like mature women as much as high school.

There are a number of characters in Shirobako based on real creators, for example Maruayma Masao and Anno Hideaki. Did you consult them in your portrayals, and did they have anything to say afterwards?

In terms of the people connected with those characters, we did ask them for their acknowledgement. The director knew Maruyama-san, so he probably asked Maruyama-san, while I asked people I know. But some seem to say that they never received the requests for acknowledgement.

Thank you.

Horikawa: Thank you very much.

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Paths, Finding and Pursuing: Hanasaku Iroha vs. Tari Tari

As an anime by the studio P.A. Works about a group of teenage girls growing up and strengthening their friendship, Tari Tari inevitably draws comparisons to last year’s Hanasaku Iroha, which has both a similar premise as well as visual style. In addition, both feature similar trios: a petite main character with a lot of pep, a more serious one, and a gentler one with a sizable bust. Yet, as close as they are, I find the two shows to feel quite different, and it has to do with aspirations, or lack thereof.

In Tari Tari, each of the girls (and the guys as well) each have a concrete goal they’re trying to pursue. Some of them are more long-term, like Sawa becoming a professional equestrian, while others are more immediate, like Konatsu forming a successful choir club or Wakana composing a song to fulfill a promise, but all of them have a conceivable end point to pursue which drives each character forward. This in turn influences the pacing of the show, as the sense of looking ahead gives the show a kind of momentum.

In Hanasaku Iroha, however, only Minko truly has an objective to push her forward: becoming a great chef. For everyone else, especially the main heroine Ohana, there are no particular goals or dreams associated with them. At the very best they have things they don’t want, like Yuina’s hesitation about inheriting her family’s inn or Ohana’s pensiveness towards responding to her friend Kouichi’s romantic confession, and this lends to Hanasaku Iroha on top of the rural setting a kind of slower and more subdued “day-by-day” feel.

Essentially, Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha are both about teenagers becoming adults, but they differ in focus. Tari Tari‘s sense of maturation comes from the characters moving along paths they’ve set out for themselves, learning along the way as a result. On the other hand, Hanasaku Iroha‘s characters are wandering through their growth to adulthood, trying to find their paths among many. Though both are about the everyday, Hanasaku Iroha sits a little more in the present, while Tari Tari shifts a little more towards the future.

Best Anime Characters of 2011


Kaburagi T. Kotetsu, Wild Tiger (Tiger & Bunny)

The world of Tiger & Bunny is filled with heroes, but none are quite like Wild Tiger. With the power to increase his physical abilities hundred-fold (his so-called “Hundred Power”), he fights to protect Sternbild City, but when we see him at the beginning of the series, he’s a C-List star, unable to capture the public’s attention as his peers do. However, it doesn’t matter to him, because he loves being a hero to people and he loves to save lives. While his actions may sometimes create more problems than they solve, it’s clear that his heart is always in the right place. In Kotetsu, you have a man full of pride but without an ego.

What is even more impressive about Kotetsu however is that he handles success just as gracefully as he handles failure. When he and Barnaby start showing the world what they’re made of, it’s clear that he’s still the same person he always was. Rank is of no concern to him. And when his powers start to decline, we see him deal with that in arguably the best way possible as well.

Wild Tiger is not the first hero to have his powers wane, but the prior example we’re given shows how the gradual loss of that superhero identity can be devastating to not only the hero but also their family. Tiger, though he struggles with deciding what to do, simply doesn’t have quite the same problem, as his personality doesn’t allow for it. At first, he opts to retire and just spend more time with his family, but he eventually realizes something important : even if he has only one second’s worth of superhuman ability, that’s still one second more of a difference he can make that a normal person could not. This, above all else, is why Wild Tiger is my pick for 2011.


Tsurugi Minko (Hanasaku Iroha)

An aspiring chef working at the inn “Kissuisou,” Minko (“Minchi” to her friends) is notorious for her creatively blunt word choices, whether it’s telling people to go die, or calling them an unborn chick fetus used in East Asian cuisine. However, her seemingly constant and fierce anger is in reality a product of her never-ending determination.

The first scene that really had me take notice of Minko came early on in Hanasaku Iroha, when she rejects the feelings of a would-be suitor by listing the traits of her ideal man. Describing this “perfect guy” as someone with a sharp tongue and the ability to take initiative who is also very kind and takes his work seriously, the profile turns out to be that of Tohru, one of Kissuisou’s resident chefs. This becomes something of a recurring aspect of her character, as she angrily defends Tohru’s character and honor from what she believes to be unjust criticisms on more than one occasion.

It might seem like I’m defining her character entirely by her feelings for a man, but what is clear about Minko is that she is very serious about becoming a chef. She originally even wanted to skip high school entirely, and along with the fact that Tohru acts as her mentor, it is this dedication to cuisine that allows her to see Tohru’s better traits so thoroughly where others would write him off as brash and uncaring. When a rumor surfaces that Tohru is leaving for a better position elsewhere, Minko refuses to stop him despite her strong feelings, because she recognizes that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a chef and knows how hard Tohru works to perfect his craft.

Minko does not want to get into cooking as a profession because she is in love with Tohru; rather, she is in love with Tohru because her dreams (and the ability to follow through on them) put her in a position where she can truly understand him. Even in love, her dedication to her goals shines through.

Final Thoughts

Kotetsu and Minko certainly do not share the same personality, nor very much anything at all. In fact, the Hanasaku Iroha equivalent of Wild Tiger would be the main character Ohana, while the Tiger & Bunny counterpart to Minko might be Barnaby. However, Tiger and Minchi do have one major thing in common, and that is a strong will. In either case, their powerful personalities potentially lead to misunderstandings for those who don’t know them well, but for those that do they wind up being devoted friends and partners who you know have ideals and goals far above the norm.

Hanasaku Iroha: Takako and Enishi

With a large portion of its cast being teenagers, Hanasaku Iroha has a good deal of interesting romances, but none are as cringe-inducing as the one between the young master of Kissuisou Enishi and the business-minded Engrish machine Takako. It is by far one of the most awkward relationships I have ever seen portrayed in fiction, and just seeing them interact with each other makes my face contort like I’ve been sucking on a whole lemon, but that’s also what makes it so fun to watch.

Enishi and Takako’s relationship is the kind where you know it looks different from their perspective compared to an outsider peering in. To them, it must be this wonderful thing where two people grew to love each other, but to everyone else (and that includes both viewers and the other characters in Hanasaku Iroha), their displays of affection induce a reaction similar to witnessing a 15-car pileup on the highway, only with a happy ending.

Because of all the awkwardness though, their romance comes off as strangely beautiful. The ideal partner is not someone who is perfect, but someone who can appreciate the real you on a deeper level, where they simply see you in a way no one else possibly could. This looks to be the case with Enishi and Takako, though I feel like the best reaction you could hope for from someone looking at the two of them is, “They seem to be a match for each other… I guess?” Then they make a face like someone just farted. it’s territory that no one wants to dwell in for too long, lest they come out more monster than man.

If I had to guess what Enishi sees in Takako, I think that her somewhat odd fashion, slight overuse of makeup, and frequent use of English phrases all speak towards a woman who is dedicated to success, able to perceive a goal and then do everything to reach it. Though it is really awkward to see her in action, that’s not how she looks in his eyes, and just the fact that he’s able to appreciate her because of (as opposed to in spite of ) the way that she presents herself in turn makes Enishi appealing to Takako.

Hanasaku Iroha and Its “Conflict of Interest”

Hanasaku Iroha, one of the new shows of the current season, is unusually divisive in an equally unusual way. Whereas most shows will divide people according to whether they love or hate it as a whole, Hanasaku Iroha has its fans disagreeing as to which specific episodes are the good ones and which are the wastes of time. I think the reason that this is happening is not just because different fans have different tastes and preferences, but because Hanasaku Iroha is a generically (as in genre) transitional show with a contradictory feel to its purpose and the purpose given to it by fans.

The basic premise of the show is that a teenage girl, Ohana, has to move in with her grandmother, who runs an inn. Ohana, leaving behind a boy and the rest of her old hometown, has to adjust to working at the inn and figuring out how to get along with all the personalities at the inn. It’s a big change in her life, but she enjoys it day by day. In other words, Hanasaku Iroha has both elements of a coming-of-age story and slice of life, and this is where the conflict lies, as the two are mutually incompatible in certain ways (though I think they can work well together, and Hanasaku Iroha is one such example).

Coming-of-age stories are primarily about the transition from childhood to adulthood. They are about growth. Gurren-Lagann is absolutely full of this. Slice of life stories on the other hand are about the every-day. Even if time moves forwards, the characters do not have to. The girls of Hidamari Sketch don’t ever have to change. Those are very different values, and Hanasaku Iroha has some of both, so I think it’s easy to see why someone can look at episode 1, which has a good deal of the coming-of-age element, and find it to be one of the weaker episodes of the series, and then look at episode 3, which was more every-day hijinks, and regard that as one of the better. On the flip side, it’s just as easy to see why someone would argue the opposite, and say that episode 1 is particularly strong. Overall, it results in a very character-based show where the story moves ahead primarily through subdued character development, and it is something that might not be terribly apparent because of how Hanasaku Iroha sits at the cross-section of two disparate genres.

I believe Hanasaku Iroha to be part of a larger transitional trend in anime, even if other shows aren’t quite doing the same thing as Hanasaku Iroha. Many anime since, let’s say, Evangelion for a convenient starting point, have been about expressing a certain sense of melancholic loneliness which manifests itself into several forms, from oft-mentioned topics such as hikikomori, to simply depression. If not, they have been about soothing those feelings, being a remedy for unease and internal strife, and I think the interaction between these two routes can even roughly approximate the development of moe over the past decade and a half. Both have been very good for anime and its viewers I think, but now we’re starting to see shows not just address those negative feelings but try to encourage people to find solutions for them, or at least try to show people moving forward and growing. Ano Hana, which is also running this season, shows a group of kids trying to mend their friendship and personal problems after drifting apart. Madoka Magica, for all of its gloom, leaves hope on the table. Fractale takes a look at a society of isolation. Even K-On!, which follows the “time passing with no real change” formula almost to a tee has the younger character Azusa feeling the impact of the four main girls upon her life, particularly their corrupting (but unconsciously welcome) influence upon her work ethic.

For Hanasaku Iroha, the divisiveness that springs forth from the contradiction between coming-of-age and slice-of-life is how this period of change manifests itself.