Otakon 2016 Interview: P.A. Works

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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.