A few weeks ago, Violet Evergarden‘s Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. Taichi Ishidate attended Anime Expo alongside a few key creators from the project, to witness the series worldwide premiere 6 months before its actual start. The official site made an interview with him available today, where he explains his personal experiences during this trip, how it feels for a Japanese creator to see overseas fans react to their work first-hand, as well as some insight on the staff’s approach to this production. Our reliable translator megax though it was well worth sharing, so enjoy!
– The preview events for people around the world to see Violet Evergarden early have started. How was the US and worldwide premiere held at Anime Expo in Los Angeles?
Personally it was a valuable experience of the kind that doesn’t come often; I was able to feel the reactions of fans who, amongst all works shown at this huge event filled with hardcore anime fans, chose to come to the screening of Violet. The crowd was full of people who were acquainted with my studio Kyoto Animation, and even were familiar with the original novels.
When I think of an event focusing on anime/manga, I imagine there being a lot of adults, so I was surprised at how many children and families I saw. What further surprised me was the amount of screenings, all the things to do throughout the evenings. It felt very nice to have such a broad spectrum of available choices. I guess it’s a type of event that embodies that American desire of freedom.
– How were the reactions to the stage event and the screening of Violet Evergarden?
I thought that American fans would have a much more lively range of emotions when compared to the Japanese fans, all like “Oh my God!”. But in the end, they were very quietly focusing on the screen. Instead, what took me by surprise were some scenes when they would clap and laugh, making me go “You’re laughing here?” (laughs) It was such a fresh experience that really made me feel like it was the response from a different culture.
There was a staff member backstage who summed up everyone’s feelings as “ＮＩＣＥ！” They then left and returned to show me their cell phone. On the screen it said “It was a truly wonderful anime” written in Japanese. I was delighted when I saw that. Since other staff members also gave favorable responses and even said the screening was the best, I feel like people enjoyed it.
– After the premiere, you held a panel discussion where you answered questions from the crowd. Were there any impressive questions?
I went on stage alongside the voice of Violet, Yui Ishikawa-san, and the artist of the opening theme song, TRUE. Many people were interested in the creators who attended the event, so there were a lot of questions related to the production of the show. One amusing question I got was “When will you start season 2?” (laughs) While at the moment I answered “if everyone here supports it…”, inside I was “but you guys just saw the very first episode!” (laughs) Another question stood out as it showed the person asking paid close attention. It was along the lines of “This story takes place in a fictional country, so will there be other various countries and locations in future episodes?” Maybe that person had actually read the novel, I’m not sure.
– TRUE, who went on-stage with you, performed the opening song “Sincerely” for the very first time. Did you enjoy listening to it?
At the time I was on the wing of the stage watching her sing, but it was definitely wonderful. I thought it was more spectacular than when I listened to the song on a music player. It was really encouraging, in the sense that it made me feel TRUE’s strong emotions towards this story, and those pushed me to work even harder. My heart tensed up, and afterwards I out of nowhere told her that I would do my very best.
Though while I was listening, I also kept thinking “man, I should draw the storyboards for the opening soon…” (laughs)
– What kind of perspective are you facing Violet Evergarden with?
The TV series is adapting the original story that won the grand prize in the 5th Kyoto Animation Awards (2014). It was restructured into novel form and published into two volumes from the KA Esuma Bunko label. When I read the submissions to the Kyoto Animation Awards, I was strongly attracted to this title, already thinking about when would we get to animate it.
The novels are structured in a very episodic format, where each story independently depicts Violet writing on behalf of a client. But little by little, her past and her new path are revealed to the reader. Anime and novels are different mediums. As such, it would be troublesome to use the same presentation techniques in the animated adaptation that were used in its original written form. And so we reconstructed the story into a TV series. I had many discussions with the series composer/scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida-san about restructuring it into a chronological tale focused around Violet, in order to create an entertaining serial tale. The anime depicts Violet, beginning on her child-like innocent stage, and then following her as she gradually understands something important while meeting others. I think the viewers will feel like they’re watching over their own daughters as they experience Violet’s growth.
– What do you think the charm of Violet’s character is?
Violet is a lovely person on perhaps a primitive level, I think that’s her charm. It feels like we become distorted to a certain extent as we become adults; we’re reshaped by the duties we to accomplish as people in society, and plenty of circumstances keep on arising. We just aren’t allowed approach life with pure, child-like feelings forever. But I think that people who can keep on naturally expressing pure emotions without needing justifications are wonderful, and I wish I could be like that too. Violet is that kind of positively-charged primitive type of person, so my goal was to imbue her with the loveliness I’d like to see in people in the future. That’s not me condemning the whole human race as we are, but I would be glad if people thought “hmm, living like Violet wouldn’t be so bad would it?”
– Now that production on episode 1 has finished and the premiere has also wrapped up, what feedback would you like to give on the work?
That’s…honestly it’s hard for me to say. It’s up to the people who watch it to decide whether it’s entertaining or not, so I don’t know what I should say. As a creator, I always go over my work again and again wondering if fans will find it compelling. When I finished the storyboards for episode 1, I felt that despite it being bitter tale, it was something entertaining for sure. That impression didn’t change after seeing it reach visual completion. The production process to get there wasn’t a breeze either! I was particularly pleased when the Art Director (美術監督, bijutsu kantoku): The person in charge of the background art for the series. They draw many artboards that once approved by the series director serve as reference for the backgrounds throughout the series. Coordination within the art department is a must – setting and color designers must work together to craft a coherent world. said she was satisfied with the result.
– The background music is composed by Evan Call. How were your conversations with him?
I heard a fun critique from sound director Yota Tsuruoka-san, who approached me and said “Evan’s music is mischievous, you know.” (laughs) Working side by side has been enjoyable. He joined the project by the time of the second novel commercial. I was introduced to him via the music producer, and then he composed an image theme to test our unison with. This title communicates more with imagery rather than it does with concrete phrases, but the music that he freely composed perfectly matched the feel of this series.
– What portions embody that the most?
It’s exceedingly difficult to say. He incorporated sounds like the clicking of a typewriter or the sound a brush makes when it touches paper into the music majestically, as if to say he’d never needed to compose a trial piece to begin with. And not only it fit, it was so pleasant to listen to. I sensed the artistic energy and personal sense he has. That’s something I noticed again during the episode 1 recording. We would be dealing with something orthodox, and then there would come a piece with ethic music mixed in, like a Celtic theme for example. While we were recording, there was this weirdly nice feeling of uneasiness, as if things were just a slightly off-kilter. I think that suited the world of Violet perfectly.
– How did you decide on Yui Ishikawa for the voice of Violet?
I first heard Ishikawa-san’s voice when she was in a live action movie. Her voice had this naiveté to it that stuck with me. First I only wanted her name as a member of the auditions, but her voice simply suited the image of Violet more compared to the other candidates.
Of course she has talent as a performer to begin with, but she’s also an actress who is easily able to scoop out the underlying meaning of on-site direction. The way she quickly adapted to the instructions given during the recording of episode 1 wowed me. Violet’s delicate emotions piled up as she thoroughly delivered them.
– Now you must be working on episode 2 and beyond. How is that going?
It’s…complicated. (bitter smile) Episode 1 features Violet at an initial state, so it was relatively easy to depict during this stage 0 of sorts. After this though, she changes little by little while she meets people. There’s no tangible element that marks her gradual change, so how do you convey those slight details to the audience…. Furthermore, multiple episodes are being made simultaneously, so going forward is truly challenging; I’ll be checking over episode 6 and then a problem with episode 3 arises. Those of us working on it would like a stats screen of Violet’s current growth stages, like gentleness level 5 and empathy level 4. (laughs) The production as a whole still gives the feeling of not being quite ready.
– After this, you will be going to premiere events around the world in Germany and Singapore. But for now I’d like to ask you some questions about your trip this time to Los Angeles. Was this the first time you have been there?
Yes. This was the first time I’ve been overseas since I was a high schooler, when I went to Thailand. I had to start by getting a new passport for these trips. (laughs) I didn’t have time to do actual sightseeing in Los Angeles, but I rode on a couple of freeways that I’d seen in movies previously while going from the airport to the Los Angeles Convention Center. It didn’t sink in to me at that time, but after coming back to Japan, I saw a preview for a film and got excited. “Ah! That place! I’ve been there!” (laughs)
Being in LA I wanted to see the Hollywood sign during the little time I had available to step away from the convention…but unfortunately, my dream didn’t come true. During the trip I also encountered a lot of people who came to LA just for Anime Expo and would get excited and call out to me once they knew I was Japanese. (laughs)
– Were there any memorable incidents that occurred during your trip?
Yeah, there was a good one! I saw someone with an Anime Expo pass around their neck near the hotel I was staying at, which made me think they were a staff member. Then she asked me “Ａｒｅ ｙｏｕ ａｎ ａｎｉｍａｔｏｒ?” and I replied “ＹＥＳ！”, which led to her talking about how her daughter was an anime fan and cosplayer. We talked for a little while, about an hour or so. (laughs)
– Were you able to speak her language?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk that much in English, so there were many points during the conversation where I couldn’t communicate – verbally, that is. Sure there were instances when I wouldn’t be able to get across what I was thinking and she’d look up the sky as if to say “good grief” (laughs), but through the atmosphere and gestures, we were able to spend some fun time together communicating like that. Being able to spontaneously talk with foreigners through anime created some wonderful memories for me.
– Next you’ll visit Mannheim in Germany for AnimagiC. Please give a message to all the fans looking forward to these preview events, as well as those waiting for the streaming starting in January.
Every day the staff works together as one, giving their all to create something with a simple goal: making many viewers feel like they experienced something entertaining. So don’t raise your expectations too high now! I’m telling you, just anticipate it somewhat! (laughs) But really, I’d feel blessed if people warmly enjoyed Violet Evergarden. Please look forward to it!
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