toonzone at MCM London Comic Con October 2013 - Wit Studio Panel
Following directly on from the Manga Entertainment panel, Anime Limited and Wakanim’s Andrew Partridge took to the stage in the company of three guests- George Wada (president of Wit Studio), Ryotaro Makihara (director of Hal) and Katsuhiko Kitada (character designer on Hal, animation director for Attack on Titan). Each introduced themselves starting with George, who spoke English to greet the audience with “My name is George Wada and I’m from Japan. Do you know Attack on Titan?” The audience exploded in reaction, after which he continued “Thank you. I’m glad to meet you, let’s have fun!”. Makihara was next, speaking via interpreter to inform us he had served as an episode director on Titan and progressed to being a full director for Hal. Lastly Katsuhiko introduced himself as one of Titan’s key animators and referred to his own involvement with Hal.
Andrew began the panel proper by revealing that prior to the convention the guests had taken the time to do some UK sightseeing and asked what they made of the country. They answered that they’d spent the day in Oxford and were amazed by what a historical city it is. They were so entranced that it made them consider making a film set in England, before playfully suggesting opening a sub-branch of Wit Studio here. That led into discussion of Wit’s origins as a studio within Production I.G. , Andrew clarifying that sub studios are usually classified by a number between 1-9. As such, what had convinced I.G. that Wit’s studio was special enough to branch out and receive its own name? Wada responded that they were indeed part of I.G. but wanted to step up to show what they were capable of. A feat, he jovially remarked, he thinks they might have achieved in making Attack on Titan.
Moving away from Titan for a bit, the audience were shown the trailer for Hal. As the trailer was not subtitled, Andrew asked Makihara to provide a brief synopsis of the film for the audience. He explained it is set in Kyoto in the near future, as basically a ‘boy meets girl’ story. A girl loses her boyfriend who is replaced with an android replica to help her. He feels the theme of the movie is similar to Titan; even though what we see in the trailer is quiet and calm, the idea they had in creating it was similar to that which they had with Titan. The genesis of the project was the staff’s success on Guilty Crown which led them to want to make feature films, of which they are hopeful Hal is but the first.
They feel a major challenge with feature animation as opposed to a TV series is the shorter run time. A series allows you much more time to explore characters and concepts but in a film every specific shot has to been full of meaning and depth. Both Titan and Hal were conceived and worked on at the same time and both look at despair and how people deal with it. Although Titan had 26 episodes, Hal meant Wit had to explore similar themes within a 60 minute runtime. In turn both series also feature at least a mild amount of sci-fi in their concept, but Makihara clarified that with Hal they kept the sci-fi to a minimum to focus on normal people living their lives. This also influenced their decision to use Kyoto as setting. As a city that has gone largely unchanged for thousands of years they expected that even in the future it would retain its look as we know it today.
The next topic was working on Guilty Crown. Wada explained that it was an original concept they created when they were still I.G. Studio 6 and that main protagonist Shuu is director Tetsuro Araki. In the process of making the series they undertook a lot of marketing work to discover what kind of anime is popular and in doing so Araki came to realise that he’d rather ignore marketing and make the kind of entertainment he enjoys. Wada also feels that in turn the rage Eren displays in Titan is Araki once again personally investing in the lead protagonist of his work.
Regarding the opening sequence for Titan itself, Andrew queried if the success of it and the large number of parodies spawned from it had surprised Wit, leading Wada to quip once again in English “It’s amazing!” He explained that the staff actively use YouTube and have seen pretty much all the resulting parodies. It’s encouraged them to see just how successful the show has been globally and they’re grateful to the fans for making them.
Before the floor was opened to audience questions, each of the guests were asked what the future holds for them and Wit. Wada stated that they wanted to make more movies (at least one of 90 minute runtime) in addition to more series aimed at teenagers like Titan. He ended by saying they’d of course also like to continue working with both Makihara and Kitada. Makihara responded he often talks with Araki at work and they often come to agree on things. He feels Araki will continue to make big and exciting works while he’ll focus on quieter, more introspective ones that explore everyday people in a similar manner to Hal. For Kitada, he feels that he will continue to work with Wit Studio as an animator and that it is home to many visionary directors who know how get their staff to translate their specific vision into reality.
The first audience question, delivered in Japanese, asked when a new season of Titan would be made. Wada drolly responded that the show was really hard to make and the staff needed a rest. However, he knows everyone is looking forward to it and although he can’t make any specific promises they’d like to make it in the not too distant future. This led to Andrew filming a video of the audience to give Kodansha a brief idea of just how positive reception for the show is in the UK.
The next question was an invite to the guests to attend Germany’s Konnichi-Two convention next September. The three enjoyed a hearty laugh before enthusiastically accepting the invitation. Following this they were asked about the creative decision to keep the anime’s art style very similar to that of the original manga, the response being that Araki loved the art style and wanted to retain it in the animation.
Asked about feelings of the production work load, Kitada joked the staff were like the Animator Corps fighting the Titans. On clarifying why he wanted to make more anime aimed at teenagers, Wada responded that it was the animation he saw in his own teenage years that made him want to pursue a career in the industry. He feels he learned a lot from watching these series and wants to continue this trend for new viewers around the world. Following on from this Andrew stated he felt Makihara’s work aimed for a different audience, wondering if he liked to alternate audiences and if he’d do so with his next production. Makihara’s response was that although he also aims for a young audience, his focus on the highs and lows of life explored through fiction made him want to aim slightly wider. With Hal specifically a key theme is the relationship with death and how it waits for no man, a theme that is always in his mind and one he’d like to explore further.
Queried on specific manga they’d like to adapt next, the consensus was they’d be happy to work on whatever project is next for them so long as it’s interesting. This was followed by a fan offering a theory that the titular Titans are based on the more disturbing elements of otaku culture and wondered if the staff felt the same way with the response being that the Titans were felt more to be a zombified version of anybody you might encounter in your day to day life.
Asked for animation influences, Kitada replied that his first such experience were Claymation projects undertook at university, while for Makihara the works of Hayao Miyazaki and for Wada Ghost in the Shell. The following question was also animation related, asking how Masashi Ishihama came to direct Titan’s second opening. Ishihama was a personal friend of Araki, Kitada explained, and had long wanted to collaborate on one of the latter’s productions. Ishihama’s placement as a key staff member of A-1 Pictures made this difficult but he received approval to direct Titan’s second opening.
The final audience question asked each of the guests which project they have most enjoyed working on. Kitada said his choice was Hal due to how original the story was. Makihara also enjoyed it but stated as director he of course was under a lot of pressure so he felt his favourite was episode 4 of Guilty Crown as they had a lot of fun making it. In turn Wada also enjoyed working on Guilty Crown and thanked Makihara for getting him involved in the production. For any whose interest in the series had been piqued by the favourable mentions across the panel, Andrew reminded us that the show was available to pre-order from Manga on DVD and Blu-ray via Amazon.
With questions closed, each of the guests imparted a final message onto the audience. Wada was thankful both for being invited and the warm reception, hoping that fans would enjoy future projects from Wit Studio and remember their name. Makihara stated he enjoyed his directorial debut on Hal and hoped all in the audience would both get to see it and enjoy it. Kitada revealed that this was the first convention that he had attended and that seeing fans so enthusiastically enjoying something he had helped to create furthered his desire to try even harder in the future.
As the final round of applause died down, Andrew coyly mentioned that Hal had already been licensed in the UK and that details should be revealed shortly in NEO Magazine. The film will also be showing at the Leeds Film Festival in a double feature with Garden of Words.
And with that the panel drew to a close as Wada once again spoke English to depart with “I love UK; SEE YOU!!”