This is a translation of the (long) roundtable discussion between Director Ishihara, Series Director Yamada, and Author Takeda that was published in the Sound! Euphonium Official Fanbook (published on September 25, 2015 by Takarajimasha). Thanks to @yuyucow, @tadamari, and @animenewsdotbiz for their comments and reviews.
Director x Series Director x Author Roundtable
Anime director at Kyoto Animation. Previous works directed include Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!, Nichijou, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
Anime director/animator at Kyoto Animation. Previous works directed include K-On!, Tamako Market, and the award-winning Tamako Love Story.
Author. Debuted with “Today, We Breathed Together” in 2013. Also in 2013, Sound! Euphonium was published; currently there are 3 volumes and a collection of shorts published.
It’s rare to see an ordinary protagonist among anime characters
– Director Ishihara and Yamada-san, what were your thoughts when you first read the novel?
Ishihara: Actually, there had been discussions at a “talking about it” level about wanting to produce a work that was set in Kyoto by people inside our company. With the setting near our company, my true first impression was that I wanted to animate this more and more. (laughs) Also, since I always think about how I would animate something when I read it, I pondered how we would animate the SunFest parade. (laughs) For animation, we would have to animate a lot of people walking and holding instruments. It’d burn a lot of calories watching it.
Yamada: My first impression was that the atmosphere felt right somehow. It was depicted lively with lots of adolescent palpitations and breaths, so I was immensely hooked. I thought that it would be good to depict anything where people get fired up and that you could sympathize with the ongoing relationships with the people taking part in it, not just the concert band itself.
– Takeda-sensei, what were your impressions about your work being made into an anime?
Takeda: At first I had no idea what that meant. (laughs) It didn’t mean that it was a hit, so I wasn’t that startled. Honestly, when I met with the staff for our meeting, we would just talk about various topics.
Ishihara: Rather than feeling like it was a business meeting, we had random discussions that made it feel more like an introduction. After that, it was more like steadily creating the setting for the anime for us, but what did it feel like to you, Takeda-sensei?
Takeda: It felt like I was talking about my whole family. At first, I was just passing on information about the characters as well as the minor characters, but after a while, I started to steadily pass on settings for the story that I would write. After it was decided to make the novel into an anime, I believe I took some of our talks and put that in the two volumes published afterwards. (laughs)
– As you were working on the series, how did you think about how you were going to portray the work?
Ishihara: What do you mean?
Yamada: We went a little here and a little there. At the beginning of the scenario stage, there were discussions about putting more gag-type elements in it.
Ishihara: Definitely. By comparison, the novel is more a pure story, right? But the broadcast time was one where the people watching were late night anime fans, so I thought about making it have a more manga-type tempo in favor of them. Eventually, we didn’t go that route, but the storyboards for episode 2, which I drew, may have the most manga-type comical gags portrayed. (laughs) When you compare it to the first episode, the tempo definitely feels different. The reason is that the beginning feels more like trial and error still but as the episodes progress, the feeling solidifies into one tempo as well.
Yamada: In the novel, Kumiko’s personality is very charming, but she’s a type that isn’t the general anime character. She’s so ordinary feeling; not at all like you’d picture a heroine being. She started to play music because her older sister played it, she worries over the flavor of the ice cream she bought afterwards, and so on. (laughs) If we depicted Kumiko, she’d feel a bit out of place as a character in an anime. But because of that, this was a very fun challenging production.
– She certainly doesn’t feel like she’s the protagonist in an anime.
Yamada: Furthermore, she goes along with the flow, but she’s at the core of the story. One question was how we can bring that out in anime-form.
Ishihara: I’d say her outward appearance is also a bit low on the range of late night anime heroines. But when she’s with the other three girls, her height on that range is her tallest point. To comment on what Yamada said earlier, an ordinary protagonist would be a prodigy player or be absolutely awful, but Kumiko plays her euphonium reasonably well. It’s rare to see that type of protagonist for an anime character.
Takeda: Actually, there is a real person I modeled Kumiko from. Since she was tall as well, I was pulled by that image of her. Of the other characters, Sapphire also was modeled after someone. The bloody hands incident was an episode that happened entirely in reality.
– Takeda-san, what was the process for how you put Kumiko as a protagonist character?
Takeda: After I wrote my debut work, “Today, We Breathed Together,” (published in the Takarajimasha Bunko) my editor asked me “what would you like to write about next?” I told them that I wanted to write about an ordinary girl in a concert band and their first response was that it was too ordinary. (laughs) However, I wanted to capture the insides of the people there rather than merely depict the ups-and-downs of club activities. I consciously kept that balance between the two as I wrote and eventually, it felt like Kumiko’s current personality came out. She became the kind of girl you see around who has that strong will of a protagonist and is still able to be recalled in someone’s mind.
– Was it also a difficult part to portray a too ordinary protagonist in an anime?
Ishihara: It was part of it. For novels, readers have the ability to stick their own kind of love onto the protagonist, but it’s difficult to make anime in that first-person setting. The standard is to get involved in fun things with a protagonist-seeming protagonist in anime. On the other hand, there are group setting styles from the past that have their own charm by depicting each protagonist one-at-a-time like “Two Years’ Vacation.”
Takeda: I love that style. When you combine various types of personalities and ways of thinking and not just one, it gradually settles together like a puzzle you can’t quite piece together at first. Each girl has their own traits and when their mutual traits meet, it starts a chemical reaction of entertaining moments. If one girl doesn’t move a certain way, then another girl with a different personality can cover for her. It’s really fun to depict relationships like that. I’m thinking that I’m a reader wanting to constantly watch over them.
– After depicting things in the anime, were there any things that you became conscious about?
Ishihara: With it being a 1-cour 13 episode show instead of a film, there’s no practical turning point scene as the episodes go on one-by-one. I thought for a while about various locations to put one in the series. Though we were to divide the novel into 13 episodes from the beginning, I was re-arranging and fine-tuning the contents until the final episode was finished.
Yamada: That reminds me, at the first scenario meeting, I clearly remember you and series composer (Jukki) Hanada-san saying “let’s end the first episode with Kumiko kicking Shuichi in the back.”
Ishihara: Eventually, that didn’t happen.
Yamada: That’s right. I believe you two shook on it, said farewell, and then at the next meeting it was “let’s think about that again.” What happened there? (laughs)
Ishihara: The first episode itself has to have a turning point and so ending with Kumiko talking to Shuichi felt a bit lacking in that aspect. Due to that, as we were inserting the flashback scene for the middle school concert, we decided to use that flashback scheme for every episode as well. Incidentally, the original plan in episode 1 was for people to sense that the school song was being played poorly as a link to that concert, but the audience wouldn’t know what the school song for North Uji High was. Thus we thought about how to convey that clumsy playing. Since we wanted to have an entertaining song, we put in the theme from “Abarenbou Shogun.”
Takeda: That was an incredibly entertaining moment. (laughs)
Ishihara: Modern anime end the first episode with properly raising a question to be answered. The general show would move the story along to the end of our episode 3 where Taki-sensei rebukes the band’s performance by asking “What is this?” However, I thought it fit this show’s tempo to have episode 2 have the students picking their instruments. And there are a lot of works with that kind of tempo who have the protagonist as a beginner. In that instance, Hazuki saved us. With her there, adding a subplot where she previously bought the wrong mouthpiece was a plus to the story. Both I personally, and the likely large number of viewers, with no knowledge of concert band, would purchase the wrong mouthpiece because we had no idea it was wrong. That fundamental mistake would continue to add up bit-by-bit and feel entertaining.
Takeda: Sapphire was enjoyable as well with her slightly “old man” elements and her knowledge of music.
Yamada: She’s the type of girl who would cite sayings by musicians, so basically we depicted her as Joe Strummer. (laughs) Thanks to that, we were able to improve the scenario to have her move around more and bring out more of her charm from the novel.
– Takeda-san, what were your impressions as you read the anime scenario?
Takeda: As I read it, I felt “so you can make an anime like this.” The contents were so enjoyable. I was surprised at Sapphire-chan’s proper Japanese (Note: While all the characters in the novel except Kumiko speak with the Kansaiben dialect, Saphire really uses it.) and her interest in Tuba-kun. (laughs)
Yamada: That mascot has the “just right” feeling to put the euphonium in the shadow of a tuba. When I was a child, we would collect “Sylvania Families,” but the series with musical instruments had a tuba included, but not a euphonium. I really remembered it and felt that we could use it as a technique to convey how minor the euphonium is.
Ishihara: Did you know what a euphonium is?
Yamada: Yes I did. My older sister played one. When she explained instruments to me, she said “It’s a small tuba” and “There’s a lot of tuba merchandise but…..” and her depressed mood is an image that remained with me. (laughs) Eupho-kun has a different facial expression than Tuba-kun; one that matches Kumiko, and is cute too. As I was creating the goods for inside the show, I thought about how to add the character’s charms.
Takeda: Horn-chan is also cute.
Yamada: There’s also Sax-kun, but Eupho-kun recently came out. (laughs)
Takeda: It’d be funny to create a UFO-themed Eupho-kun design. (laughs) Either way, I truly feel thankful these goods were made.
Wanting to depict fellowship greater than love
– The characters’ distance is a bit different than in the novel. How did you think about that range?
Ishihara: Reina, in the early stages, would touch Kumiko, like point point, during the entire conversation.
Yamada: Additionally, we really paid attention to the imagery paying attention to that distance from the beginning when they weren’t close.
– It feels like the composition of their distance and the growth of Kumiko is somehow weaved or linked together.
Ishihara: At the beginning, I don’t think it was this deep, but as we were producing the show, perhaps it led towards this direction. They’re different than ordinary friends. It’s like you’re friends with this amazing person and you want to try your best so that you can be on their level. To Kumiko, Reina is that presence.
Yamada: The descriptions in the novel when Kumiko sees Reina were so unbearably stimulating. Therefore, I wanted to properly depict that.
Takeda: Thank you very much.
Yamada: I planned to measure the amount of force so that I wouldn’t make a mistake, but it felt like the entire detailed atmosphere that I worked so hard to gather between Kumiko and Reina was just released. (laughs) On one hand it was difficult, but it was irresistibly fun to create on the other. I wanted to convey that adolescent uproar of excitation. Kumiko’s the type of girl to be looking around herself constantly and sometimes her depiction of what she sees is interesting. From her point of view, she sees Reina somewhat sensually, but that’s also a characteristic shared by girls too, right?
Takeda: (laughs) In almost every work, not just novels, there’s so many that put romance above fellowship, aren’t there? I wasn’t satisfied with that, so I wrote this work thinking of making fellowship above romance. It’s just as Yamada-san says, Reina is a bit sensual from Kumiko’s point of view. It’s something characteristic that a girl would sense and describe. If a man were writing it, wouldn’t it be more like a lusty wolf coming out? (laughs)
Yamada: In this world, there’s so much that doesn’t just move because of love for love’s sake.
Takeda: Shuichi is special as well, but for Kumiko, Reina is depicted as a presence that is above him. Before Kumiko met her, he may have been her special guy, but now her relationship with Reina is eternal. It’s not just those two; that type of relationship is throughout this entire story. I wanted to show fellowship as this vastly important thing that gets cultivated by mankind depending on each other and working hard in that closed space of club activities.
Ishihara: Relating to that description, honestly, Yamada saved us by being present. I don’t know the first thing about girl friendships or fellowships, but I can surmise from this discussion that it’s quite difficult. By all means the way guys look at girls may be depicted in stereotypes. While there is a portion of this work that feels like the processed view guys see, it was important to escape away from that stereotyping.
Yamada: There were some points that Ishihara-san felt he couldn’t grasp. Therefore, I worked as the series director so that not only could I provide a feminine intuition for the work, but I could provide another way of thinking for portions that he was able to grasp. Listening to him is also important as well.
– Were your conversations grounded on Takeda-sensei’s experiences?
Takeda: I previously played in a concert band, so I included that experience. There are a lot of novels about concert band with flashbacks or written from the point of view of an instructor, but how many would want to read a story depicted from the point of view of a real student? Since I was able to write from a new point of someone who hasn’t lost her love of it, I was able to write freely while weaving and mixing in my own experiences. (laughs)
– Was that image shared when the anime was being made?
Ishihara: As the setting was in a location near our studios that we know quite well, we talked about wanting to try to make it feel like on-the-spot filming. I was obsessed over the camerawork while making sure that the background and layout of the screen felt like it was from a real camera.
Yamada: The locals were surprised. Uji is Uji, but to have North Uji as the setting surprised people that we would go that far to depict it as such. (laughs)
Takeda: I had a moment with my editor when I told them about the setting being in North Uji. It was a kind of “maybe we should put in an episode about green tea” moment. (laughs)
Yamada: That’s so true. For my screen layout image, I thought it might be better to have the space seem more masculine despite there being girls in the room since there are so many girls in the club. If we did that, we could use stronger colors in the backgrounds.
Ishihara: My ideal backgrounds for this production would not feel like they were taken by a digital camera, but processed like how Kodak film used to be. Older film has somewhat narrow latitude (the rate of light exposure), so the contrast is strong and shadowy parts properly sink into the image. As I was saying that to her, Yamada replies “wouldn’t it be better to have the background hues seem more masculine.” Though Yamada and I both love film, the amount of viewers who would support us who love it is unknown, but we went that course anyways. Additionally, there’s a self-documentary atmosphere feeling as well. While it has the quality of a special about concert bands, we very skillfully chased after the appearance so it would have a feeling of a documentary as well. (laughs)
– Can you give a concrete way of how a documentary would be shown?
Ishihara: The camera is from a third person point of view. It’s not from one particular character’s point of view; instead it feels like there’s a cameraman chasing after the subjects. There are still some cuts of that left in where I said “I don’t dislike this style” like in the characters being introduced again in the fourth episode.
– Yamada-san, was there any other proposals that you suggested for this show?
Yamada: For this show, there were a lot of times that we would just say “that’s right” in agreement for something in contrast to disagreeing with each other. Each person has their way of directing, so there were some points of disagreement with the way to use the camera, but the screen layouts we each wanted were similar.
Ishihara: I love cameras, so I’m very perceptive when it comes to depth of field or the way to use aperture. We could use soft focus to make the subject stand out more so they would be more beautiful, or we would obscure the background like a gravure photo shot so that the subject would stand out and still be beautiful. I would control for that kind of difference when creating a screen.
Yamada: Sometimes that can be used to depict their psychological state besides how beautiful the subject is.
– It felt like the scene where the girls are waiting for the walk light to turn green in episode 1 was very impressive photography.
Ishihara: That’s right. It might sound bad to say, but we intentionally blurred the screen. Recently, TV shows and digital cameras are incredibly clear and pretty, but reality is not like that. From our point of view, the background isn’t so clear; it’s a more blurred point of view right? Older film styles let you experience that kind of reality.
Takeda: It definitely felt like I was watching a movie. It didn’t feel like so-called modern anime; it felt more like the characters were really living in the real world. Coupled with the performances by the seijyu, the show always penetrates with that beautifully feeling of reality.
Yamada: We also used a similar effect in the scene with the sakura tree rows. I asked to film it with a lens similar to how a bad milk bottle would look. Originally, Ishihara-san is the director, but he asked me to draw the storyboards for the first episode, so I was very worried. But when I see Kumiko’s standpoint and think back about it after later events, that sakura tree row scene image comes to mind as a symbol of where she was. I depicted it as Kumiko wondering how long they’ll be remembered while mingling in a guardian’s point of view. Furthermore, I wanted it to be burned into her swirling heart, so I made it feel more like film.
Ishihara: It’s generally associated with a simple Photoshop where you gradually remove the detail, but the so-called 2-line boke can be used sometimes when you want something to appear as if you have a bad lens.
Yamada: That shaded-off feeling looks magnificent like in the scene where Midori’s waiting at the station in the final episode. I love that representation from the director of photography (Kazuya) Takao-san. He’s able to process images to create a very good creation.
– Takeda-sensei, was there any scenes that you wanted to see at the time the anime was determined?
Takeda: I looked forward to seeing the climbing of Mt. Daikichi. Also, while I had a lot of expectations for the show, I watched it with fresh feelings much like an ordinary viewer.
– The direction for that felt so detailed. For example, the way the water flew was very deliberate.
Ishihara: For an example, if we were to overlap a pretty flower over a girl, it would appear to be more beautiful than the girl, wouldn’t it? We aimed to have a similar effect here.
Yamada: Directing is psychological battling. Therefore, one of the points where you show your craft is how much you unintentionally move things around to a point where you affect the feelings of the viewers. For that reason, you study daily and keep lots of things secret. (laughs)
Ishihara: Is that so?
Yamada: Yes. I think I’ve said a bit too much today, so I’m stopping there. (laughs)
Presenting musical instruments with a great deal of unknowns
– Let’s look back at how you portrayed wind music since it’s one of the themes of this show.
Ishihara: From before we started work on production, we, as novices, underwent various forms of preventions to guard for unforeseen errors in handling or playing of musical instruments. As you’d imagine, we had quite a bit of them. (laughs) Our contrabass stand would inevitably start to lean down on the rightward side when it was on its stand for example. The reason why is because the right side would disengage once we set the sound post onto the pillar supporting it, and so it’d lean down on the right. We had no idea it would do that, did we? (laughs)
Yamada: Similarly, when we were told the keynote for our horn was wrong, I immediately went into a panic without immediately understanding what they said. (laughs)
Ishihara: We first drew the tuba with its tuning pipe closed too. But during performances, we were able to make alterations to progress somewhat normally.
Takeda: I can feel your obsessions from hearing you talk about them. (laughs) Additionally, there’s a lot of re-occurring parts that would surprise you.
Yamada: Also, there was a girl who would play the trombone in our studio who said “When I played in concerts, I would close the tuning pipe and intentionally sound different during tuning.” (laughs) After she said that and I replied “hmm, that so,” I quickly went back to correct her work.
Yamada: I was so nervous every time we would bring in experienced musicians for what they would correct. (laughs)
Ishihara: But it helped us tremendously to being them to our studio.
– Do you have any memories of how you were able to handle the highly energetic performance scenes?
Ishihara: You can’t run away from them.
Yamada: That’s right. It may be the charm of this production, but our staff would research how each instrument would perform during those performances. They would try to convey things like the weight of each piston in their drawing.
Takeda: That is amazing.
Yamada: It’s worth doing that to give this work credit. From the very beginning, Kyoto Animation as a company has pursued finely detailed expressions. Everyone always carries with them that feeling to always do more for a production.
Ishihara: It’s tough work, but it helps you clearly present what you’ve sought out. For example, if I were to depict an overhead spaceship, all I would have to go on is my imagination, right? But musical instruments have form and a way to play them that you have to clearly understand.
Yamada: It may seem like you do whatever you can to make the image look better, but it also helps make the portions excluding music with universal human relations come together easier too.
Takeda: While I was re-reading the novel, I thought about how the beginning performance and the SunFest performance would look. In the story itself, I had to limit the tale to the characters mentioned or else it would get too confusing, but you constructed settings for all the members of the band. (laughs) I was astonished that you would go so far to determine parts and names for everyone.
Yamada: That reminds me, when I asked you about the mysterious step for SunFest, you replied that it’s “A certain samba.” (laughs) As I was conveying it to the episode director (Ichirou) Miyoshi-san, it got a bit entertaining.
Ishihara: If it was an ordinary production, the animator would want to stop drawing pictures as soon as possible.
Yamada: Miyoshi-san is the kind who would resolutely take it on as a challenge. At the time we would decide to give him certain episodes, he’d do a determined pose. At the same time, he might be increasing his resolve not to quit on it. (laughs)
– Takeda-san, going through the whole show, what scene is your most memorable?
Takeda: The performance scene with Kumiko and Reina on Mt. Daikichi in episode 8. In the novel, I didn’t insert musical instruments to link the two girls, but I was moved more by the anime scene. Also, the visuals were immensely beautiful.
Ishihara: There were a lot of circumstances where we refined the musical performances in the novel. When we had an opinion that an entertaining performance would fit the anime we tried to insert them as much as possible like the performance of the three girls playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in episode 6 or the duet with Kumiko and Reina in episode 8.
Yamada: We included episodes 6 and 8 as episodes from the short story collection. Since the short story collection would be announced during the real-time production of the anime, we actively moved to mix in the episodes during the storyboarding phase. Actually, it felt really good to include the portrayal of Hazuki’s unrequited love in episode 8.
Takeda: I’m glad I wrote it. (laughs)
Yamada: Ishihara-san and I were glad when Chikao Takigawa showed up.
Takeda: I borrowed the names that were attached to them in the anime when writing the story where the guys get together.
Yamada: It felt like we were writing an exchange diary as we were working on the anime and then the novels were announced. I would learn that Taki-sensei likes coffee milk and then it’d show up in your writing. (laughs)
Takeda: Right. It was very fun.
Ishihara: I’ve wanted to ask Takeda-sensei something. The first novel contains elements that affect the second and third novels. Did you include them from the beginning to write a sequel?
Takeda: I included them feeling “If I write one, then that’ll be good.” Also, I included meaningful overcoming reluctance scenes because I think stories that resolve things up very clearly are quite nice. Since I was pursuing realism for the first novel, Asuka became this mysterious upperclassman who thinks about various things and that aspect gave weight to her character image. If the novel and anime clearly explained why you don’t know a lot about her, then she wouldn’t be that realistic mysterious upperclassman, would she? (laughs)
Ishihara: Along with that way of thinking and what I mentioned earlier about photography, we purposely would use an unclear lens to bring that feeling closer to the viewer. Our thoughts were that it would strengthen that realistic feeling to not bring everything in focus clearly.
– Please give a message to all the fans about your thoughts that were affected by this work.
Ishihara: I’ve made shows with high school protagonists many times now, but I learned a lot from this work since it was my first time using a concert band as a stage. It’s been a fun production year. I can’t say something profound like it was slowly reliving my high school days all over again but, through the frantic wrestling with this work, I was able to experience something valuable such as that frantic perseverance I felt during that time.
Yamada: This work is something similar to taking all the feelings of Takeda-sensei, the staff, and everyone who watched and putting them into one mass eruption. With all that power pushing me forward, I was able to firm my heart and persist in depicting the strong emotions of adolescence. During the various forms of production, it was troubling, but looking back on it, it was quite fun……
Takeda: Being able to have a work animated like this feels like I won the lottery. (laughs) Minutely depicting the depths of wind music, bringing each and every character into reality, and furthermore diligently scraping the novel for all information, I’m thankful for everything. Furthermore, I was blessed with the chance to write sequels and safely conclude my work. All of it was a blessing I never knew once it was set to be animated. I truly thank you all.