K-On! Staff Interviews pt2: Producer Yoshihisa Nakayama

Producer
Yoshihisa Nakayama

TBS Television Contents Business/Video Business Center Section Chief. Produced works include AIR, Clannad, and Clannad After Story among others.

As a TBS producer, Nakayama-san has brought Kyoto Animation works such as AIR and Clannad into the world thus far. We speak with him asking how he envisioned K-On! taking off and what kind of anime did he consider making with it.

NakayamaP is also a former light music club member!

– To start, please tell us what was the occasion for K-On! to be animated.

There are a few motives, but K-On! is a work that has characters that stand on their own and it would be a new genre for TBS anime. When it comes to serious music productions, you can’t beat live-action, but perhaps there could be a way to do one that’s more characteristic of anime. Also, I was a member of a light music club in the past, so I have an affinity for it.

– What was your first impression when you read the manga?

It’s ordinary, yet it was extremely entertaining. Anyways, there were hardly any boys that appeared in it. Usually, this type of “moe” works have a lot of patterns where either boys appear in a harem-type structure or they are living together with girls, but it was unusual for everyone to see the leisurely lifestyle of girls. I questioned if it could be exceedingly entertaining enough for us to animate it.

– There’s other anime productions that handled music and bands, but there’s not many that focus on a “girls band.”

There really aren’t. Also, when I was younger, I was in a band, so I questioned if it could be fun. When I was a student, we played a bit of rock, but we weren’t very good at it. We were told we’d be better off studying than playing.  If we were to have something completely different from that, and a pure feeling towards music with girls, perhaps it would feel fresh to veteran musicians and people in that same age group as the characters could find a new emotion when watching it.

Though there have been some works that depicted band life in anime previously, there had been hardly none that focused about depicting a girls band. In that way, K-On! would be a new anime.

Though there have been some works that depicted band life in anime previously, there had been hardly none that focused about depicting a girls band. In that way, K-On! would be a new anime.

– About when did the planning to turn K-On! into an anime start?

The plan to put out K-On! into a TBS anime from our group was right after the first volume of the manga came out, so around May 2008. It was an interesting topic among our anime group.

– You paid attention to it at quite an early stage of development, didn’t you?

The way that Kakifly-sensei was able to get his characters to stand up in K-On! was definitely full of talent. Thus we wanted to make it into an anime at an extremely early stage of publication, but we were worried at times that creating such a leisurely anime would be difficult to do. As a producer, I thought “can we make this into an anime” until I read the second volume. If it was just the first volume, we’d question if we should decide to do it or not. Its contents were considerably leisurely, you know. There was a lot of concern whether that would be able to make something entertaining as an anime.

– If you make it poorly, then everyday occurrences just seem so everyday, right?

That’s it. It’s all about the atmosphere. However, when I saw the first volume, I thought this could be an extremely new title for TBS to do. Knowing the world of light music clubs, there’s nothing like it that we’ve done before. That’s why I thought it would be alright. Depicting music in anime is very difficult. It really is. It would have been easier to do it with live-action, but everyone has already done that before. That’s why I thought the best thing to do would be the aspects of music that aren’t taken seriously. If we depicted the normal everyday life, the characters could stand on their own and be moe and we would be able to create a fresh new production.

In order to depict the reality of high school girls, the main staff were women

-After deciding to make it into an anime, what kind of objectives did you have for K-On!?

Personally, I wanted more than just anime fans to see it; I wanted children as well as real high school girls now to want to watch it.

– There’s a lot of women on the main staff. Were you aware of that?

I can’t say it was by chance. I was probably a little aware of it. It would be difficult to depict the realities of high school girl life, so I tried to insert women as much as possible since they had experienced that timeframe.

– Were there any differences in the points of view towards this production between the male staff and female staff?

Of course there were. If there were only female staff, then the taste of the work would be oriented towards women, so there’s only part of that now. I wanted the viewing audience to be mixed, so we put men with their point of view and women with their point of view together and had various discussions about the show. I think that kind of balance between viewpoints is good.

– Were there points of view and ideas from the male staff reflected in parts of the work?

The male staff were quite active in the portions where men would feel moe, weren’t they? While the main staff were mostly women, there were men on the directorial staff, so I thought the balance between them was quite nice.

On one side, there were a lot of women collected on the main staff to depict the normal life of real high school girls. Through the use of Tatsuya Ishihara as an adviser among other things, there were tricks to have a male point of view as well on the work.

On one side, there were a lot of women collected on the main staff to depict the normal life of real high school girls. Through the use of Tatsuya Ishihara as an adviser among other things, there were tricks to have a male point of view as well on the work.

-Some producers have different effects on works; some wait under the cherry tree for it to be done and others act like another director. What is your stance, Nakayama-san?

It’s not possible for me to leave things alone and just handle the business side. I’ll also interrupt a bit in regards to the content.  However, it’s up to the creators to make the structure of the work itself. If the final images have some slippages, it’ll be troublesome for me, so I’ll be sure to watch the big portions, but I won’t say anything regarding the detailed parts. The scriptwriters and directorial staff are pros, so as long as you make their motivation extremely high, there shouldn’t be any problems arising.

– From your producer standpoint, what were the impressions you had when watching the completed first episode?

I was extremely satisfied with the first episode as a TV station producer. Watching it, I think there were a lot of audience members who decided they would watch the next episodes to see what happens later. In K-On!’s  situation, there were a lot of elements incorporated in the first episode, so it was a pleasure to be able to see them. I know the staff were troubled trying to incorporate the manga’s plentiful events in the first episode and trying to find a way to structure them to win over the audience. Perhaps director Yamada may have had an immense amount of pressure on her.

Intention to truly play music though the attitude to music wasn’t serious

– What did you pay attention to during the production of K-On!?

What I was most concerned with even prior to starting the first episode was matching the treatment the manga gave music. The light music club doesn’t approach music with the teeth-gritting seriousness that a sports club would approach their sport with. That’s why they wouldn’t play music with a certain kind of seriousness. (laughs) With Kyoto Animation producing the animation, there may have been an expectation for some earth-shattering music scenes to be animated, but since that would be a misconception, we publicized this show as this leisurely anime from the very beginning.  Thanks to that, I think the manga fans, of course, and the viewers coming into the anime would understand the show’s aims better. One other concern I had was an inclination to take music seriously. The mangaka, Kakifly-sensei, is someone experienced with music, so he never lost his concentration when depicting the music portion. Though there aren’t many performance scenes that appear, if people who hadn’t played music were making this show, then there wouldn’t be a real inclination towards performances. That’s why we weren’t going to insert music in the show if we weren’t going to include the real thing. Of course, Kyoto Animation also properly used real instruments as references when drawing them.

Since K-On! is an anime that doesn’t devote itself entirely to music, there wasn’t as much force put into the performance portions, but in exchange, there was an exceedingly amount of energy devoted to the music itself.

Since K-On! is an anime that doesn’t devote itself entirely to music, there wasn’t as much force put into the performance portions, but in exchange, there was an exceedingly amount of energy devoted to the music itself.

– Inside all 13 episodes, what were some particularly impressive episodes for you?

There were a few episodes that I would say were impressive or rather I was pleased with their production. Among those, the one I was most pleased with was episode 8. I was truly concerned over Azusa’s appearance. I knew she would appear from the script stage, but there were a lot of portions where I would have to rely on the storyboards and finally the way the episode director framed the images. When I saw the final visuals and how she was received on her appearance, I was quite pleased.

– When you say the way she was received, you mean by the light music club members? Or did you mean the viewing audience?

The viewing audience and the way she appeared to them. Azusa appearing is a different development in the leisurely world that the other four had been in thus far. Surely there would be people that like her, but there would also be people who liked the atmosphere up until that point, so I was concerned if everyone would be able to accept her appearance.

When the serious Azusa joins the light music club, the leisurely atmosphere changes. Nakayama-san was immensely concerned over how the viewers would react as a result.

When the serious Azusa joins the light music club, the leisurely atmosphere changes. Nakayama-san was immensely concerned over how the viewers would react as a result.

– The atmosphere definitely changed between episodes 7 and 8. It felt like Azusa’s entrance was a bit of a sting to the leisurely atmosphere of the light music club.

When a girl with a bit of an objective point of view joins, she becomes a bit of a stimulant.  And then how will the other four receive her and how will the audience receive that? The fans for the manga were able to receive her well and it became that kind of form, but since anime has much more detailed portions than manga, I was a bit concerned about that portion.

– When we spoke to director Yamada and Yoshida-san, they said there were plans for her not to appear too.

There was a plan like that at the beginning. It’s only 1 cour, so it would be usual for her not to appear.

– Would it be possible to cover a single year in just one cour?

I think it would be possible. People who read up to the second volume would understand why Azusa wouldn’t appear.  There’s probably a lot of people who liked her, so in the end, her appearing was a success to me.

– Finally, please give a message to the readers.

Somewhat reading over the messages on the official site’s bulletin board, it makes me immensely happy to see people saying that watching K-On! has changed their life or that they’ve found something they want to do after watching it. I always say it, but if there’s just one person who changes after saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” then it was worthwhile to make that work. There’s a lot of things we don’t care for in this world, but if we can make someone who didn’t want to go to work the next day revert to just a bit more eager after watching some TV, then I’m happy. It doesn’t mean that it has to be a hit either; it’s a plus when people watch something you make, even if it’s just 4 people, and you have fun with making it. That’s another role for TV in my opinion.

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