Production I.G> WORK LIST> BLOOD+> SPECIAL FEATURE> Interview: Yutaka Omatsu

Interview: Yutaka Omatsu

Yutaka Omatsu was born on May 21, 1975 in Hyogo Prefecture. He is the producer of Blood+. At Production I.G, he has worked in the production crew for such projects as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and also as a scriptwriter for Otogi Zoshi and S.A.C. 2nd Gig. He is an avid fan of the Chiba Lotte Marines Baseball Team.

Part 01


Q: Please tell us how you came to work on Blood+.
A: I can't remember exactly, but I think Mr. Ishikawa abruptly called me to join him at a BBQ restaurant. I was with Director Junichi Fujisaku who was also called out. There we met Producer Tomonori Ochikoshi from Aniplex. That was the first time we heard about Blood+. I think it was last October.
From there, Director Fujisaku was to work on the plotline and after two weeks, we were to meet with Seiji Takeda from MBS. And we all got together and worked on the whole plotline. It was to be an original work, so we started early to give it enough time.

What is your role as the producer?
In one word, I am the "coordinator". I select the staff and determine their placement, so I am mainly in charge of staffing.

What is it like on the ground of the Blood+ production?
Sometimes it's a happy gathering, but at other times it gets tense and quite volatile. Basically, in my view, it's important to have a balance. We also need to always keep the tension among us. You know, from now on, we will have more staff working in the same place, so I think it's one of my jobs to move around the studio and take the responsibility to create the right environment and mood for the staff. I don't want everyone frowning and looking downcast. I want pleasant air flowing through the work area. I feel a captivating film can only be created in an appealing workplace.

Then how did you organize the Blood+ team?
They had already decided that Fujisaku was going to be the director, so we started from there. First of all, since Fujisaku had no previous hands-on experience as a director, we thought he needed some support. So we asked Jun Matsumoto to join us as the chief sequence director. I have worked with Matsumoto right through the production of Stand Alone Complex. Initially, he declined the offer, saying that he had another project he was working on, but we persisted and finally he gave in.
Next came the designers. I thought designs would directly have an effect on where the anime would go, so we had to be careful. Here, we had ups and downs as well as twists and turns. Katsuya Terada's drawings for the feature film, Blood the Last Vampire, were terrific, but I couldn't think they would work well in a 50-episode TV series. So I really wanted to change it and start it from scratch. You know, initially, I thought I would ask an animator to draw original designs. Really, I did. I had an animator from outside of I.G, and we tried to come up with a cool idea. But that didn't go too well. Then some people said we should get back to Terada-san's original drawings.

When we were working on designs, my main concern was to create something that would motivate our staff. This meant creating designs that animators would be eager to draw. This of course includes designs that are easy to draw as well. Specifically, this TV series will go on for a year, so I tried hard to create designs that were approachable as well as easy to draw, and that our staff would fall for. It was then when we came up with the conclusion that we should look for a character designer in a different field, and so we embarked on a web search. (lol)

Did you really do a web search?
Yes, we did. We sought mainly freelance illustrators, and Chizu Hashii was one of the contenders. I wanted to contact Hashii-san initially, but the artist was living in Osaka at the time. Luckily, I had a chance to meet Hashii-san in person later. Hashii-san contributes regularly in a manga magazine called Shonen Ace published by Kadokawa Shoten, and happened to come to Tokyo to attend a Kadokawa party in January. Upon our first meeting, it turned out that Hashii-san really liked the anime of I.G. I felt it was fate and I was convinced we had to ask Hashii-san do the job. Hashii-san drew a couple and we showed them to various people before we actually set off.

Consequently, what I think is great about Hashii's designs is that the people on the team really love them. I get good feedback from both guys and girls on it. I think we were successful there. It's very uncertain which designs will catch with the general public, isn't it? I think you can say only afterwards that a particular design was a real success. To be honest, at this stage while we're preparing the programs for broadcast, we can't really be sure whether this or that design will be a hit. But it is hugely encouraging to know that our staff really loves them and my feeling is that using Hashii's designs was a great success.

(to be continued...)

Part 02

Q: How much have you used Hashii-san's designs?
A: As for the characters, almost all of them. Hashii-san is very hardworking and we can feel Hashii-san's unique warmness from the characters. And Hashii-san got better and better as we went through meetings. Sub-characters that Hashii-san did recently could actually make you picture images just by looking at them. Hashii-san has now moved to Tokyo from Osaka, so we can have quick exchanges now and then along the way. I feel that Hashii-san enthusiasm and strength are good influence to Blood+ as a whole.

One tricky thing is that Hashii-san is originally a manga writer, so it's a bit difficult to adapt Hashii-san's designs directly to anime. We needed someone to modify Hashii-san's drawings for easier adaptation. I asked Akiharu Ishii to be the mediator. He can draw the catchiest drawings at I.G. I could depend on his skills. But he's also a very consistent guy, so his work is very quick. He was the right person to do the job. As the overall animation supervisor, I asked him to include his drawings in almost all the cuts in every single episode. I think he'll be the key person in the animation. He has the experience as well as the reputation, so I can count on him.

In your production of Blood+, what aspects were you conscious of in the feature film Blood: The Last Vampire?
To tell you the truth, I had a hunch that I had to deconstruct some sort of brand awareness that I.G anime have in common. I know I.G has produced many well-made anime, but I felt we haven't really assumed a character or status yet. This was something I wanted to challenge. To "assume a character" was a huge objective for me.

Even in the anime industry, when I mention "Blood" I get this startled reaction from people. If I show them the designs, they really look stunned and some would even say, "Are you sure you want to get into that?" To this, I would say I had to make up my mind or this project wouldn't survive as a one-year TV series. There's no point in making an original work either. Of course, Blood+ would not exist without the feature film Blood: The Last Vampire, but it was good that I first deconstructed the film before restructuring it. Or I should say I had to go through that process for my own sake. As a result, I think we are moving in a good direction.

In the feature film, Saya had symbolic pigtails, but in Blood+, she has a short hair.
I thought if the anime took place in the present, Saya just couldn't be in a sailor-suit uniform with pigtails like Saya in the film [Note: the film Blood: The Last Vampire is set in 1966]. I felt her image in the film was something of a masterpiece. You can't really reuse it. So I decided to completely update the design for the present day. Mr. Ishikawa said it might be better to have long hair, but we persisted with the short design. It's simpler for animators, and also matches the image of Saya as a lively girl. As for the actual hairstyle, we poured in a lot of ideas and then spent some time choosing the right one.

(to be continued...)

Part 03

Q: How about the characters surrounding Saya?
A: I think it's important to make the male characters, Hagi and Kai, attractive and appealing. I attended an event called "Fullmetal Alchemist Festival - Tales of Another" last December and then the big event on July 30th called "MBS Anime Festival 2005 - Osaka Castle Experiment: Midsummer Night's Dream" in Osaka, in which the first footage of Blood+ had its world premiere. The power of high school girls is just unbelievable. It might simply have to do with the time slots in which they're aired [*]. I realized that I just couldn't ignore those girls. In Osaka, characters from Fullmetal Alchemist and Gundam Seed Destiny appearing on stage were enough to make them scream. To be honest, seeing them woke me up. It was a good experience to see the fans' reactions myself. Of course, there are fans that belong to audience demographics that never go to these events.

I feel Blood+ should achieve that kind of success as well. In this time slot, Blood+ is the only anime with a girl as the main character. Some people said that we were taking a big risk. Yes, if we were to target the young girls who watched Fullmetal Alchemist and Gundam Seed Destiny only, then having a girl as the main character might ruin our ratings. But Saya was the main character and we couldn't change that, so we sat down and contemplated this.
And what we came up with was that we had no choice but to make male characters as appealing as possible, but at the same time, such attractive characters must act following a solid dramatization. This may sound quite obvious, but if we succeed in our purpose, then we can be more confident in presenting the show to the entire audience.

So Saya is a girl if I may ask. You could have chosen to make Saya genderless since she is a descendent of the vampires.
Yeah, that might have been an option. But from the beginning, for instance in the script writing stage, we were totally preoccupied with girls' comics. And when the storyboards came up, Saya's image was very "girlish". That was the sequence director Jun Matsumoto's approach and that was when I clearly realized Saya was a girl. This is the hidden theme of this anime. Saya being a high school student allows the show to take on a school drama aspect as well.

[*] Blood+ TV airing follows Gundam Seed Destiny in what is currently regarded in Japan as the Anime Golden Time, or the Saturday 18:00 time slot on TBS/MBS. This slot, considered unusual for animation and unable to bring high audience ratings, proved exactly the contrary with the huge success of Fullmatal Alchemist and then Gundam Seed Destiny, two series that gained a cult status especially among the female audience.

(to be continued...)

Part 04


Q: How was the event in Osaka?
A: Other anime production studios including Sunrise and Bones also participated in the event, so, personally, it was very worthwhile since I could talk with lots of industry people I don't usually get to meet in person. I got a lot of inspiration from them.

I saw other anime at the event site. I could observe the audience responses first hand and I felt a sense of crisis. Then I strongly became aware of the responsibility to make Blood+ an influential work just like those that were shown there. At the party after the event, I talked with people such as the scriptwriters and I renewed my commitment to the project. To be honest, these events do not usually mean direct financial profit for the participating anime production studios, but I felt they were certainly worth doing. For instance, I sensed the eagerness within the entire industry as well as the direct response of the fans of various anime and other incentives that are important in creating an anime.

And also I personally feel that "oneness" is very important, and not only at the production level. I definitely like to feel that everyone in the production is a team at all times, and these include those who take care of the publicity and the music as well. During the event there was a scheduled block dedicated to Blood+. I saw Shunsuke Hino playing the cello. Hitomi Takahashi sang the title song and successfully contributed to the stylish ending to our presentation. As I saw them, I felt more strongly than ever that I was a member of this team. It was very fruitful to feel this oneness.

You just mentioned the music. How are you participating in the process?
Basically, we asked Sony Music to be in charge. Anime in that time slot tend to have different music for each quarter. That means for a one-year TV series, there should be eight different scores for the opening and the ending themes. My initial understanding was that the tie-up music was simply given to us, but actually, it was totally different. I came to understand that they really listened to what we had to say about the worldview of the project and our goal before they began the composing process. After I realized this, I listened to the title theme for Fullmetal Alchemist. All the music clearly connected to the worldview of that anime. I feel fortunate that they take such care in composing music for us. As for Blood+, we took about two hours to convey our perception of the project concept roughly, and the fate Saya was destined to meet. Then when I read the new lyrics, there were parts where I thought, "Aha", or that made sense to me. I feel that they really respect our anime as they work
on the project.

Did Sony Music provide the background music too?
Through the efforts of Aniplex, Mark Mancina is working on the background music and Hans Zimmer has joined in the music production process. Director Junichi Fujisaku and I did not know this until it was finalized and we were really overwhelmed. We have already received some scores. When I heard them for the first time, my honest impression was, "where would these fit in?" (lol) You know, they all sounded like masterpieces used in Hollywood big budget movies. But as usual, when we put the music to the picture, they fit perfectly, to my amazement, so they should be fine.

(to be continued...)

Part 05


Q: I heard you went for a location scouting in Okinawa where the story starts.

A: The first time we were there, there were five of us including the director to see the place and get a sense of the atmosphere in the area. I went back again with some staff from the art design section to gather detailed materials. I think it was the producer Takeda who proposed Okinawa for this anime. It is exactly sixty years since the end of the WWII, and, currently, 70% of the American military in Japan is stationed in Okinawa. I wanted to see the reality there with my own eyes. It was my first trip to Okinawa and I have to admit I realized how dominating the American military was there. This might sound rude, but I thought that made it interesting for a drama to take place there. There are two separate legal systems: Japanese and American on one island. There are lots of things that the Japanese are unaware of. You meet Japanese locals, the American military men and the tourists, and an increasing number of people relocating from the home islands. Okinawa has many faces. You can feel the drama on the streets there. The story takes place specifically in Koza, in the city of Okinawa. That area used to be very prosperous with the demand generated by the Vietnam War, but now it looks a little shabby. But still, there are lots of shops targeting the American soldiers. They need to rely on the American military economically, but at the same time, I felt their bitterness towards the US. That is a very extraordinary situation. A Pilipino pub there was so unforgettable (lol) I recreated a similar venue in the story. I used many aspects of Okinawa in the story for entertainment purposes, but I would be pleased to see young audiences of Blood+ become aware of even a slice of the problems that were left behind by the war.

There are already three comic versions of Blood+ being serialized by Kadokawa Shoten. Is I.G involved in them at all?

Quite a lot, actually. The storylines are all original. We did explain the overall synopsis and how we thought about making the story. It was a first-time experience for me to work seriously with manga writers, so I came across things that I'd never experienced before. For instance, each writer has his/her own worldview, which was very interesting. I don't basically support the idea that all the meticulous details have to be aligned with the original TV anime; as long as the stories are going in the same sort of direction, I am fine with that. I think that way each writer could do what he/she is good at, and at the end of the day we should have a more eye-catching product. In this sense, I think all three of them (Asuka Katsura, writing for Shonen Ace; Kumiko Suekane, for Beans Ace; and Hirotaka Kisaragi, for Ciel) are doing fantastic jobs in their own ways. And there are lots of things that I learn from them too. They are pretty good at building characters, so I'm learning how to do it. They check their plotlines and character names with me, but basically I let them do whatever they wish, and I don't make big revisions as a rule. I make requests for small adjustments, and we exchange notes 2 or 3 times. That's it. I'm always impressed how very talented these people are.

(to be continued...)

Part 06


Q. Can you tell us about the production diary updated daily?
A. Five of us are taking turns to update daily during the weekdays. This was again an idea of the producer Takeda. Takeda-san said the Fullmetal Alchemist also had a production diary on the Web. He said, "they sometimes got birthday presents from readers when they wrote about their birthdays." After hearing this comment, I got the on-line diary going without giving much thought to it; as it turned out, this was quite a job. I felt I wouldn't be able to update the site often enough, so I decided to ask four other people to join me (*). The idea was also to put pressure on myself as well. The deadline is each weekend and four other people have been punctual in keeping the due date, but mine is not ready until the day before or even on the due date. Besides, each of the four has established their styles for writing their diaries respectively, but I haven't. I feel I need to change my strategy at all means.

What does Blood+ mean to I.G? Or what kind of recognition do you aim to get for this show in the future?
This is the first time I.G is creating a TV series in a very popular time slot. I.G had an established image as a maker of feature films and OVA in the past. This project is one of the shows coming out of I.G while it's in the process of changing its approach as a company, i.e. to increase more TV series. And I strongly feel that Blood+ is placed as the flag bearer of this transition period. Wherever I go, I get questions like, "Is I.G really thinking about the audiences?" I realized that that was the average image of I.G. The tendency of the audiences to have that impression was stronger than ours. Of course, we have our followers on. For this project, I am trying to challenge how much support we can get from the younger audiences. I think this is what I.G needs to do at the moment. I feel a little nervous about failing to get better results, and it meaning that there won't be a next challenge. I can feel the danger, but I can't fail this one. I'd like to complete this 50-episode series, as planned, to show that I.G also has the stamina to do a long series. And of course, the amount of story that's in the 50-episode series is humongous and we haven't experienced this before. So our process is sort of like trial and error, but we're putting 100% to make it truly a terrific show to watch.

Of course, I ultimately hope this series meets the approval of many and be successful financially. But personally, I hope that our staff members at the end of the 50 episodes feel that their skills have improved, and have made a good impression on the audience. Actually, the number of original drawings that we are requested to deliver is going up more than we have ever experienced before. Those staff members who had never done original drawings will get chances too, and I hope each animator can use these opportunities. I don't mind our creators capitalizing from a series in this way. It would be wonderful if that could make the series successful, and hopefully each one of the staff members in production could feel that after 50 episodes they've moved up. If this were not to be the case, even the commercial success of the series would not lead to the future of I.G as a company. I think this is most important.

Before we finish this interview, any message for the fans that are restlessly waiting for the broadcast?
Basically, this is a story of a journey through various places. I suppose the audience demographic is comprised of mostly those who are the same age as Saya, the main character. They would be seeing themselves as Saya and relive her experiences. This would hopefully let them sense something other than the entertainment aspects of the show. And also, for those of you who are I.G fans, this show might seem like a sign of betrayal, but at the end of the day, I think you will pronounce it an I.G product. Do not be fooled by the designs and character placements. But if you see the series to the end, you'd notice that we have richly included features that would be expected of I.G animes. I feel that the end product is a series that will be accepted by many demographics. Please leave your preconceptions behind and simply watch the show first. Thank you.


(*) Only two staff members, OO and Long Skirt, appear in the English version.