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Otakon 2015: MAPPA Q and A with Masao Maruyama and Yasuaki Iwase

Panels were packed with attendees this year at Otakon, and the Q&A with MAPPA’s founder Masao Maruyama and producer Yasuaki Iwase was thankfully no exception. In fact, the line of people waiting to get in stretched out of sight down the long Baltimore Convention Center hallway and wound around a corner. Despite being incredibly busy at MAPPA, Otakon’s resident awesome uncle (Maruyama) took time off from his many current projects to talk about them and his other happenings with his overseas admirers. Those lucky enough to fit in the room got a first look at the trailer for In This Corner of the World, some secret info on the new Garo, and answers to whatever questions in which there was time to ask. After the break: a transcription of everything from Maruyama’s introduction to the very last question of the panel. Enjoy, and make sure to come out to see him in person next year in Baltimore! It’s always a fantastic time.

Maruyama: Today, I brought something special with me. It’s only been shown in Japan in the last month.  We just worked on the trailer for In This Corner of the World, which we actually [showed preproduction materials for] at Otakon last year. The movie is still in production, so we have a trailer. And, personally, it’s something really fantastic. The director is Mai Mai Miracle’s Sunao Katabuchi. He’s also directed other projects, such as Black Lagoon.

During the trailer, not a peep is heard from the awestruck audience until the enthusiastic applause afterwards.

This movie is about 1945 in Japan at the end of the war … right before the end of the war. It’s about a girl’s life. She gets affected by the A-bomb, but even after losing her arm, she still wants to pursue drawing. So it’s about the strength of the girl.

The war is such a devastating experience, but [the movie is] not about how sad the war is. It’s about the strength of the woman, how she tries to live a happy life during the war. So it’s about her trying to take care of her family, trying to come up with unique ways to come up with food when they don’t have food. Currently, at Studio MAPPA, we’re working on this film, and we’re probably going to finish it around next summer. So it will take another year for us to complete this film.

From last year from Otakon to today, I worked on such series as Terror in Resonance, Rage of Bahamut, Punchline, and Garo. Currently we’re working on the second season of some of those series. For example, one of those is the second series of Garo. So there’ll be additional series to that. There are other ones I’m working on too, but I still can’t make announcements about them yet.

For Garo, the first animated series we took, the staff actually came with me to Otakon this year: Romi Park and also Director Hayashi and Producer Kubo, who worked on the Garo series, are also with me at this convention. We’ll do a panel later, so if you guys could come by, that’d be great.

So it’s not officially announced, but since I’m in front of you guys, I want to share a secret with you: the second series of Garo is going to start in October this year. To share the story with you: this time Garo’s gonna take place in Heian era in Japan. So it’s going to be a jidaigeki-style Garo. There’s a historical figure called Abe no Seimei, in Japan, and that’s going to be the main character for this series, and it’s actually going to be a female. So that’s what we’ve been crunching down on at MAPPA right now, because it’s about to air soon, in October, but all the staff are saying, “Maruyama, we’re so busy that you’re not allowed to go to America.” (crowd laughs) My team, my staff, are actually saying that, so I felt guilty coming alone. So I just dragged someone else with me. (Maruyama motions to Iwase, and crowd laughs) In Japan, he always keeps an eye on me. So there’s two surveillance people on both of my sides right now (EDITOR’S NOTE — Maruyama’s translator, Yoshihiro Watanabe, works for MAPPA). (crowd laughs)

So that’s the now and the future of MAPPA, and we were about to go on to Q&A, but there’s one more thing. We’re actually making a theatrical film version of the first season of Garo. So that’s probably going to air next summer. That’s the current lineup of MAPPA.

Here the translator accidently said “Madhouse” and quickly corrected himself by saying “MAPPA,” which led to raucous laughter and the following response from Maruyama.

I’ve graduated from Madhouse. (laughter and applause)

From Madhouse, there are two studios that merged out of it, called MAPPA, which is my company, and there’s another company called Chizu, which translates to the English word “map.” (crowd laughs) So do you know what “mappa” is? Who knows what “mappa” is? Raise your hand. So it’s my studio, but the name, MAPPA, comes from a word. In Japan, there’s a word called “mappadaka.” Anyone know what that means? I took the first part of “mappadaka” and named it MAPPA. “Mappadaka” actually means “fully naked.”

Maruyama starts to strip off his unbuttoned over-shirt (to wild applause and laughter).

So my intention of naming that was starting from scratch again. When I started MAPPA a few years ago, I wanted to start from scratch again, without having anything.

And also I’m working on another series. This is actually a collaboration with one of the producers who left Madhouse that I’ve been working with for decades. And this title is Ushio and Tora, which is currently simulcasting. This is very Madhouse style. This is actually based on a manga that’s 20 years old, drawn by Kazuhiro Fujita, and we came up with the idea to do it, after two decades, because we wanted to do something interesting, and this was never done before. So we wanted to work with it, and it’s actually a collaboration between MAPPA and a studio called VOLN.

Maruyama shows the trailer for Ushio to Tora.

It could be the projector, but the color is off on the screen. So please be aware of that. Sorry about that. But if you watch the streaming version, you should see the actual colors. The proper colors. Especially for In This Corner of the World, you couldn’t see, but it’s designed with a very delicate use of colors. So please look forward to it.

Watanabe (translator): Let’s go to Q&A. So if you guys have any questions regarding Maruyama or Iwase about Studio MAPPA, these two have been working together for over 40 years. Iwase is a publisher. He worked on Barefoot Gen as an editor and then he went to studio MAPPA to work on animation as a producer.

Audience: What was it like to appear in Shirobako as one of the characters?

Maruyama: Please don’t get confused. That character is “Marukawa” not Maruyama. (Crowd laughs.) Director Mizushima is a good friend of mine, Shirobako’s director, and before he worked on that series, he said “Well I’m going to work on animation that’s going to feature the animation industry, and I’m going to put you in it.” And I said, “Well, do as you please.” And that was my mistake. (crowd laughs) One thing that’s wrong about that anime is that I actually cook much better than that.

Audience: What was the biggest difficulty in moving on to a new studio? …creating a new studio?

Maruyama: I actually didn’t build the studio. I’m currently 74, and when I left Madhouse, I was 70. Everyone around me told me “You’re way past your retirement age. So maybe you could just retire.” And I said, “No, I just wanna keep on making stuff.” So we had no choice but to make another studio that was able to make more stuff for him. (crowd laughs) So when we were trying to come up with the name of it, I said MAPPA, and we’re all like, “Well, when we pick up the phone, we’re going to say we’re MAPPA? So we’re saying, ‘We’re naked?’” We all said we didn’t want MAPPA, but I said, “No, I like MAPPA.” (more laughter) So I made sure to tell my staff that at the studio, just because we’re named MAPPA doesn’t mean we take our clothes off in the studio. Sometimes, some of the new applicants wonder, before they come to our studio, that we’re some company of naturalists.

Audience: During production-heavy times, when you have a lot of projects under your belt, it can get very tiring. I was wondering, besides those big meals [referencing Shirobako], are there any other kinds of traditions that help boost morale for the studio?

Maruyama: Bringing up morale is actually the main reason, the surface reason, the public reason I put the food out, but it’s more that I like to cook and eat food with people. So that’s more the reason I cook for people. In Japan, there’s a saying called, “eating from the same pot.” And the saying means that if you’re eating from the same pot, you’re comrades or you’re family. So that’s why at my studio, I try to serve food. I’ve been cooking since the Showa era, so basically since Madhouse, but back in that era, there was no fire safety law. So in the studio, no one said, “Don’t use fire.” But now there’s a strict fire safety law, so that if you don’t have an actual kitchen, you’re not allowed to cook in the office. So that’s actually quite stressful for me. I still cook around it, but we don’t have tons of money like Ghibli or maybe Studio Pixar or Dreamworks, who can build a kitchen with that money. We’re still just starting a company, so we just find ways around it. So if you come to Japan, you can come over and eat some of our food.

Audience: I’m a big fan of Rage of Bahamut, and I noticed that it expanded a lot from the phone game. It sort of had its own story and a very unique visual style. I was wondering what inspired you to take it in such an interesting direction.

Maruyama: Generally when you’re adapting a game into anime, it’s difficult, because each user has their own game experience compared to something else, like manga or novels. But in the case of Rage of Bahamut, it was really easy, because the game developer actually said, “Please do it the way you please. As long as you make it interesting, we’re fine with it.” So they were really easy to work with.

Ani-Gamers (Evan): First, I just want to say thank you for coming to Otakon again. Everyone really appreciates it. When you came to Otakon last year, you were still seeking funding for In This Corner of the World, and there was recently a crowdfunding campaign for the film. So could you discuss where it’s at now in terms of funding?

Maruyama: In the case of general crowdfunding, it’s really hard to earn the full budget for an animation production, because for something of the quality of In This Corner of the World, the budget is in the millions. So to achieve this just by crowd funding is really difficult. But what crowd funding for In This Corner of the World showed was that there are people actually interested, really impassioned people. So we presented the draft of the project, and people showed interest, so that developed into that trailer. So each frame of that trailer is built by people who funded that project.

In This Corner of the World is not some flashy anime. It doesn’t have panty shots. It’s very straightforward. It’s about the story. So it’s really difficult to get financing because of that, but because of the crowdfunding, we were able to make it a big success. And the crowdfunding amount was a record breaker for crowdfunding for Japanese film in general. That said, I still work on series like Punchline … which is about panties. (Crowd laughs.) But that didn’t need crowdfunding. It had actual funding. This kind of thing is really harder to do, but thanks to crowdfunding, we actually have it going.

Evan: The crowdfunding justified it, basically.

Maruyama: Yes. That’s exactly it. Though … I’m not actually sure, but Iwase is saying yes, so that makes it true. I just make stuff, I don’t think about money. So regarding the budget or schedule, he always helps me do it sooner, finish it sooner, or don’t waste so much money. But without a person like him, you can’t continue a company.

AniGamers (David): Last year I asked you a question about Teekyu 4, and you said you were unsure, with the production with Garo and other related series, if that would be possible, but now it’s 2015 and we’re on Teekyu 5, and we had Nasuno before, but this is a different studio, so I’m going to ask: what’s the story with Teekyu and the new studio?

Maruyama: Actually the new studio that worked on Season 4 of Teekyu is the studio founded by the director of the Teekyu series. So I’m actually fine with him continuing at his studio, because it’s his work. My idea is that everyone in the industry are comrades. So I don’t have to work on everything. But I really want to challenge stuff, so when they’re starting out, I want to work on it. But once it’s on the road, then I don’t have to be involved. I mean, if the project isn’t doing well, then I might say, “Give that back to me. I’ll make it work again.” But right now, it looks like it’s successful, so I’m not going to say anything; I’m just going to let the director handle it on his own.

Audience (George Horvath): You answered about why Ushio and Tora was made, but I’m curious, if Ushio and Tora is successful, would MAPPA go on to adapt other older manga that never got TV series?

Maruyama: Ushio and Tora was actually made into an animation series a while ago, but it was only a three-part OVA. It was abridged, because the manga itself is a 32-volume series. So it didn’t even scratch the entire storyline. So I really wanted to put it in the proper way into a series. But for other things, I really want to work on the “nekketsu” genre, that’s the older things. It’s more thicker art style, more X style things. It depends on whether I can obtain the license to adapt into animation. For example, I want to work on Shaman King, I want to work on Rurouni Kenshin again, adapt it into new style, but it depends on whether the publisher or the actual artist says yes. There are series I’d never want to work on: Astro Boy and Tomorrow’s Joe and Aim for the Ace. It’s because I worked on all of those, and it’s something so precious to me that I want to keep it as it is.

Audience: Is there anybody in Japan that you might now know about, like it might be a smaller director or smaller animator, that you really think has some great potential?

Maruyama: Yes, there is. In Japan, there’s a foundation of possibility for independent series. I mean there’s so many series that’s being made right now, there’s a chance for many people. So seeing those kind of emerging people, there’s so many people I would love to work with. One of the characteristics to Japanese animation is that there are so many. That means there are good things but there are more bad things. But among the shitty ones, you go through the pile and there’s actually really interesting things.

Audience: What was both of your favorite anime to work on?

Maruyama: My answer is always the same for that, actually. Each anime series I have worked on is like my own child. And if you ask a parent, “Which child of yours do you like the most,” a parent wouldn’t answer that. To me, my works are children, so I can’t answer which one. They’re all good kids. They’re all excellent kids.

Iwase: I actually don’t have too many children. But my first child was The Adventures of Marco Polo. And one of the memorable ones was Hanada Shonen-Shi. And another project was Barefoot Gen, because I actually used to work for the publisher that published Barefoot Gen (the original manga). And when they were adapting into anime, we came up with the idea of changing the looks of the main character. To be honest, this is no secret I’m sharing with you, but rather than the creative side of the project it’s more about the finance side, but the project didn’t cost too much.

Audience: When I was watching the series Punchline that just finished airing, later in the series there’s the addition of, in the finale, there’s a mech action? And it was 2-D action, like hand-drawn stuff, that’s kind of rare these days. I just wanna ask, do you have any interest in doing any mecha shows in the future?

Maruyama: I like to work on many different kinds of things. But one thing I actually like work less on is mecha series. One of the reasons is because studios like Sunrise are much better off doing it. So that’s one of the reasons I don’t do it. So when Punchline was first pitched to me, one of my ideas was that we don’t have to draw so much clothing, so it will be easier to draw, but it turns out there are more complicated things, like mecha, so it’s not the way I thought it would be.

Audience: I think you formed Madhouse with everyone working at Mushi Pro: Kawajiri, Rintaro, Dezaki. I was curious to know: what was it like working with them at Mushi Pro and working with them in the early days of Madhouse?

Maruyama: Mushi Pro was about working for Osamu Tezuka. And Rintaro, Kawajiri, Sugi, including myself, were all part of this team. So even right now, that era is the source of the root of my career.

Audience: What was it like working under Tezuka?

Maruyama: When I worked for Tezuka, I was still in my 20’s, and Tezuka is a very demanding man. When he says one thing one day, the next day he says completely different things. My thought back then was, “I’m gonna kill this guy!” Now that I’m older, I think all the people at MAPPA think the same way now about me.

Audience: Ushio to Tora has a very good mix of ‘90s nostalgia and a modern feel to it. I was wondering if it was difficult to figure out that balance and if you plan to carry it on to other anime that you may work on.

Maruyama: Young animators these days are trained to do animation in the current style. For them, it’s really hard to work on something like Ushio to Tora, because their career is not in the ‘90s. So there’s a lot of learning to do when they’re working on Ushio to Tora. I would love to work on more ‘90s stuff with ‘90s anime essence.

Audience: How do you not become confused with all your studio names? Am I just an uneducated weeaboo, or are you some god that just knows?

Maruyama: I might be another weeaboo, because I can get names wrong. Sometimes even myself say that I’m Maruyama of Madhouse.

Audience: I would like to thank you for not sexualizing women. It’s just so common now to see every single studio sexualize women, use them just for props … you know, a pair of boobs. That’s it, really. Thank you!

Maruyama: I’m glad that you understand.

Audience: Mr. Iwase might not like this question, because it’s expensive, but over the years you have talked about possibly being able to do Satoshi Kon’s last project. With the success of the Kickstarter that you had with In This Corner of the World, would that be a possibility that you could still visit?

Maruyama: The budget is a huge hurdle for that series. But even beyond that is it’s only possibly if you bring Kon Satoshi back from the afterlife.

Audience: But you’ve talked in the past about the possibility of doing it.

Maruyama: I’m still in the mindset to find the talent that could replace Satoshi Kon. Unfortunately, my conclusion as of right now is that there isn’t someone that could match up to his talent. So I’m still in the constant search for it. But right now, I don’t see anyone.

Audience: How long does it usually take to make an anime, and which one took the longest to make?

Maruyama: I think the longest was Rintaro’s Metropolis. I think that took five years. There are also other series, like Satoshi Kon’s The Dreaming Machine that’s already been past five years but is still incomplete, so … it’s in production (laughs) in theory.

Audience: Mr. Iwase and Mr. Maruyama, it seems that you’ve worked together for many years. Could you talk about the first project you guys worked on together and if you have any funny stories from your years together?

Maruyama: Well it’s been 40 years I’ve worked with him. I don’t remember.

Iwase: Maruyama’s been working in the animation industry for 46 or 47 years since Mushi Pro, and I’ve been working in the animation industry just twenty years now. I used to work for a publisher, and my idea about going into animation studio was that I was eventually going to return to publishing. But Maruyama sort of trapped me. I ended up here.

Audience: There’s a pretty cool director who worked on a bunch of MAPPA stuff, and I some Macross stuff as well, Yuzuru Tachikawa. You don’t happen to know how he came to work for you guys, do you?

Maruyama: Tachikawa used to work for Madhouse productions. He started out as a production assistant and wanted to become a director. And about the time Maruyama leftMmadhouse, he actually became one of the assistant directors. At that time, he left Madhouse and came back to Madhouse as a director. So it’s a long relationship ever since Madhouse.

Audience: You don’t happen to know the name of any of the key animators who worked on the action sequences in Ushio and Tora, do you?

Maruyama: There’s two groups of teams who work on Ushio to Tora. One is the Studio Live crew. Its director is Nishimura. And he worked on series like Trigun. So he’s one of the directors on Ushio to Tora. And there’s another half who used to work on Hunter x Hunter, because the producer for Ushio to Tora used to work for Hunter x Hunter; he was a producer for Hunter x Hunter series at Madhouse. So the animation crew that worked on Hunter x Hunter is now working on Ushio to Tora.

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