Anime Expo LiA Exclusive – the FLCL Interview (Tsurumaki Kazuya, Shintani Mayumi)

Haruhara Haruko has my business card.

As many of you know, FLCL is one of the seminal anime in my existence.  I think it’s probably the coolest anime ever, likely the most flawless, and very near the top of my all-time list.  It would be no exaggeration to say that it’s one of the reasons I became an anime fan.  So when the opportunity came to request an interview with Tsurumaki Kazuya (with FLCL 2 on the way, the series was a hot topic at this year’s Anime Expo), obviously I jumped all over it and hoped like hell I’d get my shot.  I’m a huge Gainax fanboy generally (again, without vintage Gainax I’d likely not be an anime fan today) and Tsurumaki is one of the true titans in anime history.

When the call came, I was ready – as ready as you can ever be to sit six feet away from one of your heroes.  Originally the interviews were supposed to be one-on-one, but that got changed to a panel. C’est la vie – there were only about seven of is in there asking questions, so it was still pretty intimate.  The surprise came when it was announced that Shintani Mayumi, voice of Haruhara Haruko, was also going to be present (and so she was, resplendent in a Haruko kimono).  As you may know Shintani has appeared in very few anime over the years – she’s mostly a stage actress – and hasn’t spoken much about the FLCL experience.

The transcript of the interview is below – I may be doing something for Notaku soon as well.  It ran for almost an hour, and apart from Tsurumaki-sensei being asked over and over about FLCL 2 as if he were directing it, went very smoothly.  But for me the absolute highlight came at the end.  We snapped a few photos of Tsurumaki and Shintani-san, and I was on my way out when the translator dashed after me with a “Sumimasen!” and asked me to please wait.  She then told me that Shintani-san thought it was cool that I was wearing a Hanshin Tigers jersey (which I wore purely by chance) and asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a couple of photos with her.  Well, obviously I wasn’t going to say no – I handed the translator my camera and asked if I might get one too, and tried not to swoon.

Shintani-san squeezed in next to me and the interpreter started snapping, and I asked Shintani if she was a Tigers fan too.  “No.” she replied in English. “I like Hiroshima Carp”.  I did my best to smile for the camera and then just like that, it was over.  But not before Shintani-san and I exchanged business cards and I managed to bow to Tsurumaki-san and tell him, in no uncertain terms, “Thank you for your incredible work.”

And then I fainted.  I am complete.

 

Question: How do you balance doing what the what fans demand, and what you want to create?
Tsurumaki: I like to create what I enjoy, and then I just hope the fans enjoy it.

Q: If you could write the new FLCL, what would you like to see happen?
Shintani: Well, it’s a middle-school girl as a protagonist this time. It would be interesting if Haruko fell in love with the female protagonist.

Guardian Enzo: FLCL is very influential and famous, including for me – it helped make me an anime fan. Thank you for that. Why was it decided to make a new series now, after all this time?
S: Are you a Hanshin fan? (in reference to my Hanshin Tigers jersey)
G.E.: Hai!
T: Arigatou gozaimasu. It sort of just happened. They’ve been asking me for a very long time. I’ve been saying no for over 10 years. I’ve been very busy working on Evangelion Rebuild (which of course is still not finished). This time, Production I.G. almost insisted, I agreed, as long as I didn’t have to direct it. I was interested in seeing how a young staff would take the material.

Q: Did Anno offer you any advice before you took your first director job with FLCL?
T: It was rather indirect advice. There were times in the planning when thing weren’t going smoothly. Anno told me that you don’t have to make something perfect that everyone will love – just do what you want to create.

Q: The FLCL soundtrack was very influential. Will The Pillows be involved in the new series (if you can answer)?
T: I”ll leave this up to the staff and the new director. And I’m sure there’ll be an announcement sometime soon.
S: There’s a panel tomorrow, and there may be some kind of discussion of that. (Shintani, you clever tease).

Q: What was your reaction to being asked to play Haruko again after such a long time?
S: Actually, it’s not certain that I’m going to play Haruko in the new series. But if I get to do it, I’m going to try not to think too much about the first one. There are a lot of treasured memories with FLCL, and I met many friends in the industry. I’ll try and make it crazy.

Q: After not working on FLCL for so long, what experience have you acquired that you would apply to the new FLCL?
T: Well, I’m not directing the new series. but FLCL was my first work as a director. I was not as mature as a director then. I have improved in many areas, which I would hope to apply to my new works. Now I’m not as young, but I do have more experience. I may not be Naota anymore, but I identify more with his Dad. I actually dressed Takkun just like I dressed in sixth grade.
S: I’ve been doing voice acting for a long time. I worked with Trigger on Space Patrol Luluco, but I don’t think I’ve improved much as a voice actor.

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Q: What was the impetus for using the yellow Vespa in the series?
T: Sadamoto Yoshiyuki owned a Vespa himself, and I always thought it was cool and always wanted one. They had that yellow Vespa in a shop, and I could never decide to buy it because it was so expensive. But if I used it as a prop, I would have a good excuse to buy it! Just like Naota, I was hesitant to swing the bat. But if I had a good enough reason, I’d do it.

G.E.: When I watch anime by young directors like Matsumoto Rie, it’s very clear they watched FLCL and were influenced by it (she even used a Vespa in Kyousougiga). Do you see FLCL in newer anime, and how does that make you feel?
T: (Chuckles) It makes me very happy! I liked Kyousougiga, and I very much like Kekkai Sensen which is one of my current favorites. The tempo, the speed – I like them very much.

Q: One of the amazing things about FLCL was the speed of the stylistic changes, which has become identified with the time FLCL was released. Will there be a change in the style for the new version?
T: Again, I’m not going to be directly involved so to be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But if I would guess, I think it will speed up even more. If you look at the works by Trigger and American works on Cartoon Network, they’re even faster than FLCL was.
S: Iwai-san, the scenario writer, happens to be a friend of mine. He’s a different sort of crazy than Tsurumaki-san, so I think you’ll see that in the new series.

Q: You were away from anime for a long time. Is there a specific type of character you’d like to play in the future?
S: Well, I’ve been acting on stage for all this time, but I’ve been doing a little more voice work lately. As you can see I’m an oba-chan now, but I keep getting cast as middle school and high-school students. I’d like to play an oba-chan!

Q: In the original, there were a lot of South Park and American cartoon references. Will there be those kinds of references in the new FLCL, and are there American cartoons now that you’re interested in?
T: It’s up to the new director. I have been talking to Iwai, and I suggested he should watch US cartoons like Adventure Time and Gravity Falls, or Star vs. the Forces of Evil. And Sugar Rush – I love that one.
S: I’m actually doing dubbing work for Rick & Morty right now, and I like it a lot. it’s fun.  Lots of toilet humor.

Q: It seems like FLCL is a gateway into anime for a lot of viewers who don’t really know anime. Did you think that was going to happen when you created it?
T: It’s the kind of show in Japan that only hard-core otaku would watch. It’s positioned very differently than in the States. When we were making it, I wanted to reach as many types of otaku as I could – guitar otaku, bike otaku, etc. We also recruited non-seiyuu actors when we were casting it, because we wanted to try and draw theatre otaku as well.

Q: Is there anything the two of you want to do while you’re in the States?
T: I wanted to eat sushi you could only get in the United States. So I had California rolls for lunch.
S. There’s a building with a 30-meter slide somewhere in L.A.. I’d like to try that.

G.E.: Gainax was a place with an incredible number of talented people. What was so special about Gainax that it drew so many influential and creative pioneers, and are you a little sad that they’ve now scattered to other studios all over the industry?
T: It’s quite the opposite for me. A lot of people we worked with on shows like FLCL and Gunbuster 2 went on to become directors, and I’m very proud of that. They learned the way I do it, and the way Anno-san did it. I’m very proud those guys are directing in many different places.

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13 comments

  1. Very very interesting interview, its nice to see that FLCL’s director enjoyed Matsumoto Rie’s works(he sounds enthusiastic!). However I’m not convinced that FLCL 2 is going to be any good, its disappointing how big a role the production committee is playing in this sequel.

  2. I’m not convinced either, believe me. Knowing The Pillows and Sadamoto are involved does help, but the skepticism remains for me.

  3. Y

    Where is the picture???!?!?!

  4. Never knows best.

  5. Did you literally faint?

    I hope not! XD

    Great write up … am glad you had the opportunity to communicate with someone like that. I had a somewhat analogous experience many years back in being able to communicate online with Gary Gygax shortly before he died (DnD was really big for me in my formative years), so I can sorta feel what you might have been going through.

    Cheers! ^^

  6. S

    I don’t really want a sequel to Fooly Cooly (it was already a one of a kind gem), but I get why it’s happening. Prod IG is a good company so they can make something great…but I don’t know if they can capture the raw creative energy of the original. But I’m ok as long as it’s good. I wish I could understand why Gainax sold Fooly Cooly away in the first place.

  7. Well, they didn’t really. It was a co-production between the two studios originally. And nowadays Gainax simply doesn’t have the money or production capacity to undertake major projects, so they’ve sold off their share of the rights to stuff like FLCL and NGE. It’s sad, but it is what it is.

  8. R

    Enzou you lucky son of a gun.

    I don’t blame you for fainting.

    I am probably going to be mobbed but I admit I never finished FLCL. Started it though, back during those dawning years of being an anime fan (like over a decade ago now yikes) and I didn’t quite realize how different anime was from western cartoons. The craziness just kind of got confusing and overwhelming so I dropped it (though to be fair a lot probably flew over my head seeing as I was in elementary school then)

    I think I should probably give it another go now that I have more experience with the medium XD

  9. s

    I remember my first time watching flcl; i was in middle school and i was just hooked by the zaniness of the show. I use to record each episode on VHS before my bedtime and watched it the next day after school. Im surprised how much of the content i was able to pick up on back then. I guess a part of me knew that everything happening on the screen was a huge allegory for something and so i just….payed attention until i felt like i had a grasp of the narrative. When i had rewatched the series a few years later, i was surprised to how accurate my initial thoughts on the series were back then. Of course having watched it again with an older mind, i was able to appreciate it so much more. Pretty much i went from “this show is soooo much fun” to “wow….this show is sooooo well made and executed; this shit is actually smart”

  10. s

    shitani is doing dubbing for rick and morty??? wow…..i adore rick and morty (one of the more intellectually hilarious animations on tv right now). Im so glad to hear tsuramaki is telling the new director to watch stuff like adventure time and gravity falls, some of the best cartoons in a while. I guess masaaki yuasa wasnt the only one enamored by adventure time. It’s crazy how far the appeal of those shows reach that even people in the anime industry are interested in them. In all honesty, im still a bit apprehensive about flcl 2, but after mulling it over, im kind of interested to see what this new generation can do with the flcl IP. I dont want to be one of those fans who just condemns something before it’s out the gate (like some star wars fans) if tsuramaki is giving the new team advice on how to capture the magic of the original while making distinguishing their work, im more inclined to think that things may turn out pretty alright. I just hope the more harmful changes in the industry dont hurt the production; like please dont make this middle school girl some moe blob character meant to pander to the otaku audience; just….no. I do like the aspect of them taking the story to middle school and i think there’s something interesting about the protagonist being a girl (since we’ve already focused on a boy coming of age) but again, hopefully the staff avoid the landmines i mentioned. All in all, i think this could end up being good; if the stars are aligned properly, it could even be close to the level of the original……cant believe i actually said that…..BUT REMEMBER THESE WORDS WHEN THE SEQUEL FINALLY DROPS XD

  11. A

    Hey Enzo, thought you were living in Japan? Have you moved back to the US?

  12. J

    Oh Enzo, how I envy you in this moment. Thanks for posting this, it was a great read. Shintani is easily my favorite VA right now, it’s hard for me not to fanboy about her work. Have a nice day!

  13. J

    I’m also immediately going to start watching kekkai sensen…The backgrounds and setting alone is something rare to see in anime in general.

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