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)
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.
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.