What Shapes My Soul (Nasu Kinoko, on Ikuhara Kunihiko)

(From “Eureka” September 2017 special issue Ikuhara Kunihiko: “Revolutionary Girl Utena”, “Mawaru Penguindrum”, “Yuri Kuma Arashi”… Our Revolution and Survival Strategy)

Interview with Nasu Kinoko / Interviewer: Aoyagi Mihoko

The lingering scars of “Revolutionary Girl Utena”

How did you first encounter Ikuhara’s work?

Nasu: My first Ikuhara work was “Revolutionary Girl Utena”. As a creator in my forties, the media I experienced from my teens to my twenties has left permanent scars on me. The first shock I experienced was “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. It had everything that appealed to me, so I naturally took both damage and influence from it. While I was still reeling from “Eva”, along came “Martian Successor Nadesico”, and then “Utena”. I was assaulted by a barrage of brilliant, highly charismatic anime in those days.

—What was your impression of the first episode?

Nasu: My friends (all men, naturally) kind of reflexively rejected it: “What the hell’s with this artstyle?!” I was used to shoujo manga, so my first impression was “I like these character designs. But I guess it’s true that they’re a bit too aesthetic for anime…” I wasn’t too resistant to it probably because I loved Takemiya Keiko’s “Toward the Terra”.

But once I actually watched it, it wasn’t the artstyle but the subject matter itself that was in a completely different cultural field, and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. And yet I couldn’t help but watch it again and again. Behind the aesthetic and abstract world it presented at first glance was something very sensitive and allegorical. From its very first episode, “Utena” boldly opted to take things that normally the viewers would demand to have explained to them and express them while remaining abstract.

—”Express them while remaining abstract.”

Nasu: Yes. “Utena”, “Mawaru Penguindrum”, and “Yuri Kuma Arashi” all have something definitive at their core, and it’d be possible to definitively state “this means such-and-such”. But once you say that, it’s all over. If you turn to someone who’s struggling with something “abstract” and tell them your own subjective conclusion, all you’ve done is push someone else’s viewpoint on them. It’s very difficult to convey an image while keeping it as-is. Communicating abstract concepts while keeping them as such is something Director Ikuhara has been doing since back then.

“Utena”‘s dialogue was sensitive and abstract, but the direction and art were all so vivid. The imagery of the shell representing the world was so powerful, it was like I’d seen an amazing work of art—that may be an exaggeration, but that feeling overcame me when I watched the first episode, and it got me hook line and sinker. The “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” stock sequence played, there was a battle, the ending theme played, and I thought with certainty, “This is a masterpiece. But it’d probably be impossible to explain how amazing it is to ten people and have all ten of them understand.” I think now that the people who hold this work in their heart forever are either the female viewers who likely share the same gender-related hardships, or the people who think “I want to create something, I want to express something”. Once you’ve been shown something like this, you can’t ignore it. It felt like peeping on someone’s secrets, like I’d seen something I shouldn’t have.

—Are there any specific episodes that left an impression on you?

Nasu: I love the “Black Rose arc”. It fits the whole kishotenketsu structure into one episode. Professor Nemuro (Mikage Souji) says “The path before you has been prepared”, there’s a fight scene, Utena wins, the coffin falls into the incinerator… Those repeating scenes were a lot of fun. Once I began writing scripts for anime, I understood even more clearly how amazing that structure was.

The stock sequences and the Black Rose arc’s structure arose from the creators having constraints on what they were able to do. Ikuhara-san may say that he just felt like if they had to use stock sequences he might as well make them fun to watch, but how many people do you know of who could actually pull that off? Today’s anime industry is so advanced that you can make a 22-minute episode without any stock sequences. Back then there were fewer people, very few digital tools, and it wasn’t like you could just Google for resources. It’s astounding that he was able to create something so perfect in that environment. He’s superhuman, no joke. While I’m sure this is the case in all the arts, the people from the previous generation must have gone through twice as much hardship as us. The creativity that arises from a lack of resources produces something with such density, it’s beyond our wildest imaginings.

The villains of Ikuhara’s work are “completely evil, yet the most pitiful”

—What was your impression of the characters? Were there any in particular that struck a chord with you?

Nasu: Of course, I like all the characters. Not one of them felt out of place. If I had to say which ones I particularly like, it’d be the two main characters. I’ve always liked crossdressing girls and crossdressing boys, but Tenjou Utena and Himemiya Anthy had me going “Woah, they’re doing this in this time period!” Utena tries to break away from how women have women’s restrictive role forced upon them, while Anthy is like the embodiment of that. Anthy is a frightening character, who you think of as a doll at first but who gradually becomes more terrifying as you begin to understand her. “Utena” is the story of the rapport between these characters—or rather the swordfight disguised as a rapport—and when you get down to it (Ohtori) Akio-san is nothing more than a backdrop to them!

Utena loses the battle in the end, but Anthy puts an end to her own wounds in that way. Watching the opening again after watching all 39 episodes is dazzling. Everything from the opening of episode 1 to the end of episode 39 forms a circle, so you find yourself going round and round rewatching it. Just like “Eva”, “Utena” is an anime that can stand up to a hundred viewings.

—How did you feel about episode 33, “The Prince Who Runs Through the Night”, in which the relationship between Utena and Anthy greatly changed?

Nasu: Oh, “The Prince Who Runs Through the Night”. It depicts Akio-san on a highway at night, talking on the phone. You think “what’s going on with this direction?” as it drags on for an almost tedious twenty minutes. And then the shocking two minutes at the end. I remember dropping my jaw and thinking “What’s going to happen next week?”. Since I’m a man, the fact of the heroine who had protected her chastity up until that point suddenly having sex with Akio-sandidn’t inspire much of an unpleasant feeling in me, actually.

—That’s unexpected. I had thought it might be more shocking for men.

Nasu: Well, that kind of thing was a staple of Yamada Fuutarou and Kikuchi Hideyuki’s supernatural stories, you see… Actually, I thought “Of course you’re gonna get preyed upon if you go for a nighttime drive with a dangerous monster like that!”. But for such a seemingly inviolable heroine who practically had purity as a main theme to fall like that made me prepared, made me think “Ah, they aren’t going to go easy on anyone,” and straighten up to take things more seriously. This was something I watched for evening entertainment, but it was stepping into literary territory.

Part of the definition of a “story” is that the characters develop, right? In that sense, Utena didn’t develop so much as shed her skin. Her mask comes off over the course of the story whether she wants it to or not. If she didn’t fall to Akio-san at that time, Utena might not have lost to the story. But then she would have been unable to touch on Anthy’s darkness, and Akio-san’s fun story would have never ended. Because she lost the protagonistic attribute of purity and became an “extra”, she was freed from the bias of the story and was able to put an end to the dream of the prince however indirectly… that’s what I thought at the time.

—Listening to you speak, I can feel a kind of affection towards Akio.

Nasu: Yes, that’s because Akio-san had a ton of impact on me. How do you come up with a character like that? He’s overwhelming as an antagonist and fascinating as a character, but the lowest you can go as a human being. The villains in Ikuhara-san’s works are all completely evil, but at the same time they’re the most pitiful. He’s undeniably a cool adult, but is the most hopeless as he creates that world and preys on children. What that means is that he can’t shine outside of that world.

Among the male characters, other than Akio I also like Saionji Kyouichi. I think everyone probably had some inkling of this, but the design for Matou Shinji from “Fate/stay night” originated with me thinking “Oh yeah, the male friend character’s definitely gotta have wavy hair!” (laughs)

The movie that bowled me over as a writer

—The anime series was broadcast in 1997. In 1999, the movie “Adolescence of Utena” was released.

Nasu: The anime series of “Utena” had a huge impact on me, but even still, I thought of it as like a giant on the opposite shore. Sure it was a huge deal to those in the world of anime, but I was safe on the other side of the river, I thought.

Then a few years later, I saw the movie (a little late) and was bowled over as a writer. The frightening thing about the movie is that even while having the same relationships as the TV anime, it tells you in the first five minutes that “Oh, this is a dystopian world after the TV version was destroyed. It’s a story where the ghosts trapped in Ohtori Academy try searching for answers once more.” And it pulls off something that sophisticated in an hour and a half. The leftover story details from the TV anime and the sort of guilty feeling of “Couldn’t there have been a better ending?” do remain in the hearts of “Utena”’s viewers, but the movie version struck a chord with me as a powered-up “what-if” scenario.

In the movie, Utena and Anthy are in in opposite positions than they were in the TV anime. In the TV anime’s world, the egg’s shell was broken but there could be no revolution – the chick definitely hatched from the egg, but it died. In the movie version, the two of them broke the shell and were trying to flap their wings.

—Kawakami Tomoko, who voiced Utena, played Ryougi Shiki in the drama CD version of “Kara no Kyoukai”.

Nasu: To me, Kawakami-san is Utena. Before I knew much about voice actors, I worked with her just once. What I’m most grateful to Kawakami-san’s associates for is the “Utena” DVD box set and Blu-Ray box set booklets. In the DVD box set there’s a comment from Kawakami-san, and in the Blu-Ray box set there’s a comment from Kawakami-san’s mother. It’s true that we can’t meet Kawakami-san again or hear her voice, but there are still things she left behind both in concrete form and in the hearts of her fans. It really hit me that that’s what it means to create something. A creator’s work is their child. The “Utena” box sets made me realize that as long as people love your child, there’s meaning to what you’re doing.

—So your works are like children to you.

Nasu: That’s how serious I am about creating them. I think there are two types of creators: the type who focus all their affection on the next child once their first child becomes independent, and the type who want to care for their child until they die, because that’s their child. I’m the latter. Even if my child goes off to get married, I worry that they might be mistreated in their new home, and I want to solve their problems for them. “My child is a swimmer, but they might be forced into pro wrestling… Then I’ll train my child to be a pro wrestler too!” “Fate/Grand Order” might be a conspicuous example of this. If I wasn’t like this, my life might have been a lot easier.

The story of someone who wasn’t loved unconditionally: “Mawaru Penguindrum”

—Let’s talk about “Penguindrum”. You wrote your impressions of the first episode on your website “Bamboo Broom” when it aired, right?

Nasu: “Penguindrum” had a high level of polish to it. Its character designs and colour scheme had more universal appeal, but it was bursting with the same Ikuhara aesthetic, and on top of that, the theme was “love”. Someone who had been loved unconditionally versus someone who had not been loved unconditionally—he did something great by fully depicting this in a story about boys and girls. It had true style, communicating abstract concepts while keeping them abstract.

But just like “Utena”, it was so advanced. Unless someone seriously sticks with the story or has a lot of knowledge, they might not understand its flavour right to the end. First you’re lured into the Ikuhara world with coolness and eccentricity, and then how much further you venture in is up to you—I feel that’s its policy.

When the PV for the new anime aired after a few years, I was excited, thinking “This is an omen of Ikuhara-san’s return!”, but I still only half believed it. Then I watched the first episode, and was moved by how much it rocked (laughs) If someone unfamiliar with Ikuhara’s works saw the Princess of the Crystal’s “Survival Strategy”, they’d be caught off guard a little. But we know from “Utena” that this stock scene will be core to what’s to come. The phrase “survival strategy” is normal in reference to nature, but when it’s a pretty girl dressed like a penguin saying it, it sounds like some incredible magic words. In a world that’s becoming increasingly easy to live in, she thrusts this survival strategy at two teenage boys and declares, “If you keep living like this, you will die without ever realizing you were alive. You will never amount to anything. But—seek something out.” The stock sequence is so cool and never gets old after seeing it dozens of times, but it’s very important too.

—The work had “1995” as a keyword, using the subway sarin attack as a motif.

Nasu: To be honest, I had my doubts about why he would be handling the sarin attack then. There were so many victims, and I felt like it was too early to use it as a basis for fiction. But when I learned that Ikuhara-san himself strongly felt “There’s no point if we don’t do it before the memory fades. The scars have to remain as scars,” I had to concede defeat twice over.

—What did you think of the characters?

Nasu: I like every character in “Penguindrum” as well, but this time instead of the protagonists I have to declare Sanetoshi-sensei (Watase Sanetoshi) the winner. Man, what an amazing character concept. Right in the opening sequence you see this pink-haired man in a white longcoat coming at you like a gale. He’s clearly the main antagonist, and you can tell at a glance that he’s human trash of a different sort than Akio, but he’s cool as hell. If I were still in middle school maybe I’d have thought “someday I wanna dye my hair pink, put on a white coat and say ‘shibireru nee’!”…

Everything in the final episode was so beautiful, and I still cry my eyes out when I rewatch it on Christmas. “Penguindrum” is the story of the protagonists who weren’t loved by the family that should have loved them unconditionally, as they band together to live their lives as fellow strays. Kanba and the others leave a bond, but Sanetoshi-sensei is left behind again.

He represents those who were never loved unconditionally. He’s a parallel to (Oginome) Momoka-chan, who loved everyone unconditionally. The two did meet, but Momoka said “But I’m going now” and went off somewhere, leaving Sanetoshi-sensei behind. He should have cast away his pride and said “I’m coming too!”, allowing himself to be loved. But being unloved for years was the only thing he had pride in, so he couldn’t yield that. Even after all that talk about love, he prioritized his self-preservation. But I see romanticism in that, and it resonated with me the strongest. It’s a very harsh and heavy story, told in a catchy way with penguins and strong keywords. It’s cute when you enter, but the further you venture inside the more it beats you down. I think it was more intent on conveying a message than “Utena” was.

—What do you think of the Princess of the Crystal’s line, “You lowlifes who will never amount to anything”? I think that phrase may have felt like a gut punch to many people aiming to become creators.

Nasu: I see, so you interpreted it as meaning “You’ll end as a viewer and never become a creator”. I’m in the position of being a writer, so I might have had a subconscious safety barrier there. But if you ask me, I took it to mean “If you can’t obtain true love, everything’s just for show. If you’re never loved and cannot love another, you’ll never amount to anything.”

Creators sometimes choose their own work over love. Just like Sanetoshi-sensei, you might destroy with your own hands the person who might have shared the apple of fate with you, or eat the apple by yourself. That might be what it means to live for your hobbies or your work, but if you look only at yourself you’ll never amount to anything—that’s how I interpreted it. It’s a harsh message.

“Yuri Kuma Arashi” contained all of Director Ikuhara

—”Yuri Kuma Arashi” was broadcast in 2015.

Nasu: “Yuri Kuma Arashi” fit all of Director Ikuhara—all his Ikuhara Gimmicks—into a compact single cour. The town scenery with the Ikuhara filter over it making it look super cool, the stock sequences you never get tired of watching, the magic words, the scenes that actually overtly talk about the themes, the protagonists gradually distancing themselves from society’s system… The way strong phrases like “kuma shock!” come up with what would normally be the worst possible timing makes things feel funny and pleasant, which I think is also part of Ikuhara-san’s unique sense.

I think there are a lot of different interpretations of the story, but I take the man-eating bears as a metaphor for gay and bisexual people. They sent the world the message “Please understand that some beings can’t live any other way than this”, but received overwhelming persecution and harsh punishment from society. “Utena” had a similar theme, but tried to revolutionize the world. “Yuri Kuma Arashi”‘s story goes “We couldn’t change society in the end, so we’ll disappear from this world”. It probably would have been boring to tell the same story twice, and I do think it’s alright as long as the characters themselves are happy, but as a viewer I was sad to see them defeated by the world. But that might have been a good way to end it since it was only one cour long.

—Did any episodes leave a strong impression on you?

Nasu: It felt to me like all twelve episodes were a single story. Oh, but the episode that I watched several times—”Ikuhara-san’s as great as ever, I can’t believe he could do all that in fifteen minutes”—was the fourth episode, “I Can’t Get a Kiss”. Lulu’s episode. It’s a flashback that shows where the story is leading, and it’s very allegorical, so people will see it differently based on their own perception. Even a hippo could become a philosopher if you showed it this episode! Lulu seemed like the most selfish one at first, but she turned out to be the most thoughtful and an upstanding girl.

The influence Ikuhara’s works had on Nasu Kinoko

—You have a reputation for depicting women’s emotions, like in the Sakura route of “Fate/stay night” (Heaven’s Feel), or “Fate/EXTRA CCC”.

Nasu: I think having sisters was a big part of that. We had shounen manga and shoujo manga on the same shelf, and I read them the same. As I read more and more, the idea that “shounen manga are fun to read; shoujo manga have interesting stories” established itself in my mind when I was in elementary school. I always got the sense that shoujo manga depicted people’s inner workings more in its storytelling.

What’s more, shoujo manga had both sci-fi shoujo manga like Takemiya-sensei’s, as well as delinquent shoujo manga (laughs). I read both of those a lot when I was little. I moved away from shoujo manga for a time, but in university I encountered Hiwatari Saki-sensei’s “Please Save My Earth” and Nasu Yukie-sensei’s “Here Is Greenwood”. It reminded me once again of how interesting it was.

On top of that, I also read Himuro Saeko-sensei for the first time, a bit late. I started with “Nante Suteki ni Japanesque”. The writing style was light and easy to read, and the characters’ thought processes were to my liking. “But I ain’t no Heian buff, so this don’t really turn my crank,” I thought, but then my friend’s older sister said “I get the feeling these ones would suit Nasu-kun better” and lent me some books. They were the short story collection “Sayonara Arurukan”, containing Himuro-sensei’s debut work, and 1981’s “Koisuru Onnatachi”. I got super hooked and devoured them. “Clara Hakusho” is still my bible; I have one copy to read and one for safekeeping, but both are all yellowed now. It’s still the apex of girls’ school fiction in my mind, and I always wanted to write a story like that. That’s how “Kara no Kyoukai” was born.

—Hmmm? “Kara no Kyoukai”‘s “Oblivion Recorder” did take place in a girls’ school, but something’s…

Nasu: Something’s not quite right there, right? (laughs) But if there’s anything resembling girls’ novels in the foundations of my writing style, I think that’s when it came to be.

—The novel you wrote as the model for the “Fate” series (the prototype version of “Fate”) was similar to a girls’ novel, with a woman as the protagonist and King Arthur as the hero. Did that work originate around the same time?

Nasu: I wrote Prototype in high school, so it was before I rediscovered girls’ novels. Until high school, the only novels I read were Kikuchi Hideyuki’s supernatural stories, and I wasn’t allowed to watch TV or anime. My first anime was “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water”. Takeuchi Takashi, my fellow otaku since back then, suggested: “Nasu, you don’t watch anime? You gotta at least watch the newest thing made by these people called Gainax!”, so I watched it in secret and got hooked. And with “Eva”, which I watched based on the Gainax connection, I learned how fun anime could be.

—Many fans didn’t watch “Eva”, “Nadesico”, and “Utena” as they were airing. What kind of impact did watching them in real-time have on you?

Nasu: Enough of an impact that I thought: “I don’t care if it messes up my whole life. I want to step into this industry.” Everyone is scared up until they reach that point, right? I had dreams, and was relatively confident in my abilities, but I couldn’t answer the question: “Is this industry great enough that even if my dreams are crushed and I’m ruined, I can still laugh in the end and say ‘Oh well, it happens’?” So I might have had the option of living out my life as a regular salaryman. But while I had been solely devoted to novels up until then, “Eva” and “Utena” made me genuinely think “I could work in this world even if it killed me. I’d even die happy.” Fortunately for me, being as secluded as I was, Takeuchi said to me “Let’s make a game, I’ll help you”, so I didn’t die and was able to feed myself instead. But a lot of people entered this industry because of something they admired. It’s a driving force… Well, I guess it did mess up my whole life (laughs)

—Are there any aspects of Ikuhara’s work that directly influenced yours? For example, I feel like the particular kind of scariness in “Fate”‘s Matou Sakura or “Tsukihime”‘s Kohaku stems from Anthy.

Nasu: Not Sakura, as far as I’m aware, but the way Kohaku is scariest when she’s smiling was something I made right after my “Utena” shock so there might be some influence there. Our styles are different so there’s not much influence in terms of character creation, but I forever admire his visual artistry. Even his backgrounds tell a story.

The visual novel medium I use for my work is fundamentally like kamishibai. It’s a matter of trying to capture the readers’ hearts with only text and static images. When I think about that, what comes to mind is the scene in the latter half of “Utena” where Anthy is being stabbed with a million swords of hatred. Sure, everyone uses solid blacks and reds in their direction, but the sense of it was overwhelmingly different. “Even if I can’t reach that level, aim for art, make something that will stay in people’s hearts and minds”—I think that feeling made me the person I am today. Writers write because we don’t quite trust the power of images. Animators and directors express things visually because they don’t quite trust the power of words. The two groups are normally unable to understand one another, but “Utena” just had so many things that work as a reference.

For example, a theme of the game “Fate/EXTRA CCC” is “girls are monsters”. I wanted to make an RPG that reached the height of passion. The way the key background art is dark pink, gothic, and retro-yet-fetishistic is an homage to “Utena”, a sign of my respect for it.

—On the other hand, the backgrounds in the adaptations of “Kara no Kyoukai” or the “Fate” series tend more towards realism.

Nasu: That’s true. I do think abstract background art that’s pretty but has a do-not-enter atmosphere might be more fitting, but all the other members of the staff shot me down because “That doesn’t fit Nasu-san’s style” (laughs)

Once a work is released into the world, it doesn’t belong only to the creator but to the readers as well, so if every reader thinks “The realistic style is more fitting”, I think that’s the correct choice for the visuals. If I were a novelist, all the responsibility would be on me, so I could make it suit my own tastes. I could write for just one reader, and if it doesn’t sell I could just live on corn snacks for a year (laughs). But I’m making games. I have 15 staff members working on my script along with me, and if we fail, I’m not the only one taking the fall. So I want to listen to the staff’s opinions and make something that will be as widely accepted as possible.

Director Ikuhara the swan emperor?

—Games and anime are different mediums, but one thing they have in common is that they are group productions. What makes Director Ikuhara great from your perspective as a manager and leader?

Nasu: An individual can share their visual sense, themes, and ego with five other people. Maybe even ten. But you know, it’s pretty much impossible once you get to thirty people. If you try to force thirty people to share your vision and make a work out of it, the result just becomes something people will vaguely remember having seen somewhere. There’s no getting around that.

Now, then, that brings us to the works of Ikuhara—why do his works always stand out from the crowd?! I think it’s probably because Ikuhara-san controls everything to communicate his aesthetics and and ideas to the staff. That’s an unbelievable magic power, practically demonic.

I’ve met Ikuhara-san before, and I asked him “How do you share your vision?!”, to which he answered, “Well, I just can?” (laughs) What’s amazing about Ikuhara-san is not just that his visuals and themes are beautiful and his characters are powerful, but the directing power that lets him input those things into the staff and get a consistent output.

I think Anno Hideaki-san is the type to burn himself out in battle—”Devote thyself wholly unto this work”—while Ikuhara-san is more like a beautiful (at least at first glance), swanlike ruler. In Anno-san’s case he’s the one shedding the most blood, so everyone else is like “Well, we gotta stand by him. If we don’t, Anno-san’s a goner.” Ikuhara-san is the opposite extreme, so even if he’s suffering under the surface he never shows it to the staff, and never lets down the image of the beautiful emperor throughout the entire long production process. So everyone trusts him and follows him. When I met him he reminded me of Yang Wen-li, but when it comes to production he’s Reinhard. He’s unbeatable.

—So which type of leader are you? I can picture you on the front lines with a sword.

Nasu: Maybe Job Trünicht… Let’s not go there! (laughs) If it had to be between Yang and Reinhard, I think I’d be Yang. I’m not cut out to be a dictator. Instead, I guess I clean up the problems in everyone’s plans so that they can keep going the direction they want to. When a project gets tough, I’ve always gone “I’ll do the rest myself, so go on to something new and give it your all”, and that’s kind of ingrained into me, but my successors can’t develop if I keep doing this. I’m having trouble with that now. I did plan to back off from “FGO” after one year.

—Currently “FGO” is releasing a chapter 1.5 by the other main writers.

Nasu: That’s right. I thought it would be nice if all four writers could be accepted by the players through their own unique methodologies, so I try to interfere as little as possible. I want the players to understand “‘Fate’ isn’t just Nasu Kinoko, the other writers are amazing too.” Otherwise, the series can’t branch out.

Ikuhara-san and Anno-san, who came before me, have kind of a powerful sense of self and can completely operate the whole staff. Obviously their work is overwhelmingly better for it, but it’s extremely physically taxing, and you might only get the chance for a venture like that once in a lifetime, right? But they’ve done it over and over (laughs) I’m not in the same profession and don’t stand on the same battlefield as them, but inside of me they’re too holy for me to want to approach too closely. I love them, but if I get too close they’ll melt away.

—In 2016, “Shin Godzilla” was released and became a smash hit. Does it energize you to see the creators who influenced you in your student days taking on these big challenges?

Nasu: It was really encouraging. Once I’d finished watching it, I felt like running all the way home for no particular reason (laughs) As you age, your stamina and concentration start to run out. I’m always worrying “I used to be able to write for six hours straight, but now I can’t concentrate after three hours. Is my productive power going down?” But seeing the people who have been at it ten years longer than me still creating amazing things proves to me that I can keep going another ten years.

—Director Shinkai Makoto’s “Your Name” became a hit at the same time. Director Shinkai’s creative career started around the same time as yours, didn’t it?

Nasu: While we were working on “Tsukihime”, he released “She and Her Cat”. Though we were in a different field, we were trying to create something just by ourselves without the backing of a big company as well. It made me feel like we were on the verge of an age where people with a shared vision would be able to create things together without any excess background noise mixed in.

—Thank you very much. In closing, do you have any hopes for Director Ikuhara’s future work?

Nasu: You’re asking what I’d have Director Ikuhara make for me if I was a rich oil magnate? Hmmm… first off, something filled with messy interpersonal relationships and missed connections that still shows something beautiful would feel best, so a human drama. After that, I might want to see some retro-futuristic 80’s sci-fi, like “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Also, I’m not familiar with the “Sailor Moon”-era Director Ikuhara, so some corny eye-popping entertainment. I’d also like to see him break out of the shell of his existing work, so a stylish period piece might not be a bad idea. If it was something with courtesans as a theme I bet we’d see something really beautiful…

But Director Ikuhara wouldn’t be Director Ikuhara if he didn’t attack me from an angle I never expected. I’ll eat anything he puts in front of me. To the lovable fools who thought “I’m going to step into this industry”, Ikuhara-san is the brightest star in the sky. Forever.

(Nasu Kinoko, author; Aoyagi Mihoko, writer)
Recorded March 24, Tokyo

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What Shapes My Soul (Nasu Kinoko, on Ikuhara Kunihiko)

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