An interview with Makoto Uezu at Crunchyroll Expo 2018!
It’s rare to meet and interview subject as eager to speak as Makoto Uezu. Before we started, he encouraged me to ask any question I liked, assuring me that he “loved to talk.” After only a few questions, the source of his enthusiasm became pretty obvious. Uezu genuinely loves anime and has turned his hobby into a career that he’s passionately thrown himself into. He credits that passion for his success in the industry, providing him with countless opportunities over the course of his career. With around 50 anime under his belt after 20 years, it’s hard to argue with either half of that statement, and the length and breadth of his work has also given him a unique insight. Between Uezu’s many obligations during Crunchyroll Expo 2018, he generously allowed me to pick his brain for details about his work and the process of making anime.
How did you get into writing and, subsequently, working in anime?
This goes back to around the year 2000. Back then I wasn’t really interested in doing any work or working hard. I didn’t have any purpose or goal in life, I was just really lazy. All I wanted to do was play around and have fun. In Japan, during that time, the internet wasn't that big of a deal yet but I was really interested in owning my own computer. I had a PC at that time. Since I was always looking for ways to have fun, I started my own blog, which weren’t a big deal back then yet. I started writing reviews and journaling until some writers in Tokyo noticed my blog and asked me if, since I was really good at doing this kind of stuff, I’d like to do it for a living.
So they scouted me and I became a professional in that field. What that meant is I was invited to work in the anime on the production side. Growing up, I really loved anime to begin with, so I was really excited to work in the anime industry. Since then, I’ve felt like I finally have some purpose in life and began to set goals for myself.
At the time you were attending Osaka University?
Yes, I majored in film.
Did you write any original fiction?
No, I wrote mostly reviews about anime and games. Things I did for fun, I wrote reviews for on my blog. I wouldn’t say I was a professional writer back then, but I really wanted to be one. So I kept writing and having fun.
Is it true you discovered both Assassination Classroom and KonoSuba before your staff entered negotiations to adapt them to anime?
For Assassination Classroom yes but when KonoSuba was released I wasn’t reading as many light novels anymore.
But you read quite a bit, yes?
Manga yes, I read a lot of manga even now. Light novels, I feel like I don’t read as many as when I was younger.
What are you favorite manga right now?
Honcho, it’s spin-off of Kaiji.
And you also read a lot of American comics?
I loved American comics like Marvel and DC. I try my best to do research by reading a lot of American comics.
Any favorite comic?
DC’s Flashpoint series!
Do you feel like your reading contributes a great deal to your writing ability?
Of course! I truly believe that knowing about a lot of different things contributes to my work. When I was younger, as I mentioned before, I was never too diligent about working hard, but I believe that I was much more knowledgeable about anime and manga than many of my peers and that lead to my professional life currently and really helped me getting the jobs that I have now.
Most of your credits are either script or scenario writing. Can you explain the difference between those two roles?
To begin with, they’re completely different jobs. The request for series composition comes directly from the production committee itself to work on a specific title. We work directly with the director and producers of those titles to figure out what general flow and story of the title. After we decide on the overall flow of the anime, script writers write the dialogue and details of each episode. Usually the series composition becomes the head writer and works with the script writers.
Just looking at your credits, it’s easy to see you’re extremely prolific. How do you work so fast?
Interesting question… I truly love anime myself. It’s truly an honor and I feel so lucky that I’m able to work on anime. I just have a lot of fun working on so many titles. I do believe my personal love for anime shows and the directors and producers can tell that I’m passionate. That’s why I think I get a lot of requests to work on titles. I don’t particularly like to work so hard, I just get a lot of work. It’s basically an extension of my own hobbies.
I see on several occasions you’ve been credited on multiple anime in a single season, does this mean you’re working on multiple projects concurrently or have you finished you work on the series before it begins broadcasting?
It really depends on the title. Just because it’s on air, that doesn’t really mean I’m working on scenario at the same time. The timelines for each production are very different and I may be working on one a year or two before it’s broadcast. It doesn’t really depend on my schedule at all.
In a previous interview about Kengan Ashura you spoke of bringing in professional fighters to demonstrate their moves and give the team inspiration. Have you ever used similar research or reference on other productions?
I was actually really excited to work on this title since I was finally able to work on something with real martial arts. We wanted to make it very interesting, so one thing the director and I thought of was, in order to show realistic fighting in the animation, we should speak with actual martial artists. So we asked professional martial artists if we could take videos of them fighting to see their real muscle and body movements. We had so much fun doing that that it escalated into us using those fighters to model out scenes from our storyboards. That was a lot of fun for all of us and I believe it was the best way to get the most accurate body movement for the series.
Do you feel that also benefits you as a writer?
More than the writing I think it was beneficial for the art. On my side, I talked to the mangaka and martial artists to figure out the philosophy behind the story and the characters within it. If you go down the wrong path in martial arts, it’s just violence. I really wanted to know from these people what their philosophies were about controlling their ability to commit violence. I believe that was very beneficial to me working on the series.
Do you organize similar activities for other productions?
Yes, definitely. When I work on a title we do that a lot. We location scout for wherever the title takes place. For Yuki Yuna is a Hero we went to a middle school and took footage of students studying the classroom and watched how they reacted in the environment. We also held focus groups with the students to have them talk to us about their school life, the types of things they do and ways they have fun in school. For Arpeggio of Blue Steel, we went to the port in Yokosuka and took photos and videos of the ships there to get an idea of what they look like. All of this is actually part of my job as a series composition.
Does your work give you the opportunity to meet many creators you’re a fan of?
One person that I really respect out of the authors I’ve met with is Masami Yuuki, the author of Patlabor. I think this is just my own personality, but I’m not really the type to fanboy out even when I meet authors I really like and respect. Maybe I’m just a cold person?
Shoji Kawamori said in a recent interview that streaming Jūshinki Pandora on Netflix presented new challenges since it would be released all at once and he wouldn’t be able to use weekly audience feedback. Is audience response something you have to incorporate into your own work?
I do believe it’s important to know each week how the audience reacted to that episode, but when it comes to changing the storyline or characters, that seems very unlikely. Script and scenario writers plan well in advance, months or even up to a year or two, before its broadcast. It’s really unlikely anything will be changed due to feedback from the audience. I would say, if that’s something they’d want to do, it would have to be a title with more than 2 cours. If it’s a title that long, you can see the reaction from fans toward each character and possibly adjust for the next season that’s coming up maybe half a year in advance.
Boruto had an immense legacy to live up to. What was the attitude of the production going into the project knowing you’d be creating the next leg of the Naruto story?
I definitely felt a lot of pressure when I got the job for Boruto. As you said, it has a huge legacy. The reason why I got the job is very interesting. I heard the production team wanted to shift the people who worked on the title to younger staff, which was one of the reasons why they asked me to work on Boruto. Having young blood come in wasn’t just something the production team wanted to do, the story itself is set in the world after the fourth great ninja war. It’s a story focusing on the next generation who never experienced that conflict. That was something I definitely believe Kishimoto-sensei wanted to see. A fresh new generation.
How did you go about making Boruto distinct from its predecessor?
We knew from talking with Kishimoto-sensei himself that we wanted to emphasize the difference between Naruto and Boruto’s world. The world in Boruto is modernized compared to Konoha from Naruto’s time. We really wanted to show the viewers the difference brought about by the change in generations, which plays a big role in the Boruto series. We really wanted to show children after a war who had no idea what their parents had go through.
This is the part where I believe Kishimoto-sensei is truly a genius when it comes to creating stories. In the world of Boruto he really wanted to show these children, who have no idea what war is like, undergoing new trials and tribulations to mature. There are obviously problems even in modernized societies so these are new challenges Boruto and his peers need to go through and a new story the viewers will be able to see.
Radiant is notable for being authored by a French mangaka, Tony Valente. Do you feel he brings anything to his story that you don’t typically see in Japanese manga?
What I realized when I was reading Radiant is that it’s really clear that he’s done a lot of research on Japanese manga. You can tell from the visuals that he’s read a lot of shonen. The style is very reminiscent. I believe it’s masterpiece because the manga is a very good, visually pleasing, artistic work.
Even though I just said that visually it’s very reminiscent of Japanese manga, something that very unique about Radiant itself and that I love Tony’s work for, is the themes that come out in the story. I feel that it’s very European. Racism and social status are both big things in Radiant which are uncommon in shonen manga. I feel that that is very important.
What sort of research or site scouting have you done for Radiant?
We went to France a lot and took a lot of photos there. There’s a town in the story called Rumble Town. The director thinks the town is very reminiscent of steampunk so we scouted locations that are very similar. It reminds me a lot of the environment in Final Fantasy VII.
The best shonen always have a major theme for the story. What would you say is Radiant’s driving message?
I mentioned this a little bit earlier but there are very big themes in Radiant. There’s a lot of social commentary on racism. The characters themselves experience prejudice and are fighting to end prejudice.
What’s the biggest appeal for Radiant for you personally?
I’ve actually already seen the completed first episode. I think it was very beautifully done and I’m very excited to see the rest of it. I think it’s very important for families to watch this show together. I want kids to watch this show and have a broad audience for the show.
Any final statements you’d like to give your fans?
Thank you so much for letting me come to America for this event. I’m very honored to be able to visit other countries promoting anime. It’s all possible because of the support from all of you, fans that watch and love anime. I’m very pleased that I’m able to bring anime to places all around the world, not just Japan. Thank you so much for supporting all our work!