Composer Kevin Penkin on Symphonic Metal and Flamenco Music Influences in The Rising of the Shield Hero, and More!
We sit down with The Rising of the Shield Hero’s composer, Kevin Penkin, and producer Junichiro Tamura!
At Crunchyroll Expo, we were excited to premiere the first episode of The Rising of the Shield Hero, and what a premiere it was! If you didn’t get a chance to see the first episode, fear not, because the show will be coming out soon in January 2019, so there’s plenty of time to get ready for this unique take on isekai fantasy action!
The Rising of the Shield Hero follows Naofumi Iwatani as he gets summoned into a parallel world, but things don’t go quite as planned for this “hero”--he’s not very easy to get along with, a bit uncharismatic, and to top it off, his only piece of “legendary” equipment is a shield. Stuck in a new world filled with danger and intrigue, is there anyone that Naofumi can trust, and just what can he do without any means of attacking his enemies?
Following the premiere, we were honored to get a chance to sit down and talk to Junichiro Tamura, the head of production for the 1st anime division at Kadokawa, who has overseen series like Bungo Stray Dogs, Chio’s School Road, and Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion, and Kevin Penkin, a composer whose works include anime like Under the Dog and Norn9, video games like Defenders Quest and the upcoming Necrobarista, and last year won the Crunchyroll Anime Award for his work on Made in Abyss. Let’s see what they had to say!
Hello! Thank you for speaking with us today. Could you tell us a bit about yourselves first?
Junichiro Tamura: I’m the head of the 1st anime division, and I work mostly on KADOKAWA IP titles, like novels and manga.
Kevin Penkin: I just walked in off the street. I don’t go here! (everyone laughs) I am an Australian living in London, and I do music for anime and games. I did some titles like Made in Abyss and Under the Dog, and now The Rising of the Shield Hero. Also did work on a game called Florence, which came out earlier this year, and I’m also doing other games like Necrobarista, which is coming out next year. So yeah, I do music for things, and occasionally get paid for it.
KP: Occasionally. Well, actually, no, no, more than occasionally, you know, FINALLY! (laughs)
We're looking forward to The Rising of the Shield Hero! What has it been like to work on this series?
JT: This project mostly came out of trying to get more fans from overseas. Crunchyroll producer, Sae Ho Song, was the one to tip us off about Shield Hero, so that’s what prompted us to make it; he told us it was popular overseas. That’s also another reason why Kevin is part of this project, so we can get more overseas fans.
KP: For me, this is my first Crunchyroll title, and it’s also the first big title I’ve been doing since Made in Abyss finished airing. Originally, there was a bit of pressure, cause trying to find a way to do another project and not in the same way, but try and find a new and unique voice for Shield Hero. At the start, it was a bit of a challenge, but as the project started to pick up steam, we started writing more music, I found that it was actually quite natural to switch gears from one style, from one approach to another, because it was a completely different anime to what I’ve been used to writing before. And especially when it came to writing for battle music, trying to think of interesting ways to create tension in a battle track, for example, that would not be a typical approach was quite fun! So yeah, it’s been an interesting experience getting into Shield Hero, and it’s been really fun, and very very challenging, but very very enjoyable as well!
Yeah, you mentioned something back at the Shield Hero premiere: symphonic metal and flamenco music? I bet that was part of the challenge!
KP: Yeah, that was interesting meeting to have when they gave me that idea! (laughs) It’s not necessarily about how do you blend one instrument with another; you can always find a way, but it’s about how to convince them that you know what you’re doing. Trying to figure out a way where every instrument would be pretty well balanced with one another was sort of the challenge for when it comes to that type of writing. For example, there was the main theme that was shown in the first episode and also in the PV, which is a classic example of what the soundtrack will be in terms of variation. It’s gonna jump sometimes between in-your-face symphonic rock and then it’ll have a sort of more sensitive guitar sounds at times. I’m trying to create almost a bit of an emotional whiplash between these two set of contrasting styles that will yield interesting emotional results with the audience. It’s still too early to tell exactly how it’ll play out, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing how people react to the full soundtrack in due course.
You two have worked together before. Can you explain a bit about how your relationship developed?
JT: We haven’t met face-to-face until just a few days ago for Crunchyroll Expo! (laughs) We’ve done quite a few Skype calls to just talk about music, though!
KP: I’ve got my story all wrong…! (everyone laughs) But I thought in January we had met, but I was too jet lagged at the time to remember who exactly was there and wasn’t there! (everyone laughs) Because I’ve been talking with Tamura-san multiple times on Skype, I’m already quite familiar, even though we haven’t apparently met in person before just now. (laughs) We’ve had some pretty cool detailed discussions involving the direction of the music and where to go, and how we should develop whatever themes we may have composed for Shield Hero so far. We do have a really cool working relationship. So cool that I thought we had already met! (laughs) But nevertheless, Tamura-san’s really good to work with, because Tamura-san has a very clear vision for Shield Hero, so he knows what he wants and when he wants it. However, he’s also very respectful if he thinks that we just want to try writing music away from thinking about too many specific things, and just sort of trying to get almost like an imageboard of the music and then try to focus it down from there. We have a very good back and forth!
JT: The meeting he thought that we were having in January, I wanted to come, but I couldn’t because I had another obligation at the time.
KP: I just forgot! Your presence was just so strong! (everyone laughs)
Kevin, how did you get interested in working in music?
KP: It helps that I have literally no skill in any other set of field. (laughs) If you’re only good at one thing, you might as well make it a good one! I decided very early on that I wanted to get into music, and by the age of 10, I knew that I wanted to do soundtracks. It started with games like Metroid Prime; I really wanted to work at Nintendo when I was a kid, so that led me to studying Japanese and immersing myself in the culture, going there multiple times, which sort of broke open the door to start working in companies in Japan. It’s always been a passion of mine to do music for games and anime, because I definitely feel like I’m able to create the music that I want to create the best when I’m working with a team on a project for multimedia. Let it be interactive or linear, it doesn’t matter, what matters is working with a team on a creative vision that can inspire me and allow me to do a good job.
You've worked on other anime, such as Made in Abyss, which won a Crunchyroll Anime Award last year. You've also worked on video games like Norn9 and with Nobuo Uematsu. Are you a big anime and game fan yourself?
KP: For sure! Since I was a kid, I’ve been playing games, and even though I might not have enough time now, for good reasons, I still do play. I started out playing games like Metroid Prime and Smash Bros. I was really into the GameCube; that was my console! That solidified my passion for wanting to do this. Anime was a slightly different beast, in the sense that when I started watching anime, I didn’t realize what it was, and then slowly started getting into not just the production of anime, but the culture around it. I find the anime consumer culture really interesting and really fun and incredibly passionate as well. I think Crunchyroll Expo is a perfect example of that! You see everyone dressing up as whoever they want to dress up as and cosplaying, and it’s really gratifying, almost give you a bit more extra energy to do your job, and even better, if you can! I know that I came into anime, not just because I really like the production aspect of it, but I really like everything that comes with the culture of anime.
Tamura-san, your show Chio's School Road recently finished airing. That show has a lot of references to video games and a unique sense of humor. Were there any challenges adapting that series to an anime?
JT: It really wasn’t too much trouble. What I was worried about was that first person shooters and shooters in general aren’t really popular in Japan. My concern with that when we adapted those scenes, that we would get it corrected. That way, people who are actually into FPS games, when they would watch it didn’t feel like “Oh, they don’t know about FPS at all”.
Your other show, Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion has also finished airing this past season. What challenges did that series present between adapting the manga and real historical events behind it?
JT: We tried really hard to make it as historic as possible. Even though they’re all samurai, their armor and weapons change throughout the era, so we tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible.
Kevin, as a composer for anime, when creating music for these series what do you draw on for inspiration? Do you learn the source material first?
KP: What I have discovered now doing a few more projects, is that it can vary from project to project how I try and achieve what I need to for the music. Sometimes reading the source material is the best way, and then sometimes taking the reference from other things, such as background art, or from other characteristics of the show, those might sometimes be a fresh wave of inspiration in terms of how you approach writing music. For example, sometimes I get very stuck on the color palette of background art and try to derive some textures or musical ideas from that. A lot of times, the source material comes into play; it’s important that you are accurately representing what happens on the screen. But then also, looking at other things to do with anime, like anime has a lot of interesting movement and style, with the way that characters move and how they’re animated, which is quite unique! So, sometimes looking at how characters move on-screen can actually be quite interesting to derive tempo from, for example. Looking at how characters are moving on-screen, and especially with such a unique approach to animation that I believe a lot of Japanese animation tends to have, that can be really fun and an interesting challenge in terms of trying to find something interesting to say with the music that is still very much connected with whatever show I might be working on.
Kevin, you work on both anime and games. What do you find is different between them? Or perhaps, similarities?
KP: From a practical standpoint, one is linear and one is non-linear, so how the music is written, at some point, is gonna have to factor that in. For example, when we were doing a game called Florence last year, we recorded the music in very short sections at a time, so it could be stitched together and sometimes in any other order it could be triggered in different ways depending on the player’s movement. When it comes to anime, or by extension, any other sort of linear content, you can pick your spots as to where you want have these emotional apexes. Anime is slightly different, because you employ what is called the “menu approach”, which is where you’re writing a lot of music that isn’t synchronized to picture first off, but then you’re synchronizing it to multiple spots in the series at a later date. Anime is almost like an interesting hybrid of non-linear and linear approaches to writing music, and it’s very cool to see how it comes together, because it actually becomes almost like a team effort. And I think it’s actually to the credit of anime, because I do feel that sometimes, especially if you’re starting out or a young composer, having the objectivity that you need to know where exactly music should start and stop, even though it’s an essential skill, does take awhile to develop, so working with a fantastic team like Shield Hero, or any other project, has been not only inspiration, but a wonderful learning moment as well!
Tamura-san, what is your process when producing a show based on a novel series, like Shield Hero?
JT: When I’m specifically working with novels, since most of it is not illustrated, we have to make and design everything from scratch, from all the small things like props to background characters. That’s probably the most difficult thing for me when working from novels.
Thank you so much again to Tamura-san and Kevin for taking the time to speak with us and talk a bit about their processes in producing anime and music, as well as how they’ve worked together. We can’t wait to see how the rest of The Rising of the Shield Hero pans out for our unfortunate hero Naofumi, and hope you’re excited to watch it next year right here on Crunchyroll!
What are you looking forward to in The Rising of the Shield Hero? Let us know in the comments!
Nicole is a features and a social video script writer for Crunchyroll. Known to profess her love of otome games over at her blog, Figuratively Speaking. When she has the time, she also streams some games. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries