Director Yutaka Uemura sheds some light on our favorite reincarnated soldier
Saga of Tanya the Evil is one of the most unique isekai shows of the modern anime age with its protagonist not only being reincarnated into a magic-imbued version of World War I instead of your regular fantasy world, but also having to survive in the body of a little girl. But how did the team behind go about adapting the light novel by Carlo Zen into a fully fledged world?
Series director Yutaka Uemura was present as a guest at this year's AnimagiC in Mannheim, Germany. We used this opportunity to discuss his thoughts on Japan's love for Germany, his impression of Tanya as a character as well as the possibility of a second season.
First, I would like to know if this is your first time in Germany and if so, how do you like it so far?
Uemura: Actually, it’s not my first but my second time in Germany. I’ve been here ten years ago, for the promotion of my first work as a director, Dantalian no Shoka. The show is about England, Germany, France—about the different countries in Europe. It also takes place at a similar time as my current project, so I do feel a certain connection between me and Europe.
Saga of Tanya the Evil was your first Project for Studio NUT and so far, the most notable production of the studio. How was it to work for a young studio like that and to immediately be involved with such a popular show?
Uemura: It’s a bit strange to say it directly in front of the producer, but I honestly didn’t expect Saga of Tanya the Evil to be this successful. I’ve worked with the producer, Tsunoki-san and the Chairman of NUT, Narai-san before—so I already knew both. We already had a foundation of trust for our work. Because of that I had no doubt that things would work out and that’s why I took the job. Originally there was this other company, Chiptune, which is known for its 3D animations. So I had high hopes for this project. I trusted the people involved, and as such, it has been a great honor for me and in the company as well. It’s a small studio—but a very good one.
You were also employed as a Director at Gainax while working on The Mystic Archives of Dantalian and you worked for MAPPA for a while, as well. How was the switch between studios—any interesting stories you want to share?
Uemura: I don’t get this question very often, so I never had the opportunity to talk about this. I didn’t just work for Gainax, MAPPA and NUT, but also for Tatsunoko Productions and Toei. I worked with some rather famous directors there, like Keiichi Sato of Tiger & Bunny fame or Kenji Nakamura who is known for Tsuritama. I have to thank the latter for my breakthrough as a director. I worked with Sato-san for about 2-3 years. I worked for Gainax and under the guidance of Sato-san I was able to work at Tatsunoko and Toei at the same time. It was thanks to him that I was able to work at Studio MAPPA, and after my work as a Director for recognized there, I received the opportunity to work at NUT.
Let’s talk about Tanya: There are several differences between the light novel, the manga and the anime. Can you talk a bit about the production process? How did you make the decisions that define these different versions exist in the first place?
Uemura: I already noticed while reading the light novel that we are dealing with a very complex story. It is about several countries and includes several time skips. I figured that this is possible because it is a written text. If I were to adapt it visually as an anime, then I can’t do it exactly like that. So, my main goal was to make it accessible for the viewer. Therefore, I decided to focus exclusively on Tanya and to construct the timeline around her. As a result, I had to cut down the presence of the other countries a bit, but it made it easier to grasp the story.
Tanya has some heavy connections to World War I, so I would like to know how you approached the research of German history and how far did it influence the anime?
Uemura: Generally speaking, if there is a topic, I’m not familiar with, I enjoy learning new things. So, it was quite the joy and pretty interesting to learn more about World War I and Europe. That being said, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian is also set during the early 20th Century, so I had a solid foundation to build on and already knew quite a few things about Europe during that time period. It really pays off to have 10 years of experience as a director. Something that is rather noteworthy about Tanya is that the reality of war is portrayed with a lot of detail. Therefore, I wanted to convey these details to the viewer as realistic as possible—even if it is a fantasy world in the end.
And how did you work out how to portray the more fantastic elements? Like those flying mechanical horses? And are there any specific details you paid attention to particularly?
Uemura: In the original novel, not all details are pictured or described. But once you turn it into visuals, you see every single one. Therefore, we had to come up with a concept to make people fly. We agreed—or rather I agreed—that people shouldn’t be capable of flight on their own like in Dragon Ball, since then the aspect of technological progress would be lost. You are supposed to see that the technology is way too advanced for what is supposed to be possible for the early 20th century. So, we had to find a low-tech solution that makes it possible for people to fly. We wanted a big machine people have to wear on their body—this turned into that box Tanya has to carry in front of her belly and those horses you can use to fly; to show advanced but unrefined technology.
In regard to the previous question, did you also study the technology of the time period, of World War I?
Uemura: I wouldn’t say that I heavily researched that field of studies. But I looked up some documents. For example there was this one gadget—okay, it’s from World War II, but still—it’s called the Enigma. It was huge and it became obvious that such a machine wouldn’t be nearly as big if we were to build it today; we would need less hardware which wouldn’t have been possible back then. Things like these can be used as an indicator of how advanced technology is. Though it should also be noted that I started out in the IT field, so I had a certain basic knowledge about technology.
One of the more interesting artistic choices you made was to avoid showing the face of Tanya in her previous life in the beginning of episode 2. Would you mind elaborating on that decision and whether it has any deeper meaning?
Uemura: We already discussed while working on the script how we want to tackle that issue. At one point we considered using a male voice actor to vocalize Tanya’s inner thoughts. We thought it might be interesting to hear a man inside of her head but a girl when Tanya actually speaks. But while this might have been interesting, we also figured that Tanya would lose her charm this way. We had to find a balance between the cute Tanya and her background. That’s why we decided not to show the face of this man as you would then always end up thinking of him, her “true form” when looking at Tanya and we didn’t want to lose her appeal to that.
The show and Tanya’s character arc deal with the inner conflict between the emotional and the rational a lot. So, I would like to know, what was the most interesting aspect of this aspect for you while working on it?
Uemura: You could say that this conflict between the rational and emotional is the central theme of Tanya. On the one hand, we wanted to portray war in a realistic way but on the other we didn’t want to lose the emotional component as it is still supposed to be entertainment. And I believe that this is what makes a human being: To be emotional and rational at the same time. A human is interesting because they are emotional. But if they were only emotional there would only be conflict. Yet if someone were to be just rational, they would be completely uninteresting. So technically speaking, there is no right solution for this conflict. We have to keep working and thinking about it. In regard to the anime: We wanted to make sure that the viewer is entertained and also takes something away from it; to make them aware of this inner conflict. So yeah, I think that this conflict is the core theme of our anime.
Now this is not just about Tanya. You often see many aspects of German culture or language in anime and Japanese pop culture in general. Since it interests many fans that enjoy seeing those nods to Germany, I would like to ask you: What do you think is the reason for this German influence and do you have some personal interest in using Germany as a source for inspiration?
Uemura: As long as I have been alive, I noticed that Japan gets more and more Americanized. We get closer to American culture every day. But the modern Japan also sees something cool in Germany. This includes the German language, as well. Just to name one example, I took a walk yesterday and stumbled over this can of beer. I really liked the design as you wouldn’t see something like that in Japan and these small things inspire us.
Well, there’s one reason why German beer is so popular!
There are some aspects of a director’s profession and the work on anime in general that are not common knowledge. Is there something you would like to tell us or is there something you want to put the spotlight on that you think people should be more aware of?
Uemura: This is just my personal opinion. I used to be an otaku myself and always wanted to know how things work behind the curtain. I wanted to understand train of thoughts and read interviews. I practically inhaled audio commentary on DVDs. But now that I’m a director myself it doesn’t seem so important to show what I’m doing and how I exactly do it. I don’t think that everyone needs to know either. Now I’m just wishing that every fan can just enjoy what we produce. I think that the secret of anime fandoms across the world: That everyone can choose how to be a fan.
I guess it’s important to have a mystery element to spark the imagination?
Uemura: (laughs) I suppose that’s what I’m getting at.
Anything about upcoming projects you want to share with us?
Uemura: What I’m actually allowed to tell you is that we can finally announce the first original work by Studio NUT. It’s called Deca-Dence. It is directed by Tachikawa-san [Editorial Note: Director of Mob Psycho 100]. He didn’t just support me while working on Tanya, he already helped me with The Mystic Archives of Dantalian.
You are probably not allowed to say anything about it, but can you tell us something about a possible second season of Tanya?
Uemura: The first season was a smash hit. The movie was also well received. So, there is nothing that speaks against a second season. There is nothing stopping us except one thing: Tanya is very exhausting to produce. We would be happy if you would give us some time to recharge our batteries, and then maybe.
To close things off I have a bit of a less serious question: If you could live in any point in German history, which one would you chose?
Uemura: Well, if I can pick my profession, I would pick the industrial revolution before World War I and live as a nobleman. If not, and I have to be a normal citizen, I think today would be the choice. So, either the present or maybe the future.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Interview conducted by René Kayser. Interpretation provided by Jasmin Dose.
René Kayser works as a Social Media and PR Manager for Crunchyroll Germany. He tweets under @kayserlein where he likes to annoy people to read the visual novel of Umineko When They Cry.