ANIME INTERVIEW - Kemono Friends 2 Director Ryuuichi Kimura on Making a Modern Zoo
Other credits include Aikatsu!, Gurren Lagann, and Touch
Ryuuichi Kimura is the director of Kemono Friends 2 and a twenty year veteran of the Japanese animation industry. In this exclusive interview, Ryuuichi Kimura shares his thoughts on helming a sequel to a massive hit, his takes on the voice cast, and reminisces about what it was like working on other anime from days gone by. Enjoy below!
How did you come to be selected as the director of Kemono Friends 2?
Ryuuichi Kimura: I’ve been working with Hosoya-san, a producer with TV Tokyo, for several years on the Aikatsu! series. He approached me in late 2017 and said he was looking for a director for the Kemono Friends sequel series. I had another title that I was working on, but he promised that it would be a cooperative production effort, so I accepted.
The first Kemono Friends series was a huge hit in Japan. Did you feel any pressure when tasked with the role of director for the sequel?
Not particularly. I believe that being a director means putting in your utmost effort to ensure that your production, no matter what it is, will be great. So whether the previous series was a hit or not, the work I do remains the same. But I did hope that I would live up to the expectations of those who loved the first series.
With so many different new anime titles coming out in Japan each season, why do you think Kemono Friends rose above the rest with such outstanding success?
I’m sure there are several reasons. Nothing becomes a big hit for only one reason. I think it took several factors, some intended and others unintended, combining with good luck to result in success. And I believe one of the key factors was that it succeeded in guiding its viewers to take a proactive role in their comprehension of the story.
Do you feel the characters and story of Kemono Friends 2 have evolved since the first series? Do you consider this a faithful continuation of the first series, or have new elements been introduced?
Kemono Friends 2 is a new story. It features some of the same characters as the first series, but it’s not a continuation of it. Many characters exist in the world of Kemono Friends, so there are many stories that could be told, but the current storyline was chosen because there was a demand to create a new story focusing more on humans.
How did you prepare to begin production of Kemono Friends 2?
I mainly did a lot of research on animals and the history of zoos. The relationship between zoos and humans is the theme I’m weaving into the story. The role played by zoos has changed greatly since the first came into existence, and the history behind that is extremely interesting. I use them as references since the world of Kemono Friends is basically an extension of a modern zoo.
What is your impression of the lead voice actors in Kemono Friends 2?
I felt that Ozaki Yuka-san, who has returned to voice Serval again, has matured quite a bit. The previous series was her first time in a main role, and I think that freshness suited her character well, but she now has a broader range of expression that gives a sense of the character’s growth and makes her performance more powerful. Koike Riko-san, who voices Caracal, is playing a main role for the first time in this series. But I think her cheerfulness and the quality of her voice allow her to portray Caracal’s character exceptionally well. Ishikawa Yui-san, who voices Kyururu, is a very experienced voice actress, and I know the strength of her acting very well from other projects we’ve worked on together. She’s doing a wonderful job of expressing the character of Kyururu, who loves to draw and is a bit delicate, but still has the energy you’d expect from a child of that age.
Some of your past projects have earned great popularity among American audiences, such as Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. Do you have any particular memories from your work on those titles?
These two projects were directed by my good friend Imaishi Hiroyuki. We don’t get many chances to see each other since we’re both quite busy, but I was very happy to have the opportunity to work with such a close friend on both series. Gurren Lagann, in particular, was a title that Imaishi-kun had loved ever since he was a student, and seeing him have the opportunity to make that robot anime a reality left a deep impression on me, as well.
In 1998, you worked on the TV special Touch: Miss Lonely Yesterday: From There to You… as assistant director. What are your thoughts on how the anime industry has changed in the 20 years since then?
Touch was a project I worked on when I was just starting out. Looking back on it now, I feel like I was lacking in many ways, but it’s a memorable project that helped me build up a lot of experience. In the 20 years since then, there are some aspects of the anime industry that are completely different, while others haven’t changed at all. I couldn’t even begin to give a comprehensive list of what has changed and what hasn’t, but I can say that I believe it’s been moving in a positive direction in recent years. There was a period during the early 2000s when a lot of anime content was disproportionately dominated by certain themes, most likely for commercial reasons. But since the big earthquake in eastern Japan in 2011, there’s been a clear increase in variety among anime titles. I think that’s a very good thing.
How did you decide that you wanted to work in the anime industry?
I was born in 1971, and the ‘70s and ‘80s were a very prolific period for anime production in Japan. Many great titles came out during that time frame. An increasing number of young people were indulging in it, and I started to have more contact with various anime titles myself, so I eventually set my sights on becoming a creator of anime.
Do you have an all-time favorite anime?
I have many favorites. Ashita no Joe 2, Mobile Suit Gundam, Anne of Green Gables, Laputa: Castle in the Sky... there are more than I can list.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
Listening to music, watching movies, seeing plays, and reading books. Also drinking alcohol, eating good food, and playing with cats.
Finally, is there any message you’d like to give the readers of this interview?
First and foremost, please enjoy Kemono Friends 2! There are many Friends hoping you’ll watch! The theme of this series is “home.” What does “home” mean to both humans and animals? That’s what I’m hoping to depict through the world of Kemono Friends. No matter which country you live in, “home” is an important concept to all people. Through the story of Kyururu’s search for “home,” I hope everyone will think about what “home” means to them. Also, I’m very happy that my work can be seen in many countries outside Japan. I hope that it will reach many audiences through Crunchyroll.
Watch Kemono Friends 2 now on Crunchyroll!
Patrick Macias is editor in chief of Crunchyroll News & Otaku USA magazine. He is currently serializing his latest project, MONDO TOKYO.