The name of Kazuki Nakashima, who is in charge of the series structure (main scriptwriter) for “BNA: Brand New Animal”, is well known among fans of the anime studio, TRIGGER. He is a good friend of director Hiroyuki Imaishi and has shown his skills in “Kill la Kill”, “Promare”, and “Gurren Lagann”. Now he teams up with director Yoh Yoshinari, who produced “Little Witch Academia” by TRIGGER, to depict a cosmopolitan world, “BNA: Brand New Animal”. We interviewed him and asked him what he was trying to portray in the story about a girl facing a new society.
OTAQUEST: “BNA: Brand New Animal” is mainly set in “Anima City”, where Beastmen can live as Beastmen. What kind of discussions were made initially about portraying this place?
Kazuki Nakashima: Director Yoshinari and other producers are the ones who first created the setting of “a world with Beastmen”. Initially, beastmen lurked in the darkness of the world where the humans live and make their own unique world, and the story was about a girl who knows nothing about beastmen going into that world. However, I thought it would be better to make their city more open in order to show the social structure of the beastman society more, so I created the setting of “Anima City”.
OTAQUEST: Why did you choose to bring up the realistic interracial issues rather than the underworld-like fantasy world which was thought of initially?
Kazuki Nakashima: I thought it would be easier to create drama when a girl stands face to face with society in a world of beastmen where it’s widely known to people rather than in an underworld where humans know nothing about it. When I first heard about the image from Director Yoshinari, what came to my mind was a story about boys and girls entering a society to find their own way just like “Romeo’s Blue Skies” from “World Masterpiece Theater”. If it were a movie, it’s like “The Immigrant”, which deals with immigrants. The direction of the stories was different, but I got my first inspiration from them when I drew a city of beastmen.
OTAQUEST: Who are the “Beastmen” in this story?
Kazuki Nakashima: The Beastmen are “human beings who can transform into a beast”. This concept was there from the beginning. The Beastmen have two forms: human form and beastman form. It’s different from “BEASTARS” and “Zootopia” because the Beastmen are not anthropomorphic animals.
OTAQUEST: Michiru Kagemori is a human who turns into a beastman and Shirou Ogami is a beastman who looks like a human. Was this contrast set from the beginning?
Kazuki Nakashima: It was gradually decided during the meetings. By the time I joined the meetings, there was a concept from the beginning that “Michiru didn’t know that she is a beastman, but one day she turns into a beastman and entered the beastman world”. However, we had a concern that it would be hard to show the difference between a human who turned into a beastman (Michiru) and a beastman who has both beastman form and human form from the beginning like Shirou and other beastmen when they appear in the same scene. We were concerned that it would be hard to tell the difference to viewers, so we decided on the idea of “only Michiru cannot turn back into human”.
OTAQUEST: Michiru’s beastified form is a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog), and her best friend Nazuna Hiwatashi’s form is a kitsune (fox). Was this influenced by Japanese mythology?
Kazuki Nakashima: They are very familiar animals to all Japanese people from children to adults because there is an old tale about a tanuki and a kitsune who transform and trick each other. Actually, they used to live near a human village. We even have cup noodles with a motif of each of the animals. <Note: In Japanese ancient times, people offered deep-fried tofu to the god of kitsune. This is why we call soba/udon with deep-fried tofu “kitsune soba/udon”. Since tanuki is a rival of kitsune, we call soba/udon with bits of fried tempura “tanuki soba/udon”.> We know that tanuki is a Japanese endemic species and not a global animal, but since it’s an anime that originated in Japan, we don’t mind that (laughs). A regular beastman cannot transform freely into whatever forms they want in this anime. So, we made a logic that the heroine and the sub-heroine are special in that “they are human who are accidentally turned into a beastman”, and “why is that?” as one of the cores of the story.
OTAQUEST: How was the story developed?
Kazuki Nakashima: I could see the ending point where the story was heading to, so it was important to make a balance for going towards that conclusion. This story is going to be developed as something that unfolds as Michiru sees the world, and the city is going to be written from her perspective. I can clearly say with confidence that this story will not go to outer space (laughs).
OTAQUEST: The baseball story in episode 5 left a strong impression because the story in the earlier episodes (1-4) was serious, but episode 5 was a comedy with sharp lines in the story.
Kazuki Nakashima: We first decided a big rough story, and each episode was allocated to scriptwriters. (BNA) is the story about the city, so at the meeting, we wanted to have episodes that brought the people who live in the city to life. Then one of the scriptwriters, Ms. Kimiko Ueno, threw out the idea of the baseball story. To tell the truth, there were so many contents that we wanted to put into the latter half of the series, so we had to move the story faster. Ms. Ueno said “Can we still use one whole episode with the baseball story in the first half of the series?”, but both I and Director Yoshinari said “we definitely should put baseball talk in” and defended her idea.
OTAQUEST: What was the reason?
Kazuki Nakashima: Because it enriches the whole story. It’s because of these comedic episodes that the series is not only serious but is rich in variety. Anima City is a place to enjoy but is also tough. Some residents have it tough in the city. In that sense, the baseball team, The Bears, is a core part of depicting Anima City. This is how we can make viewers get excited for the climax like “What is going to happen to the city!?” by making them emotionally attached to the city. It’s important to portray the city as a place where people like them exist. Jackie will appear here and there in the latter half of the series (laughs).
OTAQUEST: Also, it was shocking that in episode 5, when the flamingo provoked Michiru on the mound, the flamingo uttered something bad about her appearance.
Kazuki Nakashima: I could not think of that line (laughs). I think only Ms. Ueno was able to write it. She is good at shorter, more piercing lines. Also, regarding the atmosphere between Michiru and Nazuna in episode 6, I think that was another example that only Ms. Nanami Higuchi who worked on the episode could have created. I thought it was important for this work to create the whole story without spoiling such strengths of the scriptwriters for each episode.
OTAQUEST: Such subtleties seem to be important for creating this production.
Kazuki Nakashima: Director Yoshinari and an animation producer at TRIGGER, Ms. Naoko Tsutsumi, said that they wanted to “make Michiru and Nazuna real”. When I was making the scenario, I told Ms. Ueno, Ms. Higuchi, and Ms. Tsutsumi how I wanted to develop the story and got ideas from them on how Michiru and Nazuna would react in a situation and what the characters would say.
OTAQUEST: What inspired you to write the story and come up with ideas for this?
Kazuki Nakashima: The power of the concept art by Ms. Genice Chan was big. It was like a cartoon rather than Japanese anime, and I was instantly able to understand the cosmopolitan atmosphere that this production was aiming for. “Promare” by Director Hiroyuki Imaishi also had a cosmopolitan atmosphere but I felt that it was different. I felt that this is the style of TRIGGER that other studios don’t have.
OTAQUEST: You have worked with both Director Imaishi and Director Yoshinari. What is the style of TRIGGER from your perspective?
Kazuki Nakashima: The characteristics of studio TRIGGER are that there are a lot of super animators and such animators take the position of director. Even if I as a scriptwriter tell them something as a light-hearted idea, they can easily put it into a drawing, and there is a very strong persuasiveness to the drawing. I think my job is to add words to such powerful pictures and make a strong entertaining story.
OTAQUEST: What do you think about the characteristics of Director Imaishi and Director Yoshinari?
Kazuki Nakashima: Mr. Imaishi and I have similar tastes and feelings, so we make productions by turning edgy and high-voltage things that we like into a caricature. If I were to compare it with a car, we are wheels that move together. On the other hand, Director Yoshinari is very careful and plans everything. In “BNA” I was doing storytelling to fit his grammar. If I compare with a car again, working with Director Yoshinari is like I’m a navigator. I’m in a position to say “If you want to do this, you should go this way”.
OTAQUEST: Is it difficult for you to change your mode?
Kazuki Nakashima: I worked for a publishing company as an editor for 28 years, so I have a lot of experience. <Note: Nakashima used to be an editor for Mr. Yoshito Usui, the manga artist of the manga “Crayon Shin-chan”. He has also worked on some of the movie series as a chief producer and scriptwriter.> Japanese manga editors usually act more like a producer, consulting with the artist to create their work. Among them, I was the type of editor who develops a story together with a manga artist. I think I worked in the same way for “BNA”, as well.
OTAQUEST: I think “living together” was also the theme in “Promare” and “Gurren Lagann” which you mentioned earlier and that you worked on with Director Imaishi. What do you think about this theme in “BNA”?
Kazuki Nakashima: In this production, Director Yoshinari and Producer Tsutsumi strongly stated the theme of women’s empowerment at first rather than “living together”, and I thought it was something new. As I said earlier in this interview, what I wanted to write was how Michiru can find her way to live life in her own way and how she can change society when she goes into a new environment.
According to Director Yoshinari, “The Beastmen society in Anima City is a metaphor for those who are bound by the past in that they have a fixed mind of who they are.” Then we used the concept of having Beastmen as a device for the story, but this is still about the story of Michiru. A story about a girl who is left in an environment she could have never imagined but meets various people and finds her own way.
This is what we wanted to make as a team. In the latter half of the series, it’s about the story of Nazuna’s religious cult, and Alan (Alan Sylvasta) is going to be deeply involved in that story. While the relationship between Michiru, Shirou, and Nazuna will be the main focus, the story about why Michiru and Nazuna became Beastmen and the story about why Shirou is immortal will also play out in the background. The climax is an action-packed situation, but it’s not a story that ends on its own. Please enjoy watching until the end.