OTAQUEST supporter and member of EXILE, NESMITH, is an outspoken fan of the world of Puella Magi Madoka Magica so when we were arranging our month of features on the series he was one of the first people we reached out to. It worked out perfectly that he was available to interview Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story producer Tatsuya Ishikawa on our behalf. Mr. Ishikawa has been involved with the Madoka Magica franchise since taking on producer duties for the third movie entry in the franchise and as such was able to share some particularly interesting insight on the development of the Magia Record project. We hope you enjoy the complete interview below, in English, produced with cooperation from Monthly EXILE Magazine!
NESMITH: Although I knew of Puella Magi Madoka Magica from when it became an anime, I wasn’t able to watch it when it first aired. Then I started watching it when it became available to stream, and I was immediately hooked on the world. It didn’t take long for me to start playing Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Thank you very much.
NESMITH: the gap between the visuals and the story of Madoka Magica really tugs at my heartstrings. Becoming invested in the story because you think to yourself “why are these girls having to fight these witches?” It is, I think, the charm of the series.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Yeah, actually the whole reason I joined Aniplex was that I watched Madoka. Right before I joined, there was this newspaper advertisement. Aniplex was expanding and looking for more staff to join. One of the images used in that advertisement was of Madoka Magica, and just like you, Nesmith, I was drawn into the world of it and started thinking about how fun it might be to be on the creative side of [the industry], so I applied.
NESMITH: And were you put in charge of Madoka Magica immediately?
Tatsuya Ishikawa: No, it was actually about two years after I joined, around the time of the third movie’s production when I was invited to be in charge of Madoka. Regarding Magia Record, I took over from where the last producer left off on the game, and am currently in charge of this time’s anime as well.
NESMITH: I take it Madoka Magica is something very impactful to you. I felt that the character design and usage of color was something that didn’t exist in traditional animation up until then. The discomfort of existing there together felt like a representation of their fear of the witches, and it left a huge impact on me.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: The world of Madoka Magica, at least from a production standpoint, was built largely in part by four people. Urobuchi Gen (Nitroplus) made a very hardboiled story and Aoki Ume was in charge of the very cute character design. Shinbou Akiyuki would then combine those two traits into a finished product. Gekidan Inu Curry would then add color to the combined efforts of those three creators. Then everything would come together in the kitchen that is Shaft (production company), where it would all be blended nicely.
NESMITH: Do those kinds of unlikely collaborations happen often in the animation industry?
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Yeah, absolutely. I think originally it wasn’t too common, but it feels like I’ve seen it happening a lot more since the release of Madoka Magica. There may be storyteller and character designer pairings that, at first glance, may seem like oil and water. Or stories where a certain character seems like the protagonist but actually scatters at the beginning of the story. Posters that have a certain character seem like the headliner and are put dead center, only for them to become irrelevant at the very beginning of the story. I feel that [Madoka Magica] was this groundbreaking work that led to this wave of changing how a story is told.
NESMITH: I feel that, I was extremely shocked during episode 3.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: There was this cultural shift towards intentionally blowing the show up after the third episode. I think Madoka Magica was directly responsible for that.
NESMITH: Music is also like that. There’s a great deal of importance in what’s shown first, what’s shown second, and what’s shown third. There’s even this belief that you can create the flow of the album by putting a track that’s representative of the group as the third song. Do you think this has anything to do with how Japanese people think?
Tatsuya Ishikawa: I think there definitely might be something there instinctually, yes. As people who have watched Magia Record are already well aware, Mami is also revealed in…. episode 3.
NESMITH: Yes, exactly! I was so surprised by that!
Tatsuya Ishikawa: It gained a lot of traction on Twitter and was even on the global trending for a while, something I’m incredibly grateful for. To be honest with you, Mami’s reveal being episode 3 wasn’t planned, it just happened to occur naturally in the process of writing the story.
NESMITH: Ah, I see. From a viewer’s perspective Mami, who impacts everyone in the story, being revealed in episode 3 made it feel like the story opened up all at once. Considering just how crucial Mami was to the story in Madoka Magica and just how much she changed the whole mood of the show, I’m a little hesitant about what’s going to happen this time, to say the least.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Haha, that’s true. There were some shocking moments in episode 3 of Madoka Magica, and just all-around more stressful moments in that show. If you watch Magia Record based on that, it’ll probably leave you with a reaction like “Wait, isn’t anyone going to die?” or “Wow, there isn’t a single person that’s unhappy.” Inversely, if someone were to die it’d be falling right into people’s expectations. From a production standpoint, we’re currently faced with the very hard question of how much it should be based on Madoka Magica, and if Magia Record should stand as its own separate thing.
NESMITH: What even were the circumstances that led to the creation of Magia Record?
Tatsuya Ishikawa: In regards to the game, I know it says it on the title but please keep in mind that it’s a side story. It was 2013 and the screening for the third movie had happened, so the Madoka Magica project was put on a break. However, there were always talks of wanting to make another story in the same universe. In 2015 Shaft commemorated the 40th anniversary of their studio. They decided to hold a nationwide exhibition called “MADOGATARI” to celebrate their history, with a strong focus on Madoka Magica and the Monogatari Series. It was then that we had them make a new concept movie for Madoka, written by Mr. Shinbou. Making this movie was, in a sense, planting the seeds for more movement in the franchise. Magia Record was born from the popularity of this concept movie, born from the feelings of everyone who still loved Madoka Magica, it’s world and story and characters. People who felt an unforgettable impact from Madoka. Even without Madoka, magical girls will still populate that world. It’s a world where magical girls are only born from those who desire to become them. Being able to convey that well was the starting point of this side story. The reason we chose to go with a mobile game is that it was an area that was just starting to see rapid growth, and we knew the user base would continue to grow. However, since it was an Aniplex project it was going to be done right. That meant having Aoki Ume do the character designs. That meant having Shaft do all the in-game character animations. For [Magia Record] to share the same genes as the other parts of the franchise, these things were a bare minimum.
NESMITH: I could definitely see how there are some places where it’s easier to start as a game rather than create a regular sequel. There’s a sense of security in the main characters and setting not changing for Madoka Magica. When a new character was revealed, it was always kind of exciting thinking of all the new activities available to me. Having that base of it being Madoka was always nice. When the anime was decided a few years later and the characters were shown it was really exciting because I already knew them, as opposed to them being new reveals.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Hearing you say that makes me incredibly happy. I think that as long as the universe is the same, not only Madoka or Iroha, but other magical girls can come out in the future as well. There’s the main act, followed by their juniors. I know I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I thought there might be some connection with music groups as well.
NESMITH: Kind of like EXILE and EXILEJr.!
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Yes, maybe, haha. I think if Madoka Magica’s world gets bigger, we can even take the story overseas. The Magia Record app is available in North America as well, and there’s actually a character that only makes her debut there. This character is not available in Japan and isn’t a part of the anime, but I feel like it’s completely feasible to bring her over to Japan.
NESMITH: That’s super interesting, kind of like AKB haha
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Typically, we try to release the same thing both overseas and in Japan. However, we’re hoping to be able to do things like what we’ve done in North America in many other places. In the past few years, the environment for Japanese anime to be consumed legally overseas in the same way that Japan does has been made readily available. Especially in English, subbed and dubbed versions are released very quickly. I feel anime, in particular, is easily accessible by many people, since, depending on the country, it can be enjoyed on regular broadcast TV, as well as online. I went to AnimeNYC, an anime convention in New York City in November of last year. While I was there, I saw many people who cosplayed not only Madoka Magica but also Magia Record. There were some characters that don’t get as much love in Japan who were preferred over there, and I was simultaneously grateful for the love and surprised at just how quickly they had picked it up.
NESMITH: That just goes to show how impactful of a show Madoka Magica is, both here and abroad.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Yes, that may be the case. Over there it’s regarded as a “science-fiction anime parading as a magical girl anime”. If seen in that light, the gap between the cute visuals and a mature and difficult storyline becomes more noticeable. I was impressed at how universal that understanding was.
NESMITH: That in and of itself, is a form of magic.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: I definitely think that Mr. Urobuchi, Mr. Shinbou, Ms. Aoki, and Shaft, the four members of what we now call the Magica Quartet, created a huge impact with just this one creation, and was able to change the landscape of magical girl anime as a whole. Magia Record is a continuation of that same sentiment.
NESMITH: Wow! Earlier you were saying that you joined Aniplex after you saw the advertisement for Madoka Magica. Last year I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the Movie director for One Piece. He was saying that because he had been reading One Piece since he was in elementary school, he was able to create something that stemmed from the perspective of the One Piece he wanted to see. I think the all-star production that wasn’t present in the original manga was possible precisely because of this new energy coming from a new generation. I feel as though the relationship between Madoka Magica and Magia Record is similar to this, being able to show the potential of a more open universe while still staying true to the core of the series. EXILE will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2021, and as it progresses from chapter to chapter, so too have the members that have come in. as new members come in and breathe new life into the group, new songs are made that are only possible because of the energy brought by these new members. I realized the entertainment industry as a whole is like that not long ago and was deeply moved.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Exactly. This time the general director of Magia Record is Doro Inu of Gekidan Inu Curry, the same person who was in charge of the design of the witches and labyrinths in Madoka Magica. Such a person is now in a position to handle the production of films. There are many people in the industry now who, at the time, were only viewers. During production, there were often times where a scene would come out incredible, and when I asked Shaft who did it, they’d respond by telling me it was a new hire. To think of a person who joined because they saw Madoka Magica now sitting there working on this new project, Magia Record. What a nice story.
NESMITH: It really is.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Nine years later, the methods and places where things are made might change, but it’s nice to see some things don’t change.
NESMITH: Nowadays someone who deals with anime regularly can see older works through streaming, even amongst all the newer works that are out. There are a lot of places where one can absorb information and styles, and it’s now an environment where one can implement those things into their own work. I think that’s quite enviable.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Yes I agree. If someone is aiming to work in the anime industry, they have access to so many works from the past. Honestly, there’s probably so many that are a “must-watch” that it becomes a burden.
NESMITH: I’d go as far as to say your senses change with what you watch nowadays, haha
Tatsuya Ishikawa: I wouldn’t want to be asked what anime I’m watching this season! It’s not like the only interesting anime are the ones that sell, and there are many different ways someone can find something interesting.
NESMITH: It might be more important to keep watching something just based on your own tastes. Since starting this segment, more of my fans have started watching anime.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: That’s incredible!
NESMITH: Even if they’ve never watched anime, or have never found an interest in it if this can be the reason someone goes “that seems interesting, let me give it a shot”, then this segment has fulfilled its purpose. I hope I can be the bridge between anime and EXILE fans.
Tatsuya Ishikawa: Me as well, I’d love it if that could be the case!