Studio MAPPA always strives and succeeds at making something different, something weird, something cool. From their works by Shinichiro Watanabe to their absolutely wild Sarazanmai, you’re promised to always get a unique experience from the studio. We were lucky enough to get to interview staff from the studio at AnimeNEXT 2019 in Atlantic City. A number of main staff from the studio’s Banana Fish were flown out as official guests of the convention, and they were kind enough to lend us a little bit of their time. Both in an official panel, which you should check out our report for, and in the interview, the staff shared a lot of insider info on Banana Fish and what it can be like making anime as a whole.
Sitting in we had Hiroko Utsumi, who directed the first two seasons of Free!. Veteran character designer Akemi Hayashi, who in addition to this show has worked on everything from the original Fruits Basket to Evangelion 3.33, was also in attendance. One of the supervising animation directors on Banana Fish, Ayumi Yamada sat in, who’s worked with the studio on series like Kids on the Slope and Terror In Resonance, but has also worked on titles like Mob Psycho 100 and Attack On Titan. Originally from the states, Andrew Upton who joined MAPPA in 2016 and worked on series like Kakegurui, Garo: Vanishing Line, Zombie Land Saga, and Dororo, was willing to come back for the con. Finally, Erika Ando who worked on Banana Fish as the setting producer joined in too.
We’d like to note the interview was edited for length and clarity. Of course, the intent was not changed in any way. It was conducted with the assistance of a highly skilled staff interpreter provided by AnimeNEXT. With the preamble out of the way, let’s go to the interview itself. It’s spoiler free, by the way.
Since they had to visit New York City, my old stomping grounds, to make Banana Fish I had to start with their trip to the famous Big Apple.
OTAQUEST: At the panel yesterday, you said some staff went to New York City to scout locations. I used to live in New York so I’m curious about two things. What’s the best food you ate and did New York City smell worse than Tokyo?
*The staff laughs, surprised by the smell question.*
Ayumi Yamada: I forgot the name, but there was an old steak house. Pipes were hanging from the ceiling, like pipes for smoking. The sirloin steak was delicious. (Note: Yamada is probably referring to Keens Steakhouse which is famous for its pipes decor.)
Hiroko Utsumi: In Banana Fish, the Oyster Bar makes an appearance.
*The Banana Fish staff deliberate for a second, confirming the name of the restaurant was the ‘Grand Central Oyster Bar’.*
Hiroko Utsumi: I tried the Oysters there, but what really stood out for me was the clam chowder. It was excellent!
Akemi Hayashi chimes in with a ‘me too!’ in English. They laugh and suggest these oysters were a different breed from those found in Japan.
I ask them about the smell. They said they didn’t notice it.
OTAQUEST: Studio MAPPA always makes something different. Way back from Kids on the Slope to Banana Fish to the currently airing Sarazanmai. Is that something the studio tries to do, or is that what you animators want to do?
Akemi Hayashi: Maybe our CEO likes to do these kinds of shows. He likes to pick challenging shows.
Andrew Upton: Just to add onto that, one of the things we’re most proud of as a studio is that we don’t have one specific genre that we adhere to, or one specific style. We are able to handle almost anything like Sarazanmai, which is this sort of fantastical comedy, to Banana Fish which as a whole is a much darker and deeper story. The settings of both are totally different as well. One takes place in Japan and the other New York. We really pride ourselves on being able to run the spectrum when it comes to animation, and that we do not lock ourselves into one specific genre or idea of what animation should be. Or style for that matter.
OTAQUEST: Banana Fish is based on a thirty-ish year old manga. Why Banana Fish in 2018?
Hiroko Utsumi: Ms. Uryu from Aniplex, she was the one that came up with the idea. Previously, there were lots of offers from other studios to animate the series. They were all declined over the years by either the manga author or the publishers. Maybe the timing was right, or the author was feeling good. We got the OK. So we were able to make the series.
OTAQUEST: Makes sense! Banana Fish is 30 years old and, I know not the whole staff works on it, but you’re now doing Dororo who’s manga is over 50 years old. Do you as staff particularly enjoy adapting older titles?
Hiroko Utsumi: I wouldn’t say that adapting older titles is something I specifically gravitate towards, in the case of Banana Fish, this was actually the first series that I took part in as a director that was based off an original manga, so it was all fun, all new. With regards to Dororo, I can only speak as an audience member, but I feel like they were very successful in updating the anime to fit the times, and I think it is very exciting.
OTAQUEST: You talked about the original elements of the Banana Fish anime yesterday at the panel. What did you all want to bring to this? Whether it’s the story or clothing or hair.
Ayumi Yamada: The clothing. The ‘nori-nori bird’, I was actually surprised when I first saw it. I was concerned it wouldn’t get accepted but we were glad we did it. (Note: This references a piece of clothing a character wears that was discussed at the Studio MAPPA panel.)
OTAQUEST: We got the last question signal. To anyone that wants to answer, what’s one older anime you worked on, from Studio MAPPA or a different studio, you want people to watch.
Akemi Hayashi: Dokyusei
Ayumi Yamada: Terror In Resonance
Hiroko Utsumi: Yu-Gi-Oh!. The new movie. (Note: Utsumi is referencing Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side Of Dimensions)
We’d like to thank Studio MAPPA one more time for their participation.