Translation of an interview with Director Keitarou Motonaga Digimon Adventure tri. Memorial Book (デジモンアドベンチャーtri. メモリアルブック) from August 31, 2018, discussing production for the full series after all six parts had been released.
Focusing on portraying realistic high school students
Director Keitarou Motonaga
Animation producer and director. Born in 1965, from Fukuoka Prefecture. Main works include the TV anime Katanagatari, Jormungand (as director) and the movies Date A Live: Mayuri Judgment and Majestic Prince: Awakening Gene (as director).
Depicting Taichi’s worries as he embraces suffering and loss
–How long ago were you given the offer to direct this series? Please tell us the story behind why you decided to take this job.
I was working on Date a Live at the time, so it was around six years ago1. I remember that at first, I was talking with Producer Takashi Sakurai from Typhoon Graphics about something like like “we want to make something like a fan movie.”
–How did the story get decided on from there?
Toei Animation producer Shuuhei Arai had already started on a rough outline of the story, and had already decided on requesting (Atsuya) Uki-san for character designs. But once I got involved, in practice it ended up becoming a lot less like a fan movie, and we started gaining the initiative to make it into a proper story.
–Given that the “Chosen Children” depicted in this series have grown since they’d last appeared in the TV series, what aspects did you focus on as a director?
I wanted to focus primarily on a realistic portrayal of how the children would get older. I felt that these kids, who could just run away from sufficiently big problems as grade-schoolers, would go through middle and high school and go through their peaceful daily lives, feeling some sense of loss. Firstly, Taichi’s reality involves having a sense of loss. It’s not that he’s necessarily worrying about it, but his dreams have vanished and he’s not sure what to do now, and it feels like everything’s come to a halt for him. The fights he gets involved with start causing damage everywhere, and he becomes more aware of what’s happening and gets caught in hesitation of whether this is the right thing to do or not. Naturally, it’s because of how much older he’s gotten. In this series, the crux of this story revolves around thinking about what spurs him on to finally take a step forward from there.
–The beginning of the series certainly had a lot of moments where Taichi could not gather the determination to do something.
I’m well aware that it makes people who have seen the TV series think “Taichi wasn’t like that.” But, for instance, if you take some grade-schoolers who might be Japan’s best in a certain topic, I feel they would fall apart when something that doesn’t come instantly and easily to them shows up. In the same vein, now that the children can’t spend time with their Digimon anymore, even Taichi would find himself lost and unable to push on forward. For this series, we had a clear direction to portray the children as reflecting their older age, and we, along with our lead writer, Yuuko Kakihara-san, concerned ourselves with how to pull that off.
–During the story, the “Chosen Children” end up having to stand up against “Homeostasis” and “Yggdrasil”.
We wanted to depict Homeostasis and Yggdrasil as entities that represented the kind of “true feelings” and “official stances” that adults would have. Yggdrasil is the type to believe that “might makes right”, and Homeostasis is the type to say that “we should all hold our hands and get along” while actually thinking “in order to make that happen, it’s acceptable to crush any opposition.” The children can’t sympathize with either of their positions, and refuse to abide by either. We figured, the fact they’re getting older is why they’re able to have awareness of the frustration and the dilemma they’re in.
–Once you’d decided on the story, how did the rest of production go?
There’s a lot of anime out there with very high-quality battle scenes these days, and so we had to make sure our series could keep up with them, and so we went out of our way to work on the action scenes, to the point we were always getting the staff mad at us (laughs). The unit director (Juria) Matsumura-san would take over the hardest parts of the human drama portions, and I’d lend a hand on the action sequences.
–The other children besides Taichi also seem to succumb to their own worries hanging over their heads often.
They do. Matsumura was a very active member of the conversation regarding Jou and Mimi in Part 2, and also was responsible for Yamato and Gabumon’s embrace in Part 6. I really felt the staff was reliable and that I could count on them.
–This series differs from the one on TV in that CGI was used quite heavily. Was this something you focused on as a director?
The first thing I focused on was making sure they had a sense of speed and weight to them. The Digimon are all different in size, so their paces are different, too. For instance, we had to do all sorts of trial and error with Vikemon, since he naturally wouldn’t have the same speed as a Digimon that can fly. In the end I think Togemon ended up as the coolest one. We even managed to capture her smug grin and all (laughs).
I personally kept referring back to the entire series in order to study it, and felt that we had to match par with their own evolution and action sequences. There were also Ultimate forms that didn’t get to appear on screen in the TV series, and we had to figure out a way to get them into the action in a way that would fit with tri. We looked into what kind of attacks the Ultimate forms used, gave them some gimmicks, and put some thought into what kind of feedback effects those attacks would have.
–Which action scene was the hardest to make?
I almost want to say “all of them” (laughs), but personally I’d say the hardest one was making Omegamon Merciful Mode give off his divine aura. Omegamon Merciful Mode is supposed to be an agony-sparing suicide assistant2, and thus should have the aura of a “hero that is not actually a hero”, so how were we supposed to portray that? Figuring out the production for that was quite difficult for us. The key animator in charge of that was very skilled, so I’m grateful that we could leave it in his hands.
–Speaking of Merciful Mode, the scene where he beheads Ordinemon caught the breath, and was really mesmerizing.
The draw factor for that scene is that Ordinemon lowers her head when Merciful Mode beheads her. If you look closely, she’s willingly submitting herself to be beheaded. Prior to that, she’d already chosen not to fire off her lasers at them, and that scene followed directly into the parting scene that came after, and it’s painful and unbearable.
–The scene where Meicoomon tells Meiko “ta much”3 and disappears left an impression on a lot of people.
We decided from the beginning that we wanted to collect everything into that final “ta much”. Meicoomon’s voice actress, (Yukiko) Morishita-san, put her all into that scene, and it came out as a very good “ta much”. The part where she waves at Meiko was made with the image of a kindergartener or grade schooler waving at their mother as if to go, “see you later, Mama.” The key animator in charge of that one did a wonderful job, and it came out as a wonderful scene.
–The scene where Taichi finally gained the determination to “kill” a Digimon had a lot of weight to it, didn’t it?
At the end of Part 5, Taichi had come to understand Meiko’s feelings. From there, he was able to make that decision. There were a lot of opinions among the fans wondering “can’t they save her (Meicoomon)?”, but Meicoomon was effectively a so-called “bug” in the system. If you don’t immediately smash out the bug, everything will die. All of the series so far have been able to have happy endings, but we wanted to end this series with Taichi and his friends having to do something inevitable and having to accept it. We wanted to depict things in a way that would make “we want to create a way for everyone to live in the right way” a motivation for them. Even Taichi, who had hesitated and gotten caught in so many worries up to this point, could make such a firm decision on the matter after tussling with all of these difficult feelings. This series also happens to be about how each of the other children decide on their own respective paths.
–Although Yamato seemed to only barely touch on it a little (laughs).
He’s going to become an astronaut in the future, but just saying that you’re going to become an astronaut is hard, isn’t it? He can’t just say “yeah, I’m gonna become one”, so we had him only touch on it.
–Besides the children’s partner Digimon, there were also quite a few other Digimon that appeared.
We wanted to put out as many Digimon that weren’t in the original anime as we could. That’s probably a remnant of the time we were planning to have it be like a fan movie.
–When the production for this series was first announced, the fact that “the casting for the Chosen Children has changed” was a huge topic.
We considered a lot of things when coming to the decision, but we did end up changing the cast for the children. But all of us in the staff were well aware that people had strong impressions of the TV series, and we all felt very strongly that we wanted to choose the cast in accordance with those. The first one we picked was Yamato’s actor, (Yoshimasa) Hosoya-kun. He gave us the best feeling of reflecting a post-pubescent Yamato. The final one to be picked was actually Taichi. But although we got a lot of negative backlash from the decision up until Part 2, by Part 3 we started hearing more positive echoes about it. It gave us a lot of confidence that we’d made the right decision in picking (Natsuki) Hanae-kun for the role.
–What was the atmosphere like at the post-recording site?
The children’s voice actors were all new and young, and the Digimon cast were all the same as before, so there was an air of tension, but also a feeling of harmony (laughs).
The children and their Digimon, growing up through this series
–Digimon is traditionally made up of long-running series, so how did you balance the pacing for the story of each movie?
We made it with the intent of making it like a 2-cour4 TV anime. From there, Producer Sakurai gave us all sorts of ideas, like how to make each part have a climax, and how to not bore the audience, and how to put in parts that’ll make people laugh. But to be honest, I don’t feel like we really ended up having enough time. We wanted to have more time with Taichi and his friends negotiating with the Digimon, and more of the parts where they get to play with each other. tri. is a story that takes place from the perspective of Taichi and his friends, who have the perspective of humans, so we’d like to have shown more from the Digimon’s perspective. They understand that something’s strange about themselves, and they all end up falling into despair in their own way. But they hold Taichi and his friends close to their hearts, and that’s why they made the choice to take on the “reboot”.
–The reboot was a pretty devastating thing that got rid of all the Digimon’s memories.
We made the reboot wanting to depict how the Digimon have emotionally evolved. After the reboot, the children have to build their bonds with them over from scratch, and once their memories from before and after the reboot merge together again, the bonds between the children and their Digimon became even stronger. And because of that, they were even stronger in the final battle, and invincible.
–The relationship between the children and their Digimon definitely did seem to be stronger than ever.
They were. Taichi was able to have a proper conversation with Agumon every so often, and Agumon understood him well enough that he could respond to him. But then he gets to a point where he has to admit “I don’t know,” and it’s because he can’t give the same answer he used to be able to give Taichi in the past. I feel Agumon is a very smart Digimon.
–Agumon was always the one to give Taichi proper support from behind.
This is a serious story, so it’d be tiring to have the same thing happen all the time. There was that, and we also wanted Agumon to be a source of comic relief as well. Agumon’s voice actress, Chika (Sakamoto)-san, is the kind who just doesn’t go well with negativity at all, so she was perfect for what we needed in this story.
–Did you have Agumon talk to Meiko in Part 5 because of his positivity?
There was that, but there was also the fact that Agumon tells her “I like Mei-chan,” so that it would come across clearer that Meicoomon has become a victim.
–It was a very tough lesson to come to the conclusion “we are going to have to fight Meicoomon and eliminate her.”
Nobody hates Meicoomon, and Agumon and the others hate the idea of having to get rid of her. But they start to take in Taichi’s feelings, and because of that they’re able to stand up against her with resolve and without fear.
–But when Taichi made the decision to kill Meicoomon, she seemed to have some very complicated feelings about it.
Hikari is the type who still wants to find a better way. Koushirou is as well.
–When Hikari told Taichi, “I’ll never forgive you,” what kind of feelings were wrapped up in there?
It’s not like she hates him. She also doesn’t believe he’s wrong. Her answer is simply that she will not forgive him for this, and it’s a sign of her having grown. She’d always been following after her brother, but, for the first time, she’s finally taken a firm stance against her brother, and is able to express that clearly. She’s really been able to go through some major growth. There’s a scene in Part 6 where you see each and every one of the children’s faces in close-up, and you can see that each and every one of them are thinking something different. Anger, or sadness, or powerlessness…Each of them has their own stances on the matter, and their own feelings on it, and in the end, even though they all agree on what has to be done, their feelings on it differ, and the fact they’ve grown is why they’re all able to develop their own perspectives. That’s what we wanted to show.
–How did you conceive of the ways the other children grew?
In Part 5, when it seemed that Taichi was gone, Yamato came to understand his fear of losing him. On top of that, he starts to think that if Taichi isn’t there, “I’m powerless,” and comes closer to his realization about Taichi that “you really were doing it right, weren’t you?” When they reunite in Part 6, the two of them start running in order to settle the score, and Yamato is the one who’s gentler about it, and gets pulled along. And Taichi says “it’s all right, I’m here,” and it really hits him. Actually, we wanted to slip in a bit of an homage to Adventure there, but when we were trying to do it we got the feeling, “hm, something feels off,” so we stopped (laughs).
–What about Sora?
Sora’s been like a “mother” to them all, and is by all means a good person, but now that she’s in high school and going through puberty, there’s a feeling of “it should be fine if I say something a bit more selfish, right?”, and we managed to convey that in Part 4. She says “I’ve been doing things for everyone, but nobody ever pays attention to me.” And the one she wants that attention from the most, Piyomon, finally holds a hand out to her, and those uncertain feelings start to fade. We portrayed Sora and Piyomon’s relationship with the image that like close friends who can get in petty fights and make up, and from there, end up having more of a parent-child relationship and get even closer.
–When Sora was having troubles with Piyomon, Taichi and Yamato couldn’t get a grasp on handling the delicacy of her woman’s heart.
It’s the double-edged sword of being her childhood friend (laughs). Actually, Takeru, who’s a few years separated from Sora, is better at understanding how her feelings have changed. Although it’s not like he’s a playboy or anything. He’s just more aware of things, and thus he’s better at understanding the changes in a woman’s heart. So it ended up for the better that Takeru was the one good with that.
–Takeru himself had a huge turning point in Part 3.
Takeru ended up lying in order to save someone important to him, telling lies between thoughts like “my Digimon is infected,” and “if I say something I’ll relieve myself of this emotional burden,” and wanting to repent for it. Patamon understands Takeru’s love for him, so he tells “please kill me.” That word “kill” is a very brutal word5, but now that Taichi and his friends are older, they can properly understand its meaning, so we deliberately went for it6.
–Takeru’s good with girls and very mature, but when he holds Patamon in his arms, it makes you wonder if he really is a child after all.
I feel like he’s probably the most pure-hearted out of all of the children. He succumbs to the feeling of “I don’t want him to be taken away from me,” and ends up doing things he shouldn’t. But I feel that’s exactly why Takeru’s able to understand Meiko’s pain as well.
–How about Mimi and Jou-senpai?
Mimi ends up having a lot of worries because she’s caught in the gap between being a foreigner and being in Japan, but ultimately arrives at the conclusion that “it’s fine to just be myself.” In fact, Jou comes to the same conclusion. He starts thinking “I’m useless if my grades don’t get any better,” and he’s falling short of his family’s expectations, but he comes to realize that there’s no problem with just doing things in a way that are true to himself.
–Koushirou really felt like the dedicated brains of the group.
He was under the impression that there was no such thing as something he couldn’t understand. So when Part 6 comes around, he starts to lose his grip. I also feel he’s the one with the strongest sense of justice, so he ended up somehow getting an impressively large number of lines.
–There was also that scene where he kept talking on and on even though nobody was listening to him.
It felt very “Koushirou-like” for him to not be able to shut up when he talks about something he likes (laughs).
–When you decided to put in new characters original to this series, how did you consider going about it?
To be very honest about it, we didn’t feel that a story with only Taichi and his friends would really get anywhere. We wanted to put in something that’d mix things up and get the story rolling, so we decided to get Meiko and Meicoomon involved in the story. We decided from the very beginning that Meicoomon would eventually fuse with Ophanimon’s Falldown Mode to become Ordinemon, so we had her be a Digimon related to Tailmon. She’s like a cat, and since Tailmon is short-haired, Meicoomon is long-haired. I happen to be raising a Maine coon myself, so we named her Meicoomon. Even after she falls into insanity, within Meicoomon, there might just be one little speck of good in her heart, and that’s what leads to the end of everything.
–How did you decide on Meiko’s appearance?
This series has a lot of boys, so we thought, it might be good to balance it out a bit more with another girl. And, just like with Meicoomon, we thought about making Meiko a girl much like Hikari. Hikari has a bit of a spirit medium7 feel to her, which makes her role stand out, and so in contrast Meiko was made more of a girl who doesn’t stand out. Despite that, however, she’s a very strong girl at her core. Among all of the children, she’s probably the closest to a realistic high school girl. Even after she loses Meicoomon, she’s full of worries. She starts to wonder if it’s her own fault that Meicoomon went ona rampage, and even wonders if saying “please kill her” is the right thing to do…But, if things had kept going in that state, there would be no salvation for Meiko, so at the very end, the others give her a Christmas present, and we added a Digivice sound at the end. Please imagine for yourself what it was that Meiko received.
–It was shocking to see the depiction of the “Chosen Children” from long past.
They’re the ones who got caught up in the flow and couldn’t come to a firm decision. We wanted them to be a contrast with Taichi and his friends, who were able to come to that decision. When they were children, their leader was Daigo Nishijima, and Himekawa was the one who took the role of the spirit medium. Eventually, she ended up going from a spirit medium to being “chosen” as a victim, but she was never able to accept that. For that reason, she ended up going as far as to force a reboot, but ended up getting caught up in the quantum sea. In the end, it was all caused by her own actions, of acting only according to what she wanted.
–So Himekawa died…or do you think she did?
I think she ended up dissolving and disappearing in the quantum sea. It would have been too cruel to show that directly, so we didn’t depict it on-screen. Nishijima also ended up dying in order to save Taichi and the others in Part 6, but we wanted to convey that being too complacent in following such a great power would end in disaster, and so we did go out of our way to show it.
I want you to watch the series and feel the weight of the meaning of becoming an adult
–Each of the ending theme song sequences had their own unique aspects to it. Was this something you particularly focused on, as the director?
We put a lot of focus into coming up with ideas for the EDs. We listened to the music, read the lyrics cards, looked at the pictures from Adventure that left an impression, and we made them while thinking about how the kids would look now that they’re older. For Part 5, the song was so amazing that we couldn’t bring ourselves to do something light-hearted with it (laughs), so we had everyone look up at the starry sky. Looking up at the starry sky all night is beautiful, but heartwrenching…that kind of feeling.
–This series had someone with the form of the Digimon Kaiser appear, and there’s also a scene where the children from 02 are defeated.
By the beginning of the series, Taichi and the others had no power because they’d entrusted the power of their Crests. For that reason, the enemy started by prioritizing the more powerful 02 children. In actuality, we did want to have the 02 children show up more, but we didn’t have enough time for that, and the perspective of the story would have gotten all over the place, and so all we were able to do was touch on it at the beginning.
–The mysterious man was acting as a spokesperson for Yggdrasil, but he also seemed to be doing things on his own will as well.
He does. Well, he’s a so-called “data” existence, and he considers it acceptable to prioritize the Digital World, and so he goes off running wild on his own. At the end, when he goes “shall we play?”, he means he wants to destroy everything. Meicoomon, the “bug”, was eliminated, but they still couldn’t eliminate the mysterious man, the other “bug”. But, even with modern computers, it’s hard to completely get rid of bugs. The mysterious man is the embodiment of that concept. (Hiroaki) Hirata-san seemed to have a lot of fun playing the role, and he was quite impressive (laughs).
–So you mean to say that the mysterious man doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong?
His idea of “justice” is to put the Digital World first. From the perspective of a human, he’s causing trouble, but in his perspective, he doesn’t consider himself to be doing anything wrong. The mysterious man is a huge reason Taichi eventually decides to become a diplomat in the future. Yggdrasil and Homeostasis are both fundamentally not beings that humans can actually reach, but Taichi wants to take on that challenge anyway, and chooses the path of becoming a diplomat. Not just for the sake of the Digital World nor humans, but to bring all sorts of things together.
–You said earlier that “you’d like to have shown more from the Digimon’s perspective”, but was there anything else you would have liked to include if you had more time?
We’d like to have gone further into the characters, and more conversations between them and their partners. We’d also like to have gone more into what Yggdrasil’s side was thinking. And in regards to that, I also wonder if maybe we should have brought out more about Nishijima and Himekawa’s feelings. But if we go in that direction, there are still so, so many more things that we wanted to do, but that’s just way too many and it probably would have made things far too difficult (laughs).
–Please tell us about how you feel now that all six parts have been completed.
We put everything we had into it, and we made it to the finish. Personally, I think we managed to make the best thing we possibly could. The staff and everyone else involved also put everything they had in to make it the best. For instance, the composite director, (Hiroshi) Nanba-kun, put in the visual effects for Part 6 almost all by himself. He managed to pull it off with some really high quality, but he said later that “I wish I could have done more.” All of the production members kept working their hardest to bring the quality up, and in the end I think everything turned out for the best. I’m sure our version of Taichi in high school probably differs from the fans’ perception of high school Taichi, but we accounted for that and shifted our theory accordingly. Personally, I’m very happy that the staff who created the original TV series put such an important work in my hands and let me do whatever I wanted while I worked with it. There was also a surprising number of people who had their first contact with Digimon via tri., and that also makes me happy.
–In closing, please leave a message for the fans.
Thank you for following us all the way to the end. I think there are many meanings and important things to think about when it comes to becoming an adult. For all of you who watched this series, as you yourselves become adults, when difficult things happen to you, I hope that maybe you’ll spare a little thought for this series. There are people who will stand by you, and they’ll surely be around you, so don’t give up. I hope we managed to get across our message, that “somewhere, where you can’t see them, your Digimon partner is there.”
- “Six years ago” = This book was published on August 2018, so presumably 2012.
- Director Motonaga refers to Merciful Mode as being named after a kaishakunin, effectively a designated helper who assists someone in committing honorable suicide (seppuku) by beheading them at the greatest point of agony.
- “Ta much” is how the official English subtitles rendered “dandan” (Tottori dialect “thank you”), so I’m following it here.
- A “cour” is used in descriptions of Japanese TV shows and anime to refer to a 12-14 episode block (i.e. Adventure is a 4-cour anime).
- Director Motonaga’s reference to choosing to use the word “kill” (殺す, korosu) is based off the fact that, generally, children’s media like Adventure and Adventure 02 will usually opt to refrain from the word. In Adventure and Adventure 02, the word “defeat”/”destroy” (倒す, taosu) is favored instead. That’s not to imply that there’s any ambiguity that such cases are almost always, if not always, referring to killing something (for instance, Adventure 02 used taosu very liberally in episodes that were still obviously about the morality of killing enemies) — it’s mainly just avoidance of using the word “kill” due to it being somewhat brutal and in-your-face, and even adults’ media will still often opt for taosu for grace reasons, especially if it has to do with the potential kill being part of a battle or struggle.
- …However, despite what Director Motonaga claims here, Part 3 doesn’t actually use the word korosu. The words used in the actual movie are “yatsukeru“, in this context effectively around the aura of “put me down”, and “taosu“, same as in Adventure and Adventure 02.
- Director Motonaga refers to Hikari and Himekawa as “shrine maidens” (巫女, miko), a name given to priestesses who perform various rituals at Shinto shrines, but, more pertinently, would traditionally act as mediums to convey the will of a spirit or god.