Digimon Partners “I grew up with Digimon!” staff chat

A translation of an interview posted on the Digimon Partners website on March 31, 2021, with Toei Animation producer Yousuke Kinoshita, Toei Animation representative and Digimon Partners shop manager Yuuka Mizusawa, and Bandai representative Ao Kaneda.

The Digimon official fan community site “Digimon Partners” is now open!

Now that the site is open, we’ve gathered up people relevant to it and held a roundtable chat. We asked them specifically about the Digimon Partners project, the goals for this site, and what kind of contents they’re hoping to develop.

–Firstly, please introduce yourself.

Kinoshita: I’m Yousuke Kinoshita, from Toei Animation. I was involved as a producer starting from midway through the run of Digimon Adventure tri., as well as on Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna.
For the Digimon Partners Project, I help with the project planning as a coordinator.

Mizusawa: I’m Yuuka Mizusawa1, from Toei Animation. I’m primarily in charge of the Digimon Partners online shop.
I’d like to use posts and comments from Digimon fans as a basis to create products that they’ll enjoy even more. Please look forward to it.

–What kind of works have you been involved with so far?

Mizusawa: I’ve previously been in charge of store management and product planning for works such as the Sailor Moon series and One Piece.

Kaneda: I’m Ao Kaneda1 from Bandai. I work in a department known as the the “Media Department” for the Bandai Namco Digimon Project (*1), under which each division supports the planning and development of Digimon products.
In addition, I’m also in charge of general promotion work in order to get people more hyped up about Digimon. For the current Digimon Partners Project, I would like to work from the perspective of Digimon product development and help the fans get hyped up about it, so please look forward to it.

–Thank you very much. What kind of involvement have all of you had with Digimon before now? Please tell us about any particular memories you might have.

Kaneda: I’m turning 25 this year, but I used to watch the anime and play the games with my older brother. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say I grew up with Digimon!
When the anime was airing, I was so young that I don’t really remember much, but I was fascinated by the huge number of monsters that appeared.
I have particularly strong memories of the “Great Gathering of Digimon” finger puppets Bandai released in 1999. My brother and I really loved these, so we collected them together. My favorite was the Motimon finger puppet, and I used to stick it on my cheek (laughs).
I also have good memories of playing the WonderSwan (*2) game Digimon Tamers Battle Spirit.

–Finger puppets, how nostalgic! The WonderSwan had a lot of very good Digimon games.

Kaneda: It did! My brother and I had to share one device, but we had a lot of fun playing on it. My current higher-ups were in charge of developing the WonderSwan games from back then, so I personally feel a connection to them through Digimon.

Mizusawa: You joined the company through Digimon!

Kaneda: I did. I’ve always loved Digimon and Dragon Ball since I was little.

Kinoshita: I was already a university student by the time Digimon Adventure started airing, so I’m not part of the original generation. By the time I joined the company, I’d only seen Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!

–I’m conversely surprised you’d seen Our War Game! in that case.

Kinoshita: I really liked Director Mamoru Hosoda’s2 works. I came to love his work through The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, then watched Summer Wars, and from there I got to appreciate Our War Game! I was surprised to see that they’d already been a completed image of cyberspace even back then.

Mizusawa: I was in elementary school at the time Digimon Adventure was airing. I watched it week-to-week up to the final episode, and I clearly remember how emotionally touched I was during the scene where the Chosen Children and the Digimon had to part. I think Digimon Adventure is an amazing series in that I still feel all of the same emotions I had when I was a kid.

–And now you’ve joined the side involved with the franchise itself at Toei Animation.

Mizusawa: Right. When I was a kid, the anime I grew up with and the toys I was playing with all seemed to have this picture of “Pero” (*3) on it, and so I have this strong feeling that I practically grew up with this “Pero”. So from there, I ended up aiming to join Toei Animation.
The first time I got to be involved with Digimon was the “Digimon 20th Anniversary Official Tour ~Our Summer Camp~”, which was held in 2019.
We went on a whole bus tour, held barbecue and quiz games in the midst of the wilderness, showed off background setting materials and scripts, and had a whole stage event, but the fans, the performers, and the staff members all became very close, and I could feel how strongly the fans loved Digimon.
After having experienced this tour, I felt, I’d like to be able to treasure Digimon “together” with the fans instead! I want to bring things up even further! I had those strong feelings at the time, and that’s what brought me to this project.

Kinoshita: I joined the company midway through all of this, and it was only after they decided to put me in charge of Digimon works when I finally watched all of them. So I only have a very short history with Digimon. That said, as part of my work, I’ve been watching the movies and the TV series over and over again. I’ve constantly been thinking about what’s particularly wonderful about Digimon works, and what’s attracted its fans to it.
However, I couldn’t have the same experience as those who were in elementary school watching it as it aired, feeling those things directly, and continuing to cherish those memories. So I spoke with the staff at our company, Bandai Namco Group, and the other companies we’ve worked with, and I truly got to feel the passion coming from those of the original generation.
In order for us to continue making Digimon in the future, we absolutely need to have the support of those kinds of people, so for this project, we’re trying to gather staff members from the Digimon generation as much as we can. Because of that, I believe that staff members such as Kaneda-san and Mizusawa-san will be the key to this project.

–So future Digimon works will be created from the feelings of those who love Digimon. With that, please give us a general overview of our main topic today, the Digimon Partners Project.

Kinoshita: Firstly, we want to create “a place for fans to have opportunities to gather”. By creating and being active on a “community” for everyone to gather, our larger goal is for us to enjoy and bring up Digimon together, and to keep more Digimon content coming for many more years to come. One concrete example would be events. Up until now, we’ve had big events such as DigiFes, but we’d like to hold smaller-scale online events on a regular basis, such as “let’s watch Digimon Tamers together!” Also, naturally, we’re planning to provide more opportunities for fans to gather in real-life places, such as in cafés3.

–And one of the places where “fans can gather” is this site itself, this official Digimon fan community site “Digimon Partners”.

Kinoshita: Right. We would like to operate this as a “community site” that will be the easiest place for fans to connect with each other.
Also, in particular, Digimon has many fans not only in Japan but also overseas, so we would like to hype people up about it both in this country and abroad. It would also be good for people who meet online to get to see each other in real life, so we want this site to be a basis for this to happen.

Mizusawa: We’d actually like to set up a place where we can hold merch planning meetings with the fans and exchange opinions. We’ll have fans there, but we’ll of course have members of staff participating in those meetings too. We’d like to create them in a way closely with the fans, so that they can feel an attachment to the products in such a way it makes them feel “I helped make those!”
I’m sure everyone’s had the thought of “I wish we could have this kind of merch…”! So please exchange those ideas! No, let’s exchange ideas together…That’s the kind of feeling we’d like to have as we think of these things together.

–It seems like an interesting idea to have franchise fans and staff together in one place to discuss these things. What led to the start of this project?

Kinoshita: The Digimon brand would not have been able to last for more than 20 years if it hadn’t been for all of its fans supporting it.
Ever since I started getting involved with this work, I’ve asked for all kinds of opinions from the fans around me, ranging from what they like about Digimon to the smaller details about the story. I did this because I felt that, as creators, we would need to take the opinions of fans into account in order to continue making content.
Also, when we were working on Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna, the director and many other people on production were from the original Digimon generation, and were able to put their feelings into their work. That’s exactly why I’m very proud that we were able to make something that made so many people happy.
So from there, I started thinking about how we could accelerate the process of taking up opinions from fans and do a proper job of hearing them out, then creating things with them. Of course, we can’t just do everything just because of what we’ve heard, but we felt that, in order to create something better, we needed a “community” that would bring us closer to the fans.

Kaneda: Digimon started with the LCD “Digital Monster” toys, and became even more popular because of the development of anime, games, merch, and other outlets, so even among fans, people can have very different experiences. Bandai Namco Group had also been thinking that we wanted to create a “community” that would allow fans and staff from the involved companies to interact beyond the boundaries of each individual piece of content, so that we could create “one unified Digimon franchise” together.
Also, at the moment, I think we’re having a problem where we haven’t been getting a proper grasp of the opinions of the fans who have been buying our products. We used to check on fan opinions through the Internet and social media, but we would like to hear out the opinions of those who have loved Digimon for more than 20 years through this community site.
At the same time, we would also like to convey behind-the-scenes info and the production side’s thoughts and intent that couldn’t otherwise be conveyed, and put value on mutual exchange and communication.

–So the point is to aim to make better products through hearing out the opinions of both the fans and the production staff.

Kaneda: The main theory behind it is to create what the fans want when they say “I wanted this.” If we want to create more Digimon content for a much longer time here on out, we would like to communicate with the fans while deeply taking their opinions into account.

Kinoshita: While they weren’t able to join us today for scheduling reasons, Bandai Namco Entertainment (hereinafter, BNE) is also participating in the Digimon Partners Project on the game end.
They’re also working alongside us with the same goal of having a place where fans can talk with each other, even for future releases such as Digimon Survive.

–Games are also indispensable parts of Digimon. With that, what kind of projects will you be carrying out on this site?

Mizusawa: Firstly, we’ve set up a place called “DigiTalk” (Talk Room), where fans can interact with each other and with us as members of staff. It’s a place where you can freely post your own topics.
There’s also a place where you can post illustrations or photos, and a place where we as official staff members can post news or other fun things. We’re also planning to open our online shop, the “DP Shop”!
We hope it can become a site you can freely browse, look over a whole thing quietly and comment, press the reaction button, post an illustration if you happen to have drawn a little something…that kind of thing, where it can feel familiar to you and become a part of your daily life.

Kaneda: We’d like to to be a place where fans can gather anytime and freely talk about what they like and love about Digimon.

Kinoshita: During the 2018 festival, Toei Animation and BNE worked together to hold the event and the relevant broadcast, but after that, we weren’t able to collaborate well on anything else. Each of our companies got together and held meetings every month, but we weren’t able to come up with any concrete measures.
So, finally, through this project, I think we’ll be able to bring this into a form that can overcome the boundaries of genre moreso than ever before.

–This project will work to bring every involved company together. Then, other than its function as a community site, what kind of material will be developed as part of the Digimon Partners project?

Kinoshita: One is continuing to manage real-life events such as DigiFes, and more online events on top of that.
Beyond that, as part of this project, we would like to develop merchandise and pop-up shops for the 20th anniversary of Digimon Tamers this year.
There are also various other projects that I can’t say anything about yet.

–Please tell us if there are any goals you would like to achieve through the Digimon Partners Project.

Kinoshita: I believe that Digimon has the power to continue lasting for five or ten or even more years. And since we have the strong will to keep it going, we’d like to work alongside the fans to keep making more from now on.
When long-time fans start having their own children, we would like to create things that would allow parents and their children to enjoy Digimon together. What can we do now to make Digimon fun for children born in the Reiwa era4 once they become elementary school students? As we look forward towards that kind of future, we would like to continue communicating with everyone. That’s our goal right now.

Mizusawa: For fans who are still Digimon fans even after having becoming parents, they still don’t have “something” of Digimon that they can pass onto their kids.
We would like to think together about what that “something” should be, alongside the fans from the Digimon generation who are now parents.

Kinoshita: For example, if we start saying “let’s make a picture book”, I hope this can be a place where we can get together and consider what kind of story it should be and what kind of art should be in it.
The Digimon Partners project is our way of interacting with the fans while continuing to develop our current anime, game, and toy products in parallel.

–So in order to more accurately get a grasp of what fans are looking for, you’re creating “grounds where everyone can think together”.

Kaneda: From the product planning end, we’d like to not only provide our feedback to the opinions we receive on our products, but also consider the reason we received those opinions and use them as an opportunity to better our products.

Kinoshita: There are very many Digimon fans, and I think there are many different forms of what they want to see. I hope this can be a place where everyone can enjoy them together.

–We’d like to make this a place where fans and staff can enjoy them together! Thank you very much!

(*1) A project to reboot the Digimon franchise, which began in 2020. The project has a number of multifaceted development angles, such as broadcasting animation and toy development.
(*2) A portable game machine released by Bandai in 1999. Many Digimon games such as Digimon Adventure: Anode/Cathode Tamer and Digimon Adventure 02: Tag Tamers have been released for it.
(*3) The protagonist of the feature-length anime film The Wonderful World of Puss ‘n Boots. His face serves as the symbol of Toei Animation.

Translator's notes
  1. No reading for this name has been provided, so I’ve made my best guess. [] []
  2. Mamoru Hosoda = Director of Our War Game!, who later went on to become renowned as an animation movie director. His 2009 movie Summer Wars draws so heavily from Our War Game! that the latter is widely considered to be the former’s prototype of sorts. []
  3. Kinoshita is specifically referring to “collaboration café” events, where specialized places offer food and drinks themed around a given IP for a limited time. Merchandise and smaller events are often offered here as well. Events like this had already been held for Adventure tri. and LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna at the time of this interview. []
  4. The Japanese traditional era calendar is often used to reference a changing of the times or generations. The present era changed from Heisei (1989-2019) to Reiwa in 2019. []

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