Otona Anime Vol. 22 interview with Riku Sanjou on Digimon Xros Wars

A translation of an interview with Digimon Xros Wars lead writer Riku Sanjou regarding Digimon Xros Wars, especially The Young Hunters Who Leapt Through Time, included in Otona Anime Vol. 22 (released October 2011).

Digimon Xros Wars has more to come! We ask Riku Sanjou about the series!

Digimon Xros Wars will be reaching a conclusion in September, but it’ll soon be leading into a follow-up: its third part, Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Who Leapt Through Time, which begins airing in October! We asked Riku Sanjou about the new series, as well as his recollections of the past year and the first and second parts.

(Interviewer: Kiyoshi Tane)

A second half where we were able to achieve what we’d wanted from the very start

–The second part of Digimon Xros Wars has finally reached its climax. It was interesting to see how little time had passed in the human world since Taiki and his friends first set off on their adventure, all despite the human world being in danger as well.
Sanjou: That was something Endou-san (the series director) wanted to do. It felt like they’d only parted just recently, and yet the whole world already looked like it was about to be destroyed. He wanted it to give off the same impression as Back to the Future, so that’s how it settled into its current form.

–Taiki and his friends lost to Bagramon once already, right?
Sanjou: Yes, in the first part’s final episode, when they were fighting in the human world. When we were watching the scenes during the post-recording stage, there were so many Digimon on the screen, like a huge all-out war. I was really looking forward to seeing it finished.

–You were the one who wrote the final three episodes, right? And before that, you wrote five episodes in a row.
Sanjou: It took the same kind of stamina you’d need to make a weekly serialized manga. To put it simply, writing two episodes together is like writing the amount of two scripts in one. So it’s basically twice as much work.

–Why did you end up writing episodes back-to-back like that?
Sanjou: When we were still at the story outlining stage, we decided that I’d write two Apollomon episodes, as well as the episode with the showdown against Yuu. But it turned out that the (Apollomon and Yuu) episodes got sandwiched together, and when we put the Apollomon, Yuu, and DarkKnightmon episodes together, they ended up quite close. There was a suggestion to try and adjust it just a little, but we really couldn’t fit another one in there, so the only thing we could say was “oops…” (laughs).

–Well, you had the deaths of important characters like Beelzebumon and Lilithmon, so it was something they had to entrust you with.
Sanjou: The voice actors did an amazing job there, too. Especially considering you had things like Bagramon vs. Kiriha.

–Takeshi Kusao-san against himself (laughs).
Sanjou: Even the staff was saying “isn’t this a bit too much Kusao-san?” (laughs). But the story mandated that such a thing would be inevitable, given that Bagramon was the one who gave Kiriha his Xros Loader and all. They’d have to have some kind of conversation at some point (laughs).

The Evil Death Generals and the Seven Kingdoms is constructed in such a way that two episodes back-to-back make up one story, but the ending does away with that format. Was that intentional?
Sanjou: Well, at the beginning of the series, we were instructed to have this series be family-oriented and targeted at all ages, so we tried not to make it too specifically laser-focused on one direction. But then the direction shifted to that of a series animed primarily at young boys, and even the product sales strategy changed directions, so I started throwing in more and more improvisational things that you’d be more likely to see in a serialized story. For instance, Beelzebumon and Mervamon’s love story started off as only a vague detail in the original plot outline.

–It really did become a full-on love story.
Sanjou: For instance, I added in things like Mervamon crying when Beelzebumon came back in the final episode and saved Taiki.

–You generally prefer to take a more freestyle approach towards story writing and final battles, right?
I threw in a lot of minor Digimon characters as well. Bastemon showed up and finished ChuuChuumon off. I mean, he got eaten alive, and it looked terrifying even at the animation stage. I looked at that poor little mouse and thought, “it kind of leaves a very cruel aftertaste” (laughs).

–She was just following her instincts as a cat (laughs).
And then Knightmon said “I feel as if I’ve just seen a side of the princess I should have never seen…”

–Looking back over the first and second parts of the series over this past year, what do you think now?
Sanjou: At the very beginning, we wanted to emphasize the idea of “getting tons of Digimon together into an army”, and I do hope we were able to pull that off by the second part. We created a lot of characters for the first part, and we got to have them do more than we’d even initially expected in the second part, so I’m very happy about that. In that sense, it’s a series that I’m very satisfied to have made.

Is this third part the Digimon version of De*ade?

–And now, the third part will begin airing in October. I’ll just cut straight to the point, but since all of the older series protagonists will be showing up, should this be considered as the Digimon version of De*ade1?
Sanjou: No, it’s not meant to be like that at all (laughs). We hadn’t even really been planning to publicly state that it had been in the plan since the beginning, but it ended up in all the anime magazines. We’re not planning to have all of the past characters show up one after another like you’d see in De*ade or Go**iger2, but that’s what all the news coverage ended up focusing on.

–So it’s not supposed to be a main focal part of the series.
Sanjou: The director changed to (Yukio) Kaizawa-san3, who had previously directed the fifth GeGeGe no Kitaro series4, but that was also a very sudden decision. We were suddenly told “a new series has been greenlighted,” and we’d basically just finished the climax for the second part, so when we were told that there was going to be another series, we were all caught off guard like “ack!”

–That does seem sudden indeed.
Sanjou: It was. We were worried about what we should do if we were going to make a sequel, if it would really be okay to just keep doing the same thing, but Kaizawa-san came up with the proposal to make it about “Hunters” who participate in a Digimon Hunt in the human world. They would enter a space called “DigiQuartz”, where time would flow differently, and be able to see Digimon that humans couldn’t normally see. After that point, about one week later, we started working on the character backgrounds and early stages of the story. There were about three weeks between the confirmation of a third series and the completion of the first draft for the first episode.

–That’s a really short amount of time!
Sanjou: We didn’t have enough time to do trial and error, and we basically had the minimum amount of time to put out what Kaizawa-san came up with. It was pretty much all in one straight shot.

–Taiki and his friends show up in the third series as well, right?
Sanjou: I would say that it’s more like Taiki is the “secondary” protagonist, since we didn’t want to lose our audience.

–So he’s going to be like K**ga5 in Decade?
No, in terms of fighting ability, Taiki is overwhelmingly stronger. Shoutmon became king, after all.

–An older Yuu will be there too, right? How much time has passed since the last series?
Sanjou: It’s one year after the previous series. Taiki is a second-year in middle school, and Akari is a first-year.

–You mean Yuu grew that much taller in only one year?
Sanjou: Well, he went from a sixth-grader in elementary school to a first-year in middle school, so that kind of thing happens (laughs).

–And Yuu’s partner Damemon returns, right?
Damemon still hadn’t returned by the end of the second part, and Yuu has a very strong complex about that. Taiki and Yuu are both honor student types, so when Digimon start causing trouble for humans, they try not to let them have too much influence on the human world. But the new protagonist loves Digimon, and he’s the kind of idiot who can’t think of anything but the Digimon Hunt (laughs).

–So when trouble occurs, Taiki and Yuu come to back him up?
Right. During the early episodes, Yuu has to deal with the torment of “my partner isn’t here, Damemon still hasn’t come back” (laughs). But on the flip side, he’s getting called “Yuu-sama” at school.

–Right, he has that sort of “air of the nobility” about him.
And also, his older sister Nene has gone to Hong Kong and become a very popular idol.

–Did she become an idol because she was putting on all those costumes? (laughs).
I think she would have become more of an action star. There’s a part where they go to Hong Kong to watch her film a kung fu movie.

A world where the Digital World and real world have become even more intertwined

–The character designs have also been redone, and they come off as being quite a lot like the older Digimon series designs.
Sanjou: Kazuto Nakazawa-san, who was involved in the animation for Diablomon Strikes Back, helped out with the character designs.

–So Nakazawa-san was involved! Also, the background art is quite intricate.
Kaizawa-san loves things like ghost alleys, so DigiQuartz was made with that kind of atmosphere. So for instance, if you use Time Shift on a power plant, it’ll still be a power plant in DigiQuartz, but it’ll be different from what it normally would be in the human world. It’s the same place, but the backdrop changes, and we wanted that to be part of the fun of it.

–It’s not quite the Digital World, but rather the Digital World superimposed on the real world.
Sanjou: Right. The Digimon found in DigiQuartz are from the same Digital World as Shoutmon, but they fell into DigiQuartz for some reason, and they’ve fallen under the influence of human desires and hearts and started pulling children into it. Beforehand, there were already things like DigiXros being tied to soul power, but now we have Digimon losing control of themselves out of a craving for power from the human heart. So there are Hunters who Hunt those Digimon and add them to their teams, and their rival teams get stronger as well. For instance, you have someone who only ever wants to Hunt cute Digimon, and you have multiple ones who are constantly treating it like a competition. Each team has their own way of doing things, and each of them has their own way of building their collection.

–So the Digital World from the first two parts is still there.
Right. When trouble occurs, they get in touch with Shoutmon, and he comes to help.

–He became king, and yet they still have to drag him over (laughs).
Taiki’s noticed strange things happening on his end, and according to Shoutmon, “Digimon have been disappearing from the Digital World in large numbers,” so they had to come up with a way to bring him over to the human world.

–Considering his partner is the king now, Taiki’s suddenly in an incredibly powerful position.
Shoutmon even says “you couldn’t beat us in a hundred years” (laughs). So that’s why the two of them (the new protagonist and his Digimon partner) are so determined to get stronger. Marina Inoue-san and Kumiko Watanabe-san (the voice actors) were really putting their all into it and getting everyone excited. Watanabe-san and (Shoutmon’s voice actress Chika) Sakamoto-san are from the same agency, so they actually do have a real-life senior and junior relationship.

–Will the third part have a lot of battle scenes?
Sanjou: It will, but the Hunt will be the main focus for now. The other groups are following their own rules and desires right now, but Taiki and Yuu mainly want to stop the Digimon from influencing the human world, and Hunting a Digimon to them ultimately means helping retrieve them safely. The main (protagonist) Digimon has a hammer for a tail, but his main abilities revolve around catching Digimon, so he’s a bit different from his predecessors. A major theme of this series will revolve around how they tackle each individual case and catch their corresponding Digimon. It’s not going to involve just simple power, and that’s the kind of fun we want to express through the Hunt.

–So each case will involve a lot of investigation.
They’re trying to figure out the root cause of each incident. The core of the narrative will involve Digimon being swayed by children’s hearts. (Producer) Sakurada-san, whom I worked with on Kitaro, requested that each case be self-contained, so they take on a case and wrap it up neatly in a bow. Sakurada-san made the request, and Kaizawa-san agreed, so it was decided in short order (laughs), and this world was the result.

The surprise appearance of a big-name voice actor!

–It makes sense for Taiki to be involved again, but why is Yuu returning as well?
He’s the one who has the most potential for growth. Kiriha pretty much finished everything he had to do in that respect, so there was nowhere left for him to go. Taiki was already a full-formed superhero-like figure, but among all of the characters he knew from the previous series, we figured Yuu felt like the one who had the most room for growth. And because everyone already knows those two very well, we could focus more on the new protagonist and his partner. We don’t have a lot of time to do much, so we’re thinking of just keeping it simple and straightforward with him.

–Have the battle rules have changed particularly sharply from those of the previous series?
There’s a rule where you can only Reload one Digimon at once, and another where you can use only one Digimon for DigiXros. So you can’t just bring out ×7 all the time, and if Shoutmon comes out into the open, you can’t have Ballistamon out too.

–So you fundamentally have only ×2 to work with. That means he can’t use ×3 or above, right?
Taiki and Yuu can both Xros two Digimon, so together they’d be able to do ×4. As they gather more friends, they can do huge combos like they would before. The fun of this is that there’s much more variation on DigiXros, and you can see what happens when you mix this and that together.

–When you have so many Digimon involved, isn’t that going to make things hard in terms of getting voice actors?
Sakurada-san is insane, or rather, I mean, you have a Digimon who only goes “kyeh!” or “toh!”, but he managed to secure Shigeru Chiba-san for him. We were like, “this Digimon is going to keep showing up, and you’re going to keep getting Shigeru Chiba-san for him?!” (laughs).

–Why did he get someone so big?
I have no clue (laughs). I thought Sakurada-san might have lost his marbles, but when I asked him about it, he said he wanted to intimidate the kids playing the main roles (laughs). That way, everything will be taken seriously to the max at the recording site, he said.

–Well, Chiba-san certainly is the master of “kyeh!” in that respect (laughs). It’s airing at 6:30 AM, so having Shigeru Chiba-san’s “kyeh!” will freshen up your morning and keep you awake (laughs). We’re looking forward to it!
I’m sure the audience watching it will get a real surprise. “You got someone like that for something like this?!” (laughs).

Riku Sanjou
Anime scriptwriter. Is also famous as a manga writer, and worked in conjunction with Kouji Inada on Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (serialized in Weekly V-Jump). He will be serving as the main writer for Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Who Leapt Through Time, which will begin airing in October 2011.

Translator's notes
  1. De*ade“: Referring to Kamen Rider Decade, a 2009 tokusatsu series that prominently features its protagonist traveling between worlds to meet alternate-universe versions of past Kamen Rider series protagonists. Sanjou is known for his work on the Kamen Rider franchise, and had also been working on Kamen Rider W and Fourze during Xros Wars‘s run. []
  2. Go**iger: Referring to Pirate Sentai Gokaiger, a 2011 entry in the long-running Super Sentai series that features its protagonists meeting past series team members. []
  3. Director Kaizawa had also been extensively involved with Digimon prior to Xros Wars, having served as series director for Tamers and Frontier. []
  4. Kitaro” = The fifth series of GeGeGe no Kitaro aired from 2007 to 2009 and shares a lead writer (Riku Sanjou), series director (Yukio Kaizawa), and producer (Hiroyuki Sakurada) with Hunters. []
  5. The aforementioned Kamen Rider Decade features an alternate-universe version of Kamen Rider Kuuga protagonist Yusuke Godai, named Yusuke Onodera. Compared to Godai, Onodera is relatively inexperienced and thus serves as a sidekick of sorts to Decade protagonist Tsukasa Kadoya. []

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