Super Evolution Stage: Digimon Adventure tri. Special Interview

A translation of the official interview on the website for the Super Evolution Stage: Digimon Adventure tri. ~The August 1st Adventure~ stage play, shown on August 5-13, 2017 at the Zepp Blue Theater Roppongi. The interview was held with producer Hiromi Seki (original producer for Digimon Adventure and Digimon Adventure 02) and the stage play’s director and producer, Kenichi Tani.

Super Evolution Stage: Digimon Adventure tri.

We would like to deliver a special talk with one of the creators of Digimon Adventure, Producer Seki from Toei Animation, and scriptwriter and director for the Digimon tri. stage play, Kenichi Tani-san! We held an extensive conversation about Digimon behind the scenes, and their feelings towards Digimon.

Toei Animation Producer Seki × Director Kenichi Tani

Q: How did you feel when you first heard about production for a Digimon stage play?

Tani: To be honest, the generational timing was a little off for me, so I had never seen Digimon before. After I received the request for the stage play, I watched all of it, including the original TV series and the movie series, but I didn’t expect that I’d be crying so many times. It was a story of human growth and Digimon evolution being deeply intertwined, and I watched as that growth and evolution was overlaid with so many other things. Maybe it was because I watched it as an adult, but I was able to see it from all sorts of perspectives in regards to “people growing”. Like, for instance, that of my own childhood, or that of my own son, or that of the younger actors I’m working with right now. I feel that the wonderful thing about the Digimon series is how it depicts growth and evolution, and how the humans and their Digimon partners are tied together. So in order to depict that properly as a story, when it comes to expressing that on the stage, I think the very first question that should come to mind is “what do we do with the Digimon?” For me, as a director, it was the kind of challenge that got me excited. By making proper use of that, I would like to bring up the kinds of surprises that can only be done through the stage, that make you think “so this is one way to express that!”

Q: Although you’ve mentioned it just now, the audience is also probably interested. Please tell us exactly how the Digimon are going to be presented.

Tani: We’ve requested assistance from the well-established puppet troupe “Hitomizan”. We’ve asked that Hitomizan help us with everything from puppet design and modeling to operation, and have begun practice studies under their supervision.

Q: Are they stuffed puppets?

Tani: They’re different from stuffed puppets, but they’re also different from your usual puppets…Perhaps you could say they’re similar to what you’d think of moving action figures? They’ve modeled them to look very realistic for us.

* Place mid-production photos here1

Tani: These move, and they’ve been made to be as large as they should be in the original story. They cost a ton of money (laughs), and a suitably considerable amount of time and labor. When it was decided that we’d be doing the Digimon, we decided from the very beginning that we would be using puppets. I’m sure it’s easy to think that we could just project them onto the screen for all of their scenes. But when I watched all of the original Digimon Adventure, the Agumon standing next to Taichi wasn’t just a clump of digital noise, and in fact didn’t give off the feel of something digital at all. I felt that it should have the feel of flesh and blood, and something from the organic world. So ever since I first received the request, I’d been fixating on that as an absolute requirment through all of our meetings.

Q: Will all of the Digimon partners be appearing?

Tani: All eight will be appearing on the stage! I hope you also look forward to how we’re producing the evolved Digimon, too.

Seki: It’s such a shame that they’re not playing this all over the country2 (laughs).

Q: Please tell us a little about the story.

Tani: The story starts when the kids, who have become high school students, find that August 1 is coming back again, decide to go to the campsite where it all started, and think about returning to their past selves for just that one day. As I was watching tri., I very much empathized with the realism of how they portrayed the trouble of Taichi and his friends, and so I wanted to make the best use out of that backdrop while taking a different angle in order to talk about looking at their childhood selves and reconsidering whom they’d become now.

Seki: I got to read the story for the sake of this chat, so since it was a good time to do it, I got to chip in a word or two about what I thought (laughs).
From there, it turned into a lecture about the nature of the relationship between the Digimon and the children (laughs). Or in other words, the relationship between the monsters called Digimon and the human children is summarized in the single word of “partner”, but then, what’s a “partner” in the first place? When we were making the TV series, we used the term “soul partner”, and the reason for that was that the Digimon would never, ever deny the children who were their partners. They are living beings who will accept everything. Even if the child is being a bad child, they’ll accept it. To the children, the Digimon are “partners”, beings who will truly accept everything about them.

Tani: I want to take what I got from the conversation I had with Seki-san and reflect it in the story using the same good direction it already has. I wrote it while contemplating over and over “how would this person or this Digimon think? Would this be how they would do it?”, but she told me, with a very simple perspective, “this is how it is,” so I want to make good use of that. For the audience, I think the part that touches them most deeply is seeing the eight children and their Digimon partners clinging closely to each other.

Q: We’ve heard that this play is a side story branch of tri., so the script is a completely original story. Please tell us about any particular difficulties or fun parts in writing the story.

Tani: It’s something I’ve been really keenly aware of in this past month, but…While I’ve worked with other people’s stories and made plays out of them several times, it was usually in the sense of taking the original work’s story and repurposing it for the stage format. But for this one, even though I’m borrowing the original series’s characters, the story is being written from scratch, and it’s my first time writing words for characters that were created by other people. It was a high level of difficulty, and I still feel it even now. Also, it made me wonder how the scriptwriters for the anime must have done this. They were also writing the same characters in the same world, while sharing that job with tons of other people. It’s amazing that they were able to do that. But, naturally, it wasn’t just full of difficult and painful things, but once the story properly got going, I got to hear the lines I was writing in the voices of the characters from the original series, and getting to savor those kinds of moments was very fun. Someone like me, who works in the theatre field, gets to take over the job of writing the lines of characters made by others. And then I have Toei check over it, and we get even closer to the mark. So in other words, we bring these characters to life by sharing them between everyone. And especially in the case of Digimon, it was an interesting experience in that there wasn’t just one writer or director, but rather that everyone had their own version of Taichi and Yamato, and the dialogue was born from between all of that.

Q: There have been many people involved in Digimon up until now, so have those people making these kinds of works been getting advice from Seki-san?

Seki: In my case, I think of it in the sense of, if there’s three different people, what do these three people have in common? For instance, if we have one director, one animator, and one story writer, and if these three people have each created Taichi together, then there’s your Taichi. When these kinds of people give their opinions, there’s a slight difference between them. Most of the time, anyway. But what’s most fun about it is trying to seek out what they have in common. I think of the differences as encompassing the range of the character. If the main points to be held down and the common points of the character are all in agreement, then the little differences can be considered positively to be the range of the character. Even I use different words and behaviors when I talk to new employees or my colleagues, and when I go home and talk to my family, after all. But I think that’s how human beings are in the first place, so it’s natural that there will be subtle differences depending on the person who’s conceiving them, so I hope you can see that as the interesting thing about them.

Tani: We have a very similar thing happening to us in theatre rehearsals. For instance, when I work with a young actor, oftentimes they’re just trying to express their role, and they end up focusing on nothing but their role, and they try to use exactly the same way of speaking and the same personality, but that kind of thing doesn’t work at all. So while we’re in the rehearsal room, I often have to tell them, no, that’s not how it works, please focus instead on putting importance on what you’re trying to convey to the other person, what you want to make the other person do, and what you think of the other person. As Seki-san said, humans have different faces that they show to different people, and even when I myself go out with different people, I can discover new things. “So this version of myself existed, too!” So I truly empathize with what Seki-san is saying. Even in our rehearsals for Digimon, I would like to properly pursue the fundamentals and essences of this kind of theatre production.

Seki: If you keep forcing yourself into the narrow mold of “you have to do it this way,” there won’t be any potential for development, and it’ll end up being a work that does nothing but trace over the original, so I told Tani-san and the actors who are playing the characters that I would be grateful if they could be mediators, who take everything about the characters and use their bodies and voices to convey them in the form of a “play”.

Tani: With that in mind, the characters that Seki-san and the others have created have now been passed down through generations, and they’ve grown into high school students, and now they’re standing on a completely different field (of the stage). I’ve never experienced this kind of thing before, so I would certainly like to ask Seki-san how she feels about it.

Seki: Hmm. Well, up until now, naturally, there’s been times when I’ve thought Taichi is a little different from the one I’d conceived of. But there’s a newly born Taichi that exists there, so there’s also an aspect where I’m looking forward to seeing how he grows. Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Taichi and Yamato change in this stage play Tani-san has created. This is simply the fate of a producer, but although I do what’s best for myself when I make something, there’s a certain point where you have to leave it in someone else’s hands. Even if the producer thinks that they to do one thing, the story writer will depict the character in a different way, and then during production it’ll change again. Then, the voice actor ends up giving a voice to the slightly altered character and adding their own performance onto it, so I think the character ends up being raised through all of the twists and turns that happen during the production process.

Tani: It’s definitely the kind of thing that you don’t get to sense in theatre at all. In the case of theatre, there are many times when everyone goes along with what the writer and director say. For instance, let’s say that the theme is Shakespeare, and I’m the director. So I’ll explain “Richard III will be this kind of person,” and the actors and all of the staff will all try to approach that. Of course, the individual quirks and the ideas of the actors do get involved, but there are also many cases where all of the answers rely on the director. So I think it’s amazing to have that kind of setup that Seki-san is describing, where everyone gradually brings up the character little by little.

Seki: I think it’s an aspect particular to original works. As a child grows up by playing with friends in nursery school, spending time with their family, and interacting with various people, growing into an adult means having the involvement of all sorts of people. I think this series will not lose freshness even after ten, or twenty, or thirty years from now because of the involvement of different sorts of people. So in other words, if I say “it’s my child that I gave birth to!” and refuse to let go of their hand even when they step outside the house, keeping that child constantly with me will turn that child into a very warped child. That’s why I think of putting the work in someone else’s hand as making that child (work) into a full-fledged member of society. So in order to make Digimon Adventure a full-fledged member of society, as its parent, I have to let it go. (laughs) When they make it into a movie, I want to see it succeed as a movie, and when it’s made into a stage play, I want to see it succeed as a stage play. When I made the TV series, I made it hoping that everyone would accept it, and I think the movie staff also want to see it succeed as a movie, and I also think those who are making this stage play are definitely feeling the same way about it as a stage play, so this is how this child (work) grows.

Tani: We would like to carry on those thoughts and do our best.

Q: Thank you for telling us these important things. In closing, please leave a message for the audience.

Tani: I absolutely want it to be something that’s true to the spirit of the stage. As someone from the theatre field, I have pride in it, and I want to make it as a work that contains the spirit of theatre. And, at the same time we have these feelings as a theatre company, we also want to be true to the “spirit of Digimon” that has been put together all this time. None of these “spirits” can be created by only one person, so I want to make it into a work that’ll fill your heart, both as a theatre work and as a Digimon work. Beyond that, I’m also very interested in seeing how the audience will react, so please come and see it.

Seki: Time has passed since TV series, and now it’s become a series of movies, and so, as one of the people involved at the very beginning, being able to watch Digimon on stage this time has never made me so happy. I will definitely go to see it myself. I hope everyone will enjoy it, and even if there are parts that differ from the anime, I think it would be for the best if they enjoy those parts as well. Since the Digimon series has been carried on further in so many different forms, I think if you’re a fan who enjoys Digimon in a broader sense, you will most certainly enjoy it. Let’s all meet at the theater! (laughs)

Translator's notes
  1. As of this writing, there still aren’t any photos on the site. Alas. []
  2. The play’s ten showings were at the Zepp Blue Theater Roppongi, which is located in Tokyo. []

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