WHAT’s IN? tokyo interview with Hiroyuki Sakurada and Masato Mitsuka on Digimon Adventure:

(Original title: “Digimon Adventure: — The Meaning of Broadcasting Again on Sunday Mornings, the Appearance of Omegamon, and OP Production…The Production Team Discusses “The Weight of 20 Years” and Their Aims for a New Work”)

A translation of this WHAT’s IN? tokyo interview from August 15, 2020, with Digimon Adventure: producer Hiroyuki Sakurada and director Masato Mitsuka.

The Digital World, a world where unknown digital life forms called “Digimon” live. A story of adventure that begins with the encounter between a young boy lost in the Digital World, Taichi Yagami, and his Digimon partner, Agumon — 20 years after the broadcast of Digimon Adventure in 1999 comes the newly launched TV anime series Digimon Adventure:. This series continues with Digimon’s characters, such as Taichi Yagami and Agumon, and its worldview, but is a reboot as a new story set in Tokyo in the summer of 2020.

What kinds of tribute are they paying to the older Digimon series, and what does it mean to have pride as a new TV anime that is being delivered to children in 2020? For this interview, we’ve talked with Producer Hiroyuki Sakurada, who has been familiar with the Digimon series up until now, and series director Masato Mitsuka, who has been appointed as a director representing the younger generation.

Interview: Yuudai Yanagi / Transcript: Mizuho Mitsukawa1

The strong feelings of “We want to broadcast it on Fuji TV at 9 AM on Sunday mornings”

–Firstly, please tell us about the background behind the production of Digimon Adventure:.

Hiroyuki Sakurada: The Digimon Adventure series, which had been continuing for 20 years, reached a stopping point with Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna (a movie released on February 21, 2020). With that, we wanted to make a proper Digimon entry for today’s children, instead of the “children of the past”.

Part of it was that we thought it would be sad for Digimon Adventure to become a thing of the past after its 20th anniversary, but we’d also been thinking for a long time that we wanted today’s children to get to know Digimon. And in order to introduce it to them, we conceived the idea of having a new generation of children enjoy Digimon Adventure, the story of boys and girls going on an adventure through the Digital World alongside Digimon.

–When did the planning for Digimon Adventure: start?

Sakurada: It’s difficult to say exactly when…Even when there were new works like Digimon Adventure tri. and Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna being developed, we’d always been thinking, “we want to make something that we can show the children of today.” However, it was difficult to find the right timing back then. So it was only now that we were able to deliver it in its current form.

–It’s broadcasting on the Sunday morning 9 AM timeslot on Fuji TV, the same as the original Digimon Adventure, something that inherently makes it a series meant for children.

Sakurada: That’s right. That’s the exact reason why the production team also had opinions and thoughts about how “we want to have that timeslot again”.2 But on the other hand, there were things we couldn’t do when we weren’t able to secure that. In order to secure a timeslot and produce for it, you need the right timing and right elements for all sorts of things. Without such a close matchup, it’s difficult to produce a TV anime.

–Incidentally, we’ve always been wondering about how the series’s title has a “:” at the end of it…

Sakurada: As you can see from looking at the title’s logo, the logo goes up to the Digivice mark at the end of “Digimon Adventure:“, and forms the title. However, since you can’t display this kind of mark on general text, you end up seeing the title like it has a “:”. But if I have to say it…that “:” has a role similar to that of an “=” (equals sign), doesn’t it? This is a symbol that represents the current series of “Digimon Adventure“, so that “:” serves as something that links the two.

The appearance of “Omegamon” from the very beginning, the bold approach to overall storywriting, and the commitment to battle action scenes

–What was the deciding factor behind appointing Masato Mitsuka-san as the series director?

Sakurada: Mitsuka-san is very good at action scenes, and he’s skilled in balancing action and drama. We’d originally worked together on Digimon Xros Wars (2010) and Dragon Ball Super (2015-2018), and he’s also someone who works on the PreCure series, so it had to be him. Also, since Mitsuka-san is younger in age, we would like him to carry on the future of Toei Animation. And in terms of assembling the rest of the staff, he is also well-qualified in that sense.

Masato Mitsuka: Thank you very much (laughs).

–We would like to ask Mitsuka-san our next question. For this work, things like having the “Ultimate-level Omegamon” appear from the second episode, and caused some very chaotic story developments even from the very beginning. What was the purpose of this story development?

Mitsuka: Ever since his appearance in the movie Digimon Adventure: Our War Game! (2000), to me, Omegamon has been one of Digimon’s most deeply impressive “symbols” even to this very day, with many derivatives and higher forms. The fact he would appear and the timing of said appearance were actually determined even before I was brought onto the project, but the first thing that I wanted was to depict him as a proper “great existence”. As a result, we depicted it in a sense that, after overcoming great difficulties, Omegamon came forth as a miracle.

Special circumstances have made it so that there aren’t many occasions with a proper action-like depiction of Omegamon, and although he’s made appearances in works such as Our War Game! or Digimon Adventure 02: Diablomon Strikes Back (2001), I feel that he’s always been saved for very particular important moments. So if we’re going to be making a new TV anime, we thought we wanted to have a surprise for the opening, “that Omegamon, of all things, is in an action scene at a scale suitable for the occasion”, so that we could express his incredibleness by depicting him as “fighting strong enemies, displaying his strength, and saving the world from crisis”. So for that reason, in order to depict Omegamon fighting in a cool manner, we did some things a bit unreasonable for TV anime, drew a ton of pictures, and indulged ourselves a little for the early fight.

–From the layman’s perspective, it really was a shock. And, as with Omegamon, the battle scene with Greymon even before that felt like “is this on the level of an anime movie?”

Mitsuka: In the end, making something with the name Digimon Adventure means that it carries the last 20 years’ worth of weight. There are people who have loved it for 20 years, and there are people who are watching it for the first time. I hope that characters like Omegamon and Greymon can be memorable even for those who are new to this series.

–What kind of things do you concretely focus on when trying to make memorable scenes?

Mitsuka: For the beginning, we were particular about how to depict the appealing aspects of the Adult-level Digimon, Greymon, and how we were to portray him as “the protagonist’s Digimon”. He was developed more than 20 years ago…and he has a “cool appearance”, so our most clear and important task is to make sure he comes across to the viewer as cool. It’s a natural thing, but because Digimon are monsters, the series up until now haven’t been able to directly apply the principles of human action scenes to them. So we had a difficult time thinking about how we would show off cool action sequences using Digimon physiques.

For instance, Son Goku of Dragon Ball would have different types of special attacks such as “Kamehameha” and “Spirit Bomb”. But Greymon only has one, “Mega Flame”…and so, how are we going to show that attack being used in adaptable ways? So sometimes he fights with his tail, and sometimes with his horn or claws. The amount of power in his flame changes from being a little suppressed to being fully let out. And on top of that, the Digimon are eventually going to reach Ultimate-level, and so, in the long run, the time he’ll be actively spending as the Adult-level Greymon will be gone so quickly…Even so, we were very enthusiastic about wanting to show off the pride of an Adult-level.

–What was the purpose behind such a turning point happening from as early as the first episode?

Sakurada: The most important reason was that we wanted to show off the freshness and the action quality that’s become stronger in making a new Digimon series. The adventure in the Digital World begins in the fourth episode, but if we had started that adventure from the first episode, I think it would have been very difficult to convey that sense of change. Instead, it might have conveyed a sense of security in the sense of “it’s the same as it’s always been”.

On top of that, we also wanted to depict that this would be “an adventure that has a real-world crisis at stake”. So in order to make that easier to understand, we made the first through third episodes be made to have a climax-like plot. We wanted to surprise the children, and we wanted the adults to be interested in what’s “new” about it and “what’ll happen from now on in this new series of Digimon?” So, even after they entered the Digital World in the fourth episode, we decided to have them not join up all at once, and instead meet their new friends one by one.

A certain scene from the opening that stirs passion in Digimon fans

–We would like to ask about the opening theme song “Unidentified Airship”. What’s the reason behind selecting this song?

Sakurada: First of all, we wanted to have completely new songs for the opening and insert songs. On top of that, we in the staff listened to various songs as candidates for the opening theme song, and “Unidentified Airship” was the one that we felt would fit perfectly. It felt like it would match up with the story of a bright adventure, and the atmosphere also felt further enhanced by the fact the vocalist was Takayoshi Tanimoto-san, who has sung for many theme songs in children’s anime.3

–What about the visual aspects, such as the direction for the OP animation?

Mitsuka: We asked our younger staff member Nozomi Shishido-san to direct the opening. I told him to convey the image of “synchronization with the high-spirited feeling of the song”, “the pairing of Taichi and Agumon”, and “the battle aspects”. I asked him to be sure to include those three things. In particular, I wanted to clearly convey that this series would have a buddy-like relationship between the protagonists and their Digimon. The scene in the beginning with Agumon and Taichi getting along so well is for that purpose.

From the middle, you start seeing battle aspects, and their friends start to appear, and you can see the coolness of each action scene as they play. The opening is also making a promise to the viewers about showing deep nuances in each duo pairing, and brief flashes of foreshadowing towards what kinds of power-ups they’ll have in the future. In order to have them synchronize with the sprinting feeling of the song, we started with Taichi and Agumon running in a friendly and playful way, and then, from the chorus, the Digimon battles start to unfold, and I feel that we were able to show off the kinds of action sequences that we can create with current technology. Incidentally, one of the hidden themes under it is also a desire to make use of the younger staff members who are running Toei Animation in 2020.

–There is also an aspect that we think would bring up passion for fans who watched the original Digimon Adventure, with the sequence of “Taichi spinning and falling into the Digital World, in a 4:3 aspect ratio screen”.

Mitsuka: As we were discussing this with Shishido-san, we wanted to include some kind of tribute to the original Digimon Adventure series in this one. So we obtained proper permission from Director Kakudou (Hiroyuki Kakudou, the series director for Digimon Adventure), and then created it that way. 20 years ago, I was simply another person watching the series, but that scene in the opening left a particularly deep impression on me. I wanted the children watching this anime, Digimon Adventure:, to see that from the very beginning. To that extent, I think it’s a symbol of Digimon as an animation series.

In the current times when action has become limited, we want to show children an adventure in a wide world

–What do you two consider to be the main appeal point and the core behind Digimon Adventure:?

Mitsuka: Fundamentally speaking, the relationship between the children and their Digimon. In addition, that it is a story of adventure where the children have clear awareness of what they need to save. The children’s determination and their feeling of obligation that “we need to do something”. Their Digimon partners, who respond to those feelings. The bond between those two sides…I think the appeal point is “the way of life behind the pairing”. That’s exactly why we want to depict the children getting into the fight, too. The Digimon are the ones that actually fight in the battle, but we’re paying attention to making it so that the children aren’t just watching them. To the very end, we’re depicting them so that they’re always a pairing of “a person and a creature”, and it uses a different style from what there’s been before, and something we’re trying out as something new for this series. Of course, the children and their Digimon have always been fighting together as partners, but…the portrayal of them as going into battle and adventure as “a person and a creature” is central to this series’s production.

Sakurada: That’s right. The first thing is what Director Mitsuka has just said. In addition, we want to depict the value of being able to go freely on an adventure with Digimon in the vast world of the Digital World. Because everyone is stuck at home due to the impact of the novel coronavirus, and freedom of action has become limited, we want to make it so that children can at least ride on Agumon or Greymon and fly around the wide world, and travel freely in the jungle or the sea, through this anime. We would be happy if they could use this series to experience things that have now become difficult in our real world.

–In the end, it truly is depicting an “Adventure”.

Sakurada: It’s exactly because we’re under these circumstances that we would like you to enjoy this adventure comfortably.

–Thank you. In closing, please tell us as much you can currently say about future developments for this series.

Mitsuka: We’re going to be depicting another step of the Digimon’s evolutions from here. And we’re also going to be getting closer to one of the causes of the current incidents.

Sakurada: The highlights of episode 10 and on will be about what kinds of adventures Greymon, Garurumon, and Birdramon will go through in order to achieve Perfect-level. In terms of music, I hope you can look forward to the production of an insert song that goes along with the Perfect evolutions. And, more than anything, I hope you will enjoy the six children going on an adventure together.

Here is the preview for episode 11, “The Wolf Standing in the Desert”, which will be broadcast on August 16 (Sunday)!

Translator's notes
  1. I’m not sure about the reading for this name, so this is my best guess. []
  2. The 9 AM Sunday morning timeslot on Fuji TV is a very prominent timeslot dedicated to children’s anime (generally by Toei Animation). It was occupied by Digimon Adventure through Frontier during the series’ original broadcast, and once again upon the series’s return with Digimon Savers. The following Xros Wars and Appmon ran into infamous trouble with their own timeslots, with Xros Wars being on TV Asahi’s Tuesday 7:30 PM timeslot for its first part and Sunday 6:30 AM for its second and third, and Appmon on TV Tokyo’s Saturday 7 AM timeslot before being moved midway through the series to 9:30 AM. The troubled timeslot airings have often been speculated to be major detriments to Xros Wars and Appmon‘s market performance, and the Adventure: reboot is the first Digimon series in thirteen years to be back in its original position. []
  3. On top of his work for children’s anime, Tanimoto has also been a long-time performer for the Digimon franchise, including Tamers, Xros Wars, Digimon World 3, and some of the franchise memorial songs. []

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